Local Historic Districts By Michael R. Newberry Local Historic Districts are a point of pride in a community. Neighborhoods in a local Historic District tend to maintain property values better than comparative neighborhoods located outside of the Historic District. Because they are often comprised of residents concerned with the preservation of examples of quality workmanship and construction, and because they are guided by a commission that upholds standards provided by The Secretary of the Interior, Historic Districts often look better and possess a more unified community than surrounding areas. Residents are rewarded for approved home improvements through State and Federal Tax Credits for Rehabilitation, and pleasant-looking, unified communities often experience lower crime rates in their area as a result. Ypsilanti currently has the third largest Historic District in Michigan, and this city possesses many examples of valuable architecture within and outside of its current Historic District boundaries. Current neighborhoods within the Historic District include the Historic South Side Neighborhood, the Historic East Side Neighborhood (including Depot Town), Downtown Ypsilanti, and the Riverside Neighborhood. There are many houses and neighborhoods of historic merit that exist outside of the current Historic District, that currently do not receive all of the benefits that are experienced within the District. If Ypsilanti were to consider the creation of four additional Historic Districts, more beautiful neighborhoods could receive these valuable benefits, which could arguably increase the desirability of Ypsilanti, Michigan for home ownership. Four Ypsilanti neighborhoods possess character traits that would make them excellent candidates for additional Local Historic Districts. Midtown Neighborhood, Woods Road Neighborhood, Normal Park Neighborhood, and College Heights Neighborhood possess unique characteristics that would make them valuable assets to the community as individual Local Historic Districts. Because Local Historic Districts must establish a period of significance, each neighborhood benefits from a focused range of years considered historically significant in their particular neighborhood. This reinforces the notion that all historic homes have the same merit, because they fall within a time period significant to our local, state, or national history. Thus, a ranch house from the 1950s is just as important and worthy of preservation as a Greek Revival farmhouse from the 1840s. Furthermore, if the current Local Historic District were to be divided into its component parts, and each neighborhood association currently within the District were considered its own Local Historic District, such an act would serve to encourage partnerships with the individual neighborhood associations and its community members. Such partnerships would aid in the dissemination of information in an effort to educate the community, and it would help further market and define each neighborhood in its own unique way. Essentially, each Local Historic District (neighborhood association) would be in compliance with a basic set of standards, but they would also have their own tailored standards that meet their unique, architectural, and aesthetic needs. Such standards would also enable the Historic District Commission to better serve the community because they would be able to narrow their focus to standards that are tailored to a specific neighborhood. For example, the needs of a homeowner seeking to renovate a 1950s ranch house are very different than the needs of a homeowner renovating an 1860 Italianate home. Effective communication and direct guidance could be provided by the Historic District Commission to homeowners in distinctly separate Local Historic Districts. Granted, much footwork would have to be done to establish these new Local Historic Districts, but much footwork has already been done. Graduate students at Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation Program documented and photographed much of Normal Park and College Heights in the mid 1990s. These documents have been preserved and are available to the public here in the Ypsilanti Archives, waiting to be compiled into a report that would advocate for the creation of a Normal Park Historic District and a College Heights Historic District. Below are small overviews of each of the four neighborhoods that would make ideal Local Historic Districts. Each overview contains a map of the neighborhood boundaries along with an example of the different house types encountered in each neighborhood. Midtown Neighborhood: Nestled south of Eastern Michigan University and west of downtown Ypsilanti, Midtown Neighborhood is the oldest of the four neighborhoods that could be proposed as a Local Historic District, and it is largely composed of homes from the Victorian period. The Midtown Neighborhood Association is bounded on the South side by West Michigan Avenue, on the East side by North Hamilton Street, on the North side by Washtenaw Street, and on the West side by Summit Street. Woods Road Neighborhood: Woods Road Neighborhood is comprised of 46 houses located on Linden Court, a cul-de-sac directly south of Recreation Park, and the rectangular diverticulum of Woods Road and Pleasant Drive. The majority of the houses in this neighborhood are wood frame structures from the 1930s. There are also masonry and stone houses in various revival styles to include one English Medieval Revival designed by Ralph S. Gerganoff. Linden Court is comprised almost entirely by wood framed English Tudor Revival homes. Normal Park Neighborhood: Approximately 700 houses comprise the Normal Park Neighborhood Association. Known for its 1920s and 1930s Colonial Revival homes, various kit homes, Bungalows, Craftsman, and English Tudor Revival homes, Normal Park is a unified community with many excellent examples of highly maintained historic homes. The neighborhood is bounded on the South side by Congress Street, on the East side by the west side of Summit Street, on the North side by the south side of Washtenaw Avenue, and on the West side by Mansfield Street. College Heights Neighborhood: The newest of the four neighborhoods that should be proposed as a Local Historic District, College Heights is known for its post-war ranch style homes and English Tudor Revivals. This neighborhood was among the first in Ypsilanti to abandon the grid system in favor of the non-linear neighborhood street layout reminiscent of 1950s suburbia. College Heights is bound on the South side by the north side of Washtenaw Avenue, the East side by Oakwood Street, the North side by Ainsley Street, and the West side by Bellevue Street. The proposed Local Historic District boundaries for College Heights might be bounded as it existed in 1952: on the South side by the north side of Washtenaw Avenue, the West side by Cornell Road, the North side by Collegewood Drive, and the West side by the east side of Oakwood Avenue. (Michael Newberry is a graduate student in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at Eastern Michigan University. He just completed an Internship in the YHS Museum.)
Photo 1: The current Historic District in Ypsilanti is the third largest in the state of Michigan.
Photo 2: The Midtown Neighborhood is south of Eastern Michigan University and west of downtown Ypsilanti.
Photo 3: The Midtown Neighborhood is composed mostly of homes from the Victorian period.
Photo 4: The majority of the houses in the Woods Road Neighborhood are wood frame structures from the 1930s.
Photo 5: There are masonry and stone houses in the Woods Road Neighborhood in various revival styles including thisEnglish Medieval Revival designed by Ralph S. Gerganoff.
Photo 6: The Normal Park Neighborhood is known 1920s and 1930s Colonial Revival homes, various kit homes, Bungalows, Craftsman, and English Tudor Revival homes.
Photo 7: This home at 311 North Wallace Boulevard was built in 1921.
Photo 8: The College Heights Neighborhood is known for its post-war ranch style homes and English Tudor Revivals.
Photo 9: This home at 703 Cambridge Street was built in 1952.