Operators of mansions and cultural institutions in the Annapolis historic district who have been fighting for years for laws to quiet the local bar scene are under attack as noisy neighbors themselves.
"Cultural institutions? They're more like bars," says Patricia C. Trask, who complains that private parties have become louder and more frequent during the 17 years she has lived on Cumberland Court. "They're disturbing my peace."
Mansion operators say these are understated parties thrown by dignified people -- not all-night fraternity bashes. Perhaps, they say, residents are overzealous in their efforts to protect their neighborhood.
"They once called the police to break up a wedding polka," says Peter Edles, director of development and community relations at the Historic Annapolis Foundation, which runs several Colonial properties. The historic district is an eclectic neighborhood with a business district that dates to the Colonial era and nearly 1,000 homes packed close together along narrow streets. The back yards run into one another behind the homes, creating large, parklike spaces that are not entirely private.
Sharing this setting are at least a dozen restored historic mansions owned by nonprofit organizations that rent them for parties to help raise money to pay preservation and maintenance costs.
"We'll throw cocktail parties, weddings, rehearsal dinners any day of the year except Christmas and New Year's," says Melissa Mansur, who books engagements at Hammond-Harwood House, a Georgian mansion on Maryland Avenue surrounded by brick walls and towering magnolias. "We're not busy every weekend, but we could be."
The Hammond-Harwood House charges $600 for use of the property -- caterers can even prepare the hors d'oeuvres in the 1774 kitchen. For $2,000, the Paca House will allow festivities in its terraced 18th-century-style garden. Anyone with a Naval Academy connection can pay $750 for the Alumni House, a 1739 landmark with a majestic ballroom and outdoor terrace ringed with ivy.
There are plans for more party spots in the historic district. The academy's alumni association, at King George Street and College Avenue, wants to convert a house next door for use as fund-raising offices with an outdoor garden for entertaining. The class of 1949 will pay $300,000 to remake the Victorian home at 49 College Ave.
Neighbors such as William H. Brill, whose yard abuts the alumni association's property, are petitioning the city council to stop the construction.
"It's going to be a downtown festival area with tents and parking and parties," says Mr. Brill, who has hired a lawyer to argue against the project when it comes before the council.
"They're managing to offend the very people who have fought for them and believed in them all these years," he says. "It certainly is an ironic situation."
Capt. Roland Brandquist, president of the alumni association, told the residents they can expect nothing more than gentle harp music.
"We have some pretty sedate folks. The class of '49, that's an elderly group," he said. "Even our younger alumni are somewhat straight-laced."
Acknowledging there have been some noise problems in the past, Captain Brandquist recently ordered 10 p.m. closing times for all events and forbade disc jockeys from using their microphones outside the building.
"There were some noisy interruptions by DJs and bands of a rock and roll manner," he said. "But we established some standard operating procedures to better regulate social functions."
Residents such as Kathleen Knower say the problem is worse than a high-decibel disc jockey every now and then. On most weekends, she says, limousines double-park in front of her 200-year-old home on Prince George Street and beer kegs clatter on the brick sidewalks outside her window at night. She contends the nonprofit institutions are operating like quasi-catering halls without undergoing the strict licensing requirements imposed on commercial businesses.
"I don't want to come across like a sour old lemon, because I'm not," says Ms. Knower, who lives across the street from the Paca House, a popular spot for weddings and private parties. "But they should be setting the example -- not eroding our quality of life."
Ms. Trask, her neighbor, once got so angry about the "hooping and hollering" at a Paca House wedding that she marched over to the mansion in her paint-spackled clothes and demanded that the wedding party turn down the music.
The Historic Annapolis Foundation, which oversees Paca House, vowed this summer to turn down the amplifiers, ban the disc jockeys and meet regularly with residents to find solutions to the noise problems. The foundation is restricting the number of weddings at Paca House, its most popular property, to roughly 20 a year while limiting guests to fewer than 250 people.
The group, which raises about $30,000 a year from its parties, doesn't think the foundation should have to serve as the neighborhood's noise police.
"If there's a party and the mother of the bride says, 'I want everyone to drink a toast to my daughter' -- what am I supposed to do, tell one of my people to tear the mike out of her hands?" Mr. Edles says.
The Paca House could book three times as many weddings as it does, but it won't because the foundation knows where to draw the line, says Ann Fligsten, the foundation's president.
"We're not trying to be Las Vegas," she says. "We still consider ourselves the guardians of the historic district. We don't want to drive people away."