In the frenzied early days of World War II, Aero Acres sprang to life almost overnight as a bustling community of workers who turned out B-26 Marauder bombers day and night at the nearby Glenn L. Martin Company, now Lockheed Martin.
Although its 310 houses were built as temporary housing, Aero Acres hung on as a working-class community and 50 years later its welcome sign proclaims proudly, "America's First Planned Community."
Aero Acres and adjacent Victory Villa -- with their streets named for airplane parts -- remained home after the war for many of the Martin workers, most of them youngsters from out-of-state. They stayed, finding new jobs as Martin's work force declined sharply, and bought their houses when they were sold in 1946.
Now those people are aging, like much of Baltimore County's population. Many have died or moved into retirement homes or )) with family elsewhere. The community has become attractive to young people looking for a first home.
Robert E. Smeltzer, who sells real estate in the area, said Aero Acres has definitely taken on a younger look. It remains a lower middle-income community which offers "a fairly decent place to start for younger couples looking for entry-level homes."
Few houses in Aero Acres and Victory Villa appear today as they did when they were thrown up, a dozen a day, in 1941 and 1942. With an original life expectancy of no more than 10 years, the two-bedroom prefabricated cracker boxes had wall panels made from a compound called Cemestos. The walls were designed to withstand bomb damage -- Martin's plant nearby was a prime target -- by vibrating within their end posts.
Over the years, however, residents have been highly creative in improving their homes, changing anything that could be changed, adding basements, upper stories, porches and extra wings to turn their houses into sophisticated, well-maintained dwellings. New exteriors include brick and shingle as well as aluminum and plastic siding.
Many of the residents have invested a great deal of money in the improvements but they can't recover it when they sell, Mr. Smeltzer said. There are very few rentals in the community. About a dozen houses are on the market now.
Tony Bentley and his family moved into their red-brick house on Left Aileron Drive in October 1993. Mr. Bentley, an Air Force veteran, works as a correctional officer in Prince George's County and commutes daily because his family did not want to leave their home area.
"We could have had a townhouse but we wanted a single house and this is a nice neighborhood," the Essex native said. The house, on a quarter-acre corner lot, suited the family budget and a VA loan sealed the deal, he said.
Joyce Lurz, of Cord Street, said she and her husband moved to Aero Acres five years ago from Dundalk. "We looked all over, Dundalk, Essex, White Marsh, and we liked this area." It is a "quiet, secure neighborhood" with easy access to stores and highways, she said.
Residents always emphasize Aero Acres' low crime rate, which was confirmed by Capt. James W. Johnson, commander of the Essex Precinct. Captain Johnson, who grew up in the area and has known Aero Acres all his life, said, "It's a stable, quiet blue-collar community."
There are occasional vehicle break-ins, domestic disputes and minor drug cases but residents say there is no violent crime. "Aero Acres is not high on my list. It is a minimal drain of police service. It was never a high-call-for-service community," Captain Johnson said.
Any number of residents are second and third-generation families in Aero Acres and many have continued the improvements.
Joan Kutcher has lived in the community since she was 8. When she married in 1960, she bought her parents' house on Blister Street. Since then, the family has added a full club basement, a
large formal dining room and a screened porch.
Aero Acres was for most of its life a very cohesive community, Mrs. Kutcher said, and while it is still a friendly place, "People are all so busy that they don't take time to know their neighbors."
Richard E. Tobash, a past president of the Aero Acres Civic Improvement Association, has lived in Aero Acres and Victory Villa most of his life. "There is a big turnover of houses, with young families moving in. The older people are dying off or moving out," he said.
Aero Acres has changed along with the rest of the country, Mr. To bash said. "In the old days, the women stayed at home with the kids. Now both people work."
This change has made it more difficult to get volunteers for community projects, Mr. Tobash said. However, according to Dorothea Allen, a resident since 1954, "Some of the younger ones are getting involved with the civic association."
Harry Horney continues to supply heating oil to Aero Acres homes as he has since 1943. The population change is accelerating, he said, but community pride remains and the new owners are maintaining the houses as well as before, he said.
Leo Broznowicz, a former city resident who has lived on Hydroplane Drive for 10 years, said he has found a neighborly atmosphere, at least on his street. "When I put on a new roof, neighbors stopped their own work to come help me, and when the man down the street was doing something, we helped him," he said.
Homeowners themselves do most of the renovation and repair work. "This is a working-class area, so we save up a little money to do something, then we wait until we get more to do something else," Mr. Broznowicz said.
Mr. Broznowicz said he looked first in the city and was brought to Aero Acres by his real estate agent. "She brought me here and it was right in my price range, so I bought it," Mr. Broznowicz said.
For more than 20 years after the war, the focus of community life was the Red Shield Boys Club on Fuselage Avenue. It had been a wartime USO canteen which Glenn Martin renovated as a club. It was destroyed by arson in the late 1960s.
A year ago, the Salvation Army opened a new center on the old Fuselage Avenue site with a broad variety of activities. Young people flock to the center after school and in the evening, said director Valerie Nelson. The civic association and Middle River Athletic Association meet there.
A chapel, classrooms
The center has a chapel for Sunday services and a regulation-size basketball court, as well as classrooms for ceramics and art classes and for computer training. "Our long-term goal is to have a full range of youth, adult and seniors programs," Ms. Nelson said.
Wanda Kod, the civic association president, also pointed out the community's low crime rate but said there has been a problem because the new center attracts young people from the entire area, and people have complained about vandalism and vehicle break-ins.
"We are meeting with the Boys Club about it," Ms. Kod said, "it's outsiders, not Aero Acres kids, and we're concerned."
Population: 1,548 (1990 census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 25 mins.
Commuting time to Washington: 50 mins.
Public Schools: Orems Elementary; Stemmers Run Middle, Kenwood High.
Shopping: Martin Plaza and Aero Acres Shopping Center.
Nearest Mall: Golden Ring Mall and Golden Ring Plaza, 1 mile west.
Points of Interest: Glenn L. Martin State Airport's 1930s style control tower and Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum at the airport which focuses on the history of the Martin Company and the B-26 Marauder bomber of World War II.
Zip Code: 21220
Average price of single family home: $75,573 (22 sold).
* Average price for houses sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies, Inc. Multiple Listing Service in 1994.