Monday, May 28, 2007

Zebulon Pike Never Slept Here

Zebulon Pike went to a lot of places in his life of soldiering and exploration around the start of the 19th century. Pikesville was not one of them, but that didn't stop the folks in Maryland from naming their town after him. And even after decades in the Baltimore area, I can't tell you why they did. But I can tell you about the things old Zebulon never saw in this suburban area that is defined by ZIP code 21208.

Pikesville sits northwest of Baltimore City, and just about all of it is in Baltimore County. Like many old areas, though, the city/county dividing line was drawn after the area grew up and so the line runs right through some properties. Not long ago I sold a house on Seven Mile Lane that was Pikesville but also Baltimore City.

What's even more interesting is that some houses in this area are actually in both the city and county. When one of those comes on the market it has a unique selling advantage: the homeowners can have the benefits of both. For instance, many city employees and officials are required to live within Baltimore City. But they might want to send their children to county schools – Pikesville High School was rated in the top 300 in the nation by Newsweek magazine for 2005, 2006, and 2007 – and that city/county house would make it possible.

Even though Pikesville is close to the city line, it has many country-like features. The private Woodholme Country Club sprawls through rolling parts of 21208, but there are old homes adjacent. One property I sold on Nelson Road was so close that it came with a mild hazard – golf balls have broken a garage window more than once! And then there was the time some bison broke free from a neighboring farm and roamed through Pikesville. They were finally corralled by police on a tennis court…but that's another story.

Pikesville has a center that combines the charm of the old with conveniences of the new. Some properties like Irving Place are zoned both residential and commercial, making it a versatile possibility for buyers.

Versatility was also an issue for the folks when I originally found them this classic stone rancher on Stevenson Road. They needed a home that combined comfortable family living, in a specific school area, with accessibility for their physically challenged children. It is now on the market again because they have moved to a new neighborhood.

Stone ranchers come in all sizes in 21208, from the large Stevenson Road property to the more modest two- to three-bedroom house on Greenwood Road. I call this one a condo on private land with no fees! Built on a slab, it is a cozy home that was originally a two-bedroom with family room. In this area, people won't look at a two-bedroom house, so the owners built a closet in the family room, repainted, and we had a third bedroom. The house sold as soon as it hit the market.

As with many older areas, Pikesville has neighborhoods that have become attractive for buyers. One of those is Sudbrook Park which is right in the heart of Pikesville. This home on Milford Mill Road, with its two-story addition that includes a master suite, has the added advantage of being in easy walking distance to the Light Rail, and so to downtown Baltimore.

For those who want the pleasures of living in Pikesville without the property maintenance, there are plenty of options here, too. On Raisin Tree Circle you can have the convenience of a townhouse with garage, but none of the work. This unit backs to the woods, and the swimming pool and tennis courts will give the owners plenty of ways to get exercise without mowing lawns and shoveling snow. Now that the Baby Boomer generation is seeking more comfort and convenience, condos like Raisin Tree Circle and Stonehenge Circle are becoming more popular. Stonehenge Circle has the added advantages of completely step-free access, and being one of only six units in a building. Adjacent to elegant individual homes but still in the heart of Pikesville, this is a great location for an older couple who want to stay in the area but need more convenience. Just the other day, in fact, I showed the property to a man of 90 with his 84 year old wife!

That's something you see in Pikesville – people stay in the area. They move from house to house, but not away. A while back I sold what I call a "forever house" in 21208. This beautiful contemporary on Long Meadow Road has the master bedroom and bath plus two other bedrooms and a bath on the first floor. The second floor has two more large bedrooms and a bath. No matter their age and flexibility, the owners can stay in this home forever with comfort and safety, and still have plenty of room for visiting children and grandchildren.

All those people have to eat, of course, and Pikesville is rich in restaurants. Our favorite – and we are there at least once a week – is the Suburban House. Think neighborhood deli with fantastic food served by our favorite waitress. Mitzu can wait on an entire section loaded with families and still make everyone feel special. She remembers all the tiny personal details, and is a pleasure to watch. At Suburban House, they make the world's largest omelets and serve my favorite chopped salad – Oriental Chicken. Don't forget the Matzo Ball soup – the matzo ball is so big you get a second bowl because it does not all fit in one!

ZIP Code 21208 is city and country and modest houses and extravagant homes. It's a small town in a big city, with good food and convenient transportation. It's a couple of hundred years old and looking forward to the future. Families at every stage of life live here, and that enriches the whole community.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Soaring and Singing With the BSO

It all came together in Baltimore one evening: the soaring curves of the architecture, the classic tunes of Cole Porter, and the appreciation of women in music.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a world-class music organization, calls the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall home. Opened in 1982, The Meyerhoff was specifically designed as a music venue. There are no flat walls or 90-degree angles in the concert hall, and every surface was designed and tuned to present performances from the stage with warmth and exceptional clarity.

The building combines a massive presence with a feeling of openness thanks to soaring walls of glass that let light into the lobby. These days there's a musical crab enjoying that light, too; he's one of the many Maryland crab statues painted during a competition a couple of years ago to help promote Baltimore. The Meyerhoff is near the Maryland Institute College of Art, and so the neighborhood has many outdoor sculptures that concertgoers can enjoy as well.

Just as The Meyerhoff made history when it opened, the Orchestra made history in 2005 when it appointed Marin Alsop as the next Music Director, making her the first female conductor of a major American orchestra. Her term as Music Director starts with the 2008 season, but she has already been active and conducted many concerts. The current issue of the BSO Magazine, Overture, spotlights increasing presence of women in classical music.

For the Superpops concert we enjoyed, Jack Every conducted the orchestra and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in a wonderful repertoire of Cole Porter tunes like "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "It's Too Darn Hot." All in all, it was a delightful evening of good music in a magnificent building.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Flat Caleb Does Baltimore

I had a houseguest for several days recently. He was the perfect guest – he never complained about being hauled all over town, he didn't make a mess, he didn't even eat much. And he took up almost no room at all.

Of course, he was very small. About 8" tall, actually. And very flat, too.

His name was Flat Caleb, and he had already been to Florida after leaving his native Hawaii. If you've ever heard of the Flat Stanley Project, you have an idea of what this is all about. Caleb is one of four "Flats" created by an inventive real estate agent in Florida for the Active Rain real estate online community. Each host takes their Flat guest to see the sights and experience their area, then sends the visitor on to a new home. Before Caleb went on to Colorado, we had several adventures that you can read about here:

Why Do You Have Caleb in Your Pants?

Tiptoe Through…With Caleb

Flat Caleb Gets High

Flat Caleb Does Baltimore…Hon!

Flat Caleb Meets Fluffy, and Cupcake Chews His Arm Off

Flat Caleb Finds the Perfect Pal…Says Goodbye to Baltimore

It was fun showing Caleb around my Baltimore. If you ever get a chance to host a Flat Somebody – take it. It's a great way to remind yourself of the wonderful things to see and do in your town.

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