Building Up Historic Consciousness

At last week’s Springfield Landmarks Commission meeting, a list of about 40 structures around the Springfield area was presented to the group for consideration for inclusion on the local historic register. Several of these buildings included iconic Wittenberg structures, such as Recitation Hall, Weaver Chapel and Zimmerman Library.

This is not the first time that Wittenberg buildings have been brought before the Landmarks Commission. Myers Hall is already listed on the Springfield Register of Historic Properties, as well as on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Currently, there are nine buildings listed on the local register, including the Pennsylvania House and the East High Street District.

If any of these Wittenberg buildings come to be listed as local landmarks, the process will take a considerable amount of time. According to Shannon Meadows, director of Springfield community development, an individual first proposes these locations to be considered to the Landmarks Commission. After this, the commission would seek approval from the building owner and would then have the ability to vote on the decision.

“A property becoming listed on the local registry basically is a recognition that the property is important enough that a group of people have to decide how to change it and not just an individual owner,” Meadows said.

According to Robin Inboden, professor of English and member of the Springfield Preservation Alliance, the main benefit that this designation would have for Wittenberg is the recognition. While some national levels of designation and other states provide tax breaks or funding to buildings listed on historic registers, the local Springfield register and the state of Ohio do not have any official financial benefits for this recognition. The university would also be required, like any owner of a historic building, to gain approval before being allowed to make any significant alterations to the building.

“I do not think we should destroy structures that have been important to the community without giving some thought to doing so,” Warren Copeland, professor of religion and mayor of Springfield, said. “If we do, we lose a physical reminder of the past and lose some of the character of the community.”

However, Inboden purports that the greatest benefit this designation can give to Wittenberg is the bonding effect of the history. Springfield is home to several historic and preservation societies and events, including summer walking tours of historic districts, South Fountain Preservation and the Westcott House.

“This would be about . . . the impression it would make on people at Wittenberg and in Springfield to strengthen that bond, to strengthen our bonds within the community,” Inboden said.

As of now, there is no defined timeline to determine the status of the buildings on the list. It is also likely that not all of the Wittenberg buildings will be placed on the historic register at once. However, Inboden insists that with or without these designations, Wittenberg is an attractive place for both student and community members.

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