Clutching neighborhood maps and tour tickets, the curious converged on Federal Hill's homes yesterday for a peek at decorated mantels, Victorian parlors and designer kitchens from the pages of Martha Stewart books and Ikea catalogs.
As late-fall shadows fell over the tops of chimneys and mossy brick walls, dozens of walkers filled the sidewalks of Federal Hill and Otterbein, two of Baltimore's older downtown neighborhoods, darting from one residence to another residence.
"I just like to see other people's houses and how they live. I'm curious, and maybe one day with some luck I'll be able to live like this," said Erin MacLeod, a Glen Arm resident and Roanoke College student.
The "Holiday House Tour of Federal Hill and Otterbein," among the most popular of dozens of such events in the Baltimore area, drew 576 paid visitors.
It was sponsored by the Preservation Society, the neighborhood group based in Federal Hill and Fells Point.
"We tell the people who have opened their houses to put their valuable, tiny things away," said Megan Carlson, who recruited homeowners for the tour. "And we tell them not to worry that tax assessors will show up. That would be unethical."
So why do residents volunteer to open their homes (and expose clean floors and fine Oriental rugs) to anyone who buys a $10 ticket?
People who spent years renovating their houses take pride in showing them off, Carlson said.
"We find the people who say yes to us are the ones who go crazy when Christmas decorating," she said.
The not-too-cold, rainless afternoon came as a blessing to those whose homes have pastel carpets.
"I'm glad it isn't raining; my new, light-peach carpet is the shade of a newborn baby's bottom," said Pat McCarthy, whose Lanasa Lane home was constructed about 10 years ago on the site of the old Southern High School's gym and swimming pool.
Joy Owens, a professional decorator and Grindall's Yard resident, was chairwoman of this third annual event.
She said she takes part because "I like Christmas. I also enjoy walking around and peeping in windows."
The Christmas tour pilgrims came attired in seasonal finery. Some had on holly wreath earrings. Others wore Rudolph stickpins. A lot of red plaid and dark green was on coats, pants and hats. Many wore sensible shoes good for snaking up and down some of Baltimore's most narrow, twisted staircases.
Certain tour homes have earned a local repute. Take 810 William St., where actress Jessica Lange and actor-playwright Sam Shepard were tenants in fall 1988 during the filming of "Men Don't Leave."
"It wasn't a very good movie, but there is some good footage of Baltimore in it," said Ivo Jamrosz, who owns the house with his wife, Rose McCabe, and their 10-year-old son, McCabe.
McCabe, a student at St. Paul's School, decorated his bedroom for the tour and built a small Christmas garden, complete with a running German train. His miniature village contained a sign, "Don't touch or else."
Sandy Seward spent yesterday morning decorating the Christmas tree her neighborhood garden club erected in Federal Hill Park.
She didn't have time to trim the front of her rowhouse in the 200 block of Warren Ave. before the tour's 3 p.m. start.
"What this tour is all about is promoting a sense of community. Some people in all their lives never experience that. Here it happens every day," she said.
Seward's front window, which she decorates each year in a different theme, contained a large Nativity scene with an infant Jesus wearing a miniature gold crown.
Other residents, whose homes were not open, festooned front windows with seasonal scenes and decorative objects.
In the adjacent Otterbein community, where several more houses were open, visitors peered into a living room window on Sharp Street. They saw a German-made pyramid, a wooden object fitted with candles.
When its tapers were lighted, as they were yesterday afternoon, the heat rose and turned the paddles on a small fan. This, in turn, sent circular rings of small figures, including tiny sheep and the three wise men, spinning.
Carlson said the outlay for the house tour totaled about $3,000. "Most of the expense went into the design and printing of the brochure," she said, "but the real idea is to show the neighborhood off."
Pub Date: 12/16/96