With its wide, tree-lined streets, spacious yards and rolling terrain, Beverly Hills looks like any other suburban neighborhood. Except it's in the city, situated between Hamilton and Lauraville, less than 9 minutes from downtown by car.
The community, older than California's Beverly Hills, can even boast of a brush with the movies and star appeal; it was the backdrop for the recent film, "Home for the Holidays."
"I moved here from the county," said two-year resident Robin Ramsey. "The house I'm living in now would cost twice as much in the county, where I was only able to afford a townhouse instead of a large single-family house." Bounded by Moravia, Harcourt and Harford roads, Beverly Hills offers an array of house styles. Large stone, brick Colonial and Tudors, frame Victorian and Spanish, as well as cottages, semidetached and row homes. Most have hardwood floors, fireplaces, detailed molding, porches and stained glass windows. And, some of the larger houses have true divided arch windows and doors.
Linda Brown, who moved into the community nine years ago, said the architecture was one of the reasons she liked the neighborhood so much. "I got in the car, drove around and found this neighborhood myself," she said. "As soon as I saw the house that was advertised, I knew it was my house.
"The houses are very different; the neighborhood doesn't look like one of those cookie-cutter developments."
According to John Grupenhoff of Long & Foster Realty, in the last year 17 houses sold in an average of 117 days for prices rTC ranging from $50,000 to $120,000. The average sale price for a Beverly Hills rowhouse was $86,000; detached homes averaged $115,000.
"These homes have a lot a character. A four- to six-bedroom Colonial, on or just off of Walther Boulevard, can easily sell for $120,000," Mr. Grupenhoff said. The character of the homes is what attracted Beth Otter to Beverly Hills six year ago. "These houses are well built -- so well built that I had to hire people who repair cathedrals to repair the balusters on my front porch," she said with a laugh. "They were the original concrete balusters, and I didn't want to repair them by replacing them with wood."
For Sandy Haine, newly elected president of the community improvement association, character in the houses took the form of a pristine, still-working Chamberlain stove. "As soon as I saw that stove, I knew I wanted it."
Realtor Mel Knight of the W. H. C. Wilson agency describes the neighborhood as "Baltimore's best-kept secret." There are 13 houses for sale, ranging in price from $114,000 down to a townhouse at $49,000 that "needs a bit of cosmetic work," Mr. Knight said.
Before Beverly Hills was established in 1926, the area consisted of about 60 large estates, some farms and a few businesses. Most of the homes were built between 1926 and 1933. The 68-year-old Beverly Hills Community Association is among the oldest continuously active community associations in Baltimore.
Restrictions listed in the deeds of many of the homes allude to the community's earlier days. Ms. Otter said a covenant in her deed "restricts us from putting any poultry or rabbit-killing establishment on the property."
She laughed: "It says that these establishments are restricted, even though city ordinance has recently been changed."
According to Neil Machovec, another resident, the area at one time was a pear orchard.
The Machovecs moved to Beverly Hills in 1988. "My wife and I would drive by and admire the house we're now living in. When it came up for sale, we came by, but decided to pass because it needed a little work. I had just finished renovating the house we were in."
Several years later, the house was on the market again. "My wife happened to see it in the Sunday paper," he recalled. "The people who moved in when we passed had renovated it, and we end up putting a contract on it that day."
"But over the years we still put a lot of work into the house, upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms."
Bert Fenwick, a longtime resident, remembers when the local grocery store made deliveries with a horse and wagon.
Mrs. Fenwick lives in the same house that her mother bought more than 62 years ago. "My mother was a widow with two daughters. She moved there so we could walk to church, the Zion United Church of Christ, which is still there." Mrs. Fenwick never moved. When she married, her husband moved in.
Mrs. Fenwick also recalls the Halls Spring Hotel, then a popular resort in Herring Run Park noted for a natural spring that still flows. "People would come from all over to get jugs of water."
Although Mrs. Fenwick has seen a number of changes, the character of the neighborhood has remained pretty much the same. "It's always been the kind of neighborhood where everyone looks out for one another; it still is," she said.
For Linda Brown, the neighborliness of the community proved as appealing as the architecture.
"When one of our elderly neighbors passed away, it took a long time to find his next of kin. In the meantime, his next-door neighbor arranged the entire funeral."
Indeed, about a half-dozen residents dropped into the Haines' ,, living room on a sunny Sunday to discuss the community. "If you tell one of us something, it doesn't take long for the rest of us to know it, too," Mrs. Fenwick added.
The group then left, taking a visitor on a walking tour, proudly pointing out distinctive homes and outlining their histories.
"We really have quiet neighbors," said Rocky Dunn, who, with his wife, Molly, moved in eight years ago. Their house backs to the stone walls of Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.
"We weren't in the market to buy a home when we bought ours," Mrs. Dunn said. "We had no intentions of moving. A friend was a Realtor and I came to an open house just because I wanted to see inside. But when I saw the kitchen, I knew that this was my house. I went home and told my husband and he said 'Let's buy it!' -- without even seeing it."
Mr. Dunn, who grew up in Hamilton, was familiar with Beverly Hills and said, "I knew we couldn't go wrong here."
Population: 900 (Community estimates)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes.
Public schools: Garrett Heights Elementary, Gardenville Elementary, Hamilton Middle, Northeast Middle, Northern High
Nearest malls: Golden Ring, White Marsh, Towson Town Center, Rotunda
Points of interest: Herring Run Park, Memorial Stadium, Lake Montebello
ZIP code: 21214
Average price of homes: Townhome, $86,000; detached, $115,000*
Based on 17 sales during the past 12 months through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.