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“Unusual care” – Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and the plan for Guilford

After a bit of a summer break, we have our latest guest blog post by Tom Hobbs, President of the Guilford Association from his series on Guilford’s 100 years of history. Find out more about upcoming events in Guilford on the Guilford Centennial Facebook page including our September house tour with historian Ann Giroux!

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., courtesy U.S. Commission of Fine Arts
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., courtesy U.S. Commission of Fine Arts

The Directors of the Guilford Park Company, determined to create a garden suburb of the highest quality, engaged the Olmsted Brothers to prepare the plan for development of the Guilford community. The Olmsted Brothers company was the foremost landscape firm in the country. Its principals were Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and John Charles Olmsted, the son and stepson of the late Frederick Law Olmsted, the dean of American landscape architects and founder of the firm, designer of Central Park, numerous other city park systems, great estates and plans for many noted institutions.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was the principal who primarily worked on the Guilford plan and landscape design. He was a highly respected designer, widely regarded as the intellectual leader of the American city planning movement in the early twentieth century. In 1901, he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as a member of the McMillan Commission to plan for the restoration of the Washington Mall and other aspects of the L’Enfant plan for Washington. He had a lifetime commitment to national parks and planned many of them; he designed park systems for many cities, including Baltimore and he designed a number of planned communities.

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, NPS
Illustration comparing a 1908 map projecting the Baltimore City grid through the Guilford area with an early street plan prepared by Olmsted for the Guilford Park Company prior to 1911 when it merged with the Roland Park Company, courtesy the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, NPS/Guilford Association.

When the Guilford Park Company acquired the Abell estate, the City already had on paper a plan to continue the grid street system north throughout the estate property. Such a plan would have disregarded the topography and devastated the lush forested areas. The Directors rejected such a plan and were determined that there should be a green garden suburb reflecting the value of the countryside supplied with urban conveniences but removed from the city’s “congestion, noise, crime and vice.”

Illustration of Ebenezer Howard's Garden City plan, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Illustration of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City plan, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Olmsted was a proponent of garden suburbs in America where people live harmoniously together with nature, a concept advocated by Ebenezer Howard in England. The Guilford site was surveyed and existing trees and vegetation were inventoried in detail. He laid out streets to follow contours of the land, preserve stately trees and valued vegetation and generally enhance the natural beauty. Traffic was to be concentrated on a few wide streets with pedestrian walks along well planted areas. Most roadways were to be quiet and safe with traffic channeled to the thoroughfares.

When the Guilford Park Company merged with the Roland Park Company there was no question that Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. would continue as planner and landscape designer. He had designed the western portion of Roland Park and he and Edward Bouton, now the president of the Roland Park Company, had consistent ideas about the development of the garden suburb and specifically the objectives for Guilford. They also were working together on Forest Hills Gardens, the Russell Sage Foundation developed planned community, outside of New York City. There Bouton was general manager, concurrent with his role as president of the Roland Park Company, and Olmsted was the planner and landscape designer. Olmsted also was engaged in other Baltimore projects, including the design for the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, the Charles Street approach to Guilford and a plan for the Baltimore park system.

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, NPS
Detail from the Olmsted Plan, courtesy Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, NPS

When the Roland Park Company took over the development of Guilford in 1911 plans were sufficiently prepared for the company’s engineers to design the infrastructure systems and begin detailed designs for the roadways. Olmsted continued to refine the design and prepared road and landscape designs for each block of Guilford. As the Roland Park Company information brochure for potential buyers indicates: “The planting of trees and shrubs in the parks and sidewalk lawns, along slopes and in other unoccupied spaces, has been made a distinctive feature of Guilford. The plans for this planting have been developed by Mr. Olmsted in the form of a carefully studied unified design for the whole property… Unusual care has been taken in the designation of the trees and shrubs to be used.”

Of great importance to Olmsted in his designs for new communities was “the separateness and internal integrity that would promote tranquility and give rise to the development of a sense of ‘shared community’ among their residents.” In addition to the general lush planting and walkway system, three community parks were planned (the Sunken Park, Stratford Green and the Little Park). In addition, Olmsted introduced private parks, little parcels of land spotted in the centers of many Guilford blocks as further evocations of “natural” land.

There were other conditions unique to the Guilford site that required careful consideration by Olmsted and Bouton. The Episcopal Diocese had purchased a site at the southwest edge of Guilford on which it planned to build a large, twin-towered cathedral, requiring Olmsted to plan options for both the cathedral site and the important southern entrance to Guilford. All along the eastern edge of the site on the east side of Greenmount Avenue/York Road was the grid street pattern and unplanned development; on the north was Cold Spring Lane and uncertain development. To address the issue of the north edge of the site that abutted Cold Spring Lane, Olmsted used “back-turning” streets at Whitfield Road, Bedford Place and Charlcote Place. English cottage houses were built along the eastern end surrounding a private “close.”

Roland Park Company Magazine
Courtesy Sheridan Libraries JHU

The eastern edge of the Guilford site presented a greater challenge. It was here that the Roland Park Company undertook initial development, building the architecturally admired Tudoresque houses of Bretton Place and Chancery Square, creating an internally focused English village-like environment. Handsome and setback row houses were built along Greenmount Avenue to the south and the homes of York Courts surrounding private green spaces were built to the north. At the Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts there are over 500 drawings and records covering the Guilford plans. In addition there are relevant Olmsted records at the Smithsonian and many additional records related to the planning among the Roland Park Company files now at the Johns Hopkins Library. These all are being searched for the planned book on Guilford.

Both Olmsted and Bouton were committed to the importance of protective covenants as the best means for assuring “stability” and “permanence.” Without control on development, they had observed high quality single family communities transformed by conversion to multi-dwelling and commercial uses and value change and character loss. Nuisance laws and design guidelines had proven to be insufficient protection against decline and change. Deed restricted covenants, including design controls, they argued protect purchasers against unwanted change that might “destroy the setting and they assure long-term well-being.” The collaborative work of Bouton and Olmsted in refining protective covenants became a model for similar provisions that are still widely used.

At the presentation of the Pugsley Gold Medal Award in 1953 honoring champions of parks and conservation, it was observed:

“Carrying on the ideals of his father, and with many of his father’s special qualities and characteristics, Olmsted was an outstanding leader in advancing landscape architecture to a status of honor and recognition among the professions. Indeed, for over a half-century Olmsted was the preeminent practitioner and spokesman for landscape architecture and comprehensive planning both interested in the interrelationship of people and their environment.”

Olmsted summarized his philosophy about landscape architecture in the following terms:

“In dealing with existing real landscapes, I have been guided by an injunction impressed on me by my distinguished father: namely, that when one becomes responsible for what is to happen to such a landscape his prime duty is to protect and perpetuate whatever of beauty and inspirational value, inherent in that landscape, is due to nature and to circumstances not of one’s contriving, and to humbly subordinate to that purpose any impulse to exercise upon it one’s own skill as a creative designer.”

Guilford residents and the City of Baltimore are the fortunate beneficiaries of Olmsted’s insight and design skills, living in and with one of the country’s most admired and lasting communities.

This piece was originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of The Guilford News. Thanks again to Tom Hobbs for sharing his research – take a look at Tom’s previous posts on the early history of the A.S. Abell estate and developer Edward Bouton.

“The place to live in the city” – Edward H. Bouton’s visionary plan for the Roland Park-Guilford District

Roland Park Company's Guilford Sales Office, ourtesy the Guilford Association
Roland Park Company’s Guilford Sales Office, courtesy the Guilford Association

We’re excited to share our latest guest blog post from Tom Hobbs, President of the Guilford Association in a series on Guilford’s 100 years of history. The Guilford Association is planning many great events this year to recognize the centennial anniversary which you can find on their website or on the Guilford Centennial Facebook page. 

When the Guilford Park Company merged with the Roland Park Company in 1911, Roland Park had been under development for 20 years. The venture to develop the 800 acres that originally constituted Roland Park was made possible by a syndicate of the Lands Trust Company of London, the source of most of the initial capital, Jarvis and Conklin, their agents in a Kansas City mortgage trust company, and a group of Baltimore land owners and investors. Following the market crash of 1893 Jarvis and Conklin filed receivership and shortly after local Baltimore investors bought out the interest of the Lands Trust Company.

Through the restructure of the Roland Park Company and the change in ownership and directors, Edward H. Bouton, the secretary of the original syndicate and overseer and planner of the development, remained the visionary force. He became the general manager, developed Roland Park plat by plat, laid out the streets, installed the water, sewer and electric lines, devised the controls on development and sold property lots.

fall_2011_02
Edward H. Bouton, courtesy Guilford Association

He engaged Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of the preeminent landscape architect, to design the plat west of Roland Avenue, and was the force behind the extensive planning and innovative ideas that had gained for Roland Park the reputation as a premier example of site design, land use and architectural controls that were modeled in the growing garden suburb movement in America. As observed in the Roland Park History, the planners “were less than innovative in the social dimensions of development, advocating the deliberate exclusion of economic and racial diversity.” Born in Kansas City, Bouton had a varied career before his focus on Baltimore land development. He was in the grocery business after high school and studied law at night. He moved to Colorado to raise sheep and cattle. He returned to Kansas City to marry and there became involved in land development.

How Bouton was selected to steer the development of Roland Park is unclear. His vision for the area evolved as he better understood the Baltimore market, the great attractiveness of the land north of the City and as he interacted with the designers the company had engaged. “Our land is the most fashionable, as well as, naturally the most beautiful part of the suburbs of Baltimore,” he wrote. Clearly Bouton saw the potential of the Guilford estate and the directors of the Guilford Park Company no doubt were impressed with the success of Roland Park. Bouton wrote to Olmsted, asking for a map to be prepared showing the consolidation of the lands of Roland Park and Guilford before it was decided to merge the developments.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., courtesy U.S. Commission of Fine Arts
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., courtesy U.S. Commission of Fine Arts

The Guilford Park Company had started planning for development of the Abell estate by hiring T. T. Tongue, a real estate expert, but Tongue died before much progress was made. They then hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to prepare the master plan and landscape plans. Obviously Bouton had established a relationship with Olmsted and likely was fully familiar with the Guilford proposals. When the consolidation of the Guilford and Roland Park Companies took place in 1911 the plans were available and development could shortly begin. Site work started in the spring of 1912.

The directors of the new entity were a formidable force of Baltimore influence: Henry F. Baker, Charles C. Fawcett and Robert Garrett, all members of Robert Garrett & Sons; Douglas H. Gordon, president of the Baltimore Trust Company; William H. Grafflin, business man and investor; George Miller, president of the Mar-Del Mobile Company; and Edward H. Bouton, the visionary planner. Bouton was at the helm as president.

Bouton determined to market Guilford as an extension of Roland Park and ads generally referred to this desirable swath of north Baltimore as the Roland Park-Guilford District. While Guilford was to be developed with housing of various sizes Bouton and the company envisioned a community of the highest architectural style and quality. The restrictions developed in Roland Park were expanded by strengthening the design review process, giving the company the right to reject plans “for aesthetic and other reasons” and to take into account whether the proposed house was in “harmony” with its surroundings.

Guilford Association
Boulton Memorial , courtesy Guilford Association

Bouton and Edward L. Palmer, the Roland Park Company’s architect and later designer of many of Guilford’s most noteworthy homes, traveled to Europe in 1911 looking for ideas and studying the domestic architecture. Together they designed a community that was to become the most desirable suburb in Baltimore, “filled with impressive Georgian revival, Spanish colonial, Tudor and Jacobean revival mansions,” as well as romantic cottages “making it the place to live in the city.”

This piece was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of The Guilford News. Fourteen years after Bouton’s death in 1941, the Guilford community dedicated a memorial at the Gateway Park to the planner and developer who contributed so much to the development of the neighborhood. Look out for our next guest post from Tom on the history of Guilford soon!

Exploring the Guilford Mansion & Estate – “Billy” McDonald’s 52-room mansion and A.S. Abell’s family home

We’re excited to share a guest blog post from Tom Hobbs, President of the Guilford Association highlighting 100 years of history in Guilford. The Guilford Association is planning many great events this year to recognize the centennial anniversary which you can find on their website or on the Guilford Centennial Facebook page. Today’s post features the early history of the Guilford Mansion – home to “Billy” McDonald and Arunah S. Abell:

guilfdb4[1].source Charles Hall Abell album.
Image courtesy Charles Hall/Guilford Association.
What we now identify as Guilford initially comprised ten land patents granted to British citizens from the mid 1600’s through the 1700’s. The entire region was sold in 1780 as confiscated property to Revolutionary War veteran Lieutenant-Colonel William McDonald. McDonald gave Guilford its name to commemorate the battle of Guilford Court House, North Carolina His son William, better known as “Billy,” inherited the estate and in 1852 built the Guilford Mansion.

The Italianate design of the mansion was a collaboration of British architect Edmond Lind and American William T. Murdock. According to Baltimore: Its History and Its People, the 52-room wood house was built over walls of masonry and was imposing in size and rich finishes. A solid walnut staircase rose with a grand sweep in a spiral ascent to the square turret. The drawing-room, library, billiard and reception rooms and great dining room all opened on to a main hall and had exposure to wide verandas shadowed by magnolia trees and draped in wisteria. The main hall itself was as wide as the driveway, paved in marble and lighted with stained-glass windows.

The mansion once stood where Wendover Road now meets Greenway. The entrances of the 300 acre Guilford estate were marked by imposing gates that were guarded by stone lions, reported to be copies of the lions of the Louvre. Frescoes on either side of the drive entrance depicted knights ready for conflict. Gates stood at York Road near present-day Underwood Road, Charles Street at University Parkway and Charles Street just south of Cold Spring Lane. Billy McDonald was an enthusiastic horseman and at Guilford he stabled his renowned mare, “Flora Temple.” The mare was housed at the Guilford estate in stalls that were kept in magnificent style as a suite of four apartments. Above her head was a stained glass window with her portrait.

Flora Temple and her colt, courtesy the Library of Congress
Flora Temple and her colt, courtesy the Library of Congress
Arunah S. Abell, courtesy the Guilford Association
Arunah S. Abell, courtesy the Guilford Association

In 1872, Arunah S. Abell, founder of The Sun, purchased Guilford from McDonald’s heirs. A.S. Abell had a home in the City and several country estates but he spent much time at Guilford living there for 35 years. On August 12, 1887, the New York Times reported that A. S. Abell celebrated his 81st birthday. “Mr. Abell passed the day quietly and pleasantly at his country seat, Guilford, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, who had tastefully arranged in the rooms of the beautiful mansion, particularly Mr. Abell’s private room, many lovely flowers.” Eight months later Arunah S. Abell died.

Arunah S. Abell had 12 children and three sons and five daughters were still living at the time of A.S.’s death. The Sun newspaper was left entirely to the three surviving sons and they managed the considerable estate, a significant income from which was to be distributed to the daughters. The Guilford estate remained in the Abell family holdings for another 35 years but sat vacant during much of that time. Prior to 1888, the northern boundary of Baltimore City was essentially what is known today as North Avenue. The area north of the city was heavily wooded, sparsely settled and largely held in country estates. In 1888, the city annexed 2 miles to the north of the existing city limit and urban expansion was inevitable. With the urban development advancing north from the center of Baltimore the decision was made to sell the Abell property.

With this prospect,a group of Baltimore’s most influential citizens, including Robert Garrett, William H. Grafflin, William Marburg, Thomas J. Hayward and H. Carroll Brown formed the Guilford Park Company. The motive for the organizers was both profit as well as preserving the beautiful piece of property from being sold in small parcels for speculative building. They were determined that the property should be developed as a whole following the best modern city planning practices. The Guilford Park Company raised funds through stock sales and in 1907 the Guilford estate was sold to the Guilford Park Company for one million dollars.

Guilford estate and nearby properties, 1889 Thompson Atlas, courtesy the Baltimore City Archives
Guilford estate and nearby properties, 1889 Thompson Atlas, courtesy the Baltimore City Archives

However, several years after the property purchase the Guilford Park Company had failed to carry out its 1907 intention to develop the 296-acre country estate and Guilford-the-suburb had remained an “on paper” venture. At the same time in an area west of Guilford the development of the planned community of Roland Park was well underway. In 1891 a syndicate of English capitalists, Midwestern promoters and Baltimore investors came together and incorporated the Roland Park Company. The company had initially purchased 800 acres of land for the purpose of developing a suburban town to the north of Baltimore. The principal members of the Guilford Park Company were impressed by the quality and success of the Roland Park undertaking.

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., courtesy the National Association for Olmsted Parks

Edward H. Bouton, the Roland Park Company’s general manager, had engaged Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to design a “splendid green suburb.” Bouton also had his eye on the Guilford property development. On February 14, 1911 he wrote to Olmsted: “All of the future suburban growth of Baltimore of the character of Roland Park, is going to be confined in the comparatively narrow space lying between York and Falls Roads.” Later in July, he wrote: “I think it’s more than likely that the consolidation of Guilford with Roland Park is going to be consummated and that this will be determined within the next two weeks. If it goes through I want to consult with you about it as early as possible.”

The country estate of Guilford was acquired by the Roland Park Company on November 20, 1911 from the Guilford Park Company. Bouton, the community planner and builder, would direct the development of this prized parcel of land.

Thanks again to Tom Hobbs for sharing his writing and research. The Guilford Mansion survived up until 1914 when, after several years of standing vacant, the Roland Park Company demolished the structure. You can join in Guilford’s Centennial Celebration with the Centennial Tulip Dig coming up on May 25, 2013 from 7:00am to 11:00am at Sherwood Gardens. This piece was originally published in the Fall 2010 and Winter 2011 issues of The Guilford News. Look out for our next guest post from Tom on the history of Guilford later this year!