From riches to rags, then back to riches. That could be the motto of the grand Victorian house at 468 West Bel Air Avenue, near Baltimore Street.
Once home to Aberdeen's illustrious Baker family, the dwelling fell on hard times and stood dilapidated for years.
Mark DiDomenico and John McKeon, two Baltimore natives, spent more than a year bringing the Baker house back to life as an assisted living facility. They also are working to revitalize 603 W. Bel Air Ave., near Paradise Road.
Built in the late 1800s, the houses are among three properties along Aberdeen's once-grand stretch of West Bel Air Avenue to be restored in recent years. Father and son Leonard and Patrick McGrady renovated the former Methodist Church building on the corner of West Bel Air Avenue and Law Street that was built in 1866.
Since DiDomenico and McKeon bought the Baker House in 2002, they have completed a list of improvements that is exhausting just to read: Removing 30 Dumpsters worth of rubble; gutting and renovating four apartments in the rear of the building; replacing 53 windows; restoring stained glass windows; rebuilding seven bathrooms; building an eight-car garage; adding a sun-room and veranda; replacing electrical work; and adding central air, sprinkler and alarm systems.
"It was a little overwhelming in the beginning when we bought this," DiDomenico admitted, noting their friends had seen the collapsing ceilings and crumbling walls. "All of our friends said, 'Are you crazy, buying this house?'"
"Now it's everything we thought it would be," he said about the more than $300,000 investment in the home at 468 alone.
The two men, who have worked as care providers in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood since they met in 1995, said they were looking for a new space and the old homes in Aberdeen made sense for them.
"I always liked Harford County. It always seemed kind of upper-class to me," DiDomenico, 60, said.
"I've been in Baltimore and talked to people, and they know the house. [They say] 'Oh, the yellow and green one?' It's really funny," he said.
The Baker family was known for running a canning business in Aberdeen, part of the large canning industry throughout Harford County, in the late 1800s through the first half of the 20th century. The city today has a Baker Street and Bakerfield Elementary School – for Baker's Fields – both near the mansion.
"The Russian government was so thankful for the canning process and sending canned goods over there that they sent wood to the Baker family when they built the house," McKeon noted.
Upgrading the 118-year-old home to the modern standards needed for an assisted living facility was not overly difficult, they said, although it did mean installing 33 smoke detectors and a chair lift for the stairs.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said DiDomenico and McKeon have been very good business partners with the city.
"It was really great that those houses are refurbished and really looking great," Bennett said. "They have taken the time to update them with Victorian colors. It really adds a lot to the city."
McKeon also said the city has been a big help to them.