West Central welcome
What: The West Central Neighborhood will hold its 30th annual home and garden tour, plus the ArtsFest arts festival
When: Tour: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. ArtsFest hours: noon-10:15 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: West Central neighborhood just west of downtown
Cost: Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 day of tour. Children 12 and younger are free. Tickets are available in advance at Neuhouser Nursery/Garden & Gifts, 8046 Stellhorn Road and 4605 W. Jefferson Blvd.; Antiques on Broadway, 1115 Broadway; BitterSweet Gifts, 4630 Coldwater Road; Umber's Do it Best Stores, 2413 Lower Huntington Road and 2814 Maplecrest Road; and Friends of the Third World, 611 W. Wayne St.
The row of dilapidated, boarded-up homes in the 800 block of West Washington Boulevard has been an eyesore for years. They blighted not only the historic West Central neighborhood, but a major corridor through downtown as well.
That block is changing, however, as one house will be rehabilitated, two will be torn down and rebuilt, and a fourth is completely refurbished and was sold to a new owner Friday.
That house at 825 W. Washington Blvd will be open for the public to tour this Sunday as part of the West Central Home and Garden Tour.
The rehabilitation of the 800 block is a public/private partnership between Ric Zehr of the Belay Group and the city of Fort Wayne. The four homes, 815, 817, 823 and 825, had been vacant for years and were in desperate need of repair or demolition when Zehr and the city announced in May 2011 that Belay Corp would buy the four houses and rehab them using federal grant money.
Since then, Zehr has gotten permission from the Historic Preservation Commission to tear down the houses at 815 and 817 and rebuild them in a style that will match the other homes in the neighborhood. The home at 823, which has fire damage, is being rehabbed, and, except for a parking pad, 825 is basically done.
Zehr, who also is a residential real estate developer, admits rehabbing an old home, especially one that has sat vacant, is at times a nightmare.
“The biggest problems are the unknowns,” he said. For example, in the back of 825, they “ran into, literally, a brick wall” when contractors discovered a brick smoker or some kind of oven that had been hidden.
Before the rehab, 825 had been a duplex, so converting it back to a single-family home involved tearing out walls and installing new drywall. The kitchen was moved to a more central location. The laundry connections were moved upstairs, and an upstairs bathroom was added. The master bedroom now has a walk-in closet.
The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home now has many of the amenities found in new construction.
“We are so proud of this house,” said Charlotte Weybright, president of the West Central Neighborhood Association.
Although the house has new walls and a fresh coat of paint, when possible, historic features were saved, such as the original wood floors.
“People who don't appreciate old homes just say tear them down,” Weybright said.
But the renovation of 825 proves that an old house can be modernized while retaining the character of both the home and the neighborhood.
The challenges start way before the renovation, however, Weybright said. “Part of it is just simply the chaos of figuring out who owns these things.”
As these houses sit empty, sometimes squatters move in. The more dilapidated the houses get, the more dangerous the physical structures become. The house at 823, for example, had a fire at some point.
“That was well on its way to being (demolished), I think,” Weybright said, until Zehr stepped in.
Since West Central is a historic district, any changes made to the outside of a home have to be approved. Demolition is frowned upon. “We don't want to see homes torn down,” Weybright said.
But Don Orban, historic preservation planner for the city, said the new houses at 815 and 817 will be compatible with the other houses in the neighborhood.
“It will show you that yes, you can build new in a historic district,” he said.
As Weybright put it, “You've got to be pragmatic, and you've got to think what's best for the neighborhood.”