On the very western edge of the city lies Hunting Ridge, a community that looks more like a mountain retreat than a city neighborhood. Ancient elm, poplar, gum and oak trees are so abundant that some residents jokingly refer to their neighborhood as "the shady side of town."
Jeannine and Dave Michel, who have lived in Hunting Ridge for 23 years, count at least 15 huge trees in the back and front yards of their home. "I tell people that I lived in the city, then when they visit, they're shocked to discover how wooded this area is," Dave Michel said.
Most neighbors agree that missing the city's pickup dates for bagged leaves is not a good idea. "An entire back yard can be taken up with bagged leaves for the whole winter if you miss the pickup dates. Some of us learned that the hard way," said Ed Orser, a resident since 1971.
Developed in 1922 by the George R. Morris Organization, the community, which consists of nearly 500 homes, was designed to preserve trees. Bounded by Leakin Park on the north, Edmondson Avenue on the south, Swann Avenue on the east and Cooks Lane on the west, the community's homes tend to be spacious and set away from its wide, curved streets that roll and slope with the natural contours of the land.
"I like the hilliness. You can stand at the bottom of a hill, look up and see all the beautiful trees and the really pretty houses," said Gary Jennings, a transplanted New Yorker who moved to the neighborhood with his wife, Tramar, a native Baltimorean, 2 1/2 years ago.
The area's rolling terrain even prompted some residents to break out their skis during January's blizzard.
"It was great. Everybody else had to pay to go to Vale or some other ski resort, but we could ski right here," said Nancy Smith, who is originally from Kansas City, Mo. Smith and her husband "wanted a neighborhood that felt more like home," and moved to Hunting Ridge in 1990, six months after "trying out Columbia."
"One of the things we've loved about this neighborhood is that it is so quiet. Once you turn off Edmondson Avenue, it is like turning into another world," said Smith, currently president of the community assembly.
"Hunting Ridge is like 'Leave It to Beaver,' but better because of the diversity, both in homes and in population," she added.
Many homes from 1920s
Many of the homes, including single-family dwellings such as large stone and brick Colonials, Tudors, Spanish stucco homes, Victorian frame homes and two rows of spacious brick townhomes -- all with large front and back yards -- were built in the 1920s; others were built in the 1940s and 1950s. A few, of contemporary design with large picture windows and flat roofs, were constructed more recently.
In fact, Hunting Ridge might be one of the few city neighborhoods in which new construction is still taking place. A drive through the community reveals at least two nearly completed foundations for large homes on Briarclift Road, a scenic route adjacent to Leakin Park that dead-ends in a grove of park trees.
The neighborhood also features a series of pedestrian paths, all leading to the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. "If you didn't know they were there, you'd never know because they look like walkways leading to people's houses," said John Koenig, a Realtor with American Properties Inc., who grew up in Hunting Ridge.
The homes tend to be distinctive and artful. One house in the community features a huge, framed Rubenesque oil painting gracing a backyard brick wall, just visible from the road.
"Our house is known as the house with the painting," said David Platt. Platt and his wife, Krista, moved into the community 2 1/2 years ago. "We looked at this house first, then looked at others, some in the county, and decided on this one," he added. "Being here, seeing the view, it is hard to believe this is in the city," he said, gesturing toward the park.
Painted by the home's former owner, artist Mark Adams, the huge, 5-by-7-foot oil-on-canvas of a woman and a cupid, which the Platts keep lighted at night, came with the house.
"Mark Adams painted it for a Baltimore Opera production. After the production was over, the company didn't know what to do with the painting, so Adams took it back and hung it in the yard where it has been ever since," David Platt said.
Art in back yard
The back yard, landscaped with two water ponds, looks almost like an extension of the bucolic background of the painting. "It was beginning to peel," said Platt, who has been diligently trying to preserve the artwork -- exposed to the elements -- from disintegrating.
According to Koenig, homes in Hunting Ridge range from $95,000 to $162,000, depending on size and condition. Two strings of all-brick rowhouses that boast hardwood floors and spacious rooms sit on the west and east sides of the neighborhood. They typically sell in the $90s, while the larger, detached homes will fetch more, Koenig said.
As a result of the community's cohesiveness, some of the houses for sale in Hunting Ridge never quite make it to the market. Of the 15 homes sold in the last twelve months, one on Glen Allen Drive sold before it was listed, and another on Brinkwood Road sold within two weeks, Koenig said.
What helps, said Dave Michel, is that available houses and their asking prices are listed in the neighborhood newsletter, Hunting Ridge Horn, published eight times a year.
Exceptions aside, houses in the neighborhood usually sell in 90 to 120 days, Koenig said.
The average price, according to John Grupenhoff, a Realtor with Long and Foster, is $98,000 for a three-bedroom house and $116,000 for a four-bedroom.
"Regardless of whether you are looking at a small, medium or large home, many of them have hardwood floors and fireplaces," Koenig said.
Aside from the community's affordability, what is most impressive about the neighborhood is its diversity. "It is a real community where all the neighbors truly know one another, look out for each other and are really, very friendly," Koenig said.
Doug and Eloise Brown, residents since 1986, can attest to the neighborliness of the community. Their house caught fire last fall, and although it was contained to the kitchen, the rest of the house and its contents were damaged by smoke.
"We were literally fed and clothed by our neighbors," Eloise Brown said. "They found us a home in the neighborhood we could rent until the repairs on our house were completed. One lady watched our dog, and generally, the neighbors went above and beyond to help us. The outpouring of gifts of time and everything else touched us emotionally," she said.
The community holds a "Yard of the Month" contest that runs year-round. Judged by Terri Rowland, a 26-year resident originally from North Carolina, the contest includes both back and front yards. "There's natural-looking gardens and formal-looking gardens," said Rowland, who shares her home with her mother Margaret "Marge" Shank.
Judging is serious
Rowland takes her judging duties very seriously, driving around the neighborhood.
"There are usually several outstanding front yards. We then ask to see the back yard in order to find the winner, and there is usually more than one winner," said Rowland. Winners are published in the newsletter.
"When we moved here, we saw the Yard of the Month signs and knew we found some place like home," said Rowland, whose back yard is a natural wonder of greens that attracted "42 squirrels and at least 32 different kinds of birds" so far.
Neighborliness can be impromptu, said Orser. "The blizzard of 1996 inspired several spontaneous potluck dinners at various neighbors' homes," he said.
Neighbors gather at Christmas to carol through the streets before congregating in one home for a party. Summer brings block parties, and spring brings neighbors who like to walk the streets, or hike through the park with either dogs or children or both in tow.
"When my youngest child was born, there were eight other newborns just on our street," said Gretchen Parry, a four-year resident of the neighborhood who was attracted to the community by its "spacious back yards and the older homes with character."
"It's nice to live in a neighborhood that is a real neighborhood with children and dogs and people around," she said.
Orser added, "So many people walk around and sit outside, it is sometimes hard to get any [outdoor] work done for all the socializing."
Population: 1,200 (Community association estimate)
Communting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes
Public schools: Thomas Jefferson Elementary, West Baltimore Middle, Edmondson-Westside High
Shopping: Edmondson Village Shopping Center, Westview Shopping Center
Nearest mall: Security Square
Points of interest: Gwynns Falls park, Leakin Park
ZIP code: 21229
Average price of a single-family home: $125,00*
* Based on 15 sales reported to the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc. during the past 12 months.
Pub Date: 5/05/96