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From summer retreat to suburban haven, Sudbrook Park retains an original charm

Ed Brady in front of his Sudbrook Park home. The community is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Ed Brady in front of his Sudbrook Park home. The community is celebrating its 125th anniversary. (Photo by Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

On visits to Sudbrook Park, I sometimes observe little changes in this special place just to the west of Pikesville.

Well, not much. The community, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, did recently get a new bridge over the old Western Maryland Railway tracks. It's not just any bridge, either, but a single-lane span, painted dark green, that fits harmoniously into one of Baltimore's oldest planned suburbs.

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Residents of Sudbrook Park are celebrating the community's 125th anniversary this week. It's been a quiet birthday party, in keeping with the neighborhood's subdued ways. A gathering was held on one of the neighborhood community triangle spaces among its curving streets.

Begun in 1889 with money from Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore capitalists, this early suburb was created as a summer retreat, where people escaping the city heat resided from late May to October.

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Students of landscape architecture history know Sudbrook was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., who was the co-designer of New York's Central Park. It was he who said "No great city can long exist without great suburbs."

Olmsted laid out the roads and lots along sweeping curves in the same way he created early suburbs in Chicago's Riverside and Atlanta's Druid Hills. His son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., conceived a similar design in Roland Park.

Early on, visitors to Sudbrook recognized its novel arrangement: "The lack of regularity in the arrangement of the roads and grounds is one of the chief attractions," The Baltimore Sun said in an 1893 article. "The carriage roads and pathways run in and out with a delightful unexpectedness."

That article described 11 pretty cottages and a summer hotel, called an inn, that "dotted" Sudbrook "without fence or gate," so the homes would not be separated from the rest of the neighborhood.

"Olmsted's design for Sudbrook was exceptional for its time. It remains a work of art," said Melanie Anson, Sudbrook's historian.

In notes she prepared for this week's festivities, she wrote that Sudbrook was not a resounding commercial success. For its first 40 years, it never quite shed its reputation as a great place to retire during the warm-weather months.

"Sales never materialized to the extent anticipated," she said. Fewer than 50 homes were built before the Depression of the 1930s. Construction resumed about 1939 with a new crop of smaller homes, some of which are located on misspelled Olmstead Road.

Those 50 early Sudbrook homes — none is small — make quite a statement. Built of shingle and clapboard, they practically define the good old summertime with their wide porches and huge windows. Some nice gardens and hedges and majestic trees help, too.

"The porch was one of the reasons we bought this house," said Edward Brady, who lives on Sudbrook Lane with his wife, Darragh. "We move out to the porch in the summer and don't use the dining room."

Brady, a retired science department chair at St. Paul's School, said his home began as a summer boardinghouse and was enlarged in 1907 when Colonial Revival touches were added.

Many current Sudbrook renovators confront the challenges of living in a wooden 1895-vintage home. A complete repainting, with repairs to the ubiquitous shingles and dormers, can cost more than $40,000. That does not include kitchens or baths.

"Some of the original houses didn't have real kitchens," said Christian Kendzierski, who bought a home on Sudbrook Lane a few years ago. "We think that the summer residents must have taken their meals at the Sudbrook Inn."

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Kendzierski and his wife, Meghan Marx, made necessary renovations to their home. For starters, they insulated the walls and added a nice kitchen. They told me how much they like the acre lots and the mature tree cover.

"Judging from the number of baby carriages I see, I think there is a youth boom here," Marx said.

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