Monday, January 22, 2007

Fifth Avenue Historic District

Another apology for my lack of postings. This article was supposed to be the impetus to get me to continue my posting on this board. This was in the Vindicator on Christmas day and presents a special look at the the Fifth Avenue Historic District. Well worth the read.

Three groups work together to ensure that the striking neighborhoods will be preserved.


YOUNGSTOWN — When Ted Szmaj bought his home on Fifth Avenue in Youngstown eight years ago, he had no idea he was moving into a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

He chose his home for its character, charm and quality construction — and inadvertently settled in the nation's most affordable historic district.

That designation was recently bestowed on the Crandall Park–Fifth Avenue Historic District by Old House Journal, a magazine focused on preservation and restoration of historic homes. The magazine's article said houses in that area cost about $110,000 each.

Mark Peyko, president of the North Side Citizens' Coalition, said the organization is delighted that a national publication has recognized Youngstown and its reasonably priced housing. "I think the affordability is a reflection of the affordability in this whole area," he said.

The historic designation has brought a dollar appreciation, especially to the homes along Fifth Avenue and added value in people's minds, Peyko noted. "More care is being given to a lot of the homes now," he said.

About the area

The Crandall Park-Fifth Avenue Historic District encompasses an L-shaped area roughly bounded by Tod Lane, Ohio Avenue, Redondo Road, Catalina Avenue, Guadalupe Avenue and Fifth Avenue from Gypsy Lane to Fairgreen Avenue. The district covers 1,200 acres comprising 126 buildings and two structures, most of which are residential, according to the National Register's Web site.

The community is one of two North Side neighborhoods placed on the National Register in 1990. The other is the Wick Park Historic District.

To be classified as historic, a property must be at least 50 years old. Most of the Crandall Park-Fifth Avenue homes were built between 1900 and 1930. It must also hold historic significance.

In this case, that historic value is related to an event and architecture/engineering, Peyko said. He believes the event was the development of Youngstown by the steel magnates.

The Crandall Park neighborhood was originally built as a planned housing development, according to Peyko. The former Realty Trust Company developed the property to serve steel executives, bankers, doctors and business owners.

Prominent residents

Some of the notable people who lived in the historic area were Joseph and Dora Schwebel, founders of the Schwebel Baking Co.; shoe store magnate Joseph Lustig; clothier Bert Printz; black lawyer and legislator William R. Stewart; architect Morris Scheibel; florist Harry Walther; and industrialists Myron Israel Arms II, George Brainard, William Wilkoff, Myron Curtis and Frank Purnell.

"The orientation of the homes to the park was designed to create a setting that people would want," Peyko said.

Norma J. Stefanik, urban designer with the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University, moved into the Crandall Park area because of the older homes.

"I am a preservation architect and I just loved the details, the craftsmanship and the materials," she said.

Most of the homes, which vary from 11/2-story bungalows to large mansions, were designed by architects, Peyko said.

"Even though some of them are smaller, they still have their own personality and character. To duplicate that type of work [today] would be extremely expensive," Stefanick noted.

Desirable features

Homes in the Fifth Avenue corridor boast amenities such as original hardwood floors, marble and granite fireplaces, double-sized lots, classic kitchens with original cabinets and butcher block countertops.

The architecture and setting along with proximity to YSU, downtown and hospitals attract many home buyers to the area, said Gayle Gillespie, real estate agent for Coldwell Banker First Place.

Gillespie, who has been selling homes on the North Side for 18 years and also lives there, said the figure quoted in the article is not totally accurate. "Prices for homes on Fifth Avenue, Tod Lane and Gypsy Lane now range from $130,000 to $320,000," she said. Homes on the neighborhood's side streets, appraised between $80,000 and $120,000, more accurately reflect the magazine's assessment.

Patrick McBane, president of the [Crandall] Park Side Neighbors, put down roots in the neighborhood 18 years ago because of the urban multicultural flavor.

"The mixed neighborhood in terms of ethnicity was attractive to us," McBane said. Equally appealing was the living space. "My wife and I do a lot of entertaining and these homes really lend themselves to entertaining. You can have 25 people in your home and not feel like you're crowded," McBane added.

Time of change

The Park Side Neighbors came together 20 years ago when the closing of the mills, migration to suburbs and death of longtime homeowners brought transition and crime to the area.

"Because the houses were so big, upkeep was difficult," said Szmaj, president of Fifth Avenue Boulevard Neighbors.

Large homes were being divided into rental units.

"One of the biggest reasons for seeking the historic designation was to preserve what was left," said Szmaj.

Members of the North Side Citizens' Coalition spent much of the 1980s assembling research materials, photographs, maps and other documentation necessary for inclusion in the National Register.

Those who live in the neighborhood now say there is a feeling of camaraderie. "There's a great sense of community for our group," McBane said. All three groups work to continue improving the North Side and address problems that may arise.

The Park Side Neighbors hold bimonthly meetings and host three or four social functions each year. Because the group maintains a very active block watch, McBane said crime is minimal. "We have no major issues happening within our seven- or eight-block corridor."

The Fifth Avenue Boulevard Neighbors recently sponsored a Christmas tour of homes to raise money for a historic district permanent marker and create awareness. The group has marked six of the neighborhood streets with historic plaques. Its goal is to erect 19 more signs at neighborhood intersections.

"It will instill pride in the neighborhood and give recognition that this is a historic district," Szmaj said.

No comments: