Neighbors mourn a house's demise

The Baltimore Sun

"It was gone in 15 minutes. That's all it took to knock down Miss Hawks' house," Lester Watson, a cashier at Graul's Market in Ruxton, told a shopper last week.

What Watson, who keeps an eye on what goes on in the community, was talking about was a large shingled house ringed by porches on a double lot.

It was a lovely example of early 20th-century cottage architecture that had sat on a breezy LaBelle Avenue hilltop for more than a century.

Its sudden demolition this month left an architectural gap in the Ruxton Heights neighborhood and caused widespread sadness among neighbors.

In April, the house was the subject of an article in The Sun about homes that are sold before they've been advertised for sale.

Its last occupant, of more than 50 years' duration, was Ellen M. Hawks, the effervescent and Auntie Mame-like Evening Sun pet editor and feature writer who ended her newspaper career on The Sun when she retired in 2004.

She died the next year.

Hawks' husband, Marshall Hawks, a Baltimore advertising executive who died in 1974, had been born and raised in the house that his parents built in 1901.

His mother, the noted Maryland sculptress Rachel Marshall Hawks, and her husband, Arthur W. Hawks, then city editor of the Baltimore News, moved into the house after their marriage in 1901.

"We were in it for 105 years, and it had never before been sold. It was such a wonderful old place," said John Wells Hawks, a semiretired Monkton businessman, grandson of the original occupants and son of Ellen and Marshall Hawks.

"Imagine, they built it for $6,000, and five generations of Hawks lived in that house, including Arthur Wells 'Sunshine' Hawks, a Civil War veteran and a founder of the Friars' Club in New York, who died in 1933," he said.

John Wells Hawks was raised there along with a brother, Marshall Wiley Hawks, who lives in Ruxton, and a sister, Anne Poitevent Hawks Austin of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

"I always thought it was a special gift to be able to grow up in the house of your father's childhood. Stuff he had done to it was still there. It's such a rare connection to have these days," Hawks said.

Hawks recalled the days when his grandparents held sway over the house.

"There were wonderful gardens and a dining garden where they would eat dinner in the summer months. It was just wonderful," he said.

"They had parties and entertained such people as H.L.Mencken, who had been a boyhood friend of my grandfather's, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Bennett Cerf," he said.

His grandmother, who was 85 when she died in 1964, had been a significant figure in Maryland's artistic community.

Rachel Hawks was born in Port Deposit and moved to Baltimore with her family when she was a young girl.

She studied at the Maryland Institute and then the Rinehart School of Sculpture, then located at Harrison and East Baltimore streets, where she was a member of the first graduating class in 1898.

Longevity extended her another honor. She was the last surviving member of her Rinehart class, which included such noted sculptors as Edward Berge, Hans Schuler, J. Maxwell Miller, Grace Rinehart, William Henry Rinehart, Mabel Carpenter and Helen Werner.

After her marriage, she had a studio built on the grounds of the LaBelle Avenue home where she specialized in garden statuary of children.

She was "by nature a Peter Pan," observed The Sun at her death. "All her career as a sculptor was spent in creating little parcels of Never-Never Land for those who believe that the perpetual wonderment of youth may be found in a garden."

Hawks never posed the children she observed and took inspiration from. She'd document their innocent and spontaneous movements in sketches or with camera before "perpetuating them in bronze," reported T he Evening Sun.

When Gideon N. Stieff, son of the founder and later president of the Stieff Co., the Baltimore silversmiths, commissioned Hawks to do a bronze in 1923, his only request was that it be for a fountain.

The "Boy and the Dragonfly," which became one of her most famous pieces, features a dragonfly alighting on a water-lily pad with a child perched on the fly's back.

The child she used as a model for the sculpture was her own 4-year-old son Marshall.

"The fountain which expressed the charm of youth with its joyous belief in the reality of fantasy has proved to be Mrs. Hawks' most popular work and may be found in gardens all over the country," reported The Sun.

In addition to her statuary, Hawks also produced many busts and bas-reliefs, as well as painting in oils and watercolors.

After her death, her studio stood empty until it was torn down in the 1980s.

Gradually, John Wells Hawks said, with the passing of the years, the old house suffered from deferred maintenance.

"It was never that well-built in the first place. God, you could go in the basement, throw on the light and see clear up to the third floor," he said.

In 2006, the house was sold to David H. Kidd, a Baltimore artist, for $585,000. He began renovations to restore it to its former grandeur.

But the house sat boarded-up and exposed to the elements for a number of months, neighbors said.

This year, it was sold for $475,000 to James Carroll, an architect, and his wife, Kathleen. Attempts to reach the new owners as to their plans were unsuccessful the other day.

Neighbors aren't sure what is planned for the site.

"Being a preservationist, I didn't like seeing it demolished," said Joseph Coale III, who lives in Ruxton.

"It was one of Ruxton's early 20th-century structures that were built for year-round living on the scale of a Roland Park home. It came close to being restored to its former glory, but plans fell apart," he said.

George R. Grosse, a neighbor, said, "I was so sad and depressed after what had happened that I couldn't walk by there for a week."

Today, the site is cleared and graded. The footprint of the old house is clearly visible in the dirt.

"Of course I'm sad about it," John Wells Hawks reflected. "You try and think in terms of the memories, but in the end, it's really about the people who lived there."


Find Fred Rasmussen's column archive at baltimoresun .com/backstory

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