City meets small town in Violetville

Neighborhood: Violetville

Location: Southwestern Baltimore

Average sales price: $135,000 (January through June)

Notable features: This little triangle of a neighborhood, anchored by St. Agnes Hospital, started life as a 19th-century village and still has a small-town feel. Some streets are lined by rowhouses, some by single-family homes, all with yards. Foliage abounds. A park with ball fields and tennis courts gives kids a destination, and for the adults: Interstate 95. Nothing like slicing your commute time by living a minute from the on-ramp.

When the city expanded its boundaries in 1919, it took most but not quite all of Violetville. The southern piece of the neighborhood is in Baltimore County, as is the Violetville Volunteer Fire Department. You'll find homes on that side of the line that look decidedly suburban, but on the city side, there are rowhomes astride long lawns and free-standing houses.

In nominating the neighborhood, Real Estate Wonk blog reader JLG wrote: "This is a great community, more like a small town or suburb but only 6 minutes from downtown. Has its own school, park and churches."

Paul Gill, who's lived in Violetville for about 40 years, loves how quickly he can get everywhere. "It's really very, very accessible," he said.

The Violetville Community Association has tried to position itself as a home for Washington commuters. On its Web site, it trumpets: "Violetville is the closest Baltimore neighborhood to D.C.!"

It does have a handful of residents who work in D.C., said Gill, a former president of the community association. But it hasn't seen the level of gentrification, granite-laden rehabbing and high prices that followed in the wake of Washington commuters in the city's better-known neighborhoods. Gill said a real estate agent came looking for lots earlier in the decade — "her view was that we could be Fells Point without the bars" — but that was before the housing bust.

And thus Violetville still seems to be what it was in 2005, when the City Paper named it the best neighborhood in its "Best of Baltimore" issue: "a refreshingly blue-collar Southwest 'hood."

Gill said families have tended to stay put. For a while, he, his adult daughter and his mother all lived within a block of each other in Violetville. And his daughter's husband grew up right around the corner.

"I think it's about as nice a city neighborhood as you're going to find for a working guy," Gill said.