History with a river view

Dream Home

TLC revived 1934 property

August 16, 2008|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,special to the Sun

For some, the desire to return to one's roots is a strong pull. Wendy Adams acted on that urge in the fall of 2002.

"We were living in a renovated home downtown when I asked [my husband] if he'd like to take a Sunday drive and see where I grew up," she remembered.

The couple drove to the Patapsco River Valley in Baltimore County, not far from Adams' girlhood home in Relay. Their exploration ended that day at the end of a steep, narrow incline that led to a compound serenely resting on 4 acres, also in Relay. A magnificent house built of stone, brick and cedar shake lorded over the site of the once-prosperous, late-18th-century town of Avalon.

The property just happened to be for sale.

As Wendy Adams stood on the house's stone front porch, looking across the vast front lawn and beyond into the trees of the Patapsco Valley State Park, she said, "I will buy this house."

What Adams and her husband, Gene Pommeto, bought three months later was not only the 4,300-square-foot house, but also an entire compound consisting additionally of a detached garage, a summer house, a guesthouse, a greenhouse, a vineyard and multiple terraces.

The price tag for the total package was $340,000.

"Oh, but it was a distressed property," Adams is quick to point out.

In close to six years of residency on their beloved property called, appropriately, Avalon Cliff, the couple have spent close to $350,000 in renovations that included paving the long driveway up to the compound, replacing the waterline, putting new furnaces in the main house and guesthouse and rebuilding several retaining walls along the property. The restoration of the main house included the refinishing of all the hardwood floors and the repair of many interior walls.

The money always seemed to be there for the couple as emergencies arose, such as when an entire wall on the western side of the property fell down the hill. The expenses have been worth it for Adams, a 56-year-old freelance consultant, currently working for the Department of Justice in Washington.

"This is the only place I ever found myself at home," she said. "And I've lived in a lot of houses."

Built in 1934 by developer Sid Clayton, the house was crafted in true Mission style, its construction materials - primarily its timber, brick and stone - purchased from the ruins of the town of Avalon. These materials were hauled up the cliff to be recycled into the property. Evidence of this adaptive reuse is everywhere.

The main house's foundation and two massive floor-to-ceiling fireplaces were constructed of stone originally quarried for the town of Avalon more than 200 years ago. Ceiling beams in the house's large entrance hall (as well as in the guesthouse) were built from materials taken from a historic sailing vessel, the Somerset. A double-wide oak staircase boasts planks taken from one of the town's commercial buildings.

A great lover of art and antiques, Adams has furnished the three-story main house in period Mission furniture. Original Degas monotypes in the entrance hall hang on stucco walls alongside a framed Calder lithograph and several Chagall prints.

In the main house's dining room, an oak table and sideboard belonging to Adams' grandmother is bathed in the western sunlight streaming in windows with 18-inch-deep oak frames.

The backs of the main house, guesthouse and summer house face east, where the couple's property line extends down to a rushing stream that flows into the Patapsco River. The whooshing sounds of the water are in concert with birds' songs and the ever-present rustle of leaves flowing through a variety of vegetation that includes boxwood, ivy, butterfly bushes and crepe myrtle.

Gene Pommeto, a 58-year-old clinical psychologist and master gardener, tends the property's vineyard and winery, and stores the fruits of his homegrown blend in the stone wine cellar beneath the main house. The couple entertain in their loggia under the deck of the guesthouse.

Separate from the main house, the two-story restored guesthouse (built in 1950) offers almost 1,200 square feet of living space in its first-floor living room, dining room, bathroom and bedroom. A second-story loft, constructed of redwood, serves as additional sleeping quarters. Visitors inhabit the guesthouse on a short-term rental basis.

Steeped in history, this tranquil compound received State Historic Landmark designation in 2003 and county landmark designation in 2006. Both awards were made as a result of the couple's use of recycled building materials.

"We feel fortunate to be here because it's so beyond what we thought we could ever have," Pommeto said. "We feel more like the stewards of this place than the owners. The property allows us to take care of it."

Dream home

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Write to Dream Home, Home & Garden Editor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or e-mail us at dreamhomes@baltsun .com. Find our Dream Home archive at baltimoresun.com/ dreamhomes.

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