"I have admired the house we now live in since I was a teen-ager."
As a boy growing up in the neighborhoods around Hanlon Park, Kurt L. Schmoke was well aware of Ashburton and its beautiful tree-lined streets. "It was a neighborhood out of the economic reach of my family," Schmoke said. But among his many achievements, he would realize his dream of living in that long, rambling contemporary house on Sequoia Avenue.
Ashburton may reflect many of the best qualities that the city's own suburbs can offer.
Its rich variety of architectural styles and its landscaping make it a special place, but in the mayor's eyes, it's the people that make it special. "I believe people make a strong neighborhood," he said when asked about his. "It's important to have people active in the neighborhood and concerned about its future."
The residents of Ashburton do, indeed, appreciate the uniqueness of their Northwest Baltimore community that is bounded by Liberty Heights, Wabash, and Callaway avenues, and they intend to preserve that feeling.
"It has always had a special charm," said Denise DeLeaver, a 20-year resident and a Realtor for Long & Foster's Pikesville office. Her own street, Lynchester Road, exemplifies that charm with its great canopy of trees and handsome brick homes.
Ashburton gets its name from a mansion once located around Barrington and Edgewood roads. It was part of a vast estate along Liberty Heights Avenue owned by John Gittings, a banker and one of Baltimore's earliest real estate developers. In the early 20th century, the property was sold to George R. Morris, who developed the community. Morris also built the development of Tuscany-Canterbury north of University Parkway.
In 1920, an ad in The Sun proclaimed that Ashburton's "location was unequaled" and was only 16 minutes from downtown.
The ad also mentioned that the development was "restricted," suggesting that prospective buyers should be white and gentile. This was the makeup of the area until the Great Depression, when hard times forced owners to sell to the Jewish population, which began to buy into the neighborhood in large numbers. But starting in the 1960s, the neighborhood eventually became all African-American.
Baltimore has always had a well-to-do residential district for black professionals and businessmen. Druid Hill Avenue was a famous elite address in the first half of the 20th century. Ashburton, in turn, became the "Gold Coast" for the black community and has remained an exclusive neighborhood to this day.
"Besides Mayor Schmoke, judges, politicians, doctors, teachers and business people live here," said DeLeaver, who has sold many properties in the area. "There are a lot of people who have lived here for 30 years or more." Lately, she has noticed families with young children moving in as well.
Currently there are 12 properties for sale in the area, ranging in price from $68,000 for a townhouse to $140,000 for a single-family home, according to DeLeaver. Ashburton has a mix of housing types, but it's best known for its English-style houses. When the neighborhood was first developed, the English cottage style was quite popular for upper-class neighborhoods.
Steep slate-covered roofs with brick, stone and stucco walls account for many of the homes, especially west of Wabash Avenue. There are even some rowhouses on Wabash Avenue done in the English style. Apartments are available as well.
Ashburton Woods, a garden apartment complex built in the 1940s, offers units that were renovated in the mid-1980s.
"It's a beautiful neighborhood; most people who rent here are familiar with the area," said Pam Hendricks, property manager for the apartments. Many elderly who move in had lived in houses in Ashburton and didn't want to leave, she added. Aside from its attractive houses, Ashburton has an extremely well-manicured look. Residents take pride in how well-kept the neighborhood is. On a typical summer day, landscape companies can be seen throughout the neighborhood cutting lawns and chasing grass clippings with leaf blowers.
Ashburton, itself, is in a tranquil, park-like setting, and directly across Liberty Heights Avenue is Hanlon Park, which extends down to Gwynns Falls Parkway and surrounds Lake Ashburton.
Ashburton and other traditional neighborhoods that offer tree-lined streets, sidewalks and easy access to parks and public transportation are now being seen as more desirable places to live than are isolated suburbs in the surrounding counties.
"We could do a better job of marketing our neighborhoods and homeownership programs in the Department of Housing and Community Development," Schmoke said.
"To a certain extent, we have begun doing that in conjunction with the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, and HCD's Market Rate Housing Council."
The mayor knows that there are lessons to be learned from successful places like Ashburton when it comes to rebuilding communities within Baltimore. To him, neighborhoods are the key. "Cities are built block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood," Schmoke said.
Population: 3,442 (1990 Census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes
Public schools: Ashburton Elementary, Garrison Middle School, Forest Park High, Malcolm X Elementary
Shopping: Mondawmin Mall
ZIP code: 21215
Average price of a single-family home: $92,000 *
* Based on 15 sales in the last six months by the Metropolitan Regional Informational System
Pub Date: 7/26/98