Dick Hopkins is celebrating an anniversary.
It's been 50 years since he purchased his home on Stratford Road in Academy Heights for $8,800. And now the area is being prepared to be entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
In his historical outline for Baltimore County and the National Register of Historic Places, Daniel Rosen, another neighborhood resident, noted that Academy Heights "located on a now-defunct streetcar line ... was literally the first stop of Baltimore's great postwar migration to the suburbs."
Today, except for the five-decade growth of maple, dogwood and evergreen trees that verdantly lines streets named Lambeth, Greenlow, Stratford and Whitfield, little has changed from the neighborhood born a little more than half a century ago. The 487 red-brick rowhouses seem to mirror one another. You see them as two-story structures, featuring double-hung sash windows, gleaming white doorways, concrete walks and front porches surrounded by iron railings.
Most noticeable, upon entering the neighborhood, are the gorgeous slate roofs, distinct not only in their beauty but also in their uniformity. While the front and back yards are small, they are meticulously landscaped.
Rosen and Kendall Skirven, a real estate agent for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA in Catonsville, cite the protective covenants of the Academy Heights Civic Association as being responsible for the neighborhood's uniform, pristine appearance.
Skirven, who once owned a home in Academy Heights, now sells properties there, and maintains that conformity is the neighborhood's strongest selling point.
"People are not outdoing their neighbors," Skirven said. "Those who buy [here] want to be here and will pay $10,000 more to have their investment protected."
John McSweeney, who has lived on Greenlow Road for 13 years with his wife and daughter, has been active in the community association for years. He said residents generally do not have a problem with the covenant of restrictions, allowing that it maintains the integrity of the neighborhood.
Rosen is of the same mind, saying that residents feel "secure" and "comfortable [that our] investment is protected."
The covenants are specific. Among them: All doorways must be white; railings on the porches must be black or green; downspouts must be copper or white; and, of course, all roofs must be slate.
There are to be no tall privacy fences, no satellite dishes, and all front and back porch awnings must be of canvas, dark green canvas.
Angela Dawson grew up in the neighborhood as a child, and 12 years ago when she and her husband, Jim, found a home in need of repair for sale in Academy Heights they jumped at the chance.
"It's great to be able to go out on the front porch and talk to neighbors," she said.
"Groups congregate while out walking and share their day with one another," Dawson said.
Her husband agreed, adding that the neighborhood carries a blend of older original owners and young people moving in and discovering the area.
While the exteriors of the homes have a sameness to them, there were actually seven sizes built by the Welsh Construction Co., which purchased almost 45 acres in 1945 from Mount de Sales Academy, an all-girls Catholic school.
The homes would range from 1,200 to 1,512 square feet, not including the basement. When built, some offered the option of a first-floor powder room, while all featured hardwood floors. The end-of-group homes came with a fireplace.
Angela Dawson said the exterior "sameness" prompts residents to be more creative inside their homes and with outside landscaping. Indeed, as the community celebrates many shared events, such as an Easter egg hunt, an annual yard sale, and holiday decorating, the homes are "standouts" in decorative elegance.
The neighborhood is very active when it comes to preventing crime and has organized a strong and vigilant Citizens On Patrol (COP) group.
But more than concern about deterring crime, many residents get annoyed about the amount of traffic that cuts through the otherwise quiet streets.
Rosen and his wife are more than willing to invest time and energy into their neighborhood. They said they plan to stay awhile, and will send their small children to the local public schools.
ZIP code: 21228
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes
Public schools: Westowne Elementary, Catonsville Middle, Catonsville High
Shopping: Downtown Catonsville, Security Square Mall, Westview Mall, 40 West Plaza
Homes currently on market: 2
Average listing price: $106,447 *
Average sales price: $105,203 *
Days on market: 73 *
Sale price as percentage of listing price: 98.83% ** Based on 30 sales in the past 12 months as compiled by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.