Now 90, Sara Murnane’s love affair with Bolton Hill carries on

On May 6, Maryland recorded 28,163 coronavirus cases and as many as 1,437 deaths associated with the disease.  But on that very same day, a healthy and joyful Sara Murnane marked her 90th birthday at her home on Park Avenue, looking out on a fountain that she cherishes.  It is where she has lived since 1963, and she is not planning to move any time soon.

“Some people have suggested I shouldn’t be living alone in a big old townhouse, that I could create apartments and get the revenue.  But I love my neighbors, my house, my beautiful ceilings.  I feel very much at home,” she said.  Is she the oldest resident of Bolton Hill?  Certainly, she is among them.  Research by the Bolton Hill Community Association strategic planning task force has determined that the neighborhood age demographic skews older than most in the city.

Bolton Hill has been a big part of Sara Murnane’s life.  She moved from Cambridge to Baltimore as a teenager to study cosmetology.  She lived for a while in Mt. Vernon and pursued that profession, then made three key decisions: 

  • She met and eventually married her late husband, Joseph Murnane, who was executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, an important force then and now in Annapolis.
  • She gave up the beauty business and took a job with Greyhound, the interstate bus company. Over more than half a century working there says she “performed every job short of actually driving a bus.”
  • She moved to Bolton Hill in 1963, and here she remains.

There are lots of memories.  For example, she recalls that before the B Bistro Café closed and became what is today CookHouse, there was a grocery store in that same location that served the neighborhood.  She shopped there, but “I also went to the Lexington Market, sometimes every day.”  She cooked and she and her husband entertained often at their home: “I enjoyed entertaining.”

In the sixties, the Bolton Hill Democratic Club was important in the community, she said.

She remembers Baltimore as being “just like New York,” which she and her husband often visited.  “Baltimore had good theater, good transportation and restaurants.  We were especially fond of performances at the old Morris Mechanic Theater downtown.  I miss what old downtown Baltimore used to be, the stores and boutiques and antique row on Howard Street,” she said.  She and her husband, who died in 1978, traveled often and were especially fond of New York, Williamsburg, VA, and Ocean City. 

“He once proposed that we move to Roland Park, but I said he would have to move there by himself,” she said of her husband.  She was smitten by the architecture of Bolton Hill, liked the churches and synagogues nearby, liked her neighbors and never wanted to live anywhere else.

Not all her memories are upbeat.  During the 1968 disruptions after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she recalled fires being set not far from where she lives.  And there were a lot of sirens and police activity on North Avenue. “We called it the North Avenue Symphony,” she laughed.

These days she is mostly a homebody, although a younger family member, Stephanie Taylor, lives close by.  “We share a lot of friends and family and also a love of performing arts and other diverse and cultural events,” Ms. Taylor said.  “Sara is lovely, and she also enjoys a mean Manhattan.” 

–Bill Hamilton

Jessica Daily

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