Eastport wins top honors

January 03, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Eastport, the Annapolis neighborhood that is home to crabbers, car mechanics and corporate executives, was named one of Maryland's best neighborhoods last week, in part because of that diversity.

The Maryland Commission on Neighborhoods named Eastport one of 15 outstanding neighborhoods in the state, citing good working relationships among the 225 businesses and 4,500 residents on the marshy peninsula between Back Creek and Spa Creek.

"It's a wonderful place to live," said Mike Miron, who runs the Shell service station at Severn Avenue and Sixth Street. "There's a harmony in this section of town that is really unique."

Eastport residents often watch from the sidelines as dwellers from the downtown historic district go to war with the City Council over issues such as reconstructing historic Main Street, raising parking meter rates and expanding local business.

"We try to stay away from all those problems downtown," said Mr. Miron, who collects gossip every day as he pumps gas for his neighbors and heads the local business association. "We're not like downtown."

Mr. Miron said businesses and residents regularly donate time and money to rehabilitate old homes and parks in the area. Last year, the business community raised $15,000 to renovate the abandoned Turner Playground.

The small-town feel of Eastport is not lost on the people who work there.

"It's like a city within a city," said Suzanne Atcity, who works at Love and Action, which helps local AIDS patients. "Everybody knows everybody else."

But most residents temper their praise with some regret over the changes that have overtaken the neighborhood in the last two decades. The old crab stands have long since been replaced by bars and restaurants, and the waterside summer homes supplanted by expensive condominiums.

"The fact that it's being yuppified, well, that's not really news anymore," said Doug Lambourne, president of the Eastport Civic Association. "Heaven knows, since the 1980s it's been a very hot place to move into."

Annapolis fought to preserve the physical character of Eastport after waterfront condominiums, offices and restaurants sprang up in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who has represented Eastport since 1987, says the city has won many of those battles against development.

When the seafood cooperative at city-owned McNasby's Oyster Co. in Eastport went out of business last winter, Ms. Moyer was one of the aldermen who helped keep the city from selling the property for other uses. The city agreed last month to lease the old waterfront building to another seafood processing company.

That maritime flavor keeps Eastport crowded, but as the neighborhood's popularity soars, many of the area's old-timers are faced with the prospect of moving out.

"Many families, particularly black families along the waterfront, had been resisting the urge to sell that property, although there is tremendous pressure to have them sell," said Carl O. Snowden, a local alderman who lived in Eastport in the late 1960s.

The neighborhood's black community, which had a long history in Eastport, in many cases was displaced during the 1980s. Developers searching for cheaper land seized on the neighborhood as a perfect candidate for gentrification, Mr. Snowden said.

That's quite a switch from 75 years ago, when Eastport was considered the low-rent district because of its poorly insulated houses and mosquito problems. The property where the segregated Eastport Colored Elementary School once stood now accommodates the Seafarers Yacht Club.

But even as development pressures increase and the land values rise, the black community is retaining its presence in Eastport. The Mount Zion United Methodist Church has expanded over the last two years, and Eastport Elementary School remains one of the most integrated public schools in the city, Mr. Snowden said.

"The integration had to do with the diversity of the community the school was serving," Mr. Snowden said. "And it still remains one of the few schools that have had a real cross-section of Annapolis."

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