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.
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.
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 in period costume, ushered people through the home."'Tis a lovely home," said Richard Kirstel. "'Tis one of the early ones built here in Fells Point and will someday be of historical value."
The newest property on the tour was finished last year. At 1711 Lancaster St., the bright, airy house has a 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).
"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.
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.
When the couple's house-hunting took them to the 19th-century rowhouse, it was love at first sight - sort of. They didn't think they would 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?'"
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 is an "odd complex."
His best advice for a visitor: "Just wander and be surprised."