Carving out new interest in Baltimore's Butchers Hill

For The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore's Butchers Hill neighborhood offers home tour Sunday, Oct. 9.

Leann Silhan and Chad Stockton weren't even looking for a new house when they discovered the neighborhood they now call home.

But they fell for Butchers Hill when they visited one of Silhan's colleaugues and found spacious, high-ceilinged homes more than double the size of a standard city rowhouse.

"We actually couldn't believe the size of their house," Stockton said. "We had no idea these houses were here."

Silhan and Stockton toured the neighborhood later in that summer of 2014. Along with the grand homes along the streets, they noticed an eclectic, artsy vibe. They saw baby strollers on marble steps outside many of the homes. They walked a block down the street to sprawling Patterson Park, which sits at the edge of the neighborhood.

They sold their home in Federal Hill and moved into their East Pratt Street home in October 2014.

Often overlooked in favor of the more densely populated neighborhoods of Fells Point and Canton to the south, Butchers Hill has undergone a quiet but steady rise in popularity over the past 40 years. The Butchers Hill Neighborhood Association will showcase the neighborhood next Sunday, Oct. 9, with its annual house tour.

Located at the northwest corner of Patterson Park, Butchers Hill is roughly bordered by Pratt Street to the south, Washington Street to the west, Fayette Street to the north and the park to the east.

Built at the summit of Hampstead Hill, the neighborhood gained its name from the butchers who first set up residence there in the early 1800s in what was then a stand-alone neighborhood just outside the growing port city of Baltimore. (City law forbade forbade slaughterhouses southwest of Baltimore and Ann streets, according to a history on the neighborhood association's website.)

The butchers' prosperity — and a post-Civil War building boom — transformed the area with new housing, primarily large rowhouses. The spacious brick-and-stone homes feature distinct architectural styles that range from the Federal style to elaborate Victorian takes on the late 19th-century rowhouse. Gables and turrets rise from some of the neighborhood's more distinctive properties.

Homes range in width from 10 to 30 feet, though many are on the wider end. Larger homes featuring grand, double-door entranceways, marble steps and decorative wrought-iron railings sit on the main arteries.

Converted carriage houses and smaller rowhouses sit on side streets and alleys. There, kids still play in the street before it turns dark.

Neighbors gather for pot-luck meals. Dog owners walk their pups around one of the two pocket parks in the neighborhood or over to Patterson Park.

The distinctive architectural details carry into the interiors, where additions and changing uses through the decades — from business to residential, from rooming house to apartments — means each home is different.

The home Silhan and Stockton bought had at one time been used as multiple apartments, and earlier renovations had removed some of the home's more historic finishes in favor of clean, modern lines.

The couple more than doubled their living space when they moved to the 3,575-square-foot, three-story home. It offers three bedrooms, 31/2 bathrooms, a living room, a combination study and playroom, a dining room and a kitchen, all with 10-foot-high ceilings.

"We really liked this house even though it was very quirky and very different," said Silhan, who is a pulmonologist for Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We liked the neighborhood. [It has a] beautiful park so close. And I can be to work in five minutes or fifteen minutes [if he walks]."

The move brought Stockton, a creative director at HZDG ad agency in Harbor East, a shorter work commute as well.

It gives their 17-month-old daughter Charlie ample room to run and play, something that would have been nearly impossible in their previous home, a two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot Federal Hill rowhouse.

Surface renovations restored a historic feel to the home. The couple installed crown molding throughout, updated and installed lighting with a turn-of-the-century flair, replaced the wrought-iron handrail and installed wrought-iron window boxes outside.

The home's walls are painted a shade of white, providing a contrast to emphasize the art they have acquired and made through the years. Silhan's own artwork fills some of the frames on the home's walls. She painted three gray-and-white watercolors of a zebra, elephant and giraffe that hang in their daughter's bedroom. Black-and-white photographs from a trip to Paris hang in the living room.

In the dining room, four Art Nouveau prints by Alphonse Mucha acquired during a trip to the Czech Republic feature women in various poses. These hang above a family heirloom — a wiring desk that belonged to Stockton's great-grandmother.

A 10-foot-long rustic dining room table made out of reclaimed pine beams, discovered by Silhan and Stockton during a trip to Second Chance in West Baltimore, provides seating for 10.

They gutted the kitchen to create a large, updated cooking area with granite counters, an oversized island, open shelving for dinnerware and glasses, and a top-end six-burner, double-oven Wolf range in stainless steel.

"I enjoy cooking, and Chad enjoys buying things for the kitchen," Silhan said.

They removed drop ceilings in the kitchen to expose the original wooden support beams — now painted white to fit the kitchen's black-and-white color scheme.

Their home will be one of nine in the neighborhood open to visitors on the Oct. 9 house tour.

The tour, which draws about 200 people each year, has been operating for at least 30 years.

"I think people wanted to show off that the neighborhood had changed and [that] a lot of new people were living here," said Dee Lundelius, co-chair of the house tour committee, about the genesis of what's become a fundraiser for the neighborhood association.

"We're still happy to show off our houses. We have some beautiful homes," she said. "So many people come on the tour and they think they might want to live here."

That was the case with her fellow co-chair, Sue Noonan, who attended her first house tour in 1987. She moved to Butchers Hill the same year and has co-chaired the tour each year since.

In its 200 years, Butchers Hill has cycled through a half-dozen booms and busts: Times of great prosperity and times when homes went vacant.

Noonan has watched the neighborhood change during this most recent resurgence, as corner grocery stores were replaced with residences. She watched as large homes that had been converted to apartments for blue-collar workers were turned back into single-family residences. She watched as homes that had sat empty and vacant for years were bought and renovated.

Today Butchers Hill hosts a growing community of working professionals, Johns Hopkins employees and young families with children.

This most recent comeback started in the '70s, but it's been a long, slow climb, according to Craig Thomson, a real estate agent who moved to Butchers Hill in 1980.

"It was arduous," he said of the area's renaissance. "It really was a slow process where young people couldn't afford the houses in Fells Point and they wanted bigger houses."

The neighborhood earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

The rebirth of Butchers Hill hit its zenith in the late '90s and early 2000s, he said, and while the 2008 economic recession hurt home sales and created a few new empty properties, the housing market has since recovered fairly well. Today, no vacant, unclaimed homes remain.

Home prices now range from $135,000 for a one-bedroom rowhouse on one of the side streets to $865,000 for the largest homes. Homes listed for $350,000 or less sell the quickest, he said.

Both he and Noonan are examples of the newest trend Thomson sees in the neighborhood.

"They're coming because they want the bigger house and they want the park," he said. "And they tend not to leave."

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The tour

When: Sunday, Oct. 9

Time: Noon-5 p.m.

Cost: $15

Tickets and more information: http://bit.ly/2dicAt1

Neighborhood real estate sales

Home sold in past year: 82

Median sales price in past year: $252,662

Median sales-to-list price ratio in past year: 92.8 percent

Average days on market in past year: 68

Source: MRIS (data for Sept. 2015 to Aug. 2016)

On the market

2223 E. Pratt Street, four bedrooms, three full- and half-bathrooms, built in 1878, $840,000, listed by Steven Paxton of Keller Williams

228 S. Chester Street, four bedrooms, four bathrooms, built in 1900, $419,900, listed by Jennifer Seal of Redfin

106 Washington Street South, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, one half-bath, built in 1900, $389,000, listed by Ronald Howard of RE/MAX Preferred

2106 E. Lombard Street, two bedrooms, two bathooms, built in 1914, $309,900, listed by Stephen Lazarz of Execuhome Realty

Source: MRIS

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