One of the most congested corridors in Annapolis, the Naval Academy's front entrance, just got a major facelift that preservationists say strikes the right balance for a federal installation and national historic site.
Until this week, pedestrians and drivers often created a bottleneck at the intersection of King George and Randall streets just a few blocks from City Dock, and there was little in the way of welcome or ornament for the 2.2 million visitors the academy gets annually.
Now, pedestrians can enter from City Dock near Prince George and Craig streets, or just a stone's throw from the old entrance up Randall Street, into a courtyard that has been landscaped and paved with brick.
Cars continue to enter through Gate 1, and the $3.8 million project added almost 30 parking spaces in front of the nearly completed visitors center to allow drivers to briefly enter to pick up and drop off midshipmen. Visitors still must park off-site, but the new space is safer and reduces congestion, which residents said they welcome.
Just past the Randall Street pedestrian entrance, visitors are greeted by two stone-mounted plaques, one declaring the academy a national historic site and the other describing the school's mission. "United States Naval Academy" is inscribed in large letters above the visitors center, and the academy insignia is carved into a stone tablet below.
"It looks beautiful," said Charlotte Schmickle, who owns and operates the Flag House Inn Bed and Breakfast on Randall Street with her husband. "It's so much more like a park when you walk in, rather than just walking through a parking lot. It's just really lovely right now."
Visitors to the academy who walk through the entrances must go through the new center, show a photo ID and possibly go through a metal detector. Since the gate opened Monday, visitors have been screened at random, but under a higher threat level, all could be screened, academy officials said.
Joe Cronin of West Haven, Conn., who was visiting Annapolis on Thursday, said he didn't mind going through the metal detector.
"I completely understand," said Cronin. "It's a military base, and on a lot of bases, you can't even get on now without a [host]."
Brian Kelm, deputy director of operations and municipal services at the academy, said the school recently was the site of a conference about how to balance national security needs on military bases with historic preservation. Gate 1 was highlighted as an example of how to meet that challenge.
"We're a historic district, we're a tourist site and we also have a security requirement," Kelm said. "How do we mesh all those together? I think the gate does that very well. It's attractive, and I think the city and the academy worked together very well."
Eventually, he said, the academy will add an inner fence to limit visitor access to the sites already on the tour, such as John Paul Jones' crypt, the chapel and Dahlgren Hall, but could also protect midshipmen in case security is tightened.
That project is a priority for Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, Kelm said, but it has not yet been funded.
Gregory Stiverson, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, said academy officials were "good stewards" of the city's Historic District, running the plans by various preservation bodies months before their January 2006 construction start date.
"The Naval Academy is the most-visited place in Annapolis, and it's mostly visited by foot," he said. "It used to be like dodging cars to go in there. ... Now, it's more attractive and more convenient for people than it's ever been."