The Journal Gazette
Thursday, August 10, 2017 1:00 am

Fairfield-Nestel House demolition upsets owner


The Fairfield-Nestel House had stood at 815 W. Creighton Ave. for nearly 160 years.

Time ran out this week for the Italianate-style home built by city father Capt. Asa Fairfield. Fort Wayne's Neighborhood Code office enforced a demolition order against the house despite recent efforts to save it by the current owner.

Mary Tyndall, the city's Community Development spokeswoman, said Wednesday the final decision to demolish came after owner Joe Leksich of Fort Wayne failed to make enough progress on restoration.

Leksich, a Realtor with restoration experience, acquired the property in early 2016. Last year, he appealed a demolition order, and Allen Superior Court Judge Nancy E. Boyer gave him a year to make improvements.

But “that didn't happen,” Tyndall said. “There had been no follow-through on the order to repair. ... The circumstances hadn't changed.”

Demolition occurred Monday and Tuesday, and debris had been carted away by Wednesday afternoon.

Leksich attempted to enlist community help in saving the house, holding an open house in June and starting a GoFundMe account seeking donations for expenses. He also has been chronicling his efforts online.

The home had many issues in the interior caused by a leaking roof, including destruction of the main staircase. But the roof had been repaired, windows replaced, siding patched, the exterior primed and the building stabilized, Leksich told The Journal Gazette in June.

He reiterated that Wednesday, saying additional work had been done in the interior.

“I'm beyond frustrated with it,” he said. “If they (neighborhood code officials) had taken the time to go out there and look at the property, there would be no way to say it was unsafe for the neighborhood.”

Leksich said he will be responsible for about $25,000 in demolition expenses, liens and back taxes, and he will likely let the lot be sold by officials for nonpayment.

The property's checkered history includes at least two previous demolition orders under previous owners and widespread neglect over the last three decades. A dilapidated carriage house behind the home was demolished due to safety concerns years ago.

Despite not having owned the house then, Leksich said he was held responsible for that bill.

At one point, ARCH, Fort Wayne's nonprofit historic architecture preservation group, tried to save the house but gave up. Members of the city's Historic Preservation Commission board voted to allow demolition to go forward in April, in part because the house had lost so many features, including a tower.

Still, the home was one of the last tangible ties to early settler Fairfield, a Maine sea captain who brought his fortune to Fort Wayne in the 1840s and ran canal boats on the Wabash and Erie Canal.

The second half of its name refers to two later occupants – diminutive stage entertainers Charles W. Nestel and his sister Eliza, known as Commodore Foote and The Fairy Queen. The two traveled the world as part of the Tom Thumb craze of the late 19th century before his death in 1937. His despondent sister died 10 days later.

“There's no good answer for why,” Leksich said of the demolition, adding it's too emotional for him to even drive by the property or explain the loss of the home to his young son and daughter. “I've lost a lot of faith in the city.”

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