The Village of Cross Keys derived its name from what was a mainly African-American community, called Cross Keys Village, that occupied the land at the corner of Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane. Most of it was torn down, around the same time The Village of Cross Keys was developed, to build the Poly-Western High School complex and the various commercial developments along Falls Road just south of Cross Keys as well as to gain access to the Jones Falls Expressway. The few single-family style houses still extant are its remnants.
That neighborhood took the name of a popular inn that, in the late 18th century, was across Falls Road from what is now the CVS pharmacy. The area was first settled in that era by free blacks attracted by the pure water of the Jones Falls and employment, first by local Quakers and later by residents of Roland Park which was developed as a suburban community starting in the late 19th century.
The land you see surrounding the units of Condo One was once the Baltimore Country Club’s golf course. Indeed, when you walk the grounds, you tread on what is almost hallowed ground in the annals of American golf as just one year after opening, the land was the site of the 1899 U.S. Open. That tournament was won by Scotland’s Willie Smith, who took home $150 in the fifth staging of the tournament.
The tournament was hosted by the Baltimore Country Club whose clubhouse still overlooks Falls Road from atop a hill just south of The Village of Cross Keys. Those swaths of green in front of it were fairways on the original golf course; the 17th hole required a tee shot across Falls Road, then a sparsely traveled country lane. Much of Condo One sits on what was the long par five 10th hole. The Baltimore Country Club, part of the original Roland Park development, built another golf course in Lutherville in 1926, and eventually closed its in-town course in 1962, selling the land on the west side of Falls Road to Rouse. Rouse envisioned building a community similar to the garden cities in Europe, that maintain a suburban feel but within city limits.
“There is a real need for residential development in which there is a strong sense of community,” he said at the time. “A need to feed into the city some of the atmosphere and pace of the small town and village; a need to create a community which can meet as many as possible of the needs of the people who live there; which can produce out of these relationships a spirit and feeling of neighborliness and a rich sense of belonging to a community.”
In many ways The Village of Cross Keys was an extension of what the Roland Park Company had sought to create decades before in the neighboring Roland Park community. Some of the courts in Condo One as well as streets and buildings throughout The Village of Cross Keys take their names from principals in the Roland Park Company or other Roland Park notables. Edward Bouton, inspiration for Bouton Green, was the general manager. Olmsted Green was named after the Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm, designer of the Roland Park development. Senator Robert Goodloe Harper’s estate, Oakland, located off Falls Road, inspired the names of Harper and Goodlow Houses. Roland Mews, like Roland Park, took its name from Roland Thornberry, a wealthy Baltimore County landowner. Architect Edward Palmer inspired the naming of Palmer Green.
But The Village of Cross Keys developers rejected certain practices of the Roland Park Company. Specifically, they refused to include in the Cross Keys deeds the restrictive covenants originally placed on Roland Park deeds to restrict the race and religion of residents. Rouse always aspired to a community integrated in every sense — racially, religiously and economically – and he wanted a mixture of housing to appeal to a wide variety of residents as well as employment opportunities in the development’s retail and office space.
Rouse did envision that The Village of Cross Keys’ would emulate the high quality of design and construction that was the hallmark of Roland Park. He even ensured that Cross Keys had the Roland Park zip code, the boundary of which at the time did not extend east of Falls Road. He employed top builders and architects – a young Frank Gehry, one of the world’s leading contemporary architects, designed the Harper House high rise building. Also, Architect Richard C. Stauffer collaborated with Rouse to design a community that was integrated into the natural contours of the land and respectful of existing trees and landscape.
To this day, The Village of Cross Keys boasts an urbane environment with an international and diverse mix of residents of all ages. Jim Rouse’s vision and perseverance created an idyllic, vital community that is still fresh and relevant 70 years later.