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About Us

Conception

The origins of Preserve Historic La Porte go back to the formation of the non-profit group People Engaging in Preservation (PEP) in 1994. The creation of PEP as a non-profit corporation was initiated by La Porte’s Historic Preservation Review Board (today the Historic Preservation Commission) to enhance the effectiveness of the Review Board. PEP, as a non-profit, would have the ability to apply for grants and loans not available to the Review Board.  

The Historic Preservation Review Board was formed in the late 1980s. Members were appointed by the Mayor and its role was to oversee historical preservation in the city of La Porte.  Duties included the formation of historic districts, public outreach, and coordinating events relating to preservation, e.g. the Historic Home Tour sponsored by the Review Board.  

PEP’s role was to increase public awareness and educate the public as to the importance of preserving and maintaining La Porte’s historic architecture. In addition, PEP would have the ability to take in tax deductible donations that the Review Board was not able to. 

The people on the Review Board in 1994 were Architect Doug Buell, Contractor Rob Norton (painter), La Porte County Historical Society representative Bob Cutler, Businessperson Julie Hilbish (Hilbish Drugs), and Citizen Members Jayne Westphal, Jane Harnett, and Sandee Tonsoni.  

The two groups, the Review Board and the newly formed PEP, were intended to work together to further the cause of historic preservation in La Porte, and so they did, attending each other’s meetings, sharing resources, and combining efforts to save threatened properties. 

Formation of PEP

PEP began holding meetings in 1994 and was awarded 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 1995. Minutes of a September 26, 1994 meeting included introductions, creation of committees, review and discussion of the mission statement and bylaws, and the establishment of a regular meeting date. 

The founding members of PEP were homeowners of historic properties who were dedicated, enthusiastic, and passionate about preserving La Porte’s heritage. The first officers were President Randy Sills, Vice-President Cris Stevens, Secretary Jan Kuepker, and Treasurer Candy Myers. 

PEP’s initial mission statement read as follows: “The mission of People Engaging in Preservation will be to promote awareness of the importance of our area’s historical architecture.  Buildings reflect the time in which they were constructed. They are vital, tangible links to a community’s heritage. They represent the dreams and lives of those who came before us. As a citizens’ group, People Engaging in Preservation will actively pursue the preservation of our historic structures through community service and education and hands-on restoration.” 

Early members and organizers included Randy and Marcia Sills, Cris and Sarah Stevens, Steve and Kristi Chance, Jayne Westphal (also Review Board member), Shaw Friedman, Richard and Dawn Troth, Candy Myers, Dick Eaton, Paul Majewski, Steve Jedrysek, Dr. Staley Slawson, Robert and Julianne Havens, Egils Elguts, Karen Wolf, Martha Taylor, and Lester Gillespie.  

Enthusiasm was evident in the formation of committees over the next several of years.  Committees included the Preservation Consulting Committee, Membership Committee, Political

Action Committee, Endangered Properties Committee, Fundraising Committee, Color Committee, Newsletter Committee, Finance Committee, Historic Districts Committee, Long Range Goal Committee, Outstanding Restoration Award Committee, Scholarship Award Committee, Candlelight Tour Committee, 10 Most Endangered List Committee, Preservation Week Committee. The Color Committee’s function was to put together several color wheels from local paint stores in order to help home and building owners in choosing appropriate historic color schemes. In addition, several newsletters were published over the years including PEP Talk, The Door, and La Porte Preservationist.  

PEP jumped in head first in 1995 in attempts to save two structures adjacent to Boston Middle School. PEP received support from the Historic Review Board and the La Porte County Historical Society in the quest to save the structures; however, they were demolished. Many subsequent campaigns were made to save other historic structures. 

PEP Presidents over the years have included (not in order) Randy Sills, Richard Troth, Dick Eaton, Ron McAtee, Susan Kieffer, Pam Ruminski, Tim Stabosz, Juan Puente, Dotty Rosenbaum, and Mark Kurth.

PEP Accomplishments

PEP’s accomplishments since 1994 have been numerous and have included donations to restoration efforts, promotion of historic designation of properties, sponsoring architectural award programs, purchasing and renovating historic properties, supporting community efforts at restoration, sponsoring the Christmas Candlelight Tour, hosting educational programs and seminars, and publishing a book on La Porte’s historic architecture. Specific accomplishments have included:

1

In 2002, PEP was instrumental in the adoption by the city of an ordinance that placed a 60-day waiting period for demolishing historic homes. The waiting period on demolition permits applied to 988 homes in La Porte that were on a Ball State University list of historically significant dwellings. The waiting period was intended to give the community an opportunity to find alternatives to demolition.

2

Donated money to various projects including:  

  1. Restoration of the Courthouse clock 
  2. Planting of the Christmas tree on the Courthouse lawn 
  3. Co-funding Fort LaPlayPorte playground 
  4. $5,000 toward the La Porte Enterprise Zone’s downtown facade improvement matching grant program  
  5. Co-funding the hiring of the new city position of Urban Forester  
  6. Partnering in the renovation of the 700 block of Lincoln Way 
  7. Co-funding the printing of the La Porte County Pubic Library’s “Walking Tour of the Avenues” brochure  
  8. Restoration of missing window caps at 704 Lincoln Way 
  9. Restoration of Civil War veteran Henry Martin’s monument at Pine Lake Cemetery spearheaded by Robert Kopnicky 
  10. Signs touting “Preserve America City” 
  11. A plaque for the 1847 Pinhook Church, and  
  12. A donation to save the dairy barn at the La Porte County Home as part of the Save the Barn group who spearheaded the project, among others contributions.

3

Offered educational programs, seminars, and a for-credit course to Realtors on Indiana architectural styles. Seminar presenters included PBS’s Bob Yapp who presented a seminar in La Porte on window restoration. 

4

Purchased and partially renovated the Christian Science church structure at 1008 Michigan Avenue, and structures at 516 Lincoln Way and 1403 Indiana Avenue.

5

Purchased and partially renovated the Christian Science church structure at 1008 Michigan Avenue, and structures at 516 Lincoln Way and 1403 Indiana Avenue.

6

Established a scholarship for historic preservation studies.

7

Saved the 600 block of Lincoln Way (bounded by Lincoln Way, State, Monroe, and Clay) from CVS who wanted to acquire the property and raze the block for a pharmacy. 8. Applied for and was awarded a Heritage Support Grant by the Indiana Historical Society 

to write and publish the book, The Historic Architecture of La Porte, Indiana: The First 20 Years of the Candlelight Tour (2018). The book was written, edited, and formatted by PEP members with the assistance of La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz and Architect Kurt West Garner.

8

Applied for and was awarded a Heritage Support Grant by the Indiana Historical Society to write and publish the book, The Historic Architecture of La Porte, Indiana: The First 20 Years of the Candlelight Tour (2018). The book was written, edited, and formatted by PEP members with the assistance of La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz and Architect Kurt West Garner

Candlelight Tour

PEP’s annual Christmas Candlelight Tour of Historic Homes was preceded by the Historic Home Tour sponsored by the Review Board. By 1996, PEP sponsored the first annual Candlelight Tour which became PEP’s largest fundraiser over the years. Each Candlelight Tour typically consists of five or six residences, one church, and one business over two days on the first weekend of December. There were several years that PEP was unable to procure properties for the tour and a couple of years during the height of the COVID pandemic that tours were not offered. Preserve Historic La Porte will be reinstating the Candlelight Tour in 2023. 

The Candlelight Tour offers visitors the opportunity to tour a number of La Porte’s unique historic properties. The properties are decorated for Christmas and feature live musical entertainment. Also featured is a Victorian carriage ride. Each homeowner is presented with a hand-drawn framed sketch of their home’s exterior. And a history of the property is included in the tour brochure. 

The Candlelight Tour has proved to be very popular with the public, with visitors coming from outside the La Porte area, with as many as 1,500 visitors on a single weekend. Many thanks to member Pam Ruminski who has chaired the Candlelight Tour committee for many years; and to member, artist, and Landscape Architect Don Bowman for drawing pen and-ink sketches of the over 100 buildings that have been showcased on the Christmas Candlelight Tours.

Preserve Historic La Porte

Today, Preserve Historic La Porte carries on the tradition of excellence begun by the original founders. With a new name, a new board, and new leadership (President Mark Kurth), Preserve Historic La Porte continues to work with the city and county governments, the residents and businesses of La Porte, and its affiliate Indiana Landmarks to preserve La Porte’s historic structures which contribute to La Porte’s economic development and quality of life. Preserve Historic La Porte continues to be a citizen-based non-profit group of local homeowners.  

Since its inception, Preserve Historic La Porte has been in the fight to save historic properties and educate city and county officials, businesses and residents as to the economic and financial benefits of preservation. Battles have been won (600 block of Lincoln Way), and lost

(Schafer’s Laundry) but the fight will continue to preserve La Porte’s heritage and work for the benefit of the community through education and support of community projects. Preserve Historic La Porte would like to thank all those who have donated their efforts to the successes that PHLP has experienced over the years. Many PHLP members over the years have been homeowners of historic properties and some have moved to La Porte because of its historic architecture. All members have donated their time to various preservation activities and many have graciously loaned their homes for the Christmas Candlelight Tour. We are deeply grateful to all members, past and present for their dedication.  

In addition, PHLP owes a great deal to the assistance given by Indiana Landmarks, particularly Todd Zeiger of the South Bend office.