Lawrence Park Receives Historical Designation
From the Erie Times News, May 21, 2018
A section of the township, originally developed to house GE employees in the early 1900s, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Lawrence Park has achieved historic district status. The town built for GE has been included in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation, according to the National Park Service.
“We are excited and thrilled,” said Anna Mae Van Dyne, president of the Lawrence Park Historical Society, which sought the national historic designation.
The Lawrence Park Historic District is roughly bounded by East Lake Road, Bell Street, Lawrence Parkway and Smithson Avenue, an area that includes the original neighborhoods and commercial blocks of what later became Lawrence Park Township. The nation’s first recognized city planner, Philadelphia native John Nolen, helped design the Lawrence Park development to provide nice neighborhoods for General Electric Co. employees in 1911 after construction of the GE plant began just east of Erie in 1910. In 1917, Nolen added Lawrence Park’s signature row houses to his plans to accommodate growing numbers of wartime employees.
Van Dyne’s husband, Jim, the historical society’s secretary, said it was the involvement of Nolen, who went on to design communities nationwide, that was key to Lawrence Park receiving the historic district status. Jim and Anna Mae Van Dyne said being part of the National Register can boost self-esteem in Lawrence Park. “I think our community needs something to be proud of,” Anna Mae Van Dyne said. The Van Dynes said the designation could bring other benefits as well.
There’s the potential for grants for businesses to do exterior refurbishing of their buildings, Anna Mae Van Dyne said. Historic properties listed in the National Register may be eligible for preservation benefits and incentives, such as tax credits, according to the National Park Service.
“Now that we have this historic district we could possibly bring some tourism in,” Anna Mae Van Dyne said.
The historical society is interested in setting up a guided summer walking tour program eventually, she said. Her husband said studies have shown that historic districts are attractive to young professionals, small businesses and “creative people.”
“It will turn the spotlight on Lawrence Park,” he said.
However, he said some residents are afraid that the historic district designation also will bring restrictions on what people can and can’t do with their homes or businesses. His wife said that at this time, there are no zoning restrictions in regard to the historic district.
“People don’t have to be afraid the historical society or township is going to tell them they can’t paint their trim one color or another,” she said.
The couple also said there’s nothing to say that property taxes will automatically go up in a historic district, although property values could increase over time.
Lawrence Park Historical Society is an all-volunteer organization which was formed in 1976 to collect and archive historical documents and ephemera pertaining to Lawrence Park Township and make them available to the public. Today, it is located in the Lawrence Park Township Building and maintains a collection of local artifacts, house histories, photographs, blueprints, memoirs, school yearbooks, banners and scrapbooks from Lawrence Park. The collections are accessible every Thursday 2:00-4:00 PM and Saturday 12:00-2:00 PM, or by appointment