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COLUMN

Historic house sale a win-win

Thursday, September 11, 2008 - 10:29 am

This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

Preservation group ARCH wasn't quite sure what would happen last year when it paid $85,000 for a rundown duplex in the historic West Central neighborhood that just happens to have one of the city's oldest houses sitting in the backyard.

I am happy to report that the soon-to-be renovated house has been bought, the investment recovered and history saved. ARCH's potentially risky experiment worked - and other endangered structures could benefit as a result.

“Everything worked out the way we hoped it would, and I'm positive we'd consider doing this again,” said ARCH Executive Director Angie Quinn, whose organization recently sold the 109-year-old duplex at 802 W. Washington Blvd. to Mark Shaw of Fort Wayne, who plans to spend up to $75,000, and perhaps more later on, to restore the home's four apartments - one of which will serve as his residence.

Shaw, who owns several other historic properties, paid $72,000 for the house on Washington - a fair price, Quinn said, since the deal also allowed ARCH to assume ownership of the small 170-year-old Rockhill-Tyler house to the rear, believed to be the oldest remaining structure in the West Central Neighborhood.

“Saving that (Rockhill-Tyler) house was our primary goal in the first place,” said Quinn, whose organization partially restored the building 10 years ago and often opens it for historic presentations and public events, including the recent West Central walking tour. The house is the only surviving example of three homes built on the property for the daughters of William Rockhill, who in 1824 was elected as one of Allen County's first commissioners and later served on City Council and in Congress.

Shaw was happy to donate the house to ARCH in exchange for a $20,000 tax credit. He may qualify for other incentives because of the home's historic status.

“I've had my eyes on (the duplex) for a long time. It's got a lot of character, with solid oak doors, three fireplaces, pocket doors and a beautiful staircase,” said Shaw, a broker with the local real estate firm Sperry Van Ness Hudson Group who is doing much of the renovation himself.

“I took out the '70s disco bathroom,” Shaw said, referring to a particularly gaudy, mirror-studded lavatory that would have made even John Travolta cringe.

Because the West-Central Neighborhood has been designated a local historic district, any exterior improvements - including new paint and windows - must be approved by city officials. Shaw said the oversight has not been a problem in the past. “I've been trimming trees, and nobody has bothered me,” he said.

Shaw said each apartment will have two or three bedrooms and rent for about $600 per month - utilities not included.

History is important, but preservation costs money and both government funds and private altruism have their limits. This transaction is important because it was motivated by mutual benefit. Shaw got what he wanted, and so did ARCH. The community is well-served as a result.

And now, because ARCH will be able to repay its loan from the Historic Landmark Foundation of Indiana, money should be available if ARCH ever decides to play “flip this (endangered historic) house” again.

There are plenty of them out there.

Column update

An update on my Tuesday column about how the anti-war group Code Pink, er, appropriated Allen County alternate delegate Annie Eckrich's identity during the recent Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Some have speculated co-founder Jodie Evans - a leading supporter of Democratic candidate Barack Obama - used Eckrich's identity to enter the hall, where she disrupted a speech by GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Not true, said Jean Stevens, Code Pink spokeswoman.

“The delegate's sticker nametag was taken from the table outside an anti-choice, anti-abortion event earlier that day. It was one of the leftover tags on the table, and one of our leaders was directly protesting the event (and) ... did not use it for any other event,” Stevens said in an e-mail. “The delegate's tag was NOT used for any Code Pink member to enter the convention center. Our members had legitimate, valid tickets — given to them by Republican delegates who did not wish to attend the speeches — which is why they were not arrested after their disruptions of the speech, because they had a legal right to be there.

“We would really appreciate a clarification to your story.”

Happy to oblige: Code Pink admits it stole Eckrich's identity - it just didn't need that identity to make itself look foolish.

E-mail Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.