Curtis Block Eligible For Historic Property Designation

The Planning Commission at its Thursday, May 7 meeting unanimously determined that the Curtis Block met the Lakewood preservation ordinance criteria to be nominated an Historic Property. At its next regular meeting on June 6, the Commission will consider whether to designate the Curtis Block as an Historic Property. The Curtis Block is a two-story commercial/residential building located on the southwest corner of Detroit and Marlowe Avenues.

Lakewood became a “streetcar suburb” of Cleveland early in the twentieth century. The first streetcar line extending from Cleveland into Lakewood was completed in 1893 and it led to a transformation of Lakewood from a farming community to a residential suburb. Lakewood’s population exploded from a few hundred Lakewood residents in 1890 to approximately 15,000 in 1910, and that number more than tripled by 1920. Clusters of commercial and residential buildings developed along Detroit, Clifton and Madison Avenues, the routes of the three streetcar lines servicing Lakewood. The north/south side streets intersecting with the streetcar avenues were wholly residential, setting a pattern which continues to this day.

The Curtis Block is a particularly fine example of the mixed use (commercial/residential) buildings that were the hallmark of the streetcar suburb. The easternmost three storefronts of the Curtis Block were constructed in 1913 and the building was extended west by two storefronts in 1925. The first floor businesses offered fresh fruit and baked-on-the-premises bread to the streetcar commuters and their families and the second floor provided housing to Lakewood’s residents.

Lakewood’s preservation ordinance was enacted in 2008 to preserve Lakewood’s historically and architecturally significant structures and districts. The ordinance is part of Lakewood’s zoning code (Chapter 1134, to be precise), available on the City’s website. In brief, the ordinance imposes architectural controls over the alteration of a designated structure without controlling the use or ownership of the structure.

Lakewood’s ordinance establishes criteria for weighing a possible designation, such as examples of cultural, social or economic heritage, the work of an architect whose individual work has influenced the development of the City, the degree of historical integrity, etc. It sets forth a process for nominating structures and districts for designation as Historic Properties or Historic Districts. Once an Historic Property or Historic District has been designated as such, any changes by the owner to the exterior of the structure are required by the ordinance to be compatible with its historic and architectural character. The City’s Architectural Board of Review must approve the changes and follow prescribed guidelines in issuing approvals. The ordinance also allows the interior of a structure to be designated but only if the interior is publicly accessible.

Demolitions of an Historic Property or a structure in an Historic District are permitted but only after a prescribed waiting period during which the property owner, the City and other interested parties work to develop a preservation alternative.

Lakewood was late in joining the preservation ordinance movement. After Charleston, South Carolina adopted a preservation ordinance in 1931, thousands of communities across the nation have enacted similar ordinances; the City of Cleveland adopted its preservation ordinance in 1972. These ordinances have proven to be successful in stabilizing and increasing property values. They also protect and promote the cultural fabric of communities.

To date Lakewood has designated four Historic Properties: the oldest Stone House in Lakewood Park, St. James Catholic Church (both exterior and interior), the First Church of Christ Scientist on Detroit Avenue across from Lakewood Library and the residence at 17855 Lake Road in Clifton Park.

The Curtis Block exemplifies the special character of Lakewood. Designation as an Historic Property will protect the history and architectural style of a surviving streetcar suburb building, which is located at one of the few remaining intersections on Detroit Avenue with original streetcar‐era commercial buildings on all four corners.

As noted above, the Planning Commission at its June 6 meeting will consider whether the Curtis Block should be officially designated an Historic Property. The public is invited to offer comments at the June 6 meeting.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 4:47 PM, 05.12.2015