Until she ordered a pizza last Friday night, Deborah Mills thought she lived on Oak Place. That's what the street sign she passed every day for five years said; that's where her mail was delivered; and that's where her friends found her when they came to call.
But Mrs. Mills' pizza never came, and that's how she discovered that the city had officially changed the name of Oak Place to Canterbury Road. It was all according to law, she was told. All according to a City Council ordinance -- passed in 1927.
"I've heard of slow bureaucracy, but this takes the cake," said City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, who represents the North Baltimore neighborhood in which Oak Place is located.
It seems that 64 years ago, the city undertook a wholesale renaming of streets -- changing the names of Oak Place and about 900 other thoroughfares to end the confusion caused by Baltimore's expansion. City records were changed and its tax maps were adjusted, but the word never got to tiny Oak Place, a quiet cul-de-sac off North Charles Street in Tuscany-Canterbury.
The street sign at the corner wasn't changed, and the oversight went unnoticed for 64 years. But then last week a lawyer VTC interested in one of the two buildings on Oak Place tried to find out who owned it. He called the state tax assessor, and the tax assessor called City Hall and City Hall said "oops."
Enter George A. Erpenstein, a supervisor in the Department of Public Works who decided it was high time the street sign was changed from Oak Place to Canterbury Road. Since the name change was already in the law -- albeit a 1927 law -- he didn't feel obligated to tell any of the six families who live there.
Suddenly Mrs. Mills couldn't get pizza delivered to her house because she told the delivery person to look for Oak Place. Federal Express couldn't find Oak Place -- returning a package that had been sent to a house guest of the Millses. Leaves didn't get picked up because the contractor who was called to haul away leaves couldn't find Oak Place, either.
"It was as if we had dropped off the map," says Kathleen Rivelois, another of the residents of the former Oak Place. "People have been asking me for a week now what my address is, and I tell them I don't know."
"It's the Christmas season," says Mrs. Mills, "and I've suddenly disappeared."
As of yesterday, the city also had not notified the post office, the utility companies or any of the emergency services about the name change. All continue to recognize the cul-de-sac as Oak Place -- and so do the residents, who on Monday taped over their new Canterbury Road street sign and wrote in Oak Place in black marker.
"Everyone has known it as Oak Place for all these years," Mrs. Mills said. "There's a lot of history to it and we don't want to lose that."
Indeed, Mr. Erpenstein says he's been taking a beating from Oak Placers wondering why, after 64 years, the city suddenly feels compelled to correct its oversight. "I wish I was an ostrich," he said. "I wish I could just stick my head in the sand. I didn't know that changing a street sign would cause so much trouble."
Mr. Erpenstein's boss, George G. Balog, the city's director of public works, promises that if the residents really want their street to be Oak Place rather than Canterbury Road, he won't fight it. Meanwhile, he says, letters will go out to the people who live there and any city agencies that need to be aware of the name change.
"Maybe," he concluded, "we ought to hand-deliver those."