Walking to junior high along narrow streets that wind through Roland Park, John Glynn used to peer at the sprawling old houses with gables and towers going every which way, like something off the cover of a Gothic novel.
"It always had this romantic ambience, somewhat overgrown, with individual, odd structures," says Mr. Glynn, now 46, who lived in Charles Village when he went to public school in Roland Park. "It had a charm that appealed to some sense of nostalgia, a certain feel of the past."
Now, each night when the attorney leaves the Office of the People's Counsel in a downtown high-rise, he returns to the neighborhood that gripped him as a youngster, a century-old place of shingled houses huddled over hillsides, canopies of tall elms and wraparound porches made for sipping iced tea.
He heads for a chalet with overhanging eaves built on a wooded slope, his home of 10 years, where he and his wife, Karen, a hospice nurse, raise a daughter and two sons.
"It still has that feeling of being removed from the hubbub of everyday urban life," Mr. Glynn says.
Considered one of Baltimore's most desirable neighborhoods, along with the even statelier Guilford and Homeland, Roland Park is rich in deep roots, civic mindedness and old money. Its stability comes in large part from having long-established institutions nearby -- St. Mary's Seminary, Loyola College and a slew of private schools.
Every now and then, modern-day Baltimore tried to nudge its way into tradition-bound Roland Park. But Mr. Glynn and neighbors like him with a yen for old-fashioned charm will have none of that.
Here, no fewer than four distinct organizations serve as overseers of Roland Park and arbiters of good taste. New businesses in the few commercial districts, such as convenience stores, service stations and shops that have sprouted on Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road, risk raising the ire of the 850-member Roland Park Civic League if they add to noise or litter or worsen traffic.
And residents need approval from their neighbors on the Roads and Maintenance Corp. before they can hang new shutters, change the color of paint or install new windows.
While drafty old houses on the borders of the neighborhood have evolved into lower-maintenance apartments, single-family homes in Roland Park must stay single-family. Roads and Maintenance Corp. keeps up a network of pathways through the neighborhood, while the Roland Park Community Foundation raises money for trees. Another group maintains the Roland Park pool.
If not for keeping close watch, residents say, the nostalgic appeal of their suburb within a city would be lost, and with it their reason for moving there -- or for just never leaving.
Bill Wilson never left. The 72-year-old retired owner of a real estate agency grew up in Roland Park, walked to the public school, answered the Army's call, then settled on Hawthorne Road. There, he and his wife, Vivienne, raised three sons, around the corner and down the street from his W.H.C. Wilson & Co. realty.
He acknowledges disadvantages of city living, such as higher property taxes, but still says, "If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn't live anywhere else."
From the secluded stone patio beside the family's five-bedroom home, it's easy to see why.
Turn off some nearby busy city streets -- University Parkway, Falls Road, Cold Spring Lane -- and tidy brick rowhouses, three-story apartment buildings and small strips of stores give .. way to front yards common to any upscale suburb. Roland Park still looks the retreat from the city its founders intended more than a century ago.
Back then The Roland Park Co. laid out 550 acres in the image of 19th-century England's "garden suburbs." Edward H. Bouton's master plan incorporated site design with controls restricting lots to a single house set 30 feet from the street.
The developers, who won praise for creatively using natural hills, also built the Baltimore Country Club, an electric streetcar line and one of the nation's first shopping centers -- the Tudor-style Roland Park Shopping Center on Roland Avenue at Upland Road.
The covenants also governed architectural plans, which ended up a mix of Spanish villas, red-bricked Colonials and English Tudor and Georgian styles.
Residents talk of the two faces of Roland Park, the "50-cent side" on the east, where homes sell from the mid-$200,000 range and up, and the more lavish "dollar side" on the west, where center-hall mansions with imposing front columns sell for $500,000 and up. Census figures showed a median family income for the entire area of $80,912 in 1990.
Louise Remanjon has lived on the "50-cent side" for 41 years, in a gray shingled house with six bedrooms and a big front porch, the site of more than a few family crab feasts.
She and her husband, Arthur, now deceased, had left Bolton Street for a city address with more space. Her husband took the bus to work at Ellicott Machine Corp. downtown; Mrs. Remanjon walked to her job as a part-time social worker at Johns Hopkins University.
"You don't feel cramped, you can breathe," says Mrs. Remanjon, surveying begonias bursting pink and white in her front garden.
A few of her neighbors have lived there as long as she, with some just the second or third owners of 100-year-old houses.
"For a quiet, comfortable mode of living with some class, you live in Roland Park," Mrs. Remanjon says. "There are neighborhoods more ostentatious then Roland Park. If you want to put on a show, you live somewhere else."
Despite the high regard in which residents hold Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, most families send their children to private schools, such as Gilman, Friends and Bryn Mawr.
The public school, where Principal Mariale A. Hardiman vows to work to regain lost faith in city schools, teaches foreign languages and computer skills.
Still, "most people come to Roland Park with the expectation that they would send their children to private school in any event," says 13-year resident Edwin R. Goodlander, whose children go to The School of the Cathedral.
Over the years, residents have won most battles waged to preserve the traditional character. Years ago they rallied against a developer's proposal to tear down the historic Roland Park Shopping Center. Morgan Millard's owners converted the former drugstore in that center to a restaurant only after facing civic league scrutiny.
The civic league now is negotiating with Exxon Corp., which plans to expand a service station at Northern Parkway and Falls Road, and Roland Park Country School, which plans expansion near Deepdene Road.
"There will always be pressure to turn the land to its highest use," says Mr. Glynn, civic league president. "You're better off anticipating and responding constructively rather than pretending changes won't happen."
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 1 hour
Public schools: Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, Northwestern Senior High School.
High schools outside area but serving community: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Western Senior High School
Shopping centers and malls: Roland Park Shopping Center, Eddie's Supermarket, plus shopping area on Roland Avenue near Deepdene Road. The Rotunda Shopping Center is on the border to the south.
Parks: Linkwood Park, Stony Run
Average price of single-family house: $246,732 (year to date, 1993)
ZIP code: 21210