Even the movies are close at hand


Baltimore is a city of historic rowhouses, but one of its most common types isn't historic at all.

The post-World War II Early American rowhouse is the unsung hero of Baltimore housing. A plain red brick front with a few Colonial flourishes around the front door, it fills block after block and gives neighborhoods such as Chinquapin Park a feeling of stability.

Set back from the sidewalk with their own little lawns, on curving streets with tall mature trees, Chinquapin Park's no-nonsense houses are affordable, easy to maintain and rather handsome.

With these sturdy rowhouses, a convenient location and a park in its back yard, the North Baltimore neighborhood has stayed healthy for more than 60 years.

"I like city living, and I don't have to travel long distances to the ballpark or the symphony," said Niles Ellingson, a resident for 40 years. "I've never had to travel more than five or six miles to work."

"The houses range in price from $60,000 to $80,000 for the mainstay rowhouse," said Sid Tanner, a vice president of Chinquapin Park Improvement Association. "Houses here seldom stay empty."

Chinquapin Park forms the eastern boundary of the neighborhood and provides abundant open space for youngsters to play and adults to stroll. In July, the neighborhood association sponsors an annual fair and a band concert in the park.

One of the strengths of the neighborhood is that when it became integrated, white flight didn't occur.

"Chinquapin Park became integrated and was a nice place to raise kids," Ellingson said.

The key to Chinquapin Park's stability is a strong, active neighborhood association, said Ellingson, an association vice president and former president.

"We have a person on each block and a Citizens on Patrol" program, said Millie Jones, who has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years and is president of the Improvement Association. "Our youth program has a Bible study group, a take-the-kids-to-work program and a sports-mentoring program."

Chinquapin Park was once the site of several large estates, the largest and most famous being Evesham, founded in 1846 by Joseph Patterson.

The brother of Betsy Patterson, who married Napoleon's brother, Jerome, in 1803, Patterson named the 55-acre estate after the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire, England, and built a mansion near what is now Northern Parkway and Tunstall Drive.

Upon Patterson's death in 1866, Evesham passed to his daughter. By 1961, all but 5 acres of the property had been sold for development and the mansion was torn down. Just about all that remains of Evesham is a slate-roofed stucco house at Dartmouth and Tunstall roads.

The community also has imposing detached homes along Evesham and Nicoll avenues, especially an impressive row of English-style homes in the 600 to 1000 blocks of Lake Avenue.

These homes between Northern Parkway and Lake Avenue range in price from $80,000 to $100,000. But it was after World War II that Chinquapin Park's architectural identity was cast when hundreds of the brick rowhouses were built.

Beginning in the late 1930s, when the effects of the Great Depression subsided, a new style of rowhouse inspired by the re-creation of Colonial Williamsburg took hold. After the war, the style persisted, but with much less detail.

Today, the neighborhood's most recognizable landmark is the Senator Theatre, the last independently owned, single-screen movie house in the city.

A survivor from a time when almost every Baltimore neighborhood had a movie theater within walking distance, the 1939 Art Deco building struggles to compete against corporate movie chains to book first-run films. Nevertheless, the Senator has a large following of loyal patrons who prefer watching movies on a wide screen in a spacious venue rather than in a typical multiplex theater.

The biggest concern of residents these days is the fate of Belvedere Square, a shopping center off Northern Parkway and York Road.

Renovated in the early 1990s, it was once a big selling point for homebuyers, according to Tanner, but closings have left the complex virtually vacant.

Despite the uncertain future of Belvedere Square, Chinquapin Park remains a desirable place to live.

"People here stay," said Ellingson. "There's not a lot of real estate turnover around here."

Chinquapin Park

ZIP code: 21212

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Leith Walk Elementary, Govans Elementary, Chinquapin Middle, Northern High

Shopping: York Road Plaza, Anneslie Shopping Center

Homes on market: 2

Average listing price: $75,182*

Average sale price: $72,457*

Average days on market: 215

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 96%*Based on 14 sales in the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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