Beautiful architecture amid nature's bounty

Guilford is simply one of Baltimore's premier neighborhoods.

The stately mansions.

The beautifully landscaped gardens.

And the sun-dappled lots that fairly reek of both old and new money, trust funds, success in business, medicine, law or education, fine antiques and artwork.

Guilford's streets are lined with an eclectic architectural stock that includes sumptuous Georgian, Tudor and even Spanish-style homes right out of the Norma Desmond-Sunset Boulevard era. The most fashionable Northern European-made automobiles, the preferred mode of transport, are parked in its driveways.

It is, in a word, the tenderloin.

Since its inception in 1913 when the first lots went on sale, Guilford has managed to retain its desirability and physical beauty despite social upheaval and urban flight.

"Guilford has some of the finest examples of architecture in town," said J. Carroll Boone, a real estate agent with Hill & Co. of Cross Keys.

"It is a nice place to live, and buyers run the gamut from professionals to educators. It's convenient to schools, shopping, downtown, the airport and railroad station," he said.

One of Guilford's newest and high visibility residents is Mark L. Perkins, who took over as president of Towson University this summer. He will move into a 5,800-square-foot home on Greenway near 39th Street, that cost $850,000.

In his 1951 book, The Amiable Baltimoreans, Francis F. Beirne wrote of Guilford:

"From the point where University Parkway crosses Charles Street the city assumes a semirural character. ... When, around the turn of the century, the real estate developers stepped in, they used rare insight in preserving the giant oaks and tulip poplars that were the crowning glory of the neighborhood.

"The houses here are built well apart and surrounded by spacious lawns and shade trees. There is so much cover that wildlife is attracted to it. Within 10 minutes by automobile from the very center of the city it is not at all unusual to encounter squirrels, rabbits, an occasional opossum and owls. Every once in a while a deer wanders into town," he wrote.

"Guilford is probably the best suburb in America, if only because of the predominance of Georgian red brick. Most of its houses are not only completely designed; they show clearly that they are in Baltimore and not Buffalo, Cincinnati, or Los Angeles," wrote H.L. Mencken in 1929 in The Evening Sun.

"They have had a plain and salubrious influence on house design in other places. ... Even the Johns Hopkins group probably takes color from them; without them it might have been the usual academic pseudo-Gothic," he wrote.

The one aspect of life in Guilford that Mencken faulted was the lack of walls or quiet English-styled walled gardens which he thought created a needed sense of privacy.

"I offer a set of my Collected Works to the first Guilfordista who puts a proper wall around his lot, and engage myself herewith to lay the first brick and set up a keg of beer for the ceremony," he wrote.

Guilford's origins as an estate date to 1830, when Gen. William McDonald consolidated the 210 acres it occupies, and named it after the Revolutionary battle of Guilford Court House, in which he was wounded.

After the general's death in 1845, the estate descended to his son, William, who raised racehorses and during the Civil War was imprisoned at Fort McHenry for allowing Southern sympathizers to signal Confederate troops in Anne Arundel County from the tower of his house.

A.S. Abell, founder of The Sun, purchased the estate from McDonald's heirs for $475,000 and used it as his country estate until his death in 1888.

The house, which was razed in 1914, stood on what is now the north side of Lambeth Road between Greenway and Underwood Road. Stone lions once guarded the gate where Charles Street bends left toward Warrenton Road.

Guilford was purchased from the Abell heirs in 1907 by the Guilford Park Co. for $1 million, and in 1911, under an agreement with the Roland Park Co., the company began development.

The homes were designed by some of the greatest Baltimore architects of the era. They included Edward L. Palmer, Bayard Turnbull, John Russell Pope and W.D. Lamdin.

Unlike Roland Park, Guilford is much denser and the lots smaller. Building materials range from brick and stone to stucco.

"The twin gateway houses on St. Paul Street at the entrance to Guilford came off the drawing board of Palmer & Lamdin and set their careers," said Walter Schamu, a Baltimore architect and architectural historian.

"They weren't messing around and were the best architects of the day. For instance, Palmer & Lamdin never did design a bad house, and some of their best work is in Guilford. Those houses in Guilford are extraordinarily beautiful," he said.

"One loves to show it off. A ride down Greenway is an architectural feast and visual delight," added Schamu, who has led walking tours through the neighborhood.

The Guilford Association maintains the neighborhood's integrity by regulating through deed and covenant such things as the color houses are painted and must give its approval for any exterior architectural change, additions or even the erection of a fence.

Since its inception, Guilford was designed as a residential neighborhood with no commercial activity allowed. Residents shop at The Rotunda or at shops and stores on Cold Spring Lane and Roland Avenue.

In the 1960s, Guilford was the setting for a spectacular crime spree. Readers avidly followed the exploits of "Guilford's Notorious Cat Burglar," as he was called in newspaper stories.

The cat burglar was able to slip easily into the homes and bedrooms in the dead of night and interrupt the slumbers of such affluent citizens as T. Rowe Price and Judge Harrison L. Winter.

One robbery that could have been lifted right from a Thin Man movie occurred in the home of Douglas Gordon, the cantankerous Baltimore preservationist and bibliophile. Gordon's Charlcote House, the largest home in Guilford that was designed by John Russell Pope, sold in 2000 for $2.26 million.

Newspaper reports inadvertently created a story that had Baltimoreans chuckling. It said that Gordon was "forced at gunpoint to enter his wife's bedroom," and wait while she opened a wall safe. Robbers made off with $15,000 in jewelry, cash and furs.

Among Guilford's great attractions for visitors are the tulips that begin popping up in April and May in Sherwood Gardens.

During the 1920s, John W. Sherwood opened his 7.25-acre garden behind his Highfield Road mansion to the public, which was invited to share in the annual riot of spring color.

After Sherwood's death in 1965, the Guilford Association purchased 3.5 acres of his property, which is planted with about 78,000 Dutch tulip bulbs.

Arthur Davis III, president of Chase Fitzgerald and Co., said that home sales had been very strong for the last couple of years.

"On the low end, houses start in the $125,000 to $135,000 range and go as high as $2.26 million, as with the sale of Charlcote House," Davis said.

He said buyers are drawn to Guilford for a variety of reasons.

"When the Roland Park Co. got to Guilford they had refined their techniques. Buyers like the very fine detail work in the houses and the high-type of architecture. A lot of concepts came into play with Guilford's creation," he said.

"Of course Sept. 11 had a huge impact on things. But if a buyer sees a Guilford house he likes, I can tell you, they'll pounce on it," Boone said.


Commute to downtown: 10 minutes

Public schools: Guilford Elementary, Roland Park Middle, Northern High

Shopping: The Rotunda, Cross Keys, Eddie's Roland Avenue, the Waverly Farmer's Market

ZIP code: 21210, 21218