One of the original row houses in Oakenshawe has been in Betty Nell Wagner's extended family since the community was developed a century ago.
She and her husband, John Fahey Crook, whose grandmother first owned the row house at 3401 Oakenshaw Place, lived there for more than 40 years, from 1959 until his death in 1991.
"I raised the kids there," said Wagner, a mother of seven, who sold the house off West University Parkway in 1992. She later remarried and moved to Charlesmead.
Now 86 and living in the Roland Park Place retirement community, Wagner has been back to Oakenshawe occasionally and still knows a few families there.
"It's great to see that the old house is there and doing well," Wagner said Feb. 14 at Clifton Mansion. There, she and 175 other past and current Oakenshawe residents raised commemorative glasses that said, "Oakenshawe, 1916-2016," and drank a special toast as the neighborhood kicked off a 10-month centennial celebration with a fancy Valentine's Day Tea. Many of the guests wore period clothing of the day.
Clifton Mansion is not in Oakenshawe, but was a suitably historic setting nearby, organizers said, adding that there was no particular reason for starting the centennial celebration there on Valentine's Day.
"It just seemed like a good way to start," said Miye Schakne, former president of the Oakenshawe Improvement Association and co-organizer of the centennial celebration with Peter Halstead. She wore a faux tiara, white gloves and "a lady of the house'" dress, which she characterized as looking like something out of "Downton Abbey: Season One."
Upcoming centennial events include:
• Longtime resident Matthew Mosca reprising his popular Historical Walking Tour from Charles Village into Oakenshawe on April 23 (rain date April 30).
• The Oakenshawe Centennial Plant Sale on June 4, with annual and unusual perennials for sale, demonstrations of urban composting and worm farming, and lemon and peppermint sticks for the kids.
• Oakenshawe Day at the Baltimore Orioles ballpark at Camden Yards in July or August. The date will be announced soon, organizers say.
• The Centennial Terrace Party on Sept. 10, a souped-up version of the already elaborate annual neighborhood potluck with live music and several streets blocked off. The event will feature special entertainment, mystery celebrity appearances and city officials proclaiming the day as Oakenshawe Day in the city, organizers say.
• The Oakenshawe House & Garden Tour, also a reprise of a once-popular event that hasn't been done in several years. People can play a 1916 trivia game as they stroll the neighborhood, followed by an ice cream social, organizers say.
"We want to celebrate the neighborhood as a great place to live," said Mosca, 67, a specialist and consultant in historical paint finishes, who is involved in the ongoing restoration of Clifton Mansion. Mosca moved to Oakenshawe Place from Windsor Mill in the early 1990s, drawn by its central location and walkability to major institutions.
"It was my dream neighborhood," he said.
Home sweet home
For anyone who likes city living with a measure of peace and quiet, Oakenshawe is home. The leafy residential neighborhood of 336 houses, tucked between Guilford, Charles Village, Abell and Waverly, is best known for what's around it — like Union Memorial Hospital, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University.
As a neighborhood, Oakenshawe's biggest claims to fame are its proud status as Baltimore City's first Residential Permit Parking area, the inclusion of its historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, and the inconsistent spelling of the neighborhood's name and streets. The confusion dates to the 1800s when the namesake of the neighborhood, prominent Baltimore shipping and mercantile magnate James Wilson's original 350-acre Okenshawe Estate, was spelled without the first 'a,' but with an 'e' on the end.
The estate, which has been torn down, was located roughly on what is now Homewood Terrace between Oakenshaw Terrace and Guilford Terrace. It was built between 1801 and 1829, and the area was generally known as 'Oakenshaw' until 1910, when city maps added the 'e' on the end, said resident Dennis Wilson, who is writing a book about Oakenshawe.
"They spelled it all different ways," said Wilson, who is no relation to James Wilson. "Some parts of it stuck; some didn't."
Today, the community is spelled 'Oakenshawe,' with the 'e' on the end, but Oakenshaw Place, for example, has no 'e' on the end.
Despite its quirky spelling variations, the neighborhood itself has been a model of consistency. The Philip C. Mueller Building Co., which purchased James Wilson's estate in the early 1900s, began developing nine acres on the east side of Guilford Terrace in 1916, and ran newspaper ads touting the nine-bedroom, two-bath brick houses with white beam trimmings and slate roofs as conveniently located and low priced, "in the most beautiful and exclusive section of Baltimore."
One ad featured a box on "how to get there" via the St. Paul streetcar.
Oakenshawe was Mueller's first development project, and he took the then-unusual step of hiring architects, said Dennis Wilson, whose book is scheduled to be published in 2018 by Arcadia Publishing's History Press.
Hiring architects didn't sit well with pundits of the day.
"Everybody said it was a waste of time," Wilson said. "But it was built efficiently."
Wilson, 63, a molecular biologist, medicinal chemist and researcher for the University of Maryland School of Medicine, moved to Oakenshawe in 1994 from the Inner Harbor to be closer to his then-employer, Johns Hopkins University. After taking the inaugural Oakenshawe House & Garden Tour in 2002, he became interested in the community's history.
"I never intended to write a book," Wilson said. But all the bits and pieces of history he had culled ended up as a book that took him two years to write. He is awaiting more old photos of the community, he said.
Wilson is not the only one wrapped up in the community.
Eileen Norton has lived in Oakenshawe for 51 years and marveled at its longevity as a residential oasis in an evolving area of North Baltimore.
"A lot's stayed the same, a lot's changed," said Norton, whose parents lived in Oakenshawe, too. She wore a velvet top made by her mother, who was born in 1916.
"I'm a newbie," said resident Anne Kern, a resident for the past eight years who wore a black hairpiece and her grandmother's black cape.
Even newer to the neighborhood is Becky McLaughlin, 28, who plays French horn as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Field Band. She has only lived in Oakenshawe for about 18 months, but was so excited about the centennial that she arranged for off-duty band members to play at the Valentine's Day Tea. She didn't actually perform, however, because, she said, "I'm attending."
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the Oakenshawe area, was the guest speaker for the tea and told the story of how Mayor William Donald Schaefer came to begrudgingly give his blessing to the Residential Permit Parking program after she convinced him to meet with an Oakenshawe resident who was complaining about having no place to park when he got home from work. The City Council approved the parking program in 1979. Oakenshawe was the first neighborhood to use it, and is known in the city Parking Authority as Area I for the program.
Halstead, the centennial celebration co-organizer, owns a catering business and spared no detail in making sure that hors d'oeuvres ranging from cucumber sandwiches to curry chicken salad puff pastries were native to the early 20th century, when Oakenshawe came into being. Halstead, 60, also selected Roaring '20s music, made feather arrangements in flower vases, dyed coffee filters pink to look like peonies, and blew up Edwardian Valentine's Day cards into posters that hung on the walls during the tea.
The event cost $20 a ticket, to cover the $3,000 cost of the event, and everyone got a commemorative glass and coffee mug with the Oakenshawe logo. Centennial T-shirts were for sale at the front door. Some of the businesses that were hired for the event donated their services or gave deep discounts. The Wine Source in Hampden provided four cases of sparkling wine for the toast.
"Philosophically, we decided this was a celebration for the neighborhood, not a fundraiser," Schakne said.
Resident Lynda Allen saw the event as more than a centennial celebration.
"It's a small neighborhood and it's a good way to bring neighbors together and other people who are interested in historic preservation," Allen said. "A lot of other neighborhoods have not aged well."