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Falls gets first historic district

Nelson and Mary Ann Thomas considered buying a brand new house in Williamsville before falling in love with an old brick home on Park Place.

The three-story house, built in 1916, has a gabled roof, white trim and an enclosed front porch lined with windows.

"We were looking for something with some character, and we stepped into this house," said Nelson Thomas, 58, a retired Delphi worker who runs a city barber shop. "And that was it."

Two decades later, the Thomases have replaced dozens of window panes on the front of the house, added a garage and cultivated a yard with neatly trimmed grass and filled with flowers.
The Thomases and at least a dozen of their neighbors want to preserve the well-kept homes that line their street and sections of nearby Cedar Avenue, Fourth Street and Pine Avenue.

The City Council this week designated the Park Place neighborhood as the city's first local historic district -- a label that could lead the way for placement of the neighborhood on the state and national registries of historic places.

The district is the first of three that city leaders are considering putting into place to preserve century-old buildings that shaped the city's character.
Surveys of the city also have suggested that the neighborhood around Orchard Parkway and Chilton Avenue, as well as the streets near Buffalo Avenue and Riverside Drive, could be eligible to become historic districts.

"This is a very important moment for a number of reasons," City Historian Thomas Yots told the Council before its vote Monday night. "Perhaps if this catches on, more neighborhoods will have the opportunity to do the same."

The Park Place Historic District is a triangular-shaped residential neighborhood with about 90 buildings, including a house on the National Registry of Historic Places and three churches.

The district, according to the city's description, "can be viewed as a microcosm of residential development in Niagara Falls representing a 75-year time period from the 1850s to around 1930."

Yots, who lives in the neighborhood and operates the Park Place Bed and Breakfast with his wife, Louise, said more than 15 neighbors were involved in getting the historic designation for the area during a two-year period.

Yots said some neighbors at first had concerns about what restrictions would be placed on houses in the neighborhood, but the group held public meetings and a workshop to discuss what it would mean.

Construction plans for exterior work on buildings located in the district will be reviewed by the city's Historic Preservation Commission when owners apply for building permits.

"We can get it back to them in less than 30 days," Yots said. "Considering some of the mistakes that have happened in Niagara Falls, asking people to wait a couple weeks may be a good idea."

Historic districts, Yots said, have had success helping to preserve and revitalize neighborhoods in other Buffalo Niagara communities. In Buffalo, the city has designated nine districts as historic, including Allentown and the Theater District.

Eventually, the Historic Preservation Commission in Niagara Falls hopes to put the Park Place neighborhood on the state and national registries, making buildings eligible for potential tax credits or other preservation incentives.

Park Place resident Tom Insana said he and other neighbors wanted the historic designation to help address concerns about vacant properties and out-of-state landlords.

"It could mean a resurgence of that area," Insana said.


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