RIFKIN ROLLS IN DURING THE DARK OF NIGHT TO DEMOLISH DEPOT

Quick – think of things that are done in the middle of the night.  A third shift job?  Breaking into a home?  A little lovey-dovin?  Halloween pranks?  Now,  another, quite unusual activity can be added to that fairly short list – tearing down a historical building.

The Lake Shore  and Southern Michigan freight house located at Fourth Street and Clinton has stood its ground for 97 years, but it is no match for an unsympathetic owner itching to tear it down and a wrecking ball waiting in the dark of night. On Monday morning, citizens of Fort Wayne along with the included group of Clinton Street drivers woke up to the view of the freight house being smashed onto the ground – brick by brick and beam by beam.

Built in 1912,  the freight house is one of the last vestiges of an era when iron horses with their plumes of steam roamed the countryside  and provided a common way of travel and transportation of goods.  Back before flying machines and horseless buggies became a way of life – increasing familial distance and ushering in an age of convenient mobility that trains and railways could not match.

 

Beginning of teardown on 10/11/10

 

Rifkin, the Destroyer, spends much of his interview time tossing out various excuses as to why the building just “had to go.”  Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, president of historic preservation group ARCH, which placed the depot on its “endangered” list in 1999, said she had discussed the depot’s future with Rifkin and even offered to pay for an analysis of the building’s structural integrity.

Rifkin never took ARCH up on its offer to pay for a structural analysis.  Why?  Rifkin claims he feared an analysis funded by ARCH might have been biased in favor of preservation.   Or perhaps his fear was that the building would be sound enough to save – getting in the way of his plans to rid the corner of the freight house.

Rifkin opines over and over again how he never heard from preservationist groups.  If anyone has followed this at all, he or she knows this is absolutely false. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society along with Kelly Lynch and Michael Galbraith worked tirelessly to develop plans and ideas for the old freight station.

And, contrary to what Rifkin says about lack of interest, I have been told by an involved and trustworthy source that Rifkin was provided ample offers.  What he chose to do was to reject each as not sufficient.  Of course, he owns the property, and he can take that action.  But why not just come clean and admit that, all along, his game plan was to demolish the station and that any delay on his part was so he could simply throw his hands up at the end and cry, “See how hard I tried.”

Rifkin also tries to place blame on the City for issuing an order – not an order of demolition but rather an order that included the fact that the building was open.  Rifkin could easily have resolved that problem, but, somehow in his rush to get rid of the station, he perverted the contents of the order and turned it into a mandate to demolish the station.

As happens too often, economic priority trumps historical significance. Heaven forbid that private property rights of an individual might just need to yield to the greater good of saving our history.   So, on Sunday evening the wrecking equipment began appearing on the property – blending in with the bridge construction equipment in an effort to evade detection.

And, in the wee hours of Monday morning, before anyone had an inkling of what was happening, the equipment operators started their engines, lumbered toward the old depot, and went to work during the dark of night to attack and destroy a part of Fort Wayne rail history – a historical building that had life left in its old bones but now will be forever lost.

 

Remaining southern portion on 10/12/10

 

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THE NEWNESS OF “OLDNESS”

I admit I was not sure how I would feel when I turned that magical early retirement age of “62” this past February.  Would I crumble into a quivering, weeping mass decrying the fact that my life had flown by so swiftly?  Would I stoicly put on my best smile and ignore that this day – a day that never crossed my mind in years past – had finally arrived?   Would I celebrate the fact that I was still alive and ticking along?

I think it was a combination of the three emotions.  Of the three, though, “stoically putting on my best smile and ignoring the day” was probably my least visited reaction.  I began preparing myself some time ago when I backed off my pledge to “never belong to AARP” or accept senior discounts.  I was adamant that I would never belong to a group of “old fogeys” like those who cherished their AARP memberships. And, I thought how undignified to take a discount like a beggar just because I happened to hit a certain age.

Woila! I now do both.  AARP has some good deals and great publications and those small discounts can add up.  I will never forget my summer just out of high school, our class president, Mick Bishop, was killed in a car accident.  Not quite 18, a gifted athlete headed to the Univeristy of Arizona on scholarship, he was snuffed out just like that.  The funeral was terribly sad – as all funerals are – but my thought was about the shortness of his life.

I looked at obituaries for ages at death – not often – but I remember when I saw someone who had died at 30 or above I thought, “That person had a full life.”  What a difference aging makes to one’s mindset!  I began pushing that “full life” fallacy higher and higher as I climbed the rung of age.

Now 70 seems young, and when I hit 70, 80 will seem young.  But, the most exciting thought that raced through my mind at 62 was a flash of freedom.  A flash that came with the realization that I could “early retire.”  Debate if you will whether or not social security is good or evil.  Debate if you will whether or not Social Security is broke or going broke.  Debate if you will how long I may or may not be able to draw the pension. Debate if you will whether or not it is socialism.  But the fact is, at 62 one can still early retire albeit with a smaller pension than if one waited until full retirement age.

Just for the record, I am not retiring and will, more than likely, work until my full retirement age of 66.  Who knows, maybe even longer.  So, gradually over the years I have conditioned myself to the fact that I am growing old.  I have accepted that mentally I still feel at the top of my game, but physically that game is slowing down.  I take longer working around my home.  I take longer doing outside chores.  I get tasks done, but dog gone it, I just take longer.

My 62nd birthday definitely put a whole new spin on my “oldness.”

ALL DECKED OUT – CURLY’S VILLAGE INN

One of Fort Wayne’s best-kept secrets is Curly’s Village Inn on Bluffton Road.  Well, maybe not so well kept to those of us who visit the quaint Irish pub.  The owner, Mary Armstrong, and her partner, Irishman Dudley O’Carroll,  lend a down-home and extra touch to the long-time establishment which sits high above the St. Marys River just across from Foster Park.

The Inn can be entered from one of two entrances – one fronting onto Bluffton Road and the other at the north end.  What is noticeable as one looks around is that the Inn has no windows on the street side, but that is no loss.  The views are at the back of the restaurant and lounge, and what magnificent views they are.

Although the Waynedale News just recently did a story on the completion of the deck, it has been around for about three years.  The deck, with a capacity of 40, perches above the St. Marys River with a view that rivals Nick’s Riverside Lounge on Superior Street albeit on a smaller scale.  Small tables with umbrellas to shelter the patrons are located on the deck with extra seating around a ledge with a lip wide enough to hold drinks and dinner fare.  An all-weather TV completes  an atmosphere of informality and friendliness.

Mary and Dudley and their employees welcome all who enter as though they have known them for years.  The Irishman still has his lilting accent, and Mary will give you a history of the Inn and her late husband’s role in basketball.

Most of the activity takes place on the first floor; however, a trip upstairs past photos of its previous, well-known owner, Curly Armstrong, leads to a nice-sized room which can be rented for private parties.  Again, the view is amazing from an even higher lookout over the river.

Few establishments recognize the value of our rivers as natural and beautiful attractions.  Most discussions focus on changing the river environment to accommodate businesses – Curly’s does just the opposite as it seamlessly integrates itself into the environment of the St. Marys River.  Curly’s attractive but modest-sized deck provides its patrons with an even greater opportunity to appreciate not only the Inn and its friendly staff but also the peacefulness and tranquility of a stroll onto a deck hovering over the St. Marys River – truly all-decked out.

Curly's Village Inn - Deck overlooking the St. Marys River

Deck overlooking the St. Marys River at Curly's

Overlooking the St. Marys from Curly's deck

THE SNOBS OF WEST COUNTY LINE

Holy “Your house doesn’t cost enough to live in my neighborhood.” Perhaps a new subdivision should carry the name “The Snobs of West County Line Road” instead of all those cutesy names like the “Oaks of”, the “Bends of”, the “Hollows of” – you get the picture.

A number of residents living in $200,000+ homes along West County Line Road have decided that – gasp – $130,000 to $180,000 homes will bring in the low-incomers and the burglars, thieves, and robbers.  Anyone who follows my blog knows I dislike the exploding subdivision growth due to its detrimental and destructive impact on the core of the City.

But I have to say, what gall to label the price range of $130,000 to $180,000 “low income.”   Let’s take a look at the monthly payment in that price range.  At the low end of the poor people’s housing – $130,000 – the monthly payment based on a 30-year mortgage and a 6.25% interest rate would be $800.43.  At the high end – $180,000 – the monthly payment based on the same two criteria is $1,108.29.  Both figures do not include property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, which will up the ante even more.

Those residents who consider this low-income have truly lost perspective.  They really need to change the designations of their subdivisions to reflect their unique and lofty status in this world.

INDIANA – HOW DO I LOVE THEE?

As the winter deepens, as the cold chills to the bone, as the wind bites the exposed skin, as the sky drops measures of snow, sleet, and ice, and as gray clouds block the sun day after day, I pause to remind myself how much I love Indiana.  The newness and beauty of the first snow has disappeared into memory, and the glow of the holidays is in the past.  In unending grayness with just a stab of sun every now and then, I think back to the heat of the summer and how I whined about sticky, humid days.

Now, I long for those hot, muggy days when, in a few minutes outside, a blanket of warm and humid air settled over me.   Those days when the heat built up in my home without air conditioning and no breeze ventured through the window screens. Those days when I watered my porch flowers constantly to keep them bright and happy.

As winter drags on, I leaf through my yearly seed catalogs which always arrive just after the first of the year – just in time to lift my spirits and set my mind to dreaming about the first of many garden treasures to come.  The early strong stems of green onions, the beauty of frilly, colorful lettuce, and round heads of cabbage.  And later, fresh, glowing red tomatoes hanging from vines, long, thin green beans dancing on the bushes, and green pepper globes huddled in bunches on sturdy stalks.

Abiding bitter Indiana winters is just a matter of knowing that eventually they do end.  So as January plods into February and February slowly migrates into March, I wait for that first warm, soft breeze from the south which heralds the end of winter and the beginning of spring.  It is just a matter of time now until the early flowers venture up through the softening earth and the trees come alive with the twittering of birds and bees flit from bloom to bloom.

But never in the deepness of winter do I wish it were any other way.  For how could one appreciate the freshness of the coming spring without the travails of the long winter?   Ah, Indiana, how do I love thee?  In so many ways that I lose count.

Lillies

Corner of my backyard

Corner of my backyard

CITY CONTINUES TO WAGE WAR ON URBAN CORE

The City is looking to step-up its demolition program to combat what it “defines” as urban blight.  By the destruction of selected homes in specific areas of the urban core, the City hopes – and I use the word lightly – to bring new development to the areas left by the destruction of homes.  Not long ago, the City set out on a path to do just that with the Renaissance Point project – a project that so far has yielded very little in the way of the goals that were set.

The reality is that a razed home is a lost home and leaves in its place nothing more than a vacant, weed-prone lot that will more than likely never be used as a home site again.

The Fort Wayne and Allen County areas have historically been overbuilt with homes.  With a county plan commission that has rarely met a subdivision it didn’t like,  the march toward a subdivision littered county is all but assured.  With subdivision construction comes flight from the inner core of the city – or vice versa.  But either way, the urban core is being decimated by a policy of subdivision construction coupled with a policy of demolishing older homes found in the urban core.

A grant application prepared by the city claims that over the past 30 years, 50,000 families have left the urban core.  As part of a larger federal grant application, the city is seeking $4.8 million to raze 400 homes throughout the city, again with a focus on the southeast. That is 400 empty lots, and, even if the city uses its program of selling the empty lots to the neighboring homeowners, an empty lot does not have the value of one with improvements.

As the city pursues its war on the urban core, a soon-to-be released study by IPFW opposes the strategy of razing older homes, and, instead suggests that the better policy is to secure the homes for future restoration – sometimes called mothballing.   Mothballing can be a solution to the rising vacancy rates of the city’s older neighborhoods if the city is truly interested in salvaging what is left of the core of Fort Wayne rather than waging war by demolition.

East Central neighborhood - empty lots where houses once stood

CALHOUN STREET – TWO-WAY TO BECOME THROUGH WAY TO E. STATE?

The proposed Calhoun Street reconstruction into a two-way avenue provides no solution to the downtown’s traffic problems.  The two-block stretch which is to be converted to two-way traffic in a $1,000,000 + project, will restructure the street for two whole blocks.  Not much of an area in comparison to the rest of the downtown.

I tend to be one of those “what’s really going on under the surface” people who always thinks there is an underlying rationale of some type.  My opinion on turning Calhoun two-way?  I believe it will eventually be extended over Headwaters Park to join with its other half on the north side of the river.

If that connection is made, then Calhoun could be extended out to the “new, improved”  – depending on your view of improvement – E. State Boulevard sans the curvature.   An additional thought is that if the casino somehow becomes a reality, then the extension of Calhoun would bring more traffic to that area by directing patrons to the property in a more direct route.  I suspect – like it or not – the Mayor and the private investors are marching toward the construction of a casino as part of the North River project.

Hey – just my “what’s really behind the two-way conversion” theory.  Hope you all enjoy it!

Path showing possibility of extending Calhoun Street

Path showing possibility of extending Calhoun Street

MY FIRST HELICOPTER RIDE – AND DEFINITELY NOT MY LAST

For the last several years I kept thinking I would take the helicopter ride that comes with the Three Rivers Festival, but I never got around to it.  Boy, what was I thinking!  Today, I finally made the time to do it, and I have to say, I will be back again next year.

I parked on Fourth Street in a spot along the earthen levee, so it didn’t cost me anything but a short walk across the Clinton Street Bridge to Headwaters Park where the helicopter was waiting.  Not a huge bird, but still imposing.

My favorite river - the St. Marys from the Clinton Street Bridge on my way to take my ride

My favorite river - the St. Marys from the Clinton Street Bridge on my way to take my ride

The helicopter waiting to take on passengers - I believe it is a Robinson

I paid my $20 and waited a few minutes until the helicopter returned with its current riders.  The cockpit held three people – the pilot and two passengers.  I was by myself, so the young attendant asked for a volunteer to go with me since they liked to take two people at a time.  A kind gentleman stepped up and said he would go even though he was with a family group waiting for rides.

View of Fort Wayne just after takeoff

View of Fort Wayne just after takeoff - St. Joseph Hospital is in the lower left-hand corner

I sat on the outside, and, as I climbed into the cab, I noticed there were no doors.  The attendant strapped us in, and we took off.  I am not sure how I thought I would feel, but what an amazing sight to rise off the ground and swoop into the air.  I was a tad bit apprehensive about the fact that there was no door.  To make matters a little more complicated, I had to take out my camera and take pictures while sitting at the edge of the door.  It was a little tricky, and I worried a little about my pictures turning out clear enough since it was not exactly the most steady location.

As we swung around in a large circle, I peered down at the buildings, the sun was shining, and fluffy clouds hung in the sky.  What a wonderful day and what a magnificent way to spend a short portion of it!

View of Parkview Field from the air - what a sight!

View of Parkview Field from the air - what a sight! And that is the door frame right next to me

The ride doesn’t last very – perhaps 5 minutes or so, but it was well worth the $20.  If money were no object for me, I would have lined up a couple of more times.

Swinging around to approach Headwaters Park for landing

Swinging around to approach Headwaters Park for landing

What a great experience!  Now on to that 30-minute flying lesson at Smith Field!  I guess I am a little late starting my “bucket list”, but now I can’t wait to get to my next challenge!

THE INTERSTATES – LOSING OUT ON AMERICANA

The interstate system – championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the automobile manufacturers – was created by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.   The system today consists of 46,876 miles of multi-lane highways criscrossing our country.  Fort Wayne has Interstate 69 bypassing it on the west and the north edges, and the fairly new 469 Bypass on the south and the east sides.

I have traveled throughout a good part of this country by vehicle – 40 of 50 states – most of it by interstate highways.  I like to travel by myself because it gives me time to think.  It gives me time to look and gawk as I travel – no obligatory conversation or small talk.  And, it gives me time to sing to my CDs.

In my travels I have gone through almost every major city in the United States, either skirting around on a bypass or heading through the heart of the city.  A couple of weeks ago, I drove to Sebring, Florida, to the home of my oldest son and daughter-in-law.  Besides the fact that I am getting too old for 2300-mile round-trip journeys, I find myself getting more annoyed at the Interstate system.

I remember reading quite some time ago during the debate over Harrison Square that at one time a public referendum was held as to whether or not an interstate should go through Fort Wayne – similar to the likes of Dayton, Ohio (or many other cities for that matter).

I have to tell you, after this latest trip, I am extrememly glad that an interstate did not make its way through Fort Wayne.  I took the route through Ohio beginning with U.S. 33 and picking up Interstate 75 at Sydney, Ohio.  Then south to Cincy and across the mighty Ohio river and on to Lexington and Knoxville, through the gentle hills with the roads cut through the stratified hillsides.

I stopped in Marietta, Georgia, for my free Choice Rewards night (nice – a free hotel room).

The next morning I girded myself for my battle with Atlanta.  See, I have this absolute anxiety issue with Atlanta.  I have been through it and around it numerous times in my travels, and I guess it must have been a bad experience way back when – which I can’t even remember now – that has made my life a living nightmare when I approach Atlanta.

I don’t have a GPS and won’t get one (see my post on how technology is dumbing us down).  I use a good old-fashioned map and internet maps – hmm, okay – I guess I do cheat some.  I decided to cut right through Atlanta and take my chances.  I am not sure whether Atlanta has straightened up or I have mellowed, but I actually slid threw very easily – 6 to 8 lanes of traffic and all.

I had it made from that point on – with one small exception.  Once I got to a certain point in Florida, I took Highway 27 out of Ocala and made my way to Sebring.  Highway 27 is a four-lane highway and is becoming built up to the point of maximization and to the point where traffic creeps slowly along.  As I drove, I had to wonder how much more the State of Florida could handle in population and construction growth.

I had a wonderful visit in Sebring and watched an amazing sunset over Lake Jackson, which I captured on my cell phone to bring home with me – a little bit of Florida at my fingertips.  I also went to Lake Istokpoga, which is the fifth largest lake in Florida.   While my love is rivers, any time I am around water, I am happy as a clam.  I decided to bypass Atlanta on my way home with the notion that I would take Interstate 65 into southern Indiana and visit the restored West Baden Springs Hotel.

Lake Istokpoga

Lake Istokpoga

I also had planned on my trip homeward to try to see some manatees in the Tampa – St. Pete area.  Unfortunately, they had moved out to the gulf coastal areas since the waters had become warmer.  I had been privileged to see manatees years earlier when I lived in Florida for a short period of time.  If you ever are able to see them, I hope you will understand my awe and wonder.  I will just have to wait until it gets colder and then try to see them in the power plant inlets where the warm water is discharged and they huddle during the winter months.

HPIM2169

Tampa Bay

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As I headed toward Tallahassee and into southern Georgia, I ran into some major early evening storms.  Traveling alone has its pluses, but it also is scary to confront volatile weather conditions.  I contemplated pulling off the highway as the rain pummeled my windshield, and I was held to a creep of  about 15 miles per hour.  Semis were still passing me, which made me even more nervous.

I kept anxiously watching the sky to my west for a clearing – I know the south is known for its quick storms and tempestuous weather conditions, especially in the summer months.  The sky finally cleared, and I headed northwest toward Alabama.  I wasn’t sure how far I would get, but I was determined to at least make it into Alabama.

As dusk started falling, I debated on whether to drive as far as I could until dark or to stop while it was light.  As I said, I am getting older and traveling wears me out, so the stopping earlier won out.  I pulled in at a Quality Inn in Ozark, Alabama, and checked in.  The heat was unbearable as I unloaded my things from my truck, but the room was air-conditioned, and I soon cooled off.

The next morning I took off heading northwest toward Montgomery and Birmingham.  As I drove northward, I wondered where and how to find the Birmingham jail that housed Martin Luther King, Jr. and gave rise to his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.   I have books in my library about slavery and the struggle for civil rights – one book is titled “Selma, Lord, Selma”, and I saw the signs to Selma on my way northward.   Even driving the interstate which was in its infancy during the struggle for civil rights gave me chills.

I thought about how those who believed in equality were killed for that very notion – how they struggled against the centuries of injustice of deciding the worth of a person based on skin color.  The highways must have been a sight to see – thousands of marchers, shoulder to shoulder, standing and marching for the true meaning of  the phrase put forth in our Declaration of Independence that  “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”

As I traveled into Tennessee and then Kentucky, I knew I was running behind and would not get to West Baden Springs to see the historical hotel which had the country’s largest free-spanning dome until 1963.

West Baden Springs Hotel - photo credit West Baden Springs

West Baden Springs Hotel - photo credit West Baden Springs

The interstates do not allow the luxury of finding these historic treasures – they are meant to shoot the traveler quickly by on the road to the next stop.  I take them, and in doing so, I miss the backroads and the history of our country unless  I make a concerted effort to locate a site of historical note.

So, as I approached Allen County and Fort Wayne, I found myself grateful that the interstate did not come through Fort Wayne.  Interstates do not bring people to a city; they take people past a city.  Interstates are meant to provide ease of travel and a fleeting glimpse of the cities they traverse and bypass.

No thank you.  I will take the quiet and the peace of downtown Fort Wayne any day to the flurry of the interstates.  It may take us longer to bring back the inner core, but when we do, it will be because we want it, and we will not be bypassed.

MY FIRST FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST

I filed my first Freedom of Information Act request – better known as an “FOIA”  request – asking for information about Thieme Drive and the City’s plans to destroy it.

I received a couple of calls from a city attorney to clarify a couple of items, but other than that, I haven’t heard about the materials I requested.  Of course, those who read my blog know how much I love this small, little corner of the world and how much I loathe the City’s attempts to tear down the river environment and erect an ugly, concrete wall.

As far as I am concerned, the City is responsible for the increased flooding in my area.  After the completion of an extensive wall that was erected to protect the Nebraska neighborhood from flooding, this area began to flood more frequently.  How do I know?  Well, I have lived here now for 14 years, and, since the 2001 completion of the Nebraska Wall, this small “cup” area has flooded five times in six years:  July 2003, June 2004, January 2005, February 2008, and March 2009.

Of course, the City personnel simply tell me I am not an engineer so I really have no understanding of river dynamics.  But I do have common sense, and common sense tells me that if you wall off water from spreading out in one area where it has typically gone, it will seek an open and lower level to spread out. Unfortunately, that is now my area.

The City keeps slapping up short-sighted flood measures such as berms, levees, and walls, and, with each one , it marches toward the destruction of Thieme Drive – an historical drive named after Fort Wayne entrepreneur Theodore Thieme, and which is probably the last river drive left in Fort Wayne.

So, I will see what I get from my first FOIA.  And, believe me, I will certainly let you know via my blog.