Eastport appeal grows Friendly: Residents of Annapolis' Eastport neighborhood say they like the casual charm of one of the area's "best-kept secrets."

December 19, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

When Susan Norfolk decided three years ago to sell her computer graphics business in Northbrook, Ill., and open a bed-and-breakfast someplace warm, she headed for quaint Annapolis.

After looking at 20 houses downtown, Norfolk chose the working-class neighborhood of Eastport, just across the Spa Creek Bridge from the city's historic district.

"The downtown area is pretty saturated" with bed-and-breakfasts, Norfolk said. "I get a whole crowd down here that they don't get there ... the sailing school people, people visiting Eastport businesses. I really thought there was a market here."

Norfolk's Eastport House is one of three bed-and-breakfasts that have popped up in this old, seafaring neighborhood within the past 18 months in a sudden tourism boom. About three weeks ago, the city licensed a fourth. And Eastport, which has always had popular neighborhood seafood restaurants, welcomed its first chain establishment -- Ruth's Chris Steakhouse -- along its main street, Severn Avenue, in April.

"You know you're on the map when you've got one of those," said Cindy Edson, director of marketing at the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Conference and Visitors Center.

Eastport has always drawn its share of visitors, Edson said, but tourists are increasingly flocking to the community because of -- such marketing ploys as the day-long celebratory mock secession of Eastport from Annapolis in January while the Spa Creek Bridge was closed for repairs.

"Up until recently, Eastport has been one of the best-kept secrets," said Edson, who noted that more visitors have been calling about Eastport since the secession. "Those people that knew about it were either local to the area or so familiar with the area that they knew Eastport. But now other people are finding out about it."

Eastport was established just after the Civil War, when watermen and U.S. Naval Academy workers began settling there. It remained part of Anne Arundel County until 1951, when Annapolis annexed it.

And while Eastport residents have gotten used to being part of a historic state capital, they relish their differences from their stuffy neighbors across the bridge.

"In Annapolis, you're known by your historic house and your fancy car," said Jefferson Holland, a 17-year Eastport resident whom former Mayor Alfred Hopkins anointed "Poet Laureate" of the community in 1995. "Here, you're known by the hat you wear and the dog you walk."

'Secession' draws attention

Holland helped organize the secession that drew in more tourists to the "Maritime Republic of Eastport" at a time when businessmen worried the closed bridge would thwart business.

Holland, the self-appointed minister of propaganda of Eastport, has helped keep the tongue-in-cheek marketing ploy going with updates such as an announcement at Monday's city council meeting that the Republic was still revolting and had renamed Annapolis Harbor the "Gulf of Eastport." The Republic also is organizing an anniversary celebration of the secession on Super Bowl weekend, complete with a half-kilometer walk across the bridge and a re-enactment of their revolutionary secession.

"We personally don't like to color inside the lines," said Jeanne Brown, explaining why she chose Eastport to open the Inn at Spa Creek last year after looking at buildings in downtown Annapolis. "The people and atmosphere in Eastport lends itself more to folks who do things a little differently."

Steve DeCastro, owner of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, said he chose Eastport because it's easier to get around there.

"Downtown, every time they have a major function they close the streets," DeCastro said. "Here, there's less congestion and it's easier to find parking."

The new tourist accommodations are causing some irritation in laid-back Eastport, though. While Ruth's Chris Steakhouse offers valet parking, residents complain that many patrons still park along the community's narrow streets, clogging the area.

"The parking kind of became a sore spot for people," said Norfolk, whose bed-and-breakfast is just three blocks from the restaurant. "We were this sleepy little town of Eastport and now we have franchises moving in. But everyone's trying to work on it. Ruth's Chris is working with the community."

The spurt of bed-and-breakfasts has alarmed neighbors enough to lobby Ward 8 Democratic Alderman Ellen O. Moyer to introduce a bill to regulate them. The city council unanimously approved an ordinance Monday that says only two bed-and-breakfasts are allowed in a block and that owners must provide guest parking.

L "We don't want [Severn Avenue] to be motel row," Moyer said.

Even with their concerns, Holland said residents are mostly glad that bed-and-breakfasts -- and more visitors -- are coming to their side of the bridge.

"For many, many years Eastport was like the sad sister to Annapolis because Annapolis was historic Annapolis, and they have the corner on historic charm," Holland said. "But doggone it, we've got some neat things going on over here, too."

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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