When it comes to real estate, seasoned types often relay the advice that it’s best to get in on the ground floor.
You might say Erika and David Mann of Fort Wayne have done just that.
Erika, 36, permissions editor for Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington, actually lives on the ground floor of a duplex that her dad, David, bought as one of the early stakers of a financial claim in the reviving Nebraska neighborhood just west of downtown.
The neighborhood’s potential will be showcased from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 15 during this year’s Historic Home and Garden Tour sponsored by ARCH, Fort Wayne’s nonprofit historic architecture preservation group. The tour also features 10 other homes, businesses and other structures in Nebraska.
An administrator for denominational global missions for the Missionary Church, David Mann says he wasn’t looking for a typical investment property when he bought 1915 W. Main St. in 2011 after driving by and seeing a For Sale hanging outside. His intent, he says, was to find a place to fix up for his daughter.
He wasn’t aware of the home’s history at first – only later did he realize that he’d acquired a certifiable historic property known in the neighborhood as the Eckart Mansion – a home owned by Henry E. Eckart, general manager and secretary-treasurer of the Fred Eckart Packing Co., a mammoth meat-processing company deeply woven into the neighborhood’s history.
Its plant and stockyards at 1825 W. Main St. – the remaining building lost in a fire in 1998 after changing hands – employed hundreds after the company was founded in 1877 by Henry Eckart’s father, Frederick Eckart, an immigrant from Bavaria, Germany.
From the time the home was built, likely around the turn of the 20th century, David Mann says, it remained mostly in the hands of descendants, who made few structural changes and largely just spared it from neglect.
We went through it and really fell in love, especially with the first floor, with the original flooring and a couple of beautiful fireplaces with original tiling and oak columns and mirrors, he says. But the rest of the place, especially the kitchen, we thought needed some work.
With less than two years of ownership under his belt, David Mann says most of the work so far has been cleaning and painting. Erika has redone the kitchen to her taste, with retro white cabinets, a black-and-white tile floor laid on the diagonal and a glass tile backsplash echoing those colors and spiked with gray.
I saw pictures of 1920s and ’30s kitchens with that checkerboard floor and I thought, Perfect,’ she says. It took off from there.
Erika Mann says her taste in decorating has always run to vintage items and antiques, and she mostly used what she had to start furnishing the house.
I’ve always been a fan of picking through things at yard sales and antique stores, she says. I’m trying to collect solid pieces. I had been attracted to art deco, but those pieces are harder to find, and now I’m more into a 1950s-60s look.
Erika says the pieces fit well with the house, which doesn’t have the elaborate carvings sometimes associated with late Victorian pieces. In some ways, she says, it exemplifies simpler Craftsman and Prairie styling.
What I wanted to stand out were the woodwork and floors, which had clean lines and showed the solidness of the house, she says.
Erika’s current project with her father is expanding what she calls a tiny, tiny bathroom into a pantry.
I’m assuming in a house like that it was an afterthought. It was tucked into a closet, so it was very small. So we’re moving the sink out of the bathroom and into its own little closet, David Mann says.
For now, he says, no work has been done on the home’s upstairs apartment. It has a long-term tenant, he says, who has taken good care of the place.
He’s satisfied with the way it is. From what he told me, it was in horrible shape, with wallpaper hanging down from the walls, when he moved in. But it’s been painted and has carpet on the floor and looks just fine, David Mann says.
But, he says, he’s itching to get started on a garage/carriage house at the back of the property, which he thinks has potential as a chic apartment.
I think it could be a very nice space. It’s brick, so you could leave exposed brick and create a nice feel, he says. But that’s in the future.
As of now, Erika says she’s in the process of buying into ownership of the property. But, she says, she’s already bought into the potential for the tucked-away neighborhood, with its mix of large, medium-sized and small homes; the route of Fort Wayne’s feeder to the Wabash & Erie Canal route; river frontage; and a large factory complex, formerly Wayne Knitting Mills, that some hope could be converted into loft living and shops.
Michael Galbraith, ARCH executive director, says the neighborhood is one of the few remaining local examples of a relatively intact, mixed-use neighborhood from the turn of the last century, one where businesses mingled with homes and factory owners lived within the same blocks as their workers.
He says ARCH likes to spotlight not only well-known neighborhoods but others that people might not know or have only driven by.
We’re trying to put the whole neighborhood in historical perspective. It’s one of those up-and-coming neighborhoods that’s starting that renaissance point, where people are coming in and starting to rehab and come up with creative uses, he says.
Erika Mann agrees, saying she loves the fact that the neighborhood already hosts a farmers market on Friday evenings. It opened for the summer May 10.
It’s definitely not going to be super-expensive to invest in the neighborhood, and it’s not particularly dangerous or run-down, she says. You have the advantage of being in a neighborhood close to downtown and close to Jefferson Pointe. I think people don’t see it as a place to invest just yet, but it could happen.
Her dad says he’s definitely invested in preserving some of the past.
I guess I feel like any area of historic significance is worth an investment, he says. I think if we can preserve those kinds of things – well, the cliché is that the past dictates the future. I just think it’s worth keeping those kinds of things alive.