Guilford neighborhood marks 100th anniversary

Historic and tony Baltimore enclave dates to 1913

  • Ann Giroux is pictured in her home in Guilford. This is the 100th anniversary of the Guilford neighborhood.
Ann Giroux is pictured in her home in Guilford. This is the 100th… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
April 12, 2013|By Donna M. Owens, For The Baltimore Sun

On sparkling spring days, Ann Goldman Giroux enjoys tending her garden, planting vegetables and nurturing the lush roses and rare azaleas that adorn her family's home in Guilford.

Giroux, who typically plants 800 white tulips along the front walkway and another 2,000 flowers in the backyard, wants the landscaping to look extra-special this year as the North Baltimore neighborhood, marks its 100th anniversary in May.

"I am very nearly a lifetime resident of Guilford," says Giroux, a community association board member and chairperson of its centennial committee. "My parents purchased a house back in 1975 when I was a year old."

Today, Giroux and her husband, David, a portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, are raising their two young daughters in a brick Classical Revival-style house purchased in 2005.

The eight-bedroom mansion, set on nearly an acre, is known to local residents as the former home of the late Edward Johnston, nicknamed "The Bird Man of Guilford," for his exotic bird menagerie.

The property is among some 800 houses in a variety of sizes and architectural styles — from tile-roofed Italianate manses to half-timbered Tudor duplexes — that comprise this historic enclave started by the Roland Park Co. in May 1913.

Since that time, Guilford has been considered one of the city's most prestigious neighborhoods. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and has an unusual place in Baltimore's evolution.

"In the early 20th century, Guilford was on the outskirts of the city and was known as a 'streetcar suburb,' " says Tom Liebel, chairman of the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

According to the community's written history, it was one of the earliest suburban developments in America and among the first to embrace the concepts employed by the town of Letchworth in Hertfordshire, England, known as "the world's first garden city."

Liebel says print ads "marketed the neighborhood as the country …a place with clean air and fresh water, away from the city."

He adds that some of the most "gifted" architects in the city and country were involved in designing Guilford's homes and landscaping.

Major figures included Edward L. Palmer, Jr., who served from 1907 to 1917 as chief in-house architect for the Roland Park Co. Then there were the famous Olmsted brothers — Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and John Charles Olmsted — who led the landscape architectural firm that influenced Guilford's public green spaces.

Hallmarks of Olmsted projects, which include the White House grounds and improvements to Baltimore's Druid Hill Park, often center around abundant trees, preservation of natural scenery, and landscaped, curvilinear streets.

Indeed, a drive or stroll through Guilford reveals grand mansions standing sentry along wide, curving boulevards. Leafy parks beckon. Squirrels scamper between stone-turreted cottages, tucked away on tidy, tree-lined streets.

In the heart of this urban oasis is Sherwood Gardens, possibly the most recognized tulip garden in North America, where some 80,000 Dutch tulips are planted each year to herald spring.

The arrival of this year's floral blooms is expected to coincide with Guilford's yearlong centennial activities, which kicks off with the Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage tour on Sunday, April 28.

The tour, a nonprofit endeavor that raises money for preservation and restoration of architecturally significant properties in Maryland, will highlight Guilford and several other communities statewide.

"In this 76th year, we are proud to present so many unique and vastly different types of properties," said Diane Savage, who serves as chair of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage.

She noted that tour participants will view a historic skipjack at dock in Charles County, rarely seem homes in the Wardour community of Annapolis, 300-year-old houses in Queen Anne's County, as well as sites in Somerset and Worcester counties.

In Guilford, a dozen homes will be featured on the tour, along with Sherwood Gardens and buildings of distinction such as Second Presbyterian Church, which has a Georgian Revival interior and restored sanctuary.

Celebrity homes are spotlighted, too, including the former residence of celebrated poet Ogden Nash. The Tudor Revival structure on Rugby Road, was built in 1927.

Many local residents know the Turnbull House, where acclaimed Baltimore artist Grace Hill Turnbull once lived and created art on Chancery Road. The house is a mix of Spanish Mission and Arts and Crafts styles; her onetime studio resembles a church, complete with stained-glass windows and a bell tower.

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