German Village Gazette

Village notebook

Commission celebrates 50 years of architectural review

Tuesday May 7, 2013 11:43 AM

The German Village Commission has been at it for 50 years.

That makes it a few years younger than the German Village Society, but a few years older than the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

That's right, the German Village Commission is a few years older than the legislation that gave what it does its teeth.

There are too many individuals to mention directly, too many commissioners that have volunteered for a three-year stint over the last five decades.

But collectively, the group that gives out Caretakers of a Legacy Awards each spring is the neighborhoods' greatest caretaker of all.

It is their adherence to the German Village Guidelines that has kept German Village looking the way it does. Their volunteerism that has kept the system working. Their willingness to make tough decisions that has strengthened the Guidelines.

And they have a lot to show for it.

Fifty years ago, there were properties in German Village actually valued at $0 by banks. Literally worthless.

There were also some very well-maintained homes. But the cohesive neighborhood feeling was missing.

Too many vacant properties, too much despair and concern about more demolition (the northernmost third of the Village was demolished to make way for I-70), too many questions in general.

When talk of an architectural review board came up, there were plenty of questions about that too, but the time was right to take charge and turn this pocket of the South End around.

And here we are today.

The relationship between the German Village Society and German Village Commission has been no small thing.

Having just one might have worked, but the results would surely have been different than what we see today.

Yes, German Village looks like a visually appealing and interesting cohesive neighborhood. But it feels like that too.

Because it is.

Architectural review plus civic pride and determination makes a beautiful combination -- just look out your window.

So how does one appropriately thank the commission when they are a fluid group of volunteers that changes every few years? By breaking it down to basic pieces and parts.

The commissioners

A group of seven men and women who volunteer to meet twice monthly to review replacement windows, front porch preservation, garage construction -- all at someone else's house.

They come to commission meetings from work, with a lot on their plates already, but they take the time to commit to the process, the guidelines, and the spirit of our neighborhood because they know just how important it is, has been, and will continue to be.

They lend their expertise and their time and without a doubt, German Village has been better for it.

The architects

Yes, they make money doing what they do, but they earn that money because their creativity (and sometimes bravery) is unparalleled.

Have they gotten it right every time? Some say yes, some say no, but what counts is that people say anything at all.

German Village has sturdy bones and an almost perfect canvas because of our earliest residents.

German Village is a showplace because of the forward-thinking of today's architects.

Not only have they kept us talking, they've kept the masses talking, and if you need a reminder, listen to the chatter during this year's Haus und Garten Tour.

The homeowners

Without your passion, German Village wouldn't be what it is and the German Village Commission wouldn't be tested month after month.

You keep the commission on its toes (and I bet you thought it was the other way around) which keeps them fresh.

Your willingness to collaborate and think big has strengthened our neighborhood and thereby, our commission.

The commission works because of its characters:

The wide-open creatives and the tried and true conservatives.

Those willing to push and question the Guidelines and those happy with them as is.

The risk-takers.

The ones who get their pencils out, the ones who have Googlemaps ready and the ones doing quick math to determine all the right calculations.

German Village commissioners have been doing this for 50 years and they've made their mark.

They work as a team, they represent the best interests of the German Village Historic Distric, and they have been a steady presence in an ever-evolving neighborhood.

Thank you, commissioners, for being caretakers of our legacy.

Jody Graichen, director of historic preservation programs for the German Village Society submitted the Village noteook column.

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