Professionals attracted to community on the hill


It doesn't take a genius to figure out how Pill Hill, a neighborhood of contemporary homes in the city's Mount Washington area, got its amusing nickname.

The "hill" part comes from topography -- that's a giveaway. And the "pill" part refers to the occupations of many of the neighborhood's earliest residents.

"There were so many doctors up here, we just called it Pill Hill," says Judge Marshall Levin, an original resident and former Baltimore Circuit Court judge.

Mildred DuBois, an original homeowner and former nurse, counts at least 14 doctors and dentists among Pill Hill's earliest homeowners -- a goodly amount in a neighborhood of about 70 homes.

The community is made up of only six streets, although one other road -- Western Run Drive -- was developed by Pill Hill's builders at the same time. Most residents don't consider it part of "the Hill," however, because it's at the base and not on the hill.

And there's another reason.

"There were several pharmacists living down there," recalls Judge Albert Sklar, a former Circuit Court judge and delegate in the state's House of Delegates. "So we called it Capsule Canyon."

Today, Pill Hill is still home to many professionals, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, scientists and former judges.

Back in 1957, when builders James Davidson and Nathan Rubin started constructing houses in the wooded community south of Bonnie View Country Club, many doctors at the newly opened Sinai Hospital on nearby Belvedere Avenue were attracted to the location.

"It looked like it would be a family neighborhood. Most of the people moving in were younger professionals with families," says Dr. Anthony Perlman, a pediatrician and original homeowner. "The houses were substantial and reasonably priced. We were close to the city, but we had a feeling of ruralness."

When Mrs. Dubois and her husband first saw Pill Hill, she remembers being "captivated" by the huge trees and contemporary-style homes, which were "on the cutting edge."

"When we came up here in 1957, we didn't even have a [paved] road. This hill was mostly undeveloped -- there were maybe 10 houses. You could see all these old trees. I thought it was just marvelous. I just knew I wanted to be up here."

Many residents, who have lived in the community for 30 to almost 40 years say they were attracted to Pill Hill because the homes were spacious and well-made, set apart in a private setting yet convenient to the city's cultural attractions.

"We're so close to downtown, to theater, to music, to art. I'm 12 minutes to the symphony. And I'm 12, 13 minutes to Towson," says Dr. Perlman.

Over the years, residents say, the neighborhood hasn't changed much, although the many children who played on the hilly streets have grown up and moved away.

Mrs. Dubois says there were throngs of children in the early years. "There were a lot of boys up here," she recalls, "and there's still a lot of camaraderie among them. Those boys still get together."

The "boys," including her son Ben, are now in their 40s but still meet every Thanksgiving, she says. They play the "turkey bowl," a touch football game, at the University of Baltimore and host the "turkey ball," an informal party, at the Pill Hill home of one of their parents.

'Very cohesive'

"Pill Hill is a very cohesive kind of area," says Mrs. Dubois. Originally, it was almost exclusively Jewish, she says, but over the years it's become "more eclectic."

Marc Goldstein, a real estate agent with Long and Foster, says Pill Hill's most unique characteristic is that it's a cluster of 1950s contemporaries in the midst of the larger, more diverse Mount Washington community.

"Those houses are all about 40 years old, compared with the rest of the area, where you've got houses 50 to 100 years old," he says.

People looking to live in Mount Washington, an area noted for its top-notch elementary school, Victorian mansions and bohemian cluster of shops and restaurants, might choose Pill Hill if they didn't want the upkeep and maintenance required on many of the larger and older homes on the streets surrounding it, he says.

The majority of houses in Pill Hill are split-level contemporaries in brick with wooden trim in earth tones. The community has two multiple-unit buildings -- a three-story brick building with 12 co-op apartments and a four-unit building converted into condominiums.

Most of the single-family homes are about 2,200 square feet, Mr. Weinstein says, and were built with features considered modern at the time, such as family rooms and master bathrooms. Most would sell for about $180,000 to $220,000, he says.

Residents say they like the bright, airy interiors of the homes and mature gardens.

Many of Pill Hill's successful residents could have moved out to newer neighborhoods with bigger homes, but they have grown so comfortable that moving is not a consideration.

"It's an oasis in the desert. It's well-maintained. There's beautiful trees," says Dr. Donald Dembo, chief of cardiology at Good Samaritan Hospital, who moved into his home on Ivydene Terrace in 1965. "Moving has never been on the agenda."

Residents say that over the years almost every one has felt compelled to get a security system. Car thefts and daytime burglaries have affected Pill Hill just like every urban neighborhood, they say.

"We had a terrible siege of car thefts about two years ago," says Mrs. Dubois. Residents say they still feel secure enough to walk at night along the quiet streets, but the days of leaving doors of homes and cars unlocked are long gone.

The bigger handicap facing the neighborhood, though, is the city's property tax rate, which discourages young families from looking for homes in their neighborhood, residents say.

But for those committed to remaining in the city, Pill Hill continues to have an appeal. "The stability of the neighborhood and wonderful livability of Pill Hill makes it worth living here," Judge Levin says.

Pill Hill

Population: 182 (estimate based on 1990 Census)

Commuting time to Baltimore: 15 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 75 minutes

Public schools: Mount Washington Elementary, Fallstaff Middle, Northwestern Senior High

Shopping: Mount Washington Village, with Mount Washington Market & Deli, hair salons, restaurants, dry cleaners, gift and clothing shops; Falls Village, with pizza shop, liquor store, gas station and other services; Greenspring Shopping Center, with Farm Fresh supermarket

Nearest mall: Reisterstown Road Plaza, about 2 miles west.

Points of Interest: Baltimore Clayworks, art studios; Cylburn Arboretum; Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital and Sinai Hospital; Mount Washington MTA station; Northwest Family Sports Center Ice Rink and Meadowbrook Swim Club on Cottonworth Avenue; Mount Washington Swim Club on Enslow Avenue.

ZIP code: 21209

Average price for single-family home*: $214,975 (8 sales)

Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service over the past 2 1/2 years

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