If it is hard to imagine buying a home, moving in, and then restoring its 67 windows to their original 1923 condition, you can only marvel at the determination of Ray and Lynn Plack to revive Hiddenbrook, their Ruxton mansion on 6 acres just north of Baltimore.
"The house was untouched and belonged to one family for 89 years," said Lynn Plack, a 55-year-old real estate agent with Chase Fitzgerald & Co. Inc. "There wasn't one functioning bathroom. We had to completely gut three out of four of them."
Still, the desire to own Hiddenbrook, designed by Theodore Wells Pietsch, whose diverse blueprints are found on such landmarks as Fells Point's Broadway Pier, trumped the costs of renovation. Not even the installation of central air conditioning or the monthlong repair of falling plaster could dampen their enthusiasm for the renovation.
The Placks, along with their daughter Martha, 21, one of the couple's four adult children, and two dogs, Sammy and Penny, took possession of the home last August. They were excited, rather than daunted, by the 5,200-square-foot space with three stories and six bedrooms.
"We had always loved homes from this era, and two other times in the past we had seen houses in Ruxton that we missed out on," said Ray Plack, a 58-year-old cardiologist at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. "Sadly, both houses were raised. When we saw this house, we fell in love with the architecture and the setting on a 6-acre lot in such a desirable location. We decided to take it on as project with a goal of restoring it to its 1923 grandeur."
The owners were handsomely rewarded, since so many rooms in the house, while neglected, stood frozen in time with, according to Lynn Plack, "the original kitchen, bathrooms, and floor plan ... alll untouched."
The interior architectural details told the story of old Baltimore gentility in an era out of "The Great Gatsby." High ceilings, interior columns, casement windows, 10 sets of French doors, plaster moldings and hardwood paneling on a grand staircase leading to an open second-floor landing whispered bygone graceful living. All of these things, including a garage more akin to a carriage house than today's two-car models, were the stuff of 1920s Ruxton.
In addition to the details, there were some choice goodies belonging to the owners that were in the house for the buying.
"We were able to purchase the portrait of Edward Manning Buracker, the original owner of Hiddenbrook, done by respected Baltimore portrait artist Thomas Cromwell Corner," said Lynn Plack. "We were very excited that during the move, the architect's original blueprints were found as well as all of the American Building Company's specifications for plumbing, electricity and the building materials, hand-typed on onion paper."
A slow approach down the long driveway treats the visitor to a grand stucco home of French country design. A pitched roof of graduated slate tiles contrasts with a central gable that tops an iron-gated second floor balcony over the front entrance. The bright exterior foreshadows the interior, the recipient of generous amounts of light from the bay windows, the sun porch and the multi-paneled glass doors.
But for the major appliances of gleaming stainless steel and counters of soapstone, the kitchen has been untouched. White built-in cabinets follow the walls from the main portion of the kitchen to a spacious butler's pantry.
The Placks have filled their main-level living room, dining room, sunporch and den with traditional furnishings. The dining room features 18th-century furniture.
Treasures include Ray Plack's Greg Otto painting of H.L. Mencken's house and his oversized sign collection, none of which contain wording, simply a carving or casting to indicate a particular shop or service.
"The optician [glasses] sign is a zinc trade sign for an optician in New York City circa 1880s purchased from an antique dealer," he said. "[A] favorite art object is the pair of cast-iron scissors, circa 1900, used as signage for a New England seamstress."
Meanwhile, work on the house continues, lovingly and steadfastly.
"It is hard to believe that the house is 90 years old and has stood the test of time so well," Lynn Plack said. "We love the country setting with huge trees and wildlife, yet we are only 7 miles from downtown Baltimore."
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