12 June 2008

The Baltimore Two Story Row House

In a city (I really like to think of it more as a town) that I love, there are these narrow, long houses that, I think, help to define many of its neighborhoods. And while there are beautiful large colonial homes, farm houses, bungalows, cape codes, five story row house mansions and absolutely sublime modern homes by Alexander Smith Cochran (Baltimore's own brilliant architect), there is something about my Baltimore's rectangular two story row houses (especially the ones that still have their endemic marble stairs and claw foot bathtubs). They will always make me nostalgic for the time when I was twelve and tried for weeks to convince my father to buy one of the homes that were for sale for a dollar. There were many of them for sale in more than a few neighbors that had fallen victim to the demise of factories or the financial woes of Bethlehem Steel.

(Yes, things were that bad and the houses needed that much work. There was also the contractual agreement that you would try to be domiciled in that house. And even if he had bought two or three of them and made a large enough house, there was no way my mother would have sanctioned moving back to the city. But a kid can always dream, can't she? )

The design of the row house is not extremely complex, and when the city's population was around one million people, each house contained more people than it probably should have. The rooms were (and in some cases still are) long and narrow and perfect for displaying murals or other large paintings along the walls. Many of the houses were less than 15 feet wide (and some less than 10 feet wide?), if I recall correctly. And I know that there are historic city documents and ordinances explaining why the homes were so narrow and so long. I should read more about the history of the row house when I have time.

I always wanted to live in one of these houses as a kid. My grandmother lived in a larger version of the classic rowhouse--her neighborhood was newer ; she had a porch and a peachtree in her back yard. However, she would always mention the marble stairs of the homes of her friends and family where she grew up in town and how awful things had become when people started stealing the marble steps of the elderly or of the houses that people vacated for a better life in the suburbs.

I love the row house because it reminds me of home. This wasn't the home that I got to grow up in--my parents left for the suburbs very early in their marriage, but it was a home that I wanted to have one day.

Here in the district, and especially in Columbia Heights and in Shaw, I have a seen a few new and excellent reinterpretations of the row house. I am sure that there are some really fascinating ones in Baltimore as well. I'll be sure to try take some pictures if I find any during my adventures in Baltimore for the wedding that I'm in, but I don't know that I'll have time or want to put down a martini or a gin and tonic to do that.

Sue me.


Claven said...

My cousin moved to Bawlmer last year and now lives in one these rowhouses. When I visited him at Christmas, I realized that I had never been inside a Bawlmer row house. I liked it. But the 12 hours I was in Bawlmer that evening and morning was eye opening. Asides from my time with a girlfriend at Loyola, I had almost no experience with Baltimore. I have ALWAYS supported Bawlmer sports teams, but I have never been a fan of any DC sports teams. Yet my all of my regional experiences as an adult are actually tied to DC. Even though I identify myself with Bawlmer, that was only as a child living in the burbs. Very strange.

Sorry for the hijack.

Washington Cube said...

I remember driving through Baltimore as a child and seeing the ladies of the neighborhood out scrubbing their marble steps. It was a weekly (or daily) ritual. You still see the painted screen doors and window screens and the little religious or seasonal dioramas in Little Italy. When HBO ran The Wire (filmed in Baltimore) in Season Three there were a few episodes where drug deals were taking place out on the street, and in the background an older while woman in her housedress/apron out scrubbing the stoop. Red tops and bullets are not going to stop that activity.