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Published: Sunday, 11/29/2009

Demolition plans threaten Toledo's historic dwellings

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fanny Effler inspects a vacant house at 2618 Collingwood Blvd. in the Old West End. The city has flagged 423 vacant homes, including more than 200 in central Toledo, for demolition. Fanny Effler inspects a vacant house at 2618 Collingwood Blvd. in the Old West End. The city has flagged 423 vacant homes, including more than 200 in central Toledo, for demolition.
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When Fanny Effler's daily walk takes her through the neighborhood near her Old West End home, she finds fewer friendly waves and more boarded windows.

"This used to be a beautiful street," she said during a recent stroll down Boston Place, less than a block away from her Collingwood Boulevard residence.

As widespread foreclosures flush homeowners from neighborhoods such as these, central Toledo hosts more addresses flagged for demolition than any other part of the city. Ms. Effler, an attorney and local landlord, is leading a grass-roots effort to help neighbors find ways to preserve the city's homesteads rather than bring them down.

Ms. Effler has become accustomed to jiggling the door knobs of at least a handful of the empty homes she passes daily - a routine she urges others to adopt - as a way to deter potential vandals and troublemakers. Some of the homes she passes already have been picked clean of the copper pipes, crown molding, or woodwork. Others are empty lots, signaling homes lost to arson or demolition.

In the 400 block of Boston Place, Ms. Effler peers into the bay window of a vacant home from a front porch littered with bags of garbage and a child's broken rocking horse.

She pushes on the front entrance, which the city has secured by drilling a screw into the door, before retreating to the backyard to check the side and rear doors. She takes a look at the unattached garage, its roof split down the middle by a fallen branch, and shakes her head.

The family that once lived in the wood-sided American Foursquare-style home built in 1904 - and later rented out another place across the street - lost both properties to foreclosure and left the area last year. Last winter's conditions likely caused the hardwood floors in both properties to buckle, Ms. Effler said, as the water pipes under the floors froze and burst in the unheated homes.

Ms. Effler wants to prevent that from happening again and said she knows others would be willing to voluntarily drain the pipes of vacant homes to prepare the properties for winter cold.

"Let's get the city and county to work with us, to educate us how to take care of our own neighborhoods," Ms. Effler said.

The city of Toledo can do little to prevent such interior damage to vacant homes, said Lori Rutkowski, supervisor of code enforcement in the city's Department of Neighborhoods. City inspections of vacant or nuisance homes are limited to their curb-side appearances only, Ms. Rutkowski emphasized.

"What we tell people is, 'The city does not own the property. We cannot give you permission to go into someone's property,'•" Ms. Rutkowski said.

"We're concerned about the exterior. Seldom do we get inside."

The city's limited budget allowed 201 homes to be razed this year. In previous years, the city funded 300 demolitions.

The city also has 423 vacant homes flagged for demolition - which includes more than 200 addresses in central Toledo.

The Old West End is roughly bordered by Collingwood Boulevard on the east, Detroit Avenue on the west, I-75 and Monroe Street on the south, and Central Avenue on the north. It is recognized by the Department of Neighborhoods as one of three historic districts in the city.

Any homes recommended for demolition here or in the historic areas of Vistula (between Summit and Walnut streets to Magnolia and Champlain streets near downtown in North Toledo) or Westmoreland (from Upton Avenue and Allenby Road to West Bancroft Avenue and Parkside Boulevard in central Toledo) must be approved by residents who are appointed by the area's historic association.

While only eight homes have been flagged for demolition in the Old West End, about 50 homes are to be razed within a few blocks of the neighborhood, according to a Blade analysis.

Homeowners in historic neighborhoods such as these are no more or less vulnerable to foreclosure, said Dan Schmitt, Old West End Association president. But the economic crisis has limited the market of potential buyers with the passion and financial capital to rehabilitate the available - and often vacant - older homes.

"Historic homes have a thinner or narrower buying group to start with, period. These people certainly are preservationists, and that's just a thinner slice of the buying public that are interested in these homes," Mr. Schmitt said. "The real trick is battling to save the houses, to keep the houses in [good] condition after 100 years of being up and out of the ground."

Homes flagged for demolition could be razed as quickly as six or eight weeks from the date the homeowner and any lien holders are notified, but "typically, it's longer than that," Ms. Rutkowski said.

One central Toledo home on the demolition list was flagged more than three years ago. City inspectors recommended in September, 2006, that 3315 Parkwood Ave. should come down, city records show.

Brothers Chris and Scott Ramsey are trying to purchase a pastel Victorian-style duplex built in 1867 in the 2600 block of Collingwood that was once recommended for demolition. The brothers would renovate the Old West End property, which is now an eyesore with peeling paint and much of the wooden siding missing on the south side of the home.

"I don't want to look at it the way it looks now," said Scott Ramsey, 34, who lives with his wife on the west side of the street across from the property.

The brothers were granted their petition with the city to remove the home from the demolition list. They have an agreement to purchase the property - which the county values at $65,100 - for only $5,000. However, an outstanding water bill from a former owner could spoil the deal, Chris Ramsey, 22, said. The city may not forgive the $3,600 bill, which "may be an absolute road block and deal breaker," he added.

The Ramseys grew up in Springfield Township and said they moved to the Old West End in adulthood because of the architecture and culture of the neighborhood. Scott Ramsey is quick to point out that his house was once home to Toledo Mayor William T. Jackson, who led the city in the 1920s.

The brothers have purchased and renovated other properties in and around the historic neighborhood. Another brother, Dave Ramsey, 29, recently purchased the home next door to Ms. Effler in the 2800 block of Collingwood. He's renovating the historic home, built in 1910.

"It is a lot of work," Dave Ramsey said. "But I think it's good for the city and good for the area. And it's a good investment at this point in the economy, to buy a house and put some sweat equity and investment into the area."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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