Think of Baltimore's financial nerve center, and many picture the gleaming skyscrapers downtown, where Legg Mason Inc., Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown Inc., T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. and Mercantile Bankshares Corp. call home.
But about a mile north of the Inner Harbor is another cluster of companies that are also involved in high finance. They are tucked away in a grittier, more eclectic part of the city -- Mount Vernon.
Best known for its quaint shops, restaurants, tree-lined streets, and even occasional gunbattle, Mount Vernon has become the city's other hub to a growing number of money managers who collectively oversee $10.4 billion in assets.
There are eight money managers in all, and they handle investments for some of the largest corporations and pension funds in the country, ranging from TRW Inc., a Cleveland-based maker of electronics and engine systems, to California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest public pension system in the country, with $160 billion in assets.
"That is wild," said Morry Zolet, senior vice president of investments at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. "Why not work in that kind of setting? It is gorgeous."
The biggest money manager of the group is Brown Capital Management Inc. at 809 Cathedral St., which manages $4.8 billion. Second is Investment Counselors of Maryland, Brown's next-door neighbor, which manages $2.5 billion. It is followed by D. F. Dent & Co. at 2 E. Read St., which oversees $1.3 billion.
The money managers aren't the only ones that have flocked to the area. At least two venture capital firms are based in Mount Vernon -- New Enterprise Associates, and start-up Spring Capital Corp. There is also one investment banking firm, Bengur Bryan & Co.
Mount Vernon's money hub is about as diverse as the neighborhood itself. Some money managers were economists, others managed large trusts or handled investments for corporations and private clients. The managers have come from Alex. Brown & Sons, Mercantile Bankshares, and Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
At least four money managers have come from T. Rowe Price, including the company's former president, Donald E. Bowman, president of Bowman Financial Management Co. on 1013 N. Calvert St.
"They are good, stable anchors for the neighborhood," said Jamie Hunt, executive director of Mount Vernon Cultural District Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes the area.
"That is huge for the neighborhood."
Although many people believe that a company must be downtown to court and win business from big clients, the money man- agers in Mount Vernon debunk that notion.
"The bottom line with any money manager is results," Zolet said. "Look at Warren Buffett -- in the middle of Nebraska?"
Eddie Brown, president of Brown Capital Management, said that about 45 percent of the money the firm managed several years ago came from four clients in California.
"They looked at the distribution of our assets, and they asked us, 'What are you doing in Baltimore?' " he said. "The question is, 'Why did we decide to stay in the state?' "
Brown has lived here since 1973, and his firm has grown to 20 employees. He and his wife, Sylvia, own apartment buildings in Mount Vernon and are involved in numerous charities.
"Of course, I am concerned with my employees and their families," he said. "I really feel compassion a commitment to their well-being."
Brown's money management business has exploded, growing from $2.4 billion in assets under management to $4.8 billion in the past 2 1/2 years. Its clients include CalPERS, Texaco Inc. and the State Retirement and Pension System of Maryland.
The company will soon move into a 50-room historic mansion in Mount Vernon at 1201 N. Calvert St. that it bought in July. "We are out of space and plan to add a couple more people and don't have a place to put them," Brown said.
Like other money managers, Brown picked Mount Vernon because it is convenient to downtown, his home, Penn Station and restaurants. He also likes the solid, historic buildings, crafted out of brick, stone and marble -- and the cost of doing business there.
Rents in the office buildings downtown along Pratt Street near the Inner Harbor range from $25 to $30 a square foot, compared to about $15 a square foot for prime space in Mount Vernon, said Bruce Matthai, a principal at Colliers Pinkard Inc., a commercial real estate company in Baltimore.
James D. Hardesty, president of Hardesty Capital Management Inc., set up his firm in October 1995 after years of commuting downtown to Mercantile, his prior employer.
Hardesty, the bank's former chief investment officer, said he had "had it" driving each day through 10 blocks of gridlock.
"Traffic was terrible," said Hardesty, whose company manages $500 million and has nine employees. Locating in Mount Vernon "gave me 10 minutes each way."
Jenkins Cromwell, a principal at Maryland Capital Management Inc. on 12 E. Eager St., likes the comfortable feel of the office with its fireplace, the marble tiled bathroom with its large bathtub and the wooden floors.
"You walk into this place, and you are walking into history that will never be repeated in terms of its ambience and charm," he said.
Mount Vernon was originally owned by John Eager Howard, a Revolutionary War patriot, who controlled about 800 acres from Penn Station to Lexington Market, Hunt said.
In the 1820s, his heirs sold parcels to wealthy individuals who built large winter homes of brick, stone and marble, while keeping summer homes further out in the country.
Around World War I, many of the wealthy families moved out of Mount Vernon, selling their mansions to doctors and lawyers, who began converting them into offices.
Like many enclaves in big cities, Mount Vernon has its drawbacks. Drug-dealing, carjackings and panhandling are acknowledged problems, and alleys are often cluttered with rubbish.
But the money managers have taken steps to make Mount Vernon safer and cleaner. Some have installed additional outside lights and hired people to pick up trash. Brown makes sure female employees are escorted to the parking garage at night.
"If we could get the crime and grime solved, that would be fantastic," he said.
Others say the city should make a bigger investment in the area.
"I think that just as the city has spent a lot of time developing and popularizing the Inner Harbor, the same kind of effort, although on a different scale, should be managed up here," said Stephen T. Scott, a principal at Investment Counselors of Maryland.
But Mount Vernon's money managers like the area -- warts and all.
"Life is pleasant here," Hardesty said. "I guess we are a bunch of Bohemians."
MOUNT VERNON'S MONEY HUB
1. Nevis Capital Management - 1119 St. Paul St., $800 million in assests under management
2. Bowman Financial Management Co. - 1013 N. Calvert St., $175 million under management
3. Mount Vernon Associates Inc. - 16 E. Eager St., $100 million under management
4. Maryland Capital Management Inc. - 12 E. Eager St., $100 million under management
5. Hardesty Capital Management Inc. - 2 E. Read St., $500 million under management
6. D.F. Dent & Co. - 2 E. Read St., $1.3 milion under management
7. Brown Capital Management Inc. - 809 Cathedral St., $4.8 billion under management
8. Investment Counselors of Maryland - 803 Cathedral St., $2.5 billion under management