A revived charmer still a secret while in middle of things

Special to The Sun

After 29 years as rector of Bolton Hill's Memorial Episcopal Church, Barney Farnham went looking for another Baltimore neighborhood in which to spend his retirement.

Although he and his wife loved Bolton Hill, they thought that putting some distance between them and the church would allow the new rector to make his own mark on the parish. "We looked at a lot of other neighborhoods in the city," said Farnham. "Condos weren't for us, parking in Fells Point was bad, and Federal Hill was too pricey."

Fortunately for the Farnhams, there was Ridgely's Delight, a quirky, off-the-beaten-path neighborhood right in the middle of downtown. "It's a wonderful, unknown neighborhood," Farnham said. "I think it's probably the last place in the city that you can find a bargain."

Bordered on the east by Greene Street, on the north by Pratt Street, and on the west by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the slice-of-pie-shaped National Historic Community's oldest still-standing house dates to 1805.

At the southernmost tip of the neighborhood is a good-sized public park, and a children's playground is in the middle of Ridgely's Delight.

It's an area that is economically, culturally and architecturally diverse, with historical roots that are intertwined with the University of Maryland Medical School and Medical Center.

Former longtime resident Melvin Knight said, "There were a few big houses in the 1830s, and by the 1890s this was the fashionable neighborhood for University of Maryland doctors who wanted to walk to work."

It was also home to the Irish immigrants who worked in the nearby rail yards, as well as the servants who were employed by the more affluent households.

One can wander through the neighborhood's maze of walkways and sally ports that still weave through the neighborhood.

By the size of the houses, it is easily apparent which streets -- Washington Boulevard (once known as Professional Row), Paca Street (with its canopy of Bradford pear trees) and Portland Street -- were home to the wealthy, while other streets -- Dover, Melvin and Burgundy -- clearly provided housing for the working classes.

Ridgely's Delight fell into disrepair and was slated for the wrecking ball in the late 1950s. But, by the 1970s, said Knight, the "dollar home" program was under way and the homesteaders started arriving.

"There are a lot of lovely old people who had lived in the neighborhood for years, and they made coming here a really nice experience," Knight added.

Today, Ridgely's Delight is still a neighborhood where the doctors can walk to work.

Dr. Jeanette Nazarian and her husband, Douglas, an attorney, arrived in August 1992, initially renting a Conway Street house, -- which they have since purchased. She described the house, built in 1984, as "a double-wide rowhouse, which is very traditional on the outside and very contemporary inside."

"There are more and more homeowners coming here, and the neighborhood is becoming more stable," she said.

"There is a whole range of people here, including professional couples who work downtown and didn't want to pay Federal Hill or Otterbein prices, nurses, a photographer, a Shock Trauma chaplain and people who commute to D.C. via the MARC train."

Tom Barany has a home office in his 100-year-old rehabbed house.

"I just kind of walked around the neighborhood in my spare time and liked it," he said. "There is a winter feel and a summer feel here, a different feel when the students are here and when they are on vacation."

In addition to the home offices are a barely noticeable factory, the Baltimore Office Supply Co., and the offices of Zenith Lighting Inc.

Barany points to the convenience of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Babe Ruth Museum and the new Ravens stadium.

Ridgely's Delight boasts four restaurants: Carolyn's Cafe, the Penn Restaurant, Indian Pavilion and Camden Pub -- as well as the Strike Three Bar.

Barney Farnham appreciates other aspects of the area's location: He can walk to the courthouse for jury duty, to ballgames and to the Inner Harbor, as well to his physician's nearby office.

While the approximately 425 houses can sell for as little as $60,000 to about $150,000 (and the owners of one mansion that is made of three separate, but connected, houses can ask $350,000), the average price of the four homes sold in the neighborhood in 1997 was $86,500.

Off-street parking is plentiful, and virtually all the houses have gardens.

Currently on the market is 632 S. Paca St. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom house has a back yard and space for off-street parking. Previously a rental property, the house has three floors, central air conditioning and wall-to-wall carpeting throughout.

The asking price is $109,000.

And, with a view of the neighborhood's park is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the market for $96,000.

In the end, however, it's really the residents who define a neighborhood.

"The neighbors are just fabulous," attorney Steve Kauffman said. "They are the best thing about this neighborhood."

Ridgely's Delight

Population: 1,006

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10-minute walk to Inner Harbor

Public schools: George Washington Elementary, Diggs Johnson Middle,Southwestern High

Shopping: Inner Harbor; Gallery at Harborplace; Lexington Market; CrossStreet Market.

Points of interest: Oriole Park and Ravens Stadium at Camden BTC Yards;Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baseball Center; University of Maryland Medical Center.

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