BY BRAD OPPENHEIM
West Lafayette’s New Chauncey neighborhood has quite the storied past, with its roots reaching back nearly 200 years. To spare its architectural history well into the future, the West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission designated the neighborhood as a Local Historic District in 2013. Ten years later, maintaining the integrity of New Chauncey’s oldest structures is still top of mind among local leaders and neighbors.
“The first West Lafayette ‘Main Street’ ran through it (New Chauncey),” says resident and West Lafayette City Council member Peter Bunder.
As the 257-acre neighborhood grew alongside both West Lafayette and Purdue University, investors began purchasing many of its properties in the mid-1970s, according to the New Chauncey Neighborhood Association’s website.
Preserving and protecting New Chauncey’s collection of late 19th and early 20th century architecture became increasingly important to its residents, leading to the formation of the New Chauncey Neighborhood Association in 1977. To this day, its mission includes preserving and revitalizing architecture, along with improving the quality of life of neighborhood residents.
“New Chauncey has affordable houses with charm and visual interest you can’t find anywhere else in West Lafayette,” resident Linda Martin says.
As the community rallied to prevent New Chauncey’s physical past from slowly fading away, the neighborhood gained a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The National Register listing notes the significance of historic structures and districts but provides little protection when it comes to preservation, leaving the neighborhood’s historic structures in jeopardy.
The path to protecting New Chauncey’s history on the local level began with the West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission. According to the West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission Resource Guide, the commission was formed in June 2011, acting to preserve West Lafayette’s vast wealth of history. It is currently comprised of nine members appointed by the mayor and subject to approval by the city council. Aaron Thompson serves as the chair.
“The Historic Preservation Commission, through city ordinance, oversees a shared process essential for avoiding divisive conflicts over individual projects, especially in near-campus neighborhoods where the diversity of housing types, ownership and goals can differ from street to street or, often, within the same block,” Thompson says.
More than a decade after being placed on the National Register of Historic Places and just two years after the formation of the historic preservation commission, New Chauncey was designated as a local historic district, paving the way to protect its oldest structures. Currently, New Chauncey is West Lafayette’s only local historic district.
While the designation doesn’t prevent owners from making changes to their properties, they are required to consult with the commission and plan the best approach for home improvement projects, new construction, best practices for preservation, and choosing building materials that are approved by HPC policies and procedures. Once the proper review process is fulfilled, the commission decides whether to grant the property owners with a certificate of appropriateness, giving them the green light to move forward with projects.
Changes requiring commission approval include exterior changes to any structure, such as ensuring the original character is kept intact. General maintenance, such as making a repair to a door or window, does not require approval from the commission.
In addition to being a New Chauncey resident and city council member Bunder also sits on the
Historic Preservation Commission as a representative of the city council. He was responsible for the legislation that established New Chauncey’s local historic district status a decade ago.
“Many of my neighbors have gotten help from the city in creating excellent period-appropriate renovations,” Bunder says. “Personally, I got help with replacement windows.”
Bunder notes that one of the most interesting examples of a historical New Chauncey structure protected under the designation was the old Morton School, which opened in 1930. The school has gone through renovations, but it still maintains its historical integrity. It has since been converted into West Lafayette’s Margerum City Hall. “We have protected several old buildings in the village,” Bunder says. “While not the oldest, Morton/Margerum is the biggest and best.”
He says along with preservation, there has also been stabilization. “The value of your home is protected,” Bunder says. “Your neighbor, as the mayor once says, cannot just put a copy of the space shuttle on their roof!”
In a report by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, it was found that “historic districts seem to have the greatest positive impact on property values when the preservation commissions in control have effective communication of their rules and clear guidelines, firmly and consistently applied.”
Martin was an advocate for a local historic district from the get-go and sits on the Historic Preservation Committee. She says though the designation may cause some inconveniences, it’s worth it. “Historic, well-maintained neighborhoods add to property values,” Martin says. “Run down houses and super cheap renovations don’t make good neighbors.”
Resident Zachary Baiel says in the beginning he engaged with neighbors, meetings, discussions and information about establishing a local historic district. He advocated for providing a mechanism to evaluate the intentional neglect and demolition of properties for construction of new multi-family residents and apartment buildings.
Now, when the legislation is a topic of discussion among neighbors, he says, “The legislation comes up as an annoyance that residents must deal with when they want to make an update to their property. Unless there is a demolition that is prevented, it rarely comes up in a positive light.”
He says he also advocated for historic trees to be included as well, but that is not covered in the ordinance.
Resident Janice Brower says it’s important that the neighborhood maintains its historic district designation to prevent destruction of its beautiful, old structures. “I have always loved the look, construction and street appeal of older homes,” says Brower. “We’re lucky to live in a 100-year-old house within walking distance of Purdue.”
Thompson says it’s amazing to witness the re-emergence of the New Chauncey neighborhood as a community of choice for people coming from all walks of life.
“In college towns, far too few examples of near-campus neighborhoods maintaining this crucial balance of housing opportunity exist,” Thompson says. “Creating these unique market conditions doesn’t happen by accident, and there were many groups and individuals that took steps to raise up this neighborhood. Historic preservation is one aspect, which provides basic assurances that all structures, whether owner or renter occupied, must follow the same rules for making changes that affect their neighbors.”
“I love the history and like to see things remain as they originally were, improved perhaps, but not torn down for something else,” says Peggy Hoover, a long-time New Chauncey resident. “We come from our history and wish it to remain to know where we come from.”
Looking ahead to the next 10 years, Thompson says the Historic Preservation Commission seeks to continue its outreach to residents and property owners about best practices for preserving historic structures and maintaining vibrant historic districts.
“This is a partnership between the city and residents – meaning that commission members and our consultants have knowledge and experience to share on managing projects within our historic districts,” Thompson says. “We’re excited to work through the certificate of appropriateness process with residents who are working to maintain or improve properties within our designated historic districts.” ★
For more information about the West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission and its responsibilities, visit: westlafayette.in.gov