Joe Walsh had heard stories about the "Dallas Palace," but, until yesterday, it was all just urban legend to him.
Then he got a look inside the five-rowhouse spread on South Dallas Street, which has been transformed into an eccentric compound complete with lush gardens, funky furnishings and all the kitsch you can imagine -- as well as some you probably can't.
The Dallas Street residence, owned by movie production designer Vincent Peranio and Delores Deluxe, was one of 14 properties on display in Fells Point yesterday during the 30th annual Historic Harbor House Tour.
"It's the neatest I've seen in like a long time," said Walsh, 40, who lives a few blocks away on Lancaster Street. "To see something like this, to me, is just so refreshing."
For $15 ($12 in advance), Walsh and hundreds of others got an open invitation to traipse through other people's living rooms, bedrooms and baths -- not to mention a look back at more than two centuries of Baltimore history.
The Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point sponsored the event. Organizers expected about 400 people to attend.
The oldest property on the tour was the Robert Long House at 812 S. Ann St. Billed as Baltimore's "oldest urban residence," it was completed in 1765 for an as-yet unmarried merchant of that name.
Yesterday, Robert Long, played by an actor dressed in period costume, ushered people through the historic home, which was partially damaged by fire in 1999.
"'Tis a lovely home," explained Richard Kirstel, smoking a replica clay pipe on a sunny day that was supposed to be in 1781.
"'Tis one of the early ones built here in Fells Point and will someday be of historical value."
By contrast, the newest property on the tour was finished last year. At 1711 Lancaster St., the bright, airy house has a ground-level wine cellar, an expansive brick terrace, a two-car garage and beautiful city views from the fourth floor.
Arthur and Lois Perschetz gave up a 10,000-square-foot home in Guilford for the much smaller one in Fells Point (it's about 2,600 square feet), taking as much of their furnishings with them as they could. The former New Yorkers said they love the bustle and vibrance of the neighborhood.
"It's a really nice comfortable space," said Lois Perschetz. "This is actually the first time we've ever lived in a new house. ... I think it's really fun to see that all kinds of people live in Fells Point."
Established in 1730, Fells Point was once the center of Baltimore's waterfront industry and home to ship captains, merchants and laborers. The neighborhood today is anchored by Broadway Market and dozens of bars, restaurants and shops that draw people from across the region.
Other stops on yesterday's house tour were the Trolley Barn on Thames Street, the Admiral Fell Inn and a two-story building at 1622 Aliceanna St. that used to be a run-down car shop called Martin's Auto Repair.
A few blocks away, at 519 S. Ann St., Denis Hauenstein and Cynthia Appler welcomed visitors to their home.
Love and Formstone
When the couple's house-hunting brought them to the 19th-century rowhouse, it was love at first sight -- sort of. They actually didn't think they'd like the property a bit when a real estate agent told them about it 18 months ago. They were looking for something with off-street parking and absolutely, positively, no Formstone.
But once they saw the character of the rowhouse, Hauenstein said, "We thought, 'Oh man, how can we pass this up?'"
Searching for street parking, they've found, isn't so bad; neither is the gray Formstone facade.
Back at the "Dallas Palace," at 412-418 S. Dallas St., Peranio explained how he and Deluxe bought one rowhouse after another and transformed them -- "a little bit at a time" -- over 27 years.
"The houses were so cheap, we were buying them to eliminate neighbors," he said.
Peranio concedes that his home, which he estimates is about three-fifths done, is an "odd complex."
His best advice for a visitor: "Just wander and be surprised."