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Lafayette Place Historic District

Fort Wayne City, Allen County, IN


Lafayette Place Historic District Houses

Photo: Houses at 4401, 4405, and 4413 Marquette Drive in Fort Wayne. United States. Built in 1925, 1925, and 1935 respectively, they are part of the Lafayette Place Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Photographed by User:Nyttend (own work), 2014, [cc-1.0, public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, accessed August, 2022.


Description

Located near the summit of the Fort Wayne moraine in the south central part of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the terrain of the Lafayette Place Historic District [†] is generally level. The district is bordered on the west by South Calhoun Street, and on the east by Lafayette Street. Both are major arteries, and Lafayette Street is also the route of US 27. The district is bordered on the north by McKinnie Avenue and on the south by Pettit Avenue, both well traveled local roads. The Southgate Plaza Shopping Center, located just south of the district, is a major landmark on the city's south side, and has been a primary shopping area since the 1950s. West of the district are two housing developments platted and developed in the same time period, Harrison Hill and McKinnieville (also known as Sherwood-Pettit.) East of the district, across Lafayette Street (US 27) are several small plats of mid-1950s tract houses. Located on the northern side of Lafayette Place are traditional grid pattern developments with housing stock dating from the 1910s through the 1930s.

The district boundaries follow the plat as designed by noted landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff. Influenced by classical French landscape architecture formalism and American City Beautiful urban design, the level terrain influenced the symmetrical plan and wide central boulevard of the plat, as did the interurban electric railroad that bisected the southern third of the plat. Adjoining traditional grid pattern developments and the radial inspired Harrison Hill development, Lafayette Place provides contrast with a different, unique feel and layout. Calumet Avenue, through the southern half of the district, was platted to follow the route of the Fort Wayne to Decatur interurban, and today the street marks the location of the longsince discontinued electric railway.

Lafayette Place is distinct from the surrounding developments. Busy, four-lane Lafayette Street (US 27) separates Lafayette Place from development to the east, and provides a natural boundary. Lafayette Street is at this point the principal north-south route through Fort Wayne's urban core and a mixed commercial and residential corridor. To the south is Southgate Plaza, a strip mall initially developed in the 1950s and still a vibrant commercial destination. To the west are the developments of Harrison Hill and Sherwood-Pettit. Sherwood-Pettit, the southernmost of the developments is composed of housing stock dating chiefly from the late 1920s through the early 1950s. Harrison Hill, the northernmost of the two developments on the western edge of Lafayette Place, is based upon a grand residential boulevard and two concentric radial boulevards. It contains houses and large institutional buildings such as churches and a school, chiefly developed in the 1910s and 1920s, with a trail of infill development through the 1950s. Located on the northern side of Lafayette Place are areas of houses from the 1910s through the 1930s, platted on grid pattern streets. To the east of the development are residential plats, again with grid pattern streets, that contain predominantly post-World War II era houses.

Utilizing the formal design of Arthur Shurcliff's plat as a guide, many of Lafayette Place's first property owners chose traditional architectural styles for their homes. The prominent central park and boulevard area, and the flanking streets (the Lafayette Esplanade), serve as a village green that provides the spine of the district and the focus for community activity. A c.1994 gazebo is located in the middle of the park area, and is the site for various community gatherings such as picnics and concerts. Lafayette Park, a smaller public park with playground, pavilion, tennis and basketball courts, and smaller park islands at intersections that provide expansive areas of green space for passive and active recreation for the residents.

Evaluation of resources followed the National Park Service guidelines for determining integrity found in National Register Bulletin 15, How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. These seven elements (Location, Design, Setting, Materials, Workmanship, Feeling and Association) provided the basis for evaluation. The National Park Service Bulletin Historic Residential Suburbs: Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places provides guidance that "Buildings, structures, objects, and sites within a historic residential suburb are classified as "contributing" if they were present during the period of significance and possess historic integrity for that period." In addition, a shorthand method was developed for Lafayette Place that evaluated each resource's integrity using a threepoint matrix. These three points (cladding, fenestration, and form/ornament) provided a way to categorize the integrity of resources in a way that aligned with the guidance from the National Park Service. Each of the three points was evaluated for each building in the district. Those buildings that retained integrity in two of the three categories were determined to be contributing. Those that did not possess that integrity in two of the three were determined to be non-contributing. The following is an example of the process using two adjacent houses, the Paul Bieberich House at 232 McKinnie Circle — contributing and the Richard Ferris House at 228 McKinnie Circle — non-contributing. Both houses were built in 1932, with the Paul Bieberich House being designed by architect Lloyd Larimore. The Bieberich House is lacking integrity in its cladding with the original wood clapboard now obscured by metal siding. It retains integrity in its fenestration with all of the original wood double-hung windows very visible. It also retains integrity in the category of form/ornament with the original form still in existence and the original ornament, particularly in the dominant central front entry and porch, providing stylistic reference. It thus retains two of the three elements and is categorized as Contributing. The adjacent Ferris House, like the Bieberich House is lacking integrity in its cladding with the original wood clapboard now obscured by vinyl siding. The fenestration is also lacking in integrity. Although some original wood double-hung windows remain, the majority have been replaced with modern replacement windows of different material, muntin pattern and profile. The form/ornament category is likewise lacking in integrity. The form has been dramatically altered with the addition of a large wing at the rear of the building. The original ornament, although still partially referenced by the exposed rafter tails at the eaves, has been so altered as to lose integrity. This is particularly evident in the replacement of porch supports and balustrade of the dominant central front porch. All three categories are thus lacking in integrity and the house is categorized as Non-Contributing.

Significance

The district's period of significance, 1915 to circa 1963, encompasses the time frame when Lafayette Place was a significant suburb. The earliest plat development dates from circa 1915. The greatest concentration of houses was built during the period of the 1920s and 1930s. Transitioning from an active builder of houses to the role of real estate developer after the 1916 death of architect Joel Roberts Ninde, the Wildwood Builders sold many of the lots in Lafayette Place to other builders. Initially slow to develop, by the end of 1926 most of the lots had been sold, and construction began shortly thereafter. After World War II, Lafayette Place continued to develop as a neighborhood. Many residences were constructed amongst the well-established landscape and completed streets. Several significant examples of ranch houses were built from the 1950s into the 1960s. The period of significance extends to 1963 to include the pavilion in Lafayette Park. As an integral part of the Park, this Pavilion is an example of the original vision of Arthur Shurcliff, whose design called for the establishment and maintenance of such community facilities.

The district is an excellent example of a residential suburban development that combined a formal plan with convenient access to roads, trolleys, and interurban railroads. The combination of residential subdivision plats and public park spaces provided the ideal conditions for the development of the Lafayette Place Historic District as an outstanding residential suburb of the early automobile era. Careful planning and attention to details by the developers and the designer also provided continuity in the area. Sidewalks, paved roads, ornamential lighting, and wooded lots, are consistent throughout the district, with large areas of park strip between roads and sidewalks. An additional amenity for residents was an interurban rail line that crossed through the southern portion of the development.

Along with Brookview and Wildwood Park, Lafayette Place was developed by the team of Wildwood Builders, community builder Lee Ninde, and master landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff. Utililizing principles developed in early residential suburbs such as Roland Park in Baltimore, Maryland, these suburbs provided the first instances of City Beautiful-era planning in Fort Wayne, and amongst the first instances of City Beautiful planning in Indiana. These principles introduced conventions of community planning important in the history of suburbanization, including zoning, deed restrictions, common amenities and homeowners associations. In addition the through-built design of the development emphasized the key role of landscape architecture in influencing the built environment. Included in the abstract are responsibilities and rights for both developer and home-buyer. The developer agreed to provide a system of common amenities including a "sewer system, water main system, and gas main system for the use of all of the lots in the Addition", "cement sidewalks", and an "ornamental lighting system". In addition Wildwood Builders agreed to "plant trees and shrubbery in the parks, parkways or parking, playgrounds and community center", and to install playground equipment including "slides", "teeter board" and "basketball grounds". They also agreed to help formulate an Improvement Association of homeowners, and establish annual dues for the maintenance of the community amenities with the Improvement Association being ultimately able to enforce and assess the community dues.

Between 1914 and 1917 nationally prominent master landscape architect Arthur A. Shurcliff worked with the Wildwood Builders on several suburban residential developments in Fort Wayne. 13 In 1914 Shurcliff designed the plat for Wildwood Park, in 1915 the plat for Lafayette Place, and in 1917 the Brookview Addition. These three plats represent a unique phase and artistic output as a suburban residential developer for Shurcliff, whose designs for industrial towns in the east and south, and work at Colonial Williamsburg, are strikingly different from his Fort Wayne designs. In addition to being the work of an established master landscape architect like Arthur Shurcliff, Lafayette Place possesses in its own right a "high artistic value."

Lot purchases in Lafayette Place were slow at first, but began to pick up by the early 1920s. The Lafayette Place residents requested city mail delivery in April, 1926, at the same time that plans were put into place to pave Calhoun Street from the entrance to Harrison Hill south to Pettit, and for Lafayette Street south of McKinnie to Pettit. 14

The marketing and promotion of the neighborhood ramped up in the mid-1920s. After the death of Joel Ninde, Lee Ninde and Wildwood Builders had become less "homebuilder" and more land developer. In his role of community builder, Ninde strove to promote the neighborhood in a variety of ways. Promoting Lafayette Place, Wildwood Park and Brookview in a series of neighborhood newsletters, Ninde was echoing his Wildwood Magazine of the 1910s. By early 1926 Lafayette Place Company had made arrangements with local architect Lloyd Larimore, in place of their now empty architecture department, to assist buyers with sketches and advice for their planned homes. 15 As a result, several of the homes can be attributed to this local architect. These continued improvements to the development served to enhance its popularity as a residential area and, along with Ninde's lobbying, no doubt helped it to be chosen to be the site of Fort Wayne's first "Better Homes Week" event. A June 19, 1926, Fort Wayne newspaper special details six of these Larimore-designed houses and highlights the builders as part of Fort Wayne's first "Better Homes Week" program. Better Homes Week was part of a national program promoted by President Herbert Hoover. These six homes were "easily located by those not thoroughly familiar with Lafayette Place for they are situated at the intersection of Calhoun Street, Marquette Drive and McKinnie Avenue, the corner at which the persons going to the Builders' Exposition and Better Homes Chautauqua will leave the street car, or will pass just before arriving at the tents, if the trip to Lafayette Place is made by automobile." 16 These "entrance houses" were designed to "give a comprehensive idea of just what should constitute the better home, its exterior design, its interior arrangement and sturdy construction."

The Fort Wayne event brought thousands of people to Lafayette Place to tour new homes, speak with architects and contractors about house plans.visit with furniture dealers, and attend lectures on financing, home building, and home decorating. There were several musical performances and other entertainment planned for each evening of the event, held primarily in a tent in the Lafayette Park. "More than 50" homes were complete for the event and "fully completely furnished from basement to garret." In 1926, the senior class of the Fort Wayne Art School developed a series of 21 watercolor paintings that were displayed at the Wolf and Dessauer Department Store, a prominent downtown institution at the time. These paintings showed the development of Lafayette Place, and were subsequently made into zinc etchings to be printed in the local newspapers. "Beginning Saturday, April 10th there will be two pictures each week, the first of which will be a woods view with the story of the wood nymphs; a cow pasture scene; the first group of houses; and on to the final picture showing a bird's eye view of Lafayette Place with beautiful trees down the entrance and houses all around."20 These marketing efforts were successful, because by September of 1926, only 96 lots remained unsold, according to a newsletter published by Lee Ninde:

Lafayette Place was originally laid out in 444 lots of which 19 were given over to the Playgrounds, Community Center, Parks, etc., leaving 425 building sites. There are now 96 lots unsold and of this number 30 are on Calumet which are not available on account of the lack of street and sidewalk improvements. There are: 105 Home-owners in Lafayette Place today. 14 Completed houses unsold. 21 houses under construction.

Lafayette Place newsletters either no longer exist or were never produced during the period from the 1930s-1960s. City directory listings during the period document the continued build-out of the subdivision after 1926, when the 96 lots were still unsold. In addition, a series of interviews of longtime residents conducted in the 1970s and 1980s provide additional details about the evolution of the neighborhood. When the first Fort Wayne City Directory with an address index was published in 1927, approximately 133 houses were occupied in Lafayette Place. By 1932, this number had increased to 185, and it reached 221 by 1942, as the United States entered World War II. Few houses were constructed during World War II, but construction quickly resumed during the late 1940s. During the period 1946-1963 at least 65 additional homes were built.

Wildwood Builders had likely identified the tract as a potential area for development prior to the 1915 plat. In 1914, the company's association with Boston landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff began; he was engaged in the planning of a new Fort Wayne development called Wildwood Park in the naturalistic curvilinear style. Sited at the terminal end of the Fort Wayne street car line along Calhoun Street, the Lafayette Place plat (see Attachment A) had easy street car connection to Calhoun Street, the principal commercial area of the day and further north, downtown Fort Wayne. The plat also was served by the interurban system connecting Fort Wayne to Decatur, which followed the modern Calumet Avenue through Lafayette Place. This interurban route connected with the Fort Wayne streetcar system at the intersection of McKinnie Avenue and Calhoun Street, where a small commercial node developed. The two preexisting transportation routes were essentially the only constraints on the development of the plat. Unlike Shurcliff's other Fort Wayne developments of Wildwood Place and Brookview, which feature watercourses and, by relatively flat Fort Wayne standards, abrupt elevation changes, Lafayette Place was a flat, forested tabla rasa. The rectangular plat slopes gently upwards from south to north and was diagonally bisected on the southern half by the Fort Wayne to Decatur interurban route. Shurcliff s plan makes a virtue of necessity by artfully incorporating these transportation elements into his design. Unifying the development is a grand esplanade. American City Beautiful Movement-era planners like Shurcliff drew on elements like the esplanade from classical French traditions. "The American adaptation of French-led Beaux-Arts architectural movement provided the basis for much American architectural and landscape architectural design in the late 19th and early 20th century".22 Running virtually the entire length of the plat, from north to south, and located in the middle of the plat, the level open space unifies the plat. This unique feature was described to the public in the Spring, 1915 issue of the Wildwood Magazine:

The distinctive feature of the plat will be what is known as an Esplanade. This is an unusual feature in Fort Wayne platting, but as this tract is oblong, extending one-half mile north and south, and a quarter of a mile wide, the shape of the ground lends itself perfectly to a street two hundred and ten feet wide, placed directly in the middle of the Addition, extending one-third of a mile nearly to the end. This is the Esplanade. Branching off from each corner of this new thoroughfare is a diagonal street leading out to each of the four corners of the piece.

The imposition of the formal axial geometry of French landscape architecture tradition reinterpreted as American City Beautiful urban design springs from this central promenade. This grand and formal design reference was one that was popular throughout the country in City Beautiful-era urban design. The plat is further subdivided organizationally into roughly northern and southern halves. Sherwood Terrace, originally called Cottage Grove in Shurcliff s plan, serves as the dividing line. The northern half of the plat is the more strictly geometric of the two and is a mirror image from east to west. The northwest corner of the plat was developed to provide a car- and pedestrian-friendly entrance to the neighborhood from the terminus of the streetcar line, and to answer the design problem of integrating an existing element into the plat. Utilizing the formal geometric landscape traditions of the French school, Shurcliff designed an open space to transition into the neighborhood. This half lunette allowed access to Calhoun Street, McKinnie Avenue and the diagonally bisecting Marquette Drive. It provides a pleasing vista from the end of the streetcar route to the Esplanade. Flanking Marquette Drive at the intersections of Calhoun Street and McKinnie Avenue are small parks that serve as a gracious formal entrance. Originally platted as an open, almost piazza-like public space, the area is now an open green space. The easternmost park contains a brick entrance marker surmounted by a broken pediment, with an inscribed stone announcing "Lafayette Place" and the date 1915. Anchoring the design on the northernmost portion of the plat is another demi-lune park whose outline scribes the route of McKinnie Circle. This charming open space provides a formal vista for the homes located on McKinnie Circle which all face this design element. Located at the northern end of the Esplanade and designed to provide a terminal vista to the open space, Shurcliff provided a grandly-oversized lot for the construction of a "Lafayette Place Community Center". Originally envisioned as a space for a clubhouse and tennis courts, this was never developed; the lot is now a residential lot. Shurcliff also provided for grand boulevards in the 80-foot wide Congress Avenue, and Marquette and Champlain Drives. These, along with the Esplanade, provide the skeleton on which the smaller, 50-foot wide Wilmette and Kenilworth Streets hang.

The southern half of the plat deals with the second pre-existing element present as Shurcliff designed Lafayette Place, the route of the Fort Wayne and Decatur Traction Company Interurban route. The history of interurban rail in Indiana is a long, complex story, but at the time when Lafayette Place was platted, the interurbans were a thriving short haul alternative that was both popular and necessary. The unifying element of the Esplanade is still present, but the strictly formal axial geometry of the northern half has been replaced with a hybrid between formalism and the curvilinear style employed in Shurcliff's other Fort Wayne developments. The southeastern corner still contains the diagonal Calumet Avenue and accompanying interurban route, but the formal half lunette is missing. The southwestern corner of the plat contains the diagonal Montrose Avenue, again without a formal half lunette terminus. Streets in the southern half of the plat are generally small with 50-foot widths. The notable exception is the 60-foot wide Calumet Avenue, built to accommodate the Interurban route. The streets are also either curvilinear, like Fleming Avenue, or slightly off bias like Glencoe and Maple Grove Avenues. This is a marked departure from the strictly 90- and 45-degree intersections of the northern half of the plat. The southern border along Pettit Avenue is provided with a naturalistic echo of the formal demi-lune park in the north. Instead of a formal street, like McKinnie Circle, the lots along Pettit are skillfully provided by Shurcliff with deed restrictions regarding building setback that in effect and function describe a demi-lune equivalent. Also in the southern portion of the plat is the "Public Playground" (now known as Lafayette Park), between Glencoe Avenue and Sherwood Terrace, providing a green terminated vista at the southern end of Wilmette Street.

Developed in the period when automobile travel was transitioning from luxury to necessity, the plat was built without rear alleyways. The neighboring streetcar and interurban lines were initially conceived as serving the need for transportation rather than the automobile. Plans for the neighborhood provided for sidewalks, ornamental lighting, sewers, plantings of the common spaces and recreational equipment for the community center and public playground. Setbacks for building lines were prescribed, and the various depths of the setbacks accomplished design goals. The de facto demi-lune along Pettit, and the deeper setbacks along the Esplanade are examples of this. Smaller setbacks and lot sizes along streets like Glencoe, Fleming and Maple Grove allowed for a variety of building sizes and costs. In addition to setback and lot size, restrictions on the building cost, particularly at the terminii of the Esplanade mandated grand homes at prominent nodes of the plat.

Lafayette Place is unique among Shurcliffs designs in Fort Wayne in its use of formal French landscape architecture concepts in the plat. Both Wildwood Park and Brookview are naturalistic, curvilinear designs. Shurcliff has been lauded for his mastery of the informal naturalistic style of landscape architecture, but his design for Lafayette Place proves not only his ability to master formal French traditions, but his ability to successfully combine formal and naturalistic traditions.

† Margaret Caviston, Historic Preservation Specialistm Michael Galbraith, Executive Director and Angie Quinn, Special Projects Coordinator, Lafayette Place Historic District, nomination document, 2012, nomination document, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Calhoun Street South • Calumet Avenue • Champlain Drive • Congress Avenue • Fleming Avenue • Fleming Avenue East • Glencoe Avenue • Kenilworth Street • Lafayette Esplanade • Lafayette Street • Maple Grove Avenue East • Marquette Drive • McKinnie Avenue • McKinnie Circle • Montrose Avenue • Pettit Avenue • Sherwood Terrace • Wilmette Street