Diversity thrives amid the greenery in Mount Washington, a gardenlike village tucked in the folds of the Jones Falls Valley near the northwest corner of Baltimore.
Bordered by Falls Road on the east, Northern Parkway on the south, Key Avenue on its western front and the city line to the north, Mount Washington enjoys a country village feel in a bucolic setting.
An upbeat, artistic community flourishes by way of longtime merchants and craftspeople.
Rob Preston, a Realtor with Long & Foster, applauds what he calls the "eclectic" nature of the area. "The whole neighborhood is diverse," he said, "architecturally, economically, and in religious" background.
Bungalows reside on shady streets alongside huge Colonials and modern Wrightlike designs. If a townhouse or semidetached at $150,000 is your cup of tea, or perhaps a big Victorian with a price tag of more than $450,000, there is something to fit most every pocketbook.
Harriet Garfink of Coldwell Banker agrees. She lived in Mount Washington for 28 years and, in addition to its diversity, she notes the convenient location 10 minutes from the heart of downtown Baltimore.
"Many families buy their first home in the neighborhood, and when they are ready for a new house they buy in the same area," she noted.
This is true of the Franz family, owners of a 75-year-old Colonial on Greenspring Avenue.
"I have always lived in Mount Washington," Jan Franz emphasized, "except for two years away at college. There is such a sense of community here, a feeling of belonging, ... and I love the old trees."
Franz is president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association, established in 1885 and one of the oldest neighborhood associations in the country.
With about 650 dues-paying households, the organization is an influential voice, not only in the community, but also beyond, Franz believes. Concerns regarding the schools, Sinai Hospital and the landscaping of public areas are often addressed to three area City Council members.
Perhaps the best way to sample the ambience of Mount Washington is to take a brief walk around the village.
Starting at Greely and Smith Avenue, one strolls south past the manicured lawn of the Baltimore Clayworks.
Devoted almost exclusively to ceramics, this arts center is housed in a former branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. City grants and private funding make up the bulk of the nonprofit organization's revenue. More than 15 artists are in residence here; classes in clayworks are offered to adults and children. A gallery on-site - as well as in a building across the street - displays national and international works. These may be purchased along with an assortment of ceramic supplies. Studios feature giant kilns and a firsthand look at the artists at work.
A few steps south along Greely and one is crossing over the Jones Falls and approaching Sulgrave Avenue. East along Sulgrave, the stroller passes brightly colored Victorian clapboards that are home to a variety of cafes, galleries and shops.
On the north side of Sulgrave for more than half the block is the Mount Washington Tavern. Originally the Mount Washington House in the mid-19th century, this building was designed to serve as a store, post office and railroad station. (Around the corner on Newbury Street, its entrance is a stone's throw from the light rail stop.)
With an open-air atrium and a sky bar, the tavern attracts a varied clientele of business folk, college students and shoppers. Local residents are often whiling away a lazy afternoon keeping company with their favorite bartenders. Guest Bartender Night on Wednesdays offers amateurs a chance to pour for their friends with proceeds going to a favorite charity.
Events and contests are numerous at the Tavern, which is widely considered Maryland's No. 1 lacrosse bar. A regularly published newsletter and a Web site provide the scoop on the "happenings."
Standing on Newbury Street, take a long look around. Rising nearby are the spires of St. John's Episcopal Church and the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. An imposing four-story brick octagonal building on a hill to the north is all that can be seen from the street of a 21-acre campus that was formerly Mount St. Agnes College.
Now known as the Mount Washington Conference Center, the multibuilding campus is owned by the St. Paul Cos. and functions as a corporate training and conference center. The landscaping is breathtaking and worth a walk around the grounds.
Garfink points out that, if there's one glitch to this otherwise halcyon area, it is simply that there is not enough housing inventory.
"I get out-of-town phone calls from people relocating. They've heard about Mount Washington, and this is where they want to be," she said. "This is a very hot market."
In 1854, an advertising pamphlet by landowner and developer George Gelbach extolled the beauties of Mount Washington. He wrote:
"The design of the enterprise is to furnish to those seeking it, a healthy, retired, and respectable country residence, avoiding the monotony of a village or the crowding and confinement of the city, yet retaining the advantages of a community."
Life in Mount Washington realizes his purpose to this day.
ZIP codes: 21209 and 21215
Commute time to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes
Public schools: Mount Washington Elementary, Roland Park Middle, Fallstaff Middle, Polytechnic Institute, Western High, City College
Shopping: Village of Mount Washington
Lake Falls Village
Village of Cross Keys
Greenspring Shopping Center
Reisterstown Road shops
Homes currently on market: 7
Houses sold: 66
Average list price: $209,672.92
Average sale price: $208,049.53
Average days on market: 45
Sale price as percentage of listing: 99.23 percent
Data based on last 12 months sales as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information System Inc.