Falling for the Charm of It: Fells Point Harbor Bridges Time with Grace, Quaintness

By Sicks, Chris | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Falling for the Charm of It: Fells Point Harbor Bridges Time with Grace, Quaintness


Sicks, Chris, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Have you heard about Fells Point in Baltimore?

Have you heard that it's just full of drunk college kids, or that it's a little dangerous?

If so, your source needs to be updated.

"Some folks think Fells Point is crime-ridden and full of children getting drunk, but I'm not sure it was ever like that," says J.T. Orlinsky, who has a Japanese-goods shop called Japonaji near the water. "When I first opened the shop, I would always find cups and cigarette butts on the sidewalk in front of the store.

"So I put out a trash can and an ashtray, and all the kids started using it. They really are a nice bunch.

"Hey, when I was younger I went out for beers and to hear music."

Virginia, Maryland and the District all have waterfront communities like Fells Point that combine historic residential buildings with shops and restaurants.

But unlike Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, for instance, Baltimore's second-oldest part of town has a thorough blend of economic, ethnic and social groups. With more than 300 homes of American Federal design, this Patapsco River point east of the Inner Harbor bucks this nation's tradition and has kept most of its architecture at status quo.

Take, for example, the bustling Broadway Market on Aliceanna Street and Broadway. This two-building "complex" is 211 years old; although the Lexington Market is older, its facility burned down in 1949, making the Broadway Market the oldest physical market structure in the city.

Set up with separate stalls - some with ancestral ties to the original sellers - the market has everything from fresh-baked food to freshly cut flowers. (Not to be mistaken for a tourist trap, the market is open every day except Sunday.)

If you ask some Fells Point folk, the steep prices of real estate in Georgetown and Alexandria help keep those exclusive communities BORING. The average 1995 home prices are, respectively, $394,000 in Georgetown, $309,000 in Old Town and - hey! - $83,000 in Fells Point.

"Our house is 200 years old," says Jennifer Etheridge, who lives in Fells Point with her husband, Robert Schulte. "It is a block and a half from the water, half a block from Broadway, and it cost less than $150,000."

The things that attract newcomers such as Mrs. Etheridge are much the same as in Georgetown and Old Town - the restaurants and shopping, the romantic feel of living on the waterfront, the historic preservation that gives each community its character. People such as Sen. Barbara Mikulski still eat breakfast most mornings at Jimmy's Restaurant on Broadway. (Ironically, Fells Point nearly lost all that character in 1967, when residents defeated a proposed bridge for Interstate 95 that would have connected Fells Point and Federal Hill, another historic Baltimore neigborhood.)

Romaine Somerville, president of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point is working on six properties, including a maritime museum, an orientation center to receive tourists and bus trips, and the Maryland Maritime Center, which will house paintings, artifacts, tools and ship's plans to educate visitors about the area's ties to the sea.

"We think these efforts will give us the daytime presence that is important for the small shop owners," Ms. Somerville says. "We do want to stay away from the image of being strictly an area full of bars and nightclubs, but we want to alter the image without interfering with the nightime business."

The bars and nightclubs are almost as much of a tradition in Fells Point as shipbuilding.

"Fells Point has had a tradition of being a town with bars since the 1700s," says David Alperin, general manager of John Steven Ltd., an old-style pub that has been a bar longer than anyone can remember. "There were a lot of sailors and shipbuilders and such around here, and they obviously would want a drink after work or after a long sail.

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