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ARCH’s Historic Home & Garden Tour visits Wildwood Park
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Behind the sound barrier walls lining the south side of Jefferson Boulevard in between Ardmore and Freeman streets lies Wildwood Park.
It’s an architecturally diverse neighborhood with a rich history that ranks as one of Fort Wayne’s best examples of the “City Beautiful” movement, an era of urban design that sprang up in the very early 20th century.
But to put it in words that those of us who didn’t study landscape architecture and design might understand — it’s a pretty neighborhood, with lots of green space, gently winding streets, and a wide range of unique houses boasting many different architectural styles.
Wildwood Park is this year’s “subject” for ARCH’s Historic Home and Garden tour, happening on Saturday, June 16.
Mike Galbraith, ARCH’s Executive Director, says Wildwood Park was Fort Wayne’s first planned neighborhood of its kind, in that it wasn’t part of the city’s existing street grid of streets. “Back in the 1910s, Lee Ninde, who owned Wildwood Builders, became really entranced with city planning and the George Kessler’s ‘City Beautiful’ movement,” Galbraith explains. “He hired his old Harvard classmate Arthur Shurcliff, who was a really renowned landscape architect, to come work with him.”
The “City Beautiful” movement came along at a time when the idea of “the city” was associated with tenement housing and smokestacks. “The idea of coming to a pleasant garden suburb with green space and winding streets was really attractive,” Galbraith says. “They built these suburbs among these kinds of natural areas with winding streets alongside of a creek, with open space, so when you turned the corner in your car — and they were designed with the car in mind — you’d see trees and open triangular parks.” The winding roads common in this type of design not only serve an aesthetic function for residents and people passing through that area, but also slow down cars and make the neighborhood more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Ninde and Shurcliff started what became Wildwood Park in about 1916. It was on the site of an existing farm, so some buildings were renovated, but a lot of new houses sprung up. Galbraith said building and construction carried on throughout the 20s, but stopped almost completely when the Depression hit. Wildwood Company folded up its tents and auctioned off the lots, and there wasn’t a lot of robust new development for almost two decades. “Of the houses there, probably a good third of them, maybe half, are from the pre-World War II era,” Galbraith says. “There’s a few stragglers from the 30s, but it really came back after WWII.”
The tour’s brochure goes into more detail on the historical and architectural aspects of the houses on the tour, but ultimately… “It’s a chance to see some really cool houses in a great neighborhood,” says Galbraith.
The tour will feature about a dozen houses, built at different times and representing a variety of architectural styles. There will be food carts and other activities in Wildwood’s park area.
“We always try to coordinate the Historic Home and Garden Tour with an event,” says Galbraith. “Wildwood Park is in the final stages of getting listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so that’s why we chose to do it this year. Next year, we’re planning on doing Lafayette Place, which is another Shurcliff/Nine collaboration.”
The Wildwood Park Historic Home and Garden Tour happens Saturday, June 16 from noon through 5 PM.
Tickets are available at ARCH (818 Lafayette Street) or by calling (260) 422-4226.
Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 the day of the tour.