Separate but unequal Curtis Bay: Members of community feel cut off from city, and are changing addresses to reflect independence.

July 31, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

David Schuyler recently changed his address without moving. His bank statements, his credit card bills, letters to him from old ,, friends in New Hampshire -- all used to come to him in the 1600 block of Popland St. in Baltimore.

Now, you can write to him at 1615 Popland St., Curtis Bay, 21226.

"No, we haven't seceded from the city, but I want the world to know us as Curtis Bay, not Baltimore," says Schuyler, 60, who changed his address with the post office and his creditors several months ago. "We think it will boost the morale of the people."

Schuyler is part of a small but growing movement. In recent weeks, community leaders in this south city neighborhood have been encouraging their neighbors to change their addresses -- officially -- from Baltimore to Curtis Bay. The idea, first suggested at a community meeting this spring, offers residents a way of expressing both pride in their neighborhood and pique at a lack of city attention to the area.

It is unclear how many of the approximately 3,000 residents have made the switch, but mail carriers say they have noticed a few dozen more "Curtis Bays" on envelopes.

The Community of Curtis Bay Association has changed the address on its checking account. And several residents say they have changed the address on everything but their driver's licenses. (Schuyler says he may even approach the Motor Vehicle Administration the next time he has to renew).

The address changes have been spurred in part by rumors -- which insurance companies say are unfounded -- that divorcing your address from Baltimore helps reduce auto insurance premiums. At the same time, the idea has encountered considerable resistance from Curtis Bay's senior citizens, many of whom worry that Social Security checks might not get to "new" addresses.

"We don't have everyone trained yet on the addresses," says Linda A. Bardo, secretary for the community association, who has lived here since 1971. "But we're working on it."

Suburban areas have sometimes used addresses to give themselves greater cachet -- better to be Catonsville than Arbutus, the thinking goes -- but Curtis Bay is a different case. The neighborhood briefly attempted to secede from the city and join Anne Arundel County in 1991. Community leaders say citizens of the tough working-class neighborhood, with its share of prostitution and drugs, believe they can depend on no one but themselves.

Residents here brag that they sweep their own streets when the city doesn't do the job. And they have opened their own, #F unofficial police station on Pennington Avenue and invited Southern District officers to use it.

In recent years, the community association has become aggressive about promoting what some locals call "Curtis on the Bay." A new monthly newspaper includes the block number of every crime committed in Curtis Bay, and gives the exact address of police busts, with an inventory of what officers turned up.

Frank Lewis of the community association has achieved mild recognition for chasing drug dealers from street corners. After some dealers threatened his life, he deliberately painted his house a bright green "so the dealers have no trouble finding it," he says.

"We feel like the city's stepchildren down here sometimes," says Lewis. "The community association is doing everything we can to put Curtis Bay on the map."

Authorities say they see most of these tactics -- including the address change -- as harmless. Nancy Talvik, manager of the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay post office, says the postal service's sorting system has already been set up to recognize the name Curtis Bay -- so Social Security checks will get there.

And Terry Mannion, director of sales and service for Geico Direct, says that address changes will not affect car insurance rates because rates are standard throughout zip code 21226, which includes Curtis Bay and parts of Anne Arundel County.

"I don't think the city should feel threatened by it," says 6th District Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, who represents Curtis Bay. "If it makes residents feel better about where they live, if it makes residents think of good times, I think it's great."

In some blocks, the address change has provoked a certain nostalgia. Duane E. Tressler, a local historian, says that before the July 1963 introduction of five-digit zip codes across the nation, residents used to write "Curtis Bay, Baltimore, MD" as their return address. Tressler still does.

"Just think, Baltimore is a collection of neighborhoods thrown together," he says. "People should try the same thing in other parts of the city."

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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