21056 says it all -- that's where rich get their mail Gibson Island is tops in area ZIP codes

October 17, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

It may not gleam with the luster of Beverly Hills 90210, but take a spin in the Baltimore metropolitan area's glossiest address: Gibson Island 21056.

The private island at the mouth of the Magothy River in Anne Arundel County tops Baltimore area ZIP codes in household income, graduate degrees, big-ticket mortgages and spacious homes, according to a Maryland Office of Planning analysis.

What's in a five-digit number? Plenty, if it's a ZIP code. A look at 1990 census results by ZIP code shows that in the Baltimore area:

* Towson 21204 had the highest percentage of senior citizens, with nearly a quarter of its 37,234 residents age 65 or older. Outside of military housing, the young Howard County communities of Columbia 21046 and Laurel 20723 had the least seniors, at only 3.2 percent.

* While Gibson Island 21056 and Roland Park 21210 had the highest educational levels -- nearly 40 percent of residents had graduate or professional degrees -- almost a quarter of adults in Southwest Baltimore 21223 and Highlandtown 21224 left school before ninth grade.

* The Baltimore area's high-rent district -- literally -- is Glenwood 21738 in western Howard County, where the median monthly rent was $1,001 in 1990. Other high-rent areas were suburbs such as Dayton 21036 in western Howard ($943) and Severna Park 21146 in Anne Arundel ($860).

* Some rather prosperous minority families live in overwhelmingly white suburbs. Average black household income was $153,742 in southern Howard County's Highland 20777, and Asian households averaged $114,021 in Lutherville-Timonium 21093. A small Hispanic minority averaged $100,918 in ZIP 21229, West Baltimore's majority-black Edmondson Avenue corridor.

John McKibben and Gina Rankins weren't surprised to find that their little corner of southern Anne Arundel County, Tracy's Landing 20779, is the Baltimore area's commuter hell. Average travel time to work from there is 45.6 minutes.

Mr. McKibben, a United Airlines pilot, and Ms. Rankins, a United flight attendant, drive even longer to Dulles Airport, one hour and 15 minutes "on a good day," she said. But they only make the trip about five times a month, and sometimes Mr. McKibben cuts the commute to 20 minutes by flying his Cessna 180 from his backyard grass airstrip.

Remoteness has its advantages in Tracy's Landing 20779.

"We've got blue heron, lots of osprey and even a bald eagle in the woods," Mr. McKibben said.

Patty Mackall, who also lives in 20779, was surprised to learn that black households in Tracy's Landing average $69,000 in annual income. Mrs. Mackall, who is black, is a beauty salon manager, and her husband, Ray, is a Prince George's County police officer.

Since the 1960s, many blacks have moved away from southern Anne Arundel to Annapolis and Prince George's as the traditional tobacco farms were replaced by upscale subdivisions and marinas. Mrs. Mackall theorizes that the more prosperous black families remain.

"Our house was in my family for years before we bought it," she said. "If you didn't have your own property, it was [expensive] for young families to move in."

Island of prosperity

Baltimore area ZIP codes vary widely in size, from the 327 people of Gibson Island 21056 to the more than 75,000 of Glen Burnie 21061. The smallest ZIP codes, such as Stevenson 21153 or Harmans 21077, are a group of post office boxes and are not included in census figures.

Larger ZIP codes may include pockets as prosperous as Gibson Island, but the small, homogeneous 21056 ZIP packs a statistical wallop because it is literally an island of prosperity. Fully one-third of Gibson Island households have incomes exceeding $150,000.

The 1,100-acre island couldn't be much more exclusive. A private security force patrols the property around the clock and staffs the gatehouse. The island collects its own trash and fights its own fires.

Most residents belong to the Gibson Island Club with its tennis courts, golf course and yachting squadron.

"I'm told by people around the world that it's pretty unique," said Charles W. Shaeffer Jr., a securities executive who is president of the Gibson Island Corp., in which property owners are shareholders.

But Mr. Shaeffer wants people to know there's hard work behind Gibson Island's luxurious lifestyle. (The island's average one-way commuting time is 38 minutes.)

"I leave for work at 6 in the morning, and I'm amazed at how many of my neighbors do the same," he said. "They may have high incomes, but they're not just collecting [bond] coupons."

Unexpected bonanza

The five digits 21056 alone may not communicate Gibson Island's exclusivity to most Baltimore area residents. But the ZIP means a lot to direct-mail and other marketers.

ZIP codes were instituted nationally in 1961 to improve mail delivery. (The acronym stands for Zone Improvement Plan.) ZIPs proved an unexpected bonanza for businesses with products to sell by helping pinpoint the market of likely buyers.

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