Serenity under the sycamores

Their wedding vow was to make their West Mt. Airy home an "island of sanity," and they savor every day.

Frank and Bonnie Hollick sit under the umbrella of their backyard patio at their home in Mount Airy. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)

Bonnie Queen and Frank Hollick live on what writer Buzz Bissinger once called "the greatest block in the city." Their former neighbor spent years on this West Mount Airy street of noble-looking twins built of stone, brick and slate.

Their block of Wellesley Road, dappled with the light the sycamores let through, is alive with the sounds of children: peals of laughter and the sound of feet padding and pedaling. It's a block of homeowners who enjoy toasting milestones and savoring summer nights together.

Back in 1983, Queen knew this was the block for her. She drove around the city looking for something very different from the tiny box of a suburban house she grew up in, and she zeroed in on just two streets: Penn Street in East Falls and Wellesley Road.

"Wellesley had a particularly welcoming and vibrant feel to it," she says, recalling the day she first discovered the street of homes built in 1923 by John H. McClatchy. "On my first visit, I parked my car under one of the old sycamore trees, walked up the path to the porch, stepped into the living room, and had a wonderful feeling about what it would be like to live there."

That feeling has lingered.

When Queen moved into the five-bedroom house, she had little money for fixing up such quirks as a refrigerator door that fell off with no notice and a doorbell that rang for no apparent reason. Patience was her virtue.

By 1990, Frank Hollick had come into her life, and the two, both previously married with kids, took the later-in-life leap again. Their marriage covenant was more than unusual: It included a four-paragraph promise that the couple would make their dwelling "an island of sanity and serenity in a frenzied world."

Evidence of that pact is their meditation room, which doubles as an office and can accommodate 11 friends. The space is decorated with Hollick's black-and-white art photography of their travels.

In fact, their Central American journeys are evident everywhere in the house. Many room colors are Guatemalan-inspired, and souvenirs hang everywhere - especially on "The Wall," the colorful and eclectic trip up the stairway to the second floor, where Frank's color photos of Guatemalan markets, their children's artwork, and remembrances of their lives are displayed.

"Everyone loves The Wall," Queen says proudly, perched on a rattan chair from Pier 1. She and Hollick spend little on furnishings, preferring to comb Ross, Target, Daffy's, and Ikea for furniture, accessories, and linens for their globally inspired home.

"I love to read home-design magazines and then take those ideas and try to employ them in less expensive ways," says Queen, whose passion is art. (She takes classes at Fleisher Art Memorial; her sculpture is currently displayed on the living-room mantel).

Their decor started to take shape around the time Hollick began traveling in 1996 with the Interfaith Community Building Group. As members of St. Vincent de Paul's Church, they had heard about the group of 60 to 70 people from all congregations and faiths around the city that was helping to rebuild churches burned in arson fires in Mississippi.

In 1999, the couple went to El Salvador with the group after Hurricane Mitch hit, to repair damaged homes. On subsequent trips, they built three community centers and a church there. (This summer, the couple will do their 17th project with the group.)

At the same time, they renovated their kitchen, combined two bedrooms, and transformed a grass patch of a backyard into a brick patio. They planted beds and a weeping cherry, and put in an area for entertaining book club, friends, and family. They also redid floors and experimented with furniture arrangements.

The dining room features a turned-leg table and sideboard from Hollick's grandmother's home and striped wallpaper that Queen found on the Internet.

"We both enjoy a space that is warm," she says. "My friends say their husbands wouldn't care about any of this, but Frank does. He is a good sport about me always moving furniture around. It keeps the place alive."

Hollick agrees: "It is not about a renovation. It is about doing something and liking it, and doing more."

In the time the couple has lived there, the neighborhood has turned over, but they contend it gets lovelier with age. They love walking to work, the gym, the library, and the grocery store.

Hollick, a retired fund-raising executive with the Boy Scouts who now spends his time fly-fishing, enjoys the chatter of the children on the block as they career down the sidewalks on their trikes.

"We could not leave this community. First, this is the most warm and welcoming home," says Hollick. "Second, our neighbors are always over for dinners or book club meetings."

When their house is not filled, they sit on the front porch with Gracie the schnoodle and glasses of wine, watching the world go by.

"The kids make it more alive," Queen agrees. "It's entertainment."

They think that, truly, this is the best block in the city.

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