The Journal Gazette
Saturday, July 17, 2021 1:00 am

Neighborhood watch

City's grand old glories true works of art

Timothy S. Goeglein

What gives Fort Wayne its distinct sense of place and definition? What makes it a unique locale?

What about any city could never be part of a franchise of any other time or era?

Monuments and memorials of surpassing beauty certainly cohere that sense of place. So do beautiful buildings of distinction and proportion. A city's cultural institutions play a large role in the composition of a city's personality, tempo and style.

There are other works of art not normally put into a category of high achievement but which seem to live with us as things elegant but easily taken for granted or overlooked like a strand of pearls or a fine-cut stone or a filigreed lamppost on a shady, quiet city street.

In Fort Wayne, there are two neighborhoods, one south and one north, that deserve our celebration and further attention – as if they are great paintings or meaningful poems. They are probably irreplaceable and certainly matchlessly noble, grand and even lush.

The Old Mill Road area on the city's south side, hard by Foster Park, and the Forest Park Boulevard area on the city's north side, edging the Lakeside Rose Garden, are almost effortlessly elegant and beautiful regardless of time of day or season of the year.

In summer, these inviting and lovely neighborhoods offer leafy coolness against the background of their shaded homes. Their canopies of trees, well-clipped lawns and beautiful old stonework seem to offer us a welcome respite and refreshment on otherwise molten days.

In fall, their autumnal and kaleidoscopic colors are inviting and form a tapestry of reds, yellows, oranges and golden hues.

In winter, the flecks of snow and ice seem to glaze their landscapes as powdered sugar atop a Christmas cookie, and the holiday lighting brightens the short, darkened days in rays of hope and glistening.

In spring, the light green of new life springs up here and there, and the appearance of seasonal flowers seems to herald days of longer light and welcomed early morning birdsong.

The parks fill with families; the pavilions host reunions of every kind; the golf course winds around to accommodate the river; the tennis courts are a harbinger of continuity and the best of amateur, friendly competition. And, of course, the acclaimed rose gardens telegraph the glory of the fragility of the most beautiful petals of Mother Nature, season upon season, as if they are the welcomed return of friends and family come to bid us hello. The natural light seems to dance off the top of the water in those sunken ponds.

The Lakeside Rose Gardens and attendant Sunken Gardens were the brilliant brainchild of Adolph Jaenicke, superintendent of the Fort Wayne Parks. The gardens were designed in 1922 as a beautiful complement to Lakeside Park, which had been created more than a decade earlier. 

Many 19th century Fort Wayne residents knew that area as the home of Lake Beulah, and the developer of Forest Park Boulevard, Louis Curdes, knew the potential and importance of how landscape and neighborhoods are of a piece.

Fort Wayne is a city of neighborhoods; each seems to offer its own personality in a matrix that becomes the foundation of our sense of community and continuity across and among the generations – even as the years roll by.

Old Mill Road and Forest Park Boulevard are like well-loved and laureled film stars from the Golden Era: They are defined by their brio, glamour, familiarity, and understated charm and elan. They are part of us.

When I was a child, my mother was driving us down Old Mill Road. A beautiful hunter green and white striped awning was being installed on one of the grand homes. My mother turned to me and said, “That awning belongs there.” I know precisely what she meant. The simplicity of elegance is the thing. Such is the great art of landscape and place.

The writer Henry James acclaimed, “Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

There are no two more noble neighborhoods in all of America than those two Fort Wayne gems; they are subtle works of art; summer brings out their unchanging charm and beauty.

Timothy S. Goeglein, a Fort Wayne native, lives and works in northern Virginia.

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