By Fred Mohs
The cause of historic preservation suffered a defeat Monday, August 29 th when, with the exception of alder Ledell Zellers, the Plan Commission voted to approve the demolition of 219 West Gilman Street, a contributing building in the National Mansion Hill Historic District. This 1884 frame house is important as an example of one of the more modest homes built in Mansion Hill at this time. However the structure does not have the same protections as if it were in the immediately adjacent local Mansion Hill Historic District. There is a movement to increase the boundaries of the local Mansion HiIl Historic District and also to create a Langdon Street Local Historic District to the northwest.
Nevertheless, the neighbors, historic preservationists and Rabbi Mendel had agreed to preserve 219, and to permit an addition to it whose design had been agreed upon, if only an arrangement could be agreed upon that would provide a route for trash from the HopCat Bar and Restaurant to be brought out to West Gorham Street. The owners of HopCat had procured an easement across 219 onto West Gilman Street that they could use in the event that their temporary easement across the City’s Buckeye Parking Lot was terminated. Everything was set for the renovation and addition to 219 West Gilman Street except for the HopCat trash issue.
The owners of the HopCat building needed the easement because they feared someday the City would terminate their easement onto the Buckeye Lot. What was missed by everyone involved was that a property directly across from the HopCat’s Buckeye easement was another easement that was permanent benefiting seven parking places in back of apartment houses on West Gilman and North Henry. That easement was permanent. In retrospect, the preservationists and neighbors should have worked harder to provide an alternate easement for the HopCat even if the parking authority was not especially enthusiastic about it.
There is worry that the demolition of 219 will be claimed as a precedent by others in the National Historic Districts to support their moves to tear down contributing buildings. It is obvious that it is very important that the City, along with the Mansion Hill and Langdon neighbors, push forward with expanding the Mansion Hill Historic District and creating the Langdon Street Historic Local District at the earliest possible time.
On a brighter note, the Planning Commission members and many others who testified in favor of Chabad House assured the neighbors that the current demolition would not be a precedent or would not be used to support other demolitions of contributing structures in the Mansion Hill or Langdon Street National Historic Districts. We hope that their assurances will be remembered the next time because, because there will be a next time. We hope that their assurances will be remembered the next time, because there will be a next time.