Greg Alexander

Double the space, double the fun

Baltimore Sun, January 15, 2006

One of the more interesting aspects of Baltimore City is the incredible sense of pride that neighborhoods have for their community. Newcomers to Baltimore immediately recognize the fact that many of their neighbors are third- or fourth-generation Baltimoreans, unlike many other major metropolitan cities. Patterson Park homeowner Laureen Brunelli was born in Baltimore but moved away as a child; however, the charms of Baltimore brought her back to Charm City … with a little urging of her parents.

“My parents moved back to Baltimore in the early 1990s and bought in Canton, which at the time was not the upscale neighborhood that is now,” says Brunelli. “My husband and I were living in New York City at the time and came to visit them with our one-year-old daughter. We came to Patterson Park with her, and I remember looking around and saying what a beautiful park it was and what a shame that it wasn’t in better shape,” Brunelli says of the park, which has since been restored. “Little did I know that one day I would buy a house near this park and become so involved in the restoration of it,” says Brunelli, who is the treasurer of the “Friends of Patterson Park” organization.

So, how did Brunelli and her family end up in Patterson Park? Six years ago, with the urging of her parents, the Brunellis moved back to Baltimore. “Not long after we moved here, my parents sold their house and moved to the Poconos, which is the second time that my parents have moved away after convincing us to move closer to them,” Brunelli laughs. The family relocated to Canton and lived in two homes in the neighborhood, the second one not far from Patterson Park. “About a year ago, we started looking for a new house, but my husband and I couldn’t agree on one. We actually made offers for places in Mayfield and Beverly Hills, but those neighborhoods didn’t really feel like you were in Baltimore City. We also really didn’t want to move away from the park, which we enjoy so much with our kids,” says Brunelli, whose children are now age 9, 7 and 4. “So, we gave up looking.

“Someone at Friends of Patterson Park had told me about these double-wide homes near the park that were being renovated, but since we thought that we were moving soon, they wouldn’t be ready in time. However, I called the Patterson Park Community Development Corp., anyway, and had them put me on the e-mail list,” Brunelli continues. “Then, last August, I got an e-mail about this house on North Port Street, which looked wonderful, and it just so happened that my parents were taking care of the kids that week. I sent the e-mail to my husband, who didn’t sound too excited but said that we should walk by it that night. The construction crew was there and let us in, and as soon as we saw it, we knew that this was the house for us.” The Brunellis moved in last October.

The Brunellis’ house on North Port Street is a renovated house that formerly was two traditional rowhomes. The Patterson Park Community Development Corp. (PPCDC), like with other homes on the street, renovated the two homes to make a large 22-foot-wide, 2,000-plus-square-foot home. The PPCDC, which Dahlia Kaminsky, director of sales and marketing, describes as a “socially conscious urban planner and builder,” designs and rehabs homes in Patterson Park, primarily north and east of the park. All homes are rehabbed with state-of-the-art kitchens, new appliances, hardwood floors, central air conditioning and updated electrical and plumbing systems.

“We definitely didn’t want to have to renovate a house with three kids, so I was glad that everything was already done,” says Brunelli of their new home. The integration of the two homes is seamless, and it’s hard to tell that the home was once two separate homes. Upon entering, a parlor with a non-working fireplace greets you, as you make your way by the powder room and coat closet. Beyond that lies a gorgeous kitchen with stainless steel appliances and black granite countertops. Exiting the kitchen takes you into the former location of the adjacent house where a nice dining area now resides. The first floor also features a large living room with gas fireplace and ample windows. Throughout the house is white-painted exposed brick, and instead of demolishing all the walls between the two residences to create a wide open space, some brick walls remain, creating a unique look.

Upstairs, two bedrooms and a bathroom are reserved for the Brunellis’ children, while a master bedroom and large master bath give the couple some privacy. One of the highlights in the master bathroom is a large spa-like bath, and skylights add to the warmth of the home. Off the master bedroom is a deck, which Brunelli says will be used often this spring, especially since her neighbors don’t have this feature, which makes the space more private.

Brunelli says that the layout of the house is more user-friendly than the three-story rowhomes they lived in while in Canton, as the more horizontal space allows for the entire house to be used by the family. “Usually in the city, you must sacrifice either living space or storage, but not in this house.” She also likes the basement, where the kids have an art table and her husband can enjoy his painting hobby.

Brunelli says that what she loves most about their new home is the community itself. “We moved around a lot when we were first married, and this is the first place where we felt there was a real sense of community. It’s like a small town. The local branch librarian even ordered some books on sharks because she knows my son likes sharks. Our kids go to the same school they did when we lived in Canton, so their friends also live in the neighborhood.”

“It’s a very strong community that we helped build. We have developed over 300 properties and have invested over $40 million over the last 10 years,” adds Kaminsky. The organization’s work has helped fuel a renaissance in Patterson Park with homes on North Port Street now listing for over $400,000. “We focus primarily on the north and east sides of the park.”

Patterson Park, in particular the north side, was primarily developed by Edward J. Gallagher, a prominent developer whose mark can be seen throughout Baltimore. Gallagher struck an important deal with the descendants of the influential William Patterson family – large landowners in East Baltimore who had donated land to the city in 1827 to create Patterson Park where Baltimoreans had fended off the British in 1814. Gallagher developed late-Italianate-style homes on Fayette Street north of the park, which were sold for $1,100 in 1890 to primarily homeowners of British and German descent. Smaller homes on side streets were sold for $950, while alley homes were sold for $500. In 1891, Gallagher developed homes on Baltimore Street, prime land since it faced the park. Gallagher continued to build many rowhomes around Patterson Park on Lakewood Avenue, Glover Street and about every north-south street perpendicular to the park. He built an average of about 120 a year from 1909-1914 around Patterson Park and other neighborhoods.

Brunelli shares Gallagher’s vision of developing homes near the 150-acre Patterson Park. “I couldn’t live in the city unless I was near a park. Now that we are so close, we go multiple times a day and even found our puppy there,” she says of the family’s recent addition. “Kids need green space, and we all need the park.”

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