A swath of the East Lawrence neighborhood along Rhode Island Street has been named to the National Register of Historic Places, making the properties eligible for tax credits and grants to stay in good repair.
"It's been underappreciated for many years," Mayor Mike Rundle said Monday of the neighborhood. "For a long time, no matter what the official neighborhood plan was, the attitude was it was ripe for development -- tear it all down and put something new in there."
With the national listing, East Lawrence Improvement Assn. President Ed Tato said, "I'm hopeful it will make it easier to protect the existing housing stock there. Long term, I think it might make it a more attractive place."
Two separate districts of East Lawrence were named to the register:
- North Rhode Island: 87 properties that include most lots along Rhode Island Street between Seventh and 12th streets, and a few properties in the 1200 block of Rhode Island. Brick streets and sidewalks line the neighborhood, most of which was built between 1854 and 1945; many of the houses maintain their original appearance.
- South Rhode Island: 49 properties covering most of the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Rhode Island Street, as well as the 1300 block of New Hampshire Street, most built between 1873 and 1928.
Three other neighborhood nominations -- including one for downtown Lawrence -- were pending, officials said.
The districts were listed July 14 by the National Park Service, but city officials didn't know until Monday, when the federal government published the listings on a Web site. Lynne Zollner, the city's historic resources administrator, said City Hall hadn't received official notification.
"We usually get that some time after it's been listed," she said.
In addition to tax-credit eligibility, placement on the national register comes with restrictions on development within the "environs" -- 500 feet -- of the listed properties. Any activity that requires a building permit within those districts, even on buildings that aren't themselves historic, is subject to review by the city's seven-member Historic Resources Commission.
Bo Harris, a Lawrence developer with interests in the neighborhood, said he intended to develop his nearby properties in a historic manner.
"I'm generally in favor of the historic listings," he said. "The piece that I'm really not in favor of is the environs issues."
Tresa Hill, a member of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance who advocated for the listings, said the listings would help preserve Lawrence's character.
"Listening to people who say what they like about Lawrence, people often mention downtown and Old West Lawrence, the old homes, how it's different from other cities," she said. "From that perspective, (the East Lawrence listings) help preserve what we all know and love about Lawrence."
Rundle suggested the listings would help the city's efforts to attract tourists interested in Lawrence's "Bleeding Kansas" history.
"It will be an important element of the historic resources that will be part of our burgeoning historic tourism," he said.
But the listings will add little weight to the city's efforts to attract a National Heritage Area designation that would be at the core of those historic tourism efforts, said Judy Billings, senior vice president with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. That designation is still pending before Congress.
"It's just one more feather," Billings said. "We've got enough, at this point, to pass it if the will is there to pass it."
At a more basic level, Tato said, the listings would help the neighborhood survive.
"There are an awful lot of people who have wanted to protect this neighborhood for a long time," Tato said. "Knowing that that's done, there's a psychological boost to it."