Victorian was worth the wait
History: For one retired naval commander, patience paid off when he was finally able to buy the 19th-century house he'd been eyeing for five years. By Shruti Mathur
August 8, 2004
It began as a reverent love affair.
For Guy Thomas, it would be five long years of surreptitious detours and wishful sighs before he could call the shapely Queen Anne Victorian in Reservoir Hill his own.
Adorned with castle-like turrets and curvy balconies, the house juts out like a proud queen reigning over a rowhouse-dotted Baltimore skyline. A white-trimmed porch embraces the front of the house, which is centered on a seven-bend staircase sweeping through four floors that include 11 bedrooms and 10 1/2 baths. At the top, a 4-by-8-foot glass skylight allows rays of sun to shine down the rectangular railings and original hand-carved golden oak posts.
The first floor has high ceilings and intricately designed passageways. Wooden grillwork opens into the dining room, where a columned fireplace and glittering chandelier are standouts.
Snuggled behind the areas are a contemporary kitchen and a washing room that has been turned into a wet bar. Thomas, a fine-arts aficionado, has held several opera cast parties in the house, with guests gathering in the softly lighted twin parlors to hear the 1927 Knabe piano.
The unfinished basement includes a similar labyrinth of rooms, one of which holds Thomas' vast collection of white ceramic miniature homes. Included in this village is a tiny replica of his residence. It is inscribed "Bed & Breakfast," an aspiration that Thomas has for the house.
The retired naval commander first saw the historic home more than 10 years ago and fell instantly in love.
In June 1999, he stumbled upon the fallen "For Sale" sign and persuaded his wife, Clelia, to take a tour. After a month of deliberation, Clelia Thomas, a native of Peru, decided the house was "the best deal we had seen by far."
The newlyweds paid $175,000 for the 19th-century architectural treasure, which had been on the market for several months, according to listing agent Eva P. Higgins.
A real estate agent for Hill and Co. of Baltimore, Higgins attributed the low price to concerns about maintenance and upkeep (Thomas pays about $800 a month for utilities), and to a general slump in the real estate industry at the time.
"It is an exquisite house and probably could have gone for three times the price now," she said. "You just don't see ultra-big houses like this every day."
Guy Thomas said the house's size, which he estimates at 10,500 to 11,000 square feet, might have intimidated buyers. "When I first walked through, I honestly got lost," he said.
Lewis Lyles, the couple's renovation handyman, said he lost several tools in the home's hallways, rooms, stairways and walkways.
"You need cell phones in this house," he said.
Later, Guy Thomas did use his cell phone at the base of the stairway to find his wife in the house.
The 40-room residence brims with antique furniture, framed Peruvian paintings and rolled-up carpets. Halfway up a split staircase between the first and second floors hangs a crimson bridesmaid kimono. A snow-white bridal ensemble adorns the third-floor landing. The costume pieces were picked up as a pair from an antiques dealer in Japan.
"It's eclectic; there's a bit of everything here," Thomas said.
The wraparound second floor includes a green angular sunroom with a high-tech music system and a sitting room with four windows.
Off the oriental-themed breakfast room is a small hallway that leads to the library, which is Guy Thomas' retreat, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The bay-windowed office includes shelves of medals, cannons, bottled ships and toy soldiers, alongside numerous books on music, espionage, Spanish, Japanese, Russian and history.
The couple converted an upstairs kitchen into their master bedroom suite to take advantage of its two fireplaces and balcony view.
The Thomases have made other renovations to the 10-fireplace, four-chimney house, including adding five bathrooms, turning an underused landing on the third floor into a laundry and (removing 60 plus year old linoleum tile (a very tough job) and sanding and resurfacing the original pine floors. They also stripped several of the oak doors, the banister railing and multiple newel posts from all four floors - a large undertaking in a house this size, but well worth the effort.)
The third floor is made up of five bedrooms and four bathrooms, most of which the couple hope to transform into nautical- or oriental-themed guest rooms for potential bed-and-breakfast lodgers. This floor also houses the original master bedroom suite, elaborately decorated in a deep-green peacock design.
The home was built during the late 1800s to overlook the Jones Falls Valley, as were many other older homes in the Mount Royal Terrace Historic District. But as the decades slipped by and the home's interior changed - at one point being divided into several (12) apartments - so did the external landscape.
Now the view includes a light rail repair yard and a bright green highway sign that says "Jones Falls Expressway, Next Left."
The busy thoroughfare doesn't bother Guy Thomas.
The 60-year-old science and technology adviser for the Coast Guard said the mummer from the constant flow of cars whizzing by below helps to create a peaceful riverside atmosphere within.
"It's like we're out in the country," he said.
Copyright (c) 2004, The Baltimore Sun