Preserving history: The stories behind Fort Wayne’s endangered landmarks

Top Stories

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Part of Fort Wayne’s heritage is rooted in its buildings, lasting for generations throughout the city. While some places have stood the test of time in the city’s development, other properties have become endangered due to a lack of resources, neglect, or developmental pressure.

These endangered properties are a focal point for Architecture and Cultural Heritage – Fort Wayne (ARCH). In past years, the advocacy group has published an annual list of endangered properties throughout Fort Wayne.

While not all their efforts have been successful, their work has helped maintain and restore historic properties throughout Fort Wayne.

“When you save a historic building and find a new life for it, you’re not just saving the bricks and mortar, or the boards and nails and everything,” Connie Haas Zuber, executive director of ARCH, said. “You’re saving a place where people have lived and worked and made a difference in the world, and that means there’s stories those. It’s those stories that are important.”

Still, the work continues for ARCH as they shift from a reactive to proactive approach in identifying properties considered endangered.

From a former neighborhood theatre to Riverfront venues that face an uncertain future, here is a look at some endangered properties throughout Fort Wayne.

Canal House

Also referred to as the John Brown stone warehouse, the Canal House on Superior Street was built in 1852. It was even the original home to Arts United until they moved out in 1987. According to Zuber, the structure is built in a way where it cannot be physically moved.

For several years, the property has sat without an owner. However, Zuber says this building is far from forgotten when it comes to ongoing riverfront development. Zuber anticipates the Canal House to be a centerpiece of construction along Superior Street once the green light is given.

“It is very loved. I do not have any concerns about its future; it’s just a matter of getting it right,” Zuber said.

Fort Wayne Bible College

The campus of the former Fort Wayne Bible College still stands today along West Rudisill Boulevard, with many academic halls now over a century old. Schulz Hall, the college’s previous administration building, was the first to be built in 1904.

Years later, the campus has exchanged ownership, including for some time by Taylor University. Part of the campus was then bought by Ambassador, which converted the campus south of West Rudisill into what is now “The Summit.”

Meanwhile, the north campus sits vacant. There was a proposal to re-zone the campus in 2015, but neighborhood opposition led to Fort Wayne City Council striking down that idea.

The Old Fort

For almost 50 years, the Old Fort has served as a glimpse into the city’s beginnings on the three rivers. Just six inches off from the original building, the Old Fort is a faithful copy of the post that originally stood during the 19th century.

“We’re an open-air museum,” Tom Grant, Old Fort Volunteer, said. “One of the things you can do here is feel, touch and smell history.”

Built during the American bicentennial in 1976, the Old Fort has closed a few times during its existence amid changes in ownership. The current ownership group, Historic Fort Wayne, has managed to keep the Old Fort open since 2004.

Grant says the biggest challenges with maintaining the park center around the wooden structures. Grant estimates many of the timbers are around 50 years old and have deteriorated over time.

The Old Fort does not receive any funding from the city and relies on donations to maintain the property. Without donations or other help from the community, Grant said Historic Fort Wayne won’t be able to afford needed maintenance costs that keep the Old Fort structurally sound.

“It’s one of the few wooden forts standing anywhere in the Midwest; we need to keep that,” Grand said.

Rialto Theatre

Opening in 1924, this neighborhood theatre was a mainstay on South Calhoun Street for decades. The theatre also housed retail space such as a tobacco shop and men’s clothing store.

After closing in 1989, a non-profit known as The Reclamation Project purchased the property in 2003. The group spent years to restore the theater. While many features were removed, several architectural features remain inside, including the marquee and an elliptical domed ceiling on the interior.

The theatre is once again under new ownership after ‘The Reclamation Project’ folded some time ago. However, the current owner is interested in finding a new use for the theatre. Zuber adds there has been interest in using the theatre for community events.

“Sooner or later, that building which is owned and cared about, even though it’s not currently in use, it’ll click, and it’ll work,” Zuber said.

3325 Wells St.

According to Zuber, this house, built as early as 1907, contains several unique architectural features such as foursquare form, Queen-Anne style influence and being constructed with solid stone.

Currently, this house is owned by the Fort Wayne Parks Department and is used as storage space for the Children’s Zoo. While there is not any significant progress on repurposing this house, Zuber hopes the parks department will re-evaluate its use for Franke Park’s new master plan.

Considering commuters use North Wells Street to make their way to the zoo, this house could be featured for visitors.

“It strikes me as something that – should all of the stars align and some money be found – that could be made to be a home for organizations that support or align with the parks and zoo,” Zuber said.


If there is a historic property you feel like is worth preserving, learn more by visiting ARCH‘s website.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Don't Miss