The bucolic Baltimore neighborhood of Roland Park is an early and highly influential example of a comprehensively planned garden suburb. The Roland Park Company, led for decades by developer Edward H. Bouton, weathered initially sluggish sales during the economic downturns of the 1890s to become synonymous with upscale “suburban” development. The first phase of Roland Park’s development, Plat 1, was laid out by Kansas City landscape architect George Kessler in 1891. Later responsible for Kansas City’s park system, among other prominent projects, Kessler also worked on the landscape design for Euclid Heights, an exclusive garden suburb developed in Cleveland, Ohio, around this same time. Kessler established the core landscape characteristics of Roland Park, including curving streets following the natural hilly topography, attractive vistas, and large building lots.
Perhaps more important and influential than Roland Park’s naturalistic landscape was the deed restrictions the Roland Park Company attached to all lot sales in order to control use and architectural quality. Deed restrictions included a minimum house cost of $3,000, minimum setbacks of 30 feet, and required fees for street and other maintenance. The Roland Park Company built a few houses to inspire lot sales in the 1890s, but generally lot owners hired their own architects or chose designs from popular pattern books such as Shoppell’s Modern Houses. The houses built in Plat 1 reflected the eclectic suburban house types popular in the 1890s, including Queen Anne and Shingle Style dwellings.
The minimum cost essentially served as both a social and design restriction for the neighborhood, which quickly became a popular alternative to more congested genteel Baltimore neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon Square. A variety of amenities were also instrumental in the success of the Roland Park neighborhood. The Lake Roland elevated line opened in 1893, providing efficient public transit between Roland Park and downtown Baltimore. The Roland Park Company built the Roland Park Shopping Center in 1894, one of the first in the country, to provide commercial services in an attractive building. The Baltimore Country Club (1898) and the Roland Park Country Day School (1894) completed the self-contained community, which proved very attractive to Roland Park residents.
Plat 2 expanding Roland Park was first proposed in 1897 and opened in 1901. The deed restrictions and basic site planning were continued, now with even larger lots and grander houses. The minimum house cost requirement evolved into a requirement that house plans be approved by the Roland Park Company. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., heir the most prominent landscape architecture firm in the United States, worked on this and future additions to Roland Park through 1910. Baltimore architects Wyatt and Nolting designed many houses in Roland Park, including their own, as well as the shopping center and country club. The houses of Roland Park continued to display a variety of fashionable eclectic modes including Shingle Style, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, and Arts and Crafts. The Roland Park Company went on to develop several adjacent neighborhoods with Olmsted such as Guilford (1913) and Homeland (1924). Annexed by the City of Baltimore in 1918, Roland Park remained one of the most successful planned garden suburbs in the United States and the inspiration for many prominent early-twentieth-century projects such as the Country Club District in Kansas City, Missouri.
Hayward, Mary Ellen, and Frank R. Shivers, Jr., eds. The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Schlack, H.G. “Planning Roland Park 1891-1900.” Maryland Historical Magazine67, no. 4 (Winter 1972): 417-428.
Waesche, James F. Crowning Gravelly Hill: A History of the Roland Park-Guilford-Homeland District. Baltimore: Maclay and Associates, 1987.