Jenna Hoch remembers walking the sidewalks of Southwood Park as a kid, going to school at St. John the Baptist Catholic School.
She remembers that she always felt safe in her neighborhood, and part of that feeling was the community’s quaint, village-like environment.
Historic houses lined the streets. Big, old trees shaded lawns. And life, in general, seemed to move slower in Southwood Park. Jenna Hoch
“I always was in love with the architecture of the area,” Hoch says. “I always told myself that I would never build a house because I wanted to live there.”
Today, as a 22-year-old college graduate in her “gap year” before grad school, Hoch still plans to move back to Fort Wayne after she earns her degree. She wants to raise a family in the historic area she grew up in.
She is, in many ways, a vision of Fort Wayne’s future—the type of educated, ambitious young talent city representatives are eager to attract.
But Hoch, like many other residents in the 46807 area, is concerned about whether this community she loved as a child will still be here for her in five or ten years, or whether it will look quite different.
Changes to the neighborhood’s quaint, historic nature threaten to strip away its character and speed up its pace of life so it looks like any number of faceless communities across the United States.
In early January, two century-old buildings at the corner of Calhoun Street and West Rudisill Boulevard were slated for demolition by their owner and set to be replaced by a fast food chain restaurant.
Mark Minnick of HRE Development is the building’s owner who filed an application with the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) in January with plans to convert the corner into a newly constructed combination Subway and Hardee’s drive-though.
The Subway is already closed at 3826 S. Calhoun St.
Minnick is co-owner of Subway Systems that operates several Fort Wayne Subways. But he does not own the Subway that is currently in the building at 3826 S. Calhoun St.
According to his proposal application, the buildings are “in disrepair and largely vacant,” so plans to demolish them and replace them with fast food will “add value to the neighborhood.”
But Hoch and others in Historic Southwood Park are skeptical about whether the perceived "value" will ultimately be in their favor as residents and whether the buildings are in disrepair after all.
As a board member for ARCH for 10 years and current President of the Southwood Park Board, Steve McCord says that while one of the buildings was damaged by an untimely pipe burst in mid-January, the structure of both buildings appears to be intact, with strong foundations fit for adaptive reuse.
"There's no reason to think the building itself is structurally unsound," he says, especially compared to structures like the Canton Laundry building downtown that have been effectively restored and reused. "If that can be saved, this should be a piece of cake, relatively speaking," he adds.
Both buildings are on West Rudisill Boulevard near Calhoun Street.
The two buildings in question were built around 1926 as a single development, McCord says.
The large commercial building once housed five businesses on the main floor with apartments upstairs, and the small building was an apartment complex called the "Castle building" for its unique architecture.
"They're exactly the type of high-density, mixed-used developments that everybody is clamoring to build here in Fort Wayne now," McCord says.
For residents of the 07, that's the kicker.
At a time when Fort Wayne has demonstrated its ability to execute extreme adaptive reuse projects of century-old properties, the owner's choice to demolish these buildings seems odd, McCord says.
The 107-year-old General Electric campus on the South Side recently made national headlines for its ambitious rehabilitation plans, and in February, the 122-year-old Cambray building was picked up and moved across town to preserve it on the future riverfront.
Yet, these 92-year-old buildings from roughly the same era may face a bleaker fate, and part of the reason is these buildings do not have a historical designation.
Don Orban, a Planner on the City's Historic Preservation Commission, says structures must be at least 50 years old to qualify for a historic designation, so the buildings technically meet the standard.
Even so, without an official designation and compliance from the owner, they are not protected, so the fight to preserve them falls on residents like Hoch and McCord who want their voices to be heard.
“These buildings are true to the 07, and they’ve been there for so long. It’s part of our identity,” Hoch says. “Demolishing them is ripping that away.”
Hoch points out that many residents choose to live in the 07 area for the historical significance of its architecture and its walkability—two factors that would be diminished by the proposed drive-through restaurant chain.
Only blocks away from the site, Harrison Hill enjoys an official Bicentennial Neighborhood designation, established in 1794. Historic Oakdale Park and Southwood Park neighborhoods are within walking distance, too.
The commercial building was created for mixed-use development with storefronts on the main level and apartments above.
As the daughter of Hoch Architects at 111 W Berry St., Hoch says that since December her family’s business has been hosting highly attended public meetings at the Friendly Fox. They’re called “Our Thriving Community” events, and they allow 07 area residents to take surveys and help shape their community’s future.
Instead of demolition, Hoch and others who have attended the “Thriving Community” meetings would like to see the buildings rehabilitated and reused, ideally as a local restaurant, bookstore, or neighborhood meeting space.
But efforts to save the buildings and even allow residents to voice their opinions on them have been thwarted.
In mid-January, Hoch wrote a blog, asking residents to voice their opinions by submitting letters to the BZA, set to hear plans for the project on March 22nd.
However, by revising their plans to comply with regulations before a BZA hearing, HRE Development has potentially sidestepped a chance for residents to voice their opinions on the subject at all.
“I hate to say it, but if there’s no hearing, it sounds like there’s nothing we can do,” Hoch says.
McCord says 46807 area residents met over last weekend with representatives from ARCH to gather ideas and propose solutions. They're hoping to work with the current owner of the buildings to find a different space for his development, or see if another investor is willing to buy him out.
Regardless of what happens, Hoch says she would like to see residents of historic neighborhoods have more of a say about developments near them in the future, especially since these communities are close, and the longterm wellbeing of the area is at stake.
After all, when a 100-year-old building is demolished, it cannot be replaced.
“All we can say is, we don’t think this is particularly right,” Hoch says.