These old houses
As Heights citizens join thousands of people across the country to celebrate National Preservation Month this May they join a growing movement of individuals who are working to protect the unique character of their neighborhoods.
“I’d estimate at least 90% of our housing stock and at least 50% of our commercial buildings are over 50 years old and may be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places,” says Kara Hamley-O’Donnell, historic preservation planner for the city of Cleveland Heights.
Nominating a neighborhood or an individual building to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places is one of the ways that citizens have worked to preserve the City’s character in recent years. In 1966 the National Historic Preservation Act created this national list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The program was designed to coordinate efforts to identify, evaluate and protect historic properties and is administered by the National Park Service, a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The register contains over 80,000 listings.
Cleveland Heights contains, in whole or in part, seven National Register Historic Districts and will soon add an eighth when the Inglewood District is listed later this year. Nine buildings are individually listed in the National Register. Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission also recognizes historic properties. The commission has recognized 51 such properties since its inception in 1973 [See accompanying map].
Benefits of listing a property in the National Register include recognizing the property’s historical, architectural and cultural significance, consideration in planning for Federal or federally assisted projects, potential eligibility for Federal and State tax credits and qualification for Federal assistance for historic preservation when funds are available.
National Register listing does not prevent an owner from doing anything they wish with their property, provided that no Federal license, permit, or funding is involved. And, it does not require an owner to open their property to the public, to restore it, or maintain it in any particular manner. In fact, although the old Cleveland Heights City Hall was listed in the Register in 1986, it was subsequently demolished.
Although anyone can write a National Register nomination, it is not an easy task. Individual citizens have completed the last three National Register nominations in Cleveland Heights. Diana Wellman recently wrote the nomination for the Inglewood Historic District, an area of historic homes north of Severance Town Center. “I’m hoping that being in a historic district will increase property values or at least hold them steady in the market today. Everyone in my neighborhood cares for their homes and I want to celebrate our historic heritage,” says Wellman, an architect with Sandvick Architects, a firm that specializes in historic preservation. Wellman has written over 25 national register nominations. However, neither Janet Coquilette, who wrote the Ambler Heights nomination for the Chestnut Hills neighborhood, nor Deanna nor Hugh Fisher, who wrote the Euclid Golf nomination for an area of homes in the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood, had any previous experience.
In Ohio, the Ohio Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Office administers the National Register program. Locally, Hamley O’Donnell offers city government assistance to citizens to help them complete the complex process.
Many other neighborhoods across the city are eligible for listing and some citizens are working actively on nominations. Coventry Village resident Charles Owen has been pursuing listing for his “Mayfield Village” neighborhood, roughly bounded by Coventry to Superior and Mayfield to Euclid Heights, for many years. Leslie Marting and Diane Christ have been working on nominating their neighborhood, roughly bounded by Coventry to Ashton and Scarborough to North Park, which was the Van Sweringen brothers’ original Shaker Village. “If there is anyone else who has a bit more time than I have at the moment I would be happy to share my info and help in any way,” says Marting.
“I have a special affinity for the Euclid Heights Allotment (bounded by Cedar, Coventry and Mayfield roads) having written my Master’s thesis on it years ago,” says Hamley O’Donnell. “It’s very interesting as it was the first large scale development created to lure upper class Clevelanders to the Heights. Although the original plan was halted by bankruptcy, the result was the creation of a much more architecturally diverse neighborhood and the development of the wonderful Coventry and Cedar-Fairmount commercial districts.”
Forest Hill Historic District currently encompasses only the Rockefeller homes, although the entire district contains architecturally distinctive houses and was planned according to "Garden City" principles popular in the early 20th century that emphasized naturalistic landscape design within urban communities. Many of the homes in the Forest Hill neighborhood are reaching the 50 year mark, which is a criterion for eligibility.
Although Hamley O’Donnell does an admirable job, many residents think the City should be doing more. “If you look at a Hopkins map, almost all of Cleveland Heights could be listed, says Wellman. “I think the city should be designating time for Kara or the Landmark Commission to work on nominating districts.”
Resources: National Register of Historic Places: www.nps.gov/nr
State of Ohio Historic Preservation Office: www.ohiohistory.org
City of Cleveland Heights www.clevelandheights.org
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and co-authored the Euclid Golf historic district nomination in 2002.