For the last five years, the neighborhood association of Fort Wayne’s Lafayette Place has sponsored a summertime concert at its esplanade gazebo to celebrate the addition’s quaint charm and the friendliness of residents.
This year, the association is celebrating something else, too – the south-side neighborhood’s 100th birthday.
Westley Falcaro, neighborhood association president, says Saturday’s Night of Jazz program, which starts at 7:30 p.m. at the gazebo and is free and open to the public, showcases the quality of life enjoyed by current residents of an addition that dates to 1915.
"A lot of times, something that’s around for 100 years is dilapidated. Well, we’re not dilapidated," she says. "We’re getting better."
The neighborhood has a notable pedigree. It was conceived by Fort Wayne’s Wildwood Builders Company, headed by Lee Ninde of Fort Wayne, an early supporter of city planning. Serving as designers were his wife, Joel Roberts Ninde, and architect Grace Crosby of Fort Wayne. The two were among the earliest women to work in the field in Indiana.
The layout of the addition, including its park-like central esplanade with streets emanating on the diagonal from its corners, was designed by Harvard University landscape architect Arthur A. Shurcliff. He would later be hired to plan Fort Wayne’s Franke and Swinney parks and, in the 1930s, design Colonial Williamsburg.
Lafayette Place is one of at least a half-dozen Fort Wayne neighborhoods begun 100 or more years ago, including West Central, Forest Park, Williams-Woodland Park, Illsley Place and Lakeside.
Today, the neighborhood, which stretches from South Lafayette to South Calhoun streets and from McKinnie to Pettit avenues, amounts to an encyclopedia of early and mid-20th-century home styles.
Tudor revival, Dutch colonial and Craftsman homes sit side by side with those in art deco, art noderne and Spanish eclectic styles, according to a pamphlet from 2014 prepared by the city’s preservation planners after Lafayette Place was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The gazebo dates from the 1990s, Falcaro says, and the neighborhood also has a park with tennis courts and a bustling summer program for youth. There’s been a surge of interest in rejuvenating homes, she says, after the association succeeded in essentially banning new rentals. Association members also bought and restored one home and anticipate selling it soon, she says.
The group’s newest project is working with the city to improve a turning lane from Lafayette Street onto Pettit Avenue, Falcaro says.
But one night in the summer, residents relax, get out their blankets and coolers and listen to music, this year provided by the Todd Harrold Band. The neighborhood also will announce receipt of a mayoral proclamation honoring its longevity.
"There’s usually quite a crowd. We have people come from all over the city," Falcaro says. "We just want people to come and enjoy the night."