Tiny city enclave has a medical background

Pill Hill is a tiny find in Baltimore: a residential neighborhood that, despite its enviable location in the heart of Mount Washington, remains tucked away from the city's tangled traffic and chronic construction.

"I sometimes joke that while the city around us has seen so much growth and change, the most noticeable change around here is that the trees are taller," says Ralph Raphael, who has lived in Pill Hill with his family for 18 years.

Nestled on 100 acres just off Kelly Avenue and south of the Bonnie View Country Club in <Mount Washington, Pill Hill feels remote, but residents enjoy all the conveniences of city living. It is made up of just seven streets.

"There are lots of big trees, and it's very peaceful," says Dr. Anthony Perlman, a retired physician and one of Pill Hill's original homeowners. "But you're also close to everything. It's 15 minutes to the symphony, and 12 minutes to the Beltway."

Moreover, a light-rail station in nearby Mount Washington Village offers Pill Hill residents access to downtown Baltimore.

Developed in 1957, most of the homes that line Pill Hill's seven streets are split- or tri-level contemporaries with carports - a construction style that distinguishes it from many of the Colonial revivals and old Victorian homes in other parts of Mount Washington. The area also houses a three-story apartment building on Ivydene Terrace.

"The houses all have plaster walls and were incredibly modern and well-constructed," says Edie Brown, whose has lived in Pill Hill with her family for 43 years. "We still have our original kitchen, and it's wonderful."

Pill Hill is said to have earned its name from its earliest residents.

"There were so many medical professionals moving into the area, Pill Hill became its de facto name," says Matt Richardson, who lives in neighboring Dixon Hill.

Perlman counts at least 15 physicians and dentists among the original homeowners in Pill Hill, many of whom were affiliated with nearby Sinai Hospital or Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.

"I've heard that for a time it was even referred to as 'Will Hill' because there were so many attorneys and judges living in the neighborhood," Raphael says.

There is currently nothing for sale in Pill Hill and, according to Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage real estate agent Margaret Rome, turnover in the area is generally low.

"Young families move to Pill Hill and stay," she says. "It's an incredibly desirable location."

Only eight homes in Pill Hill have been listed for sale since January 2002, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. The average list price was $289,225 and the average sale price was $278,563.

"You see real pride of ownership [in Pill Hill]," Rome says. "People take care of their homes and, rather than move, they make marvelous improvements and additions."

Case in point: Jackie Fried and her husband Scott this year put an addition on their home that earned them the 2004 Mount Washington Improvement Association's excellence in design award. The addition, which includes a new master bedroom and bathroom, was designed by architect Rebecca Swanston and, according to Jackie Fried, "is very much in keeping with the tradition of the house."

Fried says that moving to a new place was never on the agenda. "We love city living, and we love this community. It's hard to explain, but it's easy here. There is a real sense of stability."

She points out that she is only a 15-minute walk to the Mount Washington Mill, a renovated 19th-century cotton mill that houses a Starbucks, a Whole Foods Market, the Mount Washington Wine Co. and Smith & Hawken.

Also nearby is Mount Washington Village, which is home to a handful of restaurants, specialty shops, hair salons and Baltimore Clayworks, a nonprofit community center for the ceramic arts that provides classes, a gallery and studio space for artists.

Other points of interest in Mount Washington include the Cylburn Arboretum - a 207-acre nature preserve and urban park off Greenspring Avenue - the Northwest Ice Rink, and the Mount Washington and Meadowbrook swim clubs.

Perlman, who has lived in his home for 47 years, says it never occurred to him to leave what he calls "the most wonderful neighborhood in Baltimore." He adds that at least 12 of the original owners still live in Pill Hill.

Dr. Joel Goodman, a dentist who lives in Howard County, was a seventh-grader when he moved to Pill Hill with his family in 1964.

"One of the things I loved most about living there was playing hide-and-seek outside on a Friday night with all the other kids from the neighborhood," he recalls. "It was a very close-knit community."

Forty years later, many of the Pill Hill "kids" are still friends and see each other at least once a year at the Pill Hill Turkey Bowl, a Thanksgiving day football game inaugurated in the late 1960s.

"I remember everyone would come home from college the day before Thanksgiving, meet up at the Mount WashingtonTavern and get up the next day for the game," he says, adding that decades later, turnout for the neighborhood game is still strong.