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Baltimore City

With purchase of 20 acres in Baltimore’s Roland Park, nonprofit hopes to create an inclusive recreational space

Walkers, nature lovers and student-athletes are about to gain another public park as the Baltimore Country Club prepares to sell its former golf course and tennis courts to a private neighborhood foundation.

The newly named Hillside Park, 20 acres of sloping woods and lawn off the 4800 block of Falls Road, was once Baltimore’s premier private course. The fairways, greens and lawn tennis courts attracted a handful of top athletes, as well as the city’s business and social elite, for more than 70 years.

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The future holds otherwise — an egalitarian plan to create a largely passive recreation space open to all in the Jones Falls watershed. Envisioned are public walking trails, woodland sanctuaries and athletic fields to be shared with schools, all on a public bus line.

Both buyer and seller declined to release the purchase price.

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“We paid a generous price,” said David Tufaro, a longtime Roland Park resident who was part of the team who worked to acquire the property. He and fellow neighbors successfully solicited contributions.

Many of the donors live nearby in Roland Park, while others reside in other neighborhoods. Some raised their children in Roland Park and moved on, but sent money anyway.

“We’ve had gifts of $100 to $50,000, and several $100,000 contributions,” said Tufaro, a real estate developer who preserved Mill No. 1 and the Whitehall Mill, both about a mile south of Hillside Park.

“It is hard to value a property not being put to market use,” said Tufaro, a former president of the Roland Park Community Foundation. “We see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

To date, more than 600 donors have contributed $8.5 million toward the park purchase plan. The organizers want to find an additional $1 million in gifts, plus $2 million to establish an endowment for perpetual park maintenance and care.

The Baltimore Country Club's old Roland Park golf course along Falls Road is going to be renamed Hillside Park.

Roland Park residents say that part of their mission is to create a place of inclusion. In the decades of racial and religious restrictions, sales agents for the Roland Park Co. often steered away home shoppers who they deemed unworthy of living there.

“In a neighborhood with a history of exclusion, this is an expression for the future,” said Mary Page Michel, chair of the Roland Park Community Foundation’s board.

She also said: “We care for our students — at Poly and Western and Roland Park Elementary and Middle and the independent schools, too. We‘d like to get them engaged as park stewards.”

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The Roland Park Community Foundation, a nonprofit subset of the Roland Park Civic League, will oversee the purchase of the 20 acres.

The foundation has previously planted trees along Roland Avenue and maintained the neighborhood’s curious system of public walking paths that meander around this 1890 garden suburb, designed in part by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architects.

Negotiations for the projected sale have stretched over decades as the club considered its land downsizing options, including an unpopular 2008 plan to sell the tract of land to a planned retirement community.

The Baltimore Country Club will retain 12 acres, largely along Club Road. Its 1932 clubhouse remains a functioning hospitality center with duckpin bowling and squash courts. Members golf on a separate campus called Five Farms in Baltimore County, which the club established in 1926.

“The Roland Park Company, which developed the area, constructed Maryland’s first 18-hole golf course, and established three churches, a firehouse, a central stable and a small group of retail shops as part of a 550-acre tract formerly known as Oakland,” said a 1998 history of the country club. The course had an estimated 100 sheep to keep its turf playable.

Just months after the club joined the USGA on March 31, 1898, the golf association awarded it the 1899 U.S. Open. The winner was a native of Scotland, Willie Smith, who won by 11 shots and established a record broken more than a century later by Tiger Woods.

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A groundskeeper tended to a fairway at the Baltimore Country Club during a coronavirus shutdown.

The tract was enlarged in 1903 when the club bought the old Mount Washington Cricket Club and constructed four grass tennis courts. A club champion was Baltimore banker Charles “Chuck” Garland, who won the 1920 doubles title at Wimbledon with Dick Williams, a survivor of the Titanic sinking.

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“Over time the quality of the grass tennis courts gained the level of recognition the golf course had enjoyed. ... Not long after joining the National Lawn Tennis Association in 1904, the Club hosted the first in a long series of qualifying matches for Davis Cup hopefuls. The grass courts were then the only ones south of the Mason-Dixon line and still considered among the finest in the country,” the club history said.

In 1969, the club staged what it called the first and last professional tennis championship at Roland Park. About 1,200 people watched Pancho Gonzales defeat Roy Emerson in the first round.

“On the women’s side Billie Jean King advanced to the finals by beating [Ann Haydon Jones] in a match marred by temper tantrums,” the club history said. Rosemary Casals defeated King in the finals, the club’s history said.

“In what many spectators described as the best tennis match they had ever seen, 32-year-old Rod Laver, the number one ranked player in the world, won the three-hour final men’s match against Pancho Gonzales. One week later Rod went to Forest Hills and won the U.S. Open,” the history said.

A decision to reduce the club’s original land holdings is not new. On Jan. 14, 1960, the club’s board approved the sale of land that stretched across Falls Road’s west side. The city of Baltimore bought 37 1/2 acres for the Jones Falls Expressway, as well as for Baltimore Polytechnic and Western high schools. The Rouse Co. subsequently developed the remaining 65 acres as its Village of Cross Keys.

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In October 1941, The Sun reported that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and his wife, Baltimore’s Wallis Warfield) visited the club for a reception. The news account said Metropolitan Opera diva Rosa Ponselle sang “Home Sweet Home” in honor of the duchess and “God Save the King” for the duke. Ponselle stood on a porch so her unamplified voice could be heard over the golf course.

During World War II, the grounds became a small farm. There were vegetable gardens and chicken coops.


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