Tall Hills

Prime skyline views, cottage living draw many to Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr residents Carl and Linda Bendorf moved into their house a year ago, after having lived in Iowa for 30 years. Empty nesters, they relocated to Minneapolis for Carl’s new job.

Like many Bryn Mawr homes, their 1925 classic foursquare house is built on top of a steep hill, which makes it look bigger than it actually is (Bryn Mawr is Welsh for “tall hills”).

The couple was wooed instantly when they toured it in person. The butternut cream-colored house (Linda’s favorite color) is tucked into a winding road shaded by a canopy of trees. But having a house they love isn’t the only reason they were drawn to Bryn Mawr.

The Bendorfs, like many Bryn Mawr residents, choose to live in the neighborhood mainly because of its sense of community, which made them feel at home right away. They boast that their neighborhood has the charms of a small town with the convenience of a big city.

Bryn Mawr, which stretches beyond the west end of Downtown, evolved from farmland in the mid-1800s and was also railroad territory before it was touted as a “garden suburb.” It has over 650 acres of parks, lakes and trails that includes Bassett Creek, Theodore Wirth Park, Bryn Mawr Meadows and Cedar Shore Drive.

There’s also easy freeway access, and it’s centrally located to Downtown and Uptown. Some bright spots include the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, which is the first garden of its kind in the U.S. Two coffee shops, the Bryn Mawr Market, a salon, Bloomsbury Market garden store and Fast Freddie’s Pizza are within walking distance in a strip where Cedar Lake Road and Penn Avenue meet.

Neighbors frequently linger on the corner or in the park to chat. They trade plants with neighbors as they talk over the fence. The location, parks, gardens and people are ideal. “My favorite spot is our block,” said Linda. “I don’t think we even knew what we were looking for until we found it.”

A prime spot for ‘cottage living’

Period bungalows and larger Victorian homes are embedded into gently sloping hills, with gardens meandering throughout Bryn Mawr. There are plenty of sidewalks, bike trails and dead ends. As a showcase of neighbors’ pride, the words Bryn Mawr are mowed into the side of the neighborhood’s entrance.

Many residents are known to move from house to house just within Bryn Mawr and some have had several. Realtor Kurt McKenzie, who has lived in a Bryn Mawr townhouse for six years, said Bryn Mawr is a neighborhood people don’t leave.

The neighborhood, which was recently named one of the country’s top 10 “cottage living” communities by a national magazine called “Cottage Living,” still seems like an undiscovered gem in the city. It’s comprised mainly of single-family homes and some duplexes, with very little rental housing.

Homes range from $300,000-$650,000. Among them are Tudors, Colonials, bungalows, Victorians, ramblers and other period-style homes. Other advantages: The population is stable, and there are few problems with crime.

Peggy Johnson, 80, lives in the same townhouse complex as McKenzie and his partner Tim Caven. Johnson, whose husband died four years ago, moved into the neighborhood in the 1950s. It was her husband’s childhood home.

Eventually, her family moved to a suburb, but she continued to attend the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. When she and her husband returned to the neighborhood 13 years ago, it was like a homecoming. Now she’s one of only two seniors (of her age) surviving at the church. About the congregation, “It’s thriving. It’s nice to see all of the young children, couples and babies again,” she said.

She said that the neighborhood’s small-town values are still intact and have even multiplied. That’s evident in how many homes have been maintained through the years, she said. Artists and musicians are moving in. Numerous homeowners cultivate gardens that they show off each year during neighborhood garden tours.

An engaged neighborhood group

Robin Flocum said he and his wife Beth chose Bryn Mawr specifically for their house – a prairie school bungalow. Robin is a professor of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota. Previously, he and his wife lived in Uptown, an area he said was too noisy at night and lacked a neighborhood feel.

He and many others attributed Bryn Mawr’s community feel to the strides of the Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association (BMNA), which meets monthly at the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. “It’s the most active neighborhood group I’ve ever known. We all take care of each other,” said Robin. “There’s a sense of community and people value it and want to protect it.”

That’s in part because BMNA makes a concerted effort to reach out to newcomers. It has area representatives who’re in charge of disseminating information to their immediate neighbors. It provides a neighborhood directory containing the names, phone numbers and addresses of residents.

BMNA also publishes a newspaper called the Bryn Mawr Bugle. It’s well read, and a quarter-sized ad in the Bugle costs $65. Bryn Mawr has a garden group, a woman’s book club and annual events such as the ice cream social that attracts up to 600 people.

BMNA Vice President Joanna Danks, who rented in the neighborhood for several years before she moved into a house, helps plan neighborhood events. Even though she’s participated in numerous neighborhood initiatives, she continues to be impressed by how many community members have stakes in the neighborhood’s future. For example, she cited BMNA meetings about potential redevelopment projects in Bryn Mawr that have been well attended. But she said BMNA couldn’t take all the credit, “There are a lot of people invested in the neighborhood. A lot of that is because they’ve lived here so long, but there’s also a lot of doers in the neighborhood,” said Danks.

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].