The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 23, 2016 6:43 am

Wright home keeps historic designation

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne house designed by famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright will remain a local historic district, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission unanimously decided Monday.

During an at-times contentious public hearing at Citizens Square, the owner of the property, Richard J. Herber, threatened to sue the commission and left the hearing uttering obscenities.

Herber’s home, the John D. Hayes House at 3901 N. Washington Road, is the only Wright-designed house in Allen County. Dating to the 1950s, the home is a basically unchanged example of Wright’s Usonian style, in which he hoped to bring his ideas about architecture to a wider audience.

Besides being a local historic, a designation Herber sought and received in 2008, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the hearing, Herber claimed he "never signed a contract" that would hold up in court about the historic designation and was misled about its impact.    

He said he looked forward to "living in Fort Wayne in my Frank Lloyd Wright house" and even made furniture to go with its modernist style. But he is now on disability and can’t afford costly repairs. 

He said he doesn’t like having to ask before making changes to his property, including changes to the exterior that might be needed to accommodate his disability.

He also said he has complained repeatedly to police and other city officials about vibrations from heavy truck traffic on nearby Ardmore Avenue damaging his house and tear-downs of nearby houses and has not received a satisfactory response.

"The way I’ve been treated about this is absolutely disgraceful," said Herber, who also asked the house be de­listed in 2010 and was denied.

"Being here today, you’ve taken away all of my dignity," he said, adding later: "I’m delisting it. … If you want to escalate this, I will. I’ll get an attorney and go to court. This is done to get people’s attention here. … I’m done."

However, in testimony favoring retaining the designation, speakers pointed out Herber had never gone to the commission to seek help with property repairs or modifications and the designation only applies to exterior changes seen from the street.  

Any "unreasonable treatment" from the commission was "mere supposition" by Herber that "goes against the fact that he has never put forward a single request to change any aspect of the building," said Michael Galbraith, executive director of ARCH, Fort Wayne’s nonprofit historic architecture preservation group.

Several of the 10 individuals and organization representatives who testified in favor of keeping the local historic designation said they’d had no trouble working with commission staff. One of those speaking against delisting was the home’s former owner, City Councilman John Shoaff, D, at-large.

Galbraith and Paul Hayden, community preservation specialist for Indiana Landmarks, said the architectural and historic reasons for granting the listing have not changed. 

"I would implore the owner to sit down and work things out (with the commission) so we can continue to enjoy the house in the community," Hayden said 

Under a 2013 state law, the commission’s decision must be sent to City Council within 10 days, and council has 45 days to uphold it, reverse it or do nothing, in which case the decision will stand. Commission staff members say they believe this is the first case to come up under the law.

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