I have lived on the West Side in the Luna Park Historic District since grade school. I grew up understanding what it is like to live in a marginalized community full of “have nots.” I also have grown up knowing what it is like to live in a neighborhood where the people who live beside you and across the street from you really are neighbors.
When I heard Marylin McKeown and some others talking about the Luna Park Historic District project, I knew I wanted to become involved. I enjoy community service work and believe that active groups with a focused team and a plan can make a profound difference.
The attracting feature of the project was the strong grassroots concept and the fact that almost everyone who is active on the art and signage committee lives in the Luna Park neighborhood.
While walking through the West Side community, engaging with the residents about the street sign toppers, the history of Luna Park and what it means to live in an historic district, I learned some of my neighbors were unaware of the history. Upon learning about the project, most were ecstatic to know that the area would be getting some positive attention and that plans were in motion to beautify the area.
I also share in that enthusiasm and desire continued improvements for the entire West Side neighborhood in addition to the Luna Park area. Seeing progress toward keeping what is good, with useful building materials, and being thoughtful about demolition and changes are pertinent in historic preservation.
I say this because I own an older house. Not long ago, in the process of remodeling, I replaced a few floorboards. The replacements were ordered from a building materials salvage yard in Virginia that salvages materials from houses pre-demolition. During a home inspection, the contractor who looked at the foundation walls told me these walls have stood for 100 years and had at least another 100 to go.
Residents in neighborhoods like the West Side can benefit from understanding that many buildings, despite their appearances, are structurally sound and the craftsmanship that went into these homes no longer exists. There are benefits to restoring and rebuilding them rather than demolishing them for new apartment construction.
Contractors and land developers looking at the West Side should consider this as they make plans. They should look at buildings for their historical nature and value not for what it will take to demolish them. If a building has to be demolished, could we find ways to save what is good? What can be recycled and upcycled? We should find ways to salvage materials and find ways to get them to those who can utilize them.
Right now, 444 properties in Luna Park Historic District contribute to its special status. Those buildings include exquisite examples of the work by noted architects John C. Norman Sr., and H. Rus Warne. The houses’ construction styles range from Craftsman, Bungalow and Tudor, just to mention a few.
Working together with city, county, state and federal organizations, I am certain we can look to the future and see that the unique Luna Park Historic District is diverse, eclectic, full of culture and historical relevance. The architecture, people, their stories and our commitment to keep what is good and make progress where change is needed are important for our community.