Wyndhurst glows in the shadow of Roland Park

When Roger and Betsy Nissly decided it was time to move from their apartment to something larger, they found the perfect house in northern Baltimore City.

It was a bit pricey, but they kept an eye on it and when the price was lowered, they snatched it up.

That wasn't last week.

That was 1975. And 27 years later, the Nisslys still enjoy the house and the neighborhood.

The house is located in Wyndhurst, a northern Baltimore neighborhood north of Wyndhurst Avenue between Roland Avenue and Charles Street. The community is made up of two smaller neighborhoods, Tuxedo Park and Embla Park, and is home to a number of well-known city institutions.

"This is like a farmhouse in the city; it dates back to 1906, and I understand it was the first to be built on this block," Roger Nissly said. "We were so happy to get this house. It's kind of a dream home."

Even though the Nisslys didn't know much about the area when they first moved there, they could tell right away that it was going to be a good fit.

"We moved here in the summer and the neighbors were already planning the Fourth of July party for the community," Nissly said. "So we got the feel it was a nice, friendly neighborhood right away."

For most people, the names Tuxedo Park and Embla Park, or even Wyndhurst, do not immediately ring a bell. That's because they are often overshadowed by their well-known neighbor, Roland Park, which is located just across Roland Avenue.

Many establishments thought of as Roland Park mainstays are in Tuxedo Park or Embla Park. For example, the grocery -- Eddie's of Roland Park -- and the Roland Park post office are in Tuxedo Park. The popular Roland Park swimming pool is located on Lawndale Avenue in Embla Park.

Adding to the identity problem, residents refer to their neighborhood using all three names. But the Wyndhurst Improvement Association, which represents both Tuxedo Park and Embla Park, is seeking National Register Historic District status for Wyndhurst, which may eventually clear up the name game and give some familiarity to the name Wyndhurst.

"Tuxedo Park and Embla Park make up Wyndhurst as far as the residences are concerned," said Nicholas Fessenden, a Tuxedo Park resident and president of the Wyndhurst Improvement Association. "Then we have schools and institutions that are all part of the Wyndhurst neighborhood. Tuxedo Park and Embla Park are the older names, and together they make up Wyndhurst."

He said the Wyndhurst neighborhood is often lumped in and confused with Roland Park.

"Being a relatively small neighborhood and sort of being next to larger neighborhoods there is a question of identity," said Fessenden. "A lot of people assume we are in Roland Park, but we're not."

Distinct history

The neighborhood has a distinct history.

According to Karen Lewand's book, North Baltimore: From Estate to Development, the area was originally known as Vaux Hall or Fox Hall. It is bounded by Northern Parkway on the north, Charles Street on the east, Wyndhurst Avenue on the south and Roland Avenue on the west. Within these boundaries are about 300 residences and six city institutions: Gilman Country School for Boys, the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and its school, Friends School, the Stoney Run Friends Meeting House and the Roland Park Public School.

According to Lewand, Tuxedo Park and Embla Park were subdivided by 1898. Edward Bouton, the first general manager of Roland Park Co., was associated with the development of Tuxedo Park, and the name may have come from Tuxedo Park, N.J., where Bouton had studied restrictive covenants.

Tuxedo Park today maintains the configuration and most of the street names of the original development, started in 1892 by the Kansas City Land Co.

Embla Park was listed in the 1887 Maryland State Directory and Gazetteer. Such a listing usually indicated that the community had its own post office. The dividing line between Tuxedo Park and Embla Park is the former Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, now used as a hike and bike trail.

But whether Wyndhurst residents live on the west side of the former railroad tracks - meaning a Tuxedo Park address -- or the east side -- meaning an Embla Park address -- the popularity of the area is evident.

Rising values

Home prices have significantly increased, with many houses receiving contracts before even going on the market. The average sales price for a home in the neighborhood now goes well above $200,000, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information System Inc., the multiple listing database used by real estate brokers. And multiple contracts and overbidding are common in Wyndhurst.

"You've seen a pretty good price jump in there. It wasn't that many years ago that you could walk into that area for $140,000 or $150,000," said Arthur Davis III, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co. in Roland Park.

The houses are a mix of duplexes, cottages, bungalows and three-story farmhouses. Although many of the homes were built during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the majority were constructed shortly after World War I.

The popularity is not new, said Davis, it's just an outgrowth of what is happening in the overall area.

"Roland Park has become such a strong draw that the peripheral neighborhoods have been pulled up as well. It's the proximity to the big houses," Davis said. "People who can't buy in Roland Park have spilled over to Tuxedo Park and Embla Park. The area has also undergone the process of people moving in and fixing up the houses and driving up the values."

When architect Joe Briggs and former interior designer Sarah Wolfenden decided to buy an older home in the Tuxedo Park section of Wyndhurst, they were not afraid of the work needed to transform their home.

"We were comfortable with an older home that we could work on," Wolfenden said. "That doesn't work for everyone, but a lot of the houses here require you to do that. Everyone I know that has bought a house in this neighborhood has enjoyed making changes." In addition to a home that includes room for a growing family, Wolfenden said, the amenities within walking distance were also big selling points.

Walking is the thing

"We can walk to the library, the post office, the bank and school. It's something that very few neighborhoods offer. There are days and days when we never get into our car."

In the last few years, many older residents have moved out, transforming the neighborhood into an area now bustling with children. On their street alone, Wolfenden said, there are 26 children: so many in fact that her daughter, Isabelle Briggs, started a children's newsletter for the community.

When Thomas Hyatt and Colleen McCahill wanted a larger residence, they too looked for one that could accommodate a growing family. What they found was a five-bedroom, three-story home in Tuxedo Park that will turn 100 years old this year.

"I have four kids between the ages of 3 and 12. This is a really family-friendly neighborhood, and right now that is what matters more than anything," McCahill said. "There are a lot of places where kids can run around here. And the school is within walking distance."

The combination of good schools, easy access to amenities and lots of open space has attracted many young people to the area.

"A lot of young families have moved in recently," said Fessenden, who has lived in Wyndhurst for 27 years. "Because of the schools located in the neighborhood, we figure you probably have about 5,000 schoolchildren arriving in our neighborhood every day. The down side is traffic can be congested, but the advantage is you have so many excellent schools within walking distance. And you have lots of open space and recreation areas."

Stephen Kinsey bought his childhood home from his mother in 1991, and now he and his wife, Laura, are raising their daughter in the same neighborhood in which he grew up.

"There is really no down side to this neighborhood; it's exciting to see the neighborhood regenerating itself with younger families moving in," Stephen Kinsey said.


Commute to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: Roland Park Elementary, Roland Park Middle, Northern High

Shopping: Roland Park Shopping Center, The Rotunda, Village of Cross Keys, Wyndhurst Station

ZIP code: 21210