Oakenshawe Historic District
The Oakenshawe Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The neighborhood, which contains approximately 300 homes, evolved in two stages on the 19th-century Wilson estate, a forested tract whose terrain was gently rolling in the north and generally flat in the southern and eastern sections. After the Wilsons sold off a portion of the estate, a number of frame houses reflecting vernacular interpretations of the Victorian Gothic and Italianate styles were gradually built on the property; this first phase of growth is represented by houses dating from 1890 to circa 1910. The second stage of development began in the World War I era, when several developers transformed the remaining property by constructing a neighborhood of brick rowhouses. The intensive phase of rowhouse construction continued through the 1920s, and development was substantially complete by ca. 1926.
Consistent with the practice in other Baltimore subdivisions of the period, when the rowhouses of Oakenshawe were constructed, the developers retained many of the old growth hardwood trees that existed on the Wilson family's country estate.
The Oakenshawe Historic District is significant for its association with the urban development of Baltimore at the beginning of the 20th century, and as an example of a type of residential subdivision which characterized the area in the period. Oakenshawe is distinctive among the early 20th century subdivisions of north Baltimore for its consistent architectural character. While a significant number of buildings survive to reflect the area's history through the first decade of the 20th century, the majority of houses in Oakenshawe reflect its development as a rowhouse neighborhood which began around World War I. These are attached houses of the "daylight" type, featuring an early 20th century plan innovation that allowed natural light throughout the building. Although the neighborhood is the creation of several unrelated developers, it exhibits a noteworthy consistency in building type, architectural style (predominantly Colonial or Neoclassical revival styles), and in the quality of design and construction (reflecting the work of several capable local architects and builders).
The period of significance, 1890-1926, spans the period between the construction of the earliest surviving building in the area through the late 1920s, by which time the development of Oakenshawe was substantially completed.
James Wilson purchased a tract of land from Ebenezer Smith Thomas on Dec. 16, 1809 for the purpose of creating a country seat; shortly thereafter, a house was constructed on this land and given the name Huntington. For nearly one hundred years various members of this family remained resident on this estate and gradually expanded its holdings; by 1872, the Wilson land extended eastward all the way to York Road.
From the late 19th century to the World War I era, residential development in Baltimore proceeded northward along major arteries including North Charles, Saint Paul, Calvert, Guilford, and Barclay Streets and Abell Avenue, filling these areas with rowhouse neighborhoods that were predominantly urban in character. This development coincidentally reached Merryman's Lane just as the Olmsteds were transforming it into University Parkway.
The property north of the present University Parkway between Barclay Street and York Road was deeded to Mary L. Patterson by William C. Wilson in 1873. Of the standing residences in Oakenshawe, the earliest was constructed in this Patterson section on the south side of Venable Avenue in 1890. More houses were constructed about ten years later on Venable Avenue, Calvin Avenue and Barclay Street. In the first decade of the new century, the remaining houses on Calvin Avenue were constructed.
The next phase of development resulted from the activities of several developers, working independently of each other but approximately simultaneously. Shortly before World War I, Philip C. Mueller purchased the remainder of the Wilson Estate for the purpose of a residential subdivision. World War I created limitations on building supplies and manpower for new construction, so construction did not begin until after the war. In 1916, Mueller sold a small portion of his land to another developer, James Keelty, who employed local architect Frederick E. Beall to design 13 houses for the parcel. Around the same time, the Mueller Building Company hired Parke Poindexter Flournoy, Jr. to design houses for their considerably larger tract. Early in 1917 James Keelty commissioned W.T. Childs to build houses on the north side of University Parkway and University Place, to designs by Frederick E. Beall. At the same time, the Philip C. Mueller Building Company began its development on Guilford Terrace and on Oakenshawe Place. A few weeks later, the Guilford Building Company, apparently a developer and construction company, started the rowhouses on the south side of University Parkway using designs by local architect Stanislaus Russell.
Whereas Keelty and the Guilford Building Company were involved in Oakenshawe during a relatively short period of time, the Mueller Company's involvement was longer-lived. By October 1917, the Mueller Company was selling houses on Guilford Terrace. Construction slowed until November 1918, when a wartime ban affecting building materials was lifted. In January 1919 the Company announced plans for continuing their development on Guilford Terrace and part of University Parkway.
In August 1919 the Muller Construction Company purchased two lots, part of the former Wilson estate, that allowed the extension of their development east to what would become Barclay Street. However, they almost immediately sold the northern part of this purchase to the builder George A. Cook. Cook had been active in the construction of dwellings on Calvert Street just south of Oakenshawe. In 1922, Cook employed the locally known builder-architect William B. Gerwig to design dwellings on Birkwood Place.
In 1921 the Mueller Company built a group of four houses on Homewood Terrace; the following year it constructed 14 additional houses on University Place and nine houses on University Parkway in the westernmost section of the district. In 1923 the Mueller Company constructed the remaining 14 houses on Homewood Terrace, and George A. Cook completed the development of Birkwood Place. Between 1924 and 1926 development was completed on Calvert Street, Oakenshawe Place and University Place.
Although the rowhouses in Oakenshawe were constructed by several developers who worked independently of each other and who employed different architects, the character of the neighborhood is remarkably cohesive. The rowhouses all share the two-room-deep "daylight" plan, an early 20th century innovation; unlike previous rowhouse plans that involved a dark interior room, this plan allowed light directly into every room in the house (hence the "daylight" name). Architect Edward L. Palmer, Jr. pioneered the "daylight" design for rowhouses in Baltimore in 1909 with a group of five houses on University Parkway in Roland Park. In 1913, Palmer designed Bretton Place and two groups of nine houses each on Newland Road in Guilford, immediately north of Oakenshawe. By 1917, Parke Flournoy had begun to design "daylight" houses for the Mueller Building Company in Oakenshawe. Each group followed the basic design principles Palmer had used in his work a few blocks away on Newland Road: brick was uniformly laid in Flemish bond, and all units had front porches; cross gables marked the central and end units, while intervening units had traditional pitched roofs with shed dormers.
† Dean R. Wagner, Consultant, Oakenshawe Historic District, Baltimore City, Maryland, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.