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Southern High apartment is in a class by itself


If ever there was an apartment built to showcase collections, the Federal Hill home of Ruth Thaler-Carter and Wayne O. Carter would be it.

With ceilings soaring to 25 feet and 20-foot windows stretching across living and dining room walls, the Carters' six-room spread in the former auditorium of the old Southern High School resembles an art gallery more than an apartment.

"I walked in, took one look and literally handed the woman my checkbook and said, 'I don't care how much it costs. This is my house.' I looked to the right and said, 'My mom's old rug can go there.' I turned to the left and said, 'A place to hang my mirror, finally.' "

The walls also serve as a gallery for Mr. Carter's photographs. A career Steelworker at Bethlehem Steel on Sparrows Point, Mr. Carter is an amateur photographer on weekends. Dozens of his photographs of people, animals and nature adorn the walls.

Since relocating from Washington, almost seven years ago, Ms. Thaler-Carter's collecting ways haven't changed. In fact, half the furniture, pictures, knickknacks and other accessories covering every surface and most wall space were accumulated since she moved in.

"I like a lot of stuff and Wayne doesn't mind it," explains the free-lance editor and writer. "So I collect."

Her collections include: cats of every kind, except flesh and blood ("I love cats but don't want the bother of a real one"); anything pink or purple, but teddy bears in particular; cartoons and knickknacks related to coffee; Victorian furniture; Asian art and dolls; floral prints; flowers, real or silk; and kooky stuff like the pink high-heeled shoe that is really a phone and the stuffed parrot that records conversations of guests and then plays them back.

To say her taste is eclectic is an understatement.

Ms. Thaler-Carter's collections make an impression upon entering the place -- from the foyer of the three-level apartment a visitor looks into the large living/dining area, where much of the -- stuff is displayed.

So many plants and decorative birds hang in the windows that the Carters don't worry about privacy, even though their apartment faces Warren Avenue at ground level. The management also installed a decorative iron fence and planted trees along the street for additional privacy and security.

What makes the Carters' 1,950-square-foot apartment a dream is that it costs about the same as Ms. Thaler-Carter's former Washington apartment but provides almost three times the space, plus a rooftop deck, a fitness center, parking space in a secured lot, 24-hour front-desk service and on-site maintenance and management services, all of which her other place lacked.

"My apartment in D.C. was much smaller and the noise and traffic were becoming unbearable," says Ms. Thaler-Carter, who had lived in an apartment on 18th street in Adams Morgan. "You'd pay $2,000 to $3,000 [a month] for this place in D.C., if you could find it." The Carters pay $1,100 a month.

During a 1988 conference in Baltimore, she stayed at a friend's apartment in the building and fell in love with Harbor Hill Apartments, as they are now known, as well as the surrounding area.

She and her husband, who she met after moving here, enjoy the tranquillity of their home, which they say gets little street noise. Since Ms. Thaler-Carter works out of the apartment, having an office where she can work without distractions has been a big advantage.

"We don't hear our neighbors at all. The walls are so thick, you don't know anyone else is around," she says.

The building is a quick walk to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, restaurants, shopping and other attractions and is across the street from Federal Hill Park.

The apartment has a foyer, den and full bath on the top level; eight steps down is the main level with living and dining rooms, galley kitchen and laundry room; and down another 12 steps is the master bedroom, another full bath and the "library," a small room the Carters have lined with bookshelves.

The old Southern High, built in stages in 1910, 1920 and 1925, was converted to apartments in 1983. The main building accommodates 73 one- to three-bedroom units at rents of $845 to $1,600.

"Some people think just because you're in an apartment, you're transient," Ms. Thaler-Carter said. "But we've put down roots. I consider this home."

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