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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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Maplewood: 'Historic' designation asked for neighborhood that wants to stay that way

Published 7:35 am, Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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  • A view of Maplewood Avenue near downtown, where efforts are moving forward to win designation as a historic district. Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News
    A view of Maplewood Avenue near downtown, where efforts are moving forward to win designation as a historic district. Photo: Meg Barone

 

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Maplewood Avenue is a neighborhood in the traditional sense, where working- and middle-class residents know each other, children safely ride bicycles, and everyone looks forward to Halloween trick or treating up and down the street.

That's a large part of its charm, augmented by the 20th-century architectural character of its houses, most of which reflect the Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival styles. Some of the homes have art glass windows. There is an American Foursquare-style house with a jerkinhead roof and enclosed front porch, and another of the homes is a vernacular farmhouse. Eleven of the houses are listed in the town's Historic Resources Inventory.

When that character was threatened last year with the proposed demolition of a house at 20 Maplewood Ave., neighbors rallied and vowed to fight further deterioration of an architectural aesthetic and a lifestyle that for some is only nostalgic. They were unsuccessful in their attempt to save that house, which was recently razed, but as a way to help preserve the rest of the neighborhood 18 residents last September requested Local Historic District designation for their one-block roadway -- it runs from Main to Oak streets and comprises 22 houses and one empty corner lot owned by the town.

At a special meeting of the Historic District Commission on Tuesday, David L. Taylor, a historic preservation and community development specialist from the firm of Taylor & Taylor Associates of Brookville, Pa., presented the final draft study report for the proposed designation of the exclusively residential street.

"You have a real gem of a street here. Guard it," Taylor told the three Maplewood Avenue residents who attended the meeting in Town Hall. Taylor took commissioners and residents on a photographic "walk" down the street, sharing information about the domestic architecture and the history of the houses and neighborhood.

It began as an unnamed development in 1910 on agricultural land once owned by Frederick Morehouse. Houses were built along the half-mile street from about 1911 to the 1930s. Taylor and his firm's senior historian, Mary Anne Reeves, said they believe at least one of the houses, a brown Craftsman-style with a cobblestone chimney, is a Sears-Roebuck catalog house.

"Our feeling is, if there's one Sears house on the street there's probably more," Taylor said.

"While long ignored by preservationists, mail-order houses are now recognized as significant elements in America's architectural heritage," they said in the draft study report.

Taylor and Reeves considered a number of factors in their assessment of Maplewood Avenue and its suitability for local historic district designation including the history of the neighborhood as it relates to the town as a whole, the architectural character of the area and its physical cohesion. Although changes have been made to some houses -- among them the addition of sunroom or the enclosure of a porch -- Taylor indicated in the study that the overall historic integrity is retained.

The study concludes: "It is the professional opinion of Taylor & Taylor Associates that Maplewood Avenue possesses the architectural character, cultural identity and historic integrity necessary for designation as a local historic district. It is the recommendation of the preparers of this study that such designation be pursued."

"The recommendation was YES in capital letters," Taylor said.

The study must now go to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has 65 days to respond. Other approvals are also necessary.

"Even though the people have changed the neighborhood has not ... We're just trying to preserve it," said Jennifer Tedesco Alfano, who grew up in the house at 29 Maplewood Ave. and spearheaded the effort to gain the local historic district designation. Residents want to keep the neighborhood intact, she said. Where developers see opportunities for tear downs to make way for houses with larger footprints, neighbors see a singular bus stop that serves as a gathering place for people and pets.

"It's a great spot," said HDC member Edward Gerber, who was impressed that neighbors "did this themselves. They mobilized."

"They came to realize they have a very unique character to their neighborhood that they appreciate," said Francis Henkels, the HDC chairman.

The town received funding for the study from the Department of Economic and Community Development with federal funds from the Historic Preservation Fund of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and the State Historic Preservation Office.