Richard Kershenbaum has wanted East Lawrence to be recognized as a historic neighborhood for the entire 18 years he has lived there. It's about time, he says, homes in the traditionally working class area of town were thrust into the limelight.
"I guess I take pride in the fact that it's survived as such a diverse neighborhood so long," he said.
Kershenbaum, a board member of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, is one of about 20 people who within the next month are to nominate about 30 East Lawrence homes for the Lawrence Register of Historic Places.
Houses are placed on the register based on architectural merit or ties to significant events or people.
East Lawrence is bounded by Massachusetts Street on the west, the Santa Fe Railroad tracks on the east, 15th Street on the south and the Kansas River on the north.
KERSHENBAUM SAID it was an unusual neighborhood because both rich and poor people lived there. Large homes can be found next to small ones, he said, and many are of different ages and architectural styles.
East Lawrence also is interesting because of its enduring cultural diversity, Kershenbaum said, and because the racial and ethnic mix has remained stable since the Civil War in the 1860s, which is rare.
Kershenbaum describes these qualities as assets, but he says class and race prejudice also have kept East Lawrence residents and their homes in the shadows.
"I think that traditionally, preservation has been an upper-class domain," he said. "It's been easy to get recognition for Victorian mansions, but it's been a lot harder to get recognition for homes ordinary people lived in and used."
KERSHENBAUM WILL nominate four houses that he owns in East Lawrence, at 1112 N.J., 738 R.I., 714 N.Y. and 1104 N.Y. He lives in another home in the neighborhood, at 704 N.Y., which is not eligible for the registry because of extensive modifications.
Dennis Domer, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, also said East Lawrence is one of the most densely historical parts of the city but has been ignored by the "power elite" because people lower on the socioeconomic scale have traditionally lived there.
Now, he said, East Lawrence is in danger of being bulldozed because of proposals to build a parkway and to expand downtown. If those proposals are approved, even being registered as historic won't save the homes.
"I don't care if Langston Hughes wrote his first poem there, that baby's gone," he said.
Some home owners, like Aileen Else of 702 R.I., are motivated by the limited protection being listed on the register offers. A public hearing must be held before a structure on the register or one within 250 feet of a structure on the register can be changed.
ELSE, WHO WILL nominate her home of 36 years, worries about living close to the river, across from several empty lots. She fears that someday the Riverfront Plaza may want to install parking spaces where her house sits.
"I just don't want it tore down, and I thought it just might help if it was historic," Else said.
Barry Newton, associate professor of architecture and urban design at Kansas University, directed a group of four KU students who gathered historical information about the homes and analyzed their architecture during the summer.
Other volunteers also have helped with the project, and a few of those involved were paid. Kershenbaum said that collectively, the homeowners received $500 from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, $1,500 from Lawrence attorney and preservationist Arthur Anderson and $200 from an East Lawrence homeowner to help finance the project.
NEWTON SAID there is no guarantee that a house listed on the register will be protected, or even that all the houses nominated will be placed on the register.
"What this will do is recognized the houses for their intrinsic value," he said.
Ted Schmitz, an architecture student who worked on the project, said he had never gone to East Lawrence during the four years he'd been at KU until his involvement in the historic effort.
Now, he said, he thinks the neighborhood has been ``forgotten'' by the community at large.
"People tend to focus on West Lawrence, where the rich people live," Schmitz said, "and it's also important to know where the working classes lived as well."