Saturday, July 4, 2015

348 S Bentalou

I purchased 348 S Bentalou in 2004, for 16k dollars. The most pressing concern was a leaking back roof, that dripped water down, through the wall of the kitchen, into the basement. On its way down there, It caused the joists of both the second floor and the first floor to rot. As renovation goes, every repair has consequences that could be spun into benefits. My plan to fix this roof included a new wall for the second floor bedroom, with a picture window and special "constellation" light grills. I let my creativity go here. For the first floor, I decided to tear out the wall there, making a special, lofty and long kitchen and living room.

Continuing the wall-tearing, I consolidated the two upstairs "kids" bedrooms into one large salon. This has been a benefit of the house for many years, in its capacity to hold multiple groupings of people rather than segmenting them into cramped spaces. The upstairs holds this salon, plus a bathroom, and the back bedroom with the picture window. When I eliminated these walls upstairs and downstairs, the house was full of bags of plaster, plus the miscellaneous junk that was left there from the previous owners, including a flea market in the storefront. I had decided to load all this into a dumpster in one day. To help me with this, I had friends over and pizza was served. The hubbub attracted all sorts of neighborhood people, and I let them into the house to help clean it out. They took all sorts of junk, and by the end of the day, the house was empty.

For many years, the only bathroom was in the basement- a toilet shrouded by nary more than a bedsheet, and another room for bathing. When we had musical shows down there in the stone chamber, you could poop at the same time as listening and perhaps even conversing. The bathtub was an old cast iron clawfoot, that came with the house. I had to move it to the basement, and it stayed there for a while. It was actually quite nice to bathe down in the cool of the stone walls; it was quiet and also you felt this wonderful grounded sensation from being underground. The lighting in the basement consists of church chandeliers so there is a nice mood.

For all the years I inhabited Bentalou, I used the storefront for my work- making electronic musical instruments. It has green and red tiled floors, and extra high, fifteen foot ceilings. It had plenty of space for my table saws, planers, wood lathes, plus several workbenches. I wired it for extra power, although you rarely need extra power in this efficient day and age.

Soon after I moved in, I noticed a sign on the old tree in front, stating that the city had decided that it was dying, and they would cut it down. I tried to protest over the phone, but was told that the crew would be coming any random day in the next four months, and I would have to talk to them. Of course, they came when I was out, and I had a sad little stump in front. I remember I cried, that now the house would lack shade and the living presence of a texas honey locust tree. Fortunately, I learned of the city trees program, and applied to it. They came out, ground out the old stump, and planted a new honey locust, for only a little bit of effort on my part. Now, I'm happy to say, the tree has grown big and shades the whole front.

In the meantime of this trees growth, I decided to add extra foliage and shade to the house, by constructing planters. The main one is out front, a huge organic and tiled constructions, holding sumac trees and pawpaws. I should explain these trees if you don't already know them. They are both native to the Maryland area. Sumac was my grandmother's bane, but I learned to love it, and told her that. You can make lemonade out of its berries, or season chicken with their bright red hairs. As a micro-lumber, it displays a rainbow of green, brown, and orange colors.

The pawpaw tree was my father's obsession for a while when I was young. It grows in the shady depths of forest, an understory home for deer. It doesn't grow that large there, but it does have many fruits the shape of a small mango. Inside, the custard apple offers a fragrant and sweet yellow flesh, and several large seeds. You can eat pawpaws in august, when they ripen. The pawpaw, although it is found in the forest, can become a specimen tree when grown in the open. In the backyard of 348 S Bentalou, a pawpaw has done just that- grown very large with branches stretched out to the sun, and many pendulous fruits.

The backyard and side planter also have held many species of the solanaceae order- eggplants, tomatoes, and datura, to name a few. Across the alley, the backyard of the shopping center became an urban farm, while I lived there. I would go to food depot and ask them for fish guts, in a box for this purpose. Then I would dig ditches and plant them very deeply. Above this I planted eggplant, tomatoes, and pumpkins, which fruited profusely and enjoyed the sun and rain there.

Another heartbreak at tree-cutters happened in this back alley. I awoke one morning to hear chainsaws in the alley. Looking out I saw them coming up the line of pines, chopping them down. Fortunately they did not continue to the pines behind 348, but I was very anxious. The neighbor said that his house got that much hotter without the shade of the pines. Over the years, I have tried to replant the trees, unsuccessfully at first. The first tree I tried, a Pawlonia, was quickly "weeded" out; although it is quite a nice and showy tree, Baltimore groundsmen know it as a tenacious cracker of sidewalk and are trained to eliminate it.

It took me several years to find the right tree for the alley. It all started on one of my walks down Gwynn's Falls park, where Baltimore street flies high over the cliff of the river. Here, old Osage Orange trees grow, releasing their giant ball fruits, a cretaceous food for giant sloths, and a domestic organic spider repellant. After a heavy snowfall, I noticed that one tree had fallen. I brought my chainsaw to the scene and cut up the heavy wood, and I also saved some seeds from its balls. These seeds I nurtured over the years into sapling Osage Orange trees. Lately, I can proudly say that three of these saplings inhabit the alley behind 348 S Bentalou.

Gwynn's Falls has always been a place to relax. When I first moved to Bentalou Street, Twig took me down the path there, and showed me the old houses tumbling down its hills. There is this official driveway and bike path, that goes all the way to Dickeyville, and there is also a path down by the train-tracks. Both ways can get you to the quarry, a giant pond full of old mining structures, ducks, cliffs, giant black beetles, and other adventures.

Over the years, I installed much tile work in 348 S Bentalou- the kitchen is paved with tan and pink flags, there is a black and white hearth that doubles as staircase, the basement is partially tiled, and the upstairs bathroom features fully tiled, orange walls. The clawfoot bathtub, which moved to the upstairs bathroom, required a special curved wall behind it, which I tiled with scenes of game-birds. The hearth I mentioned, is to hold heat generated by the Sierra brand wood stove, which heats much of the house including the upstairs bedroom.

Some unseen bones of the house's utilities are a completely reconstructed electrical system, in steel conduit for extra safety. In addition, I completely redid the plumbing, and installed a tankless hot water heater. There are no peeling paint places, and a few new windows. The only old windows are grand wooden sliding affairs upstairs in the salon, featuring wooden shutters.

The most recent large renovation was part of a process started in the first renovation- making a porch where there once was a leaky roof. The first renovation included sealing this roof with EPDM rubber. Later, I constructed a patio. The final step was to build a roof over the patio, with the help of friends. We erected six walnut posts, tied with heavy joists, and over that built a roof deck. Finally, I sealed it with bituminous rubber roof. Most recently, I installed a new rubber roof over the whole house, tying it into this covered porch. The extra, outdoor room, looks out over the trees of the backyard and pines of the alley. From it, you can see the giant abandoned brewery with Pawlonias growing from its roof.

All these little touches upstairs. A curved ceiling in the salon hearkens to my grandma's attic. Bookshelves with micro-skylights behind them in the bedroom. I really wanted to make a peaceful environment for creative thinking here. When I wasn't living there, I always had creative tenants- my good friend Carson is a musician, and Nick and Shayna are artists of paint and of the herbal trade. Baltimore is a town of interesting and eclectic people, and this house reflects that.


  1. An excellent little snapshot of an obviously well-loved space. I hope to hear the story of the new one.

  2. Beautiful and inspirational! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Exceptionally supportive post and remarkable great pictures about direction. I need to approach that for bouncing back would we be able to utilize sealant. Since my one companion had utilized Liquid EPDM Rubber and his rooftop is very alright even following ten years.

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