State approves historic district nomination for Boulevard District

A postcard from 1916 shows Kenmore Blvd. looking east toward 15th St.

The Kenmore Boulevard commercial area is one step away to being designated a National Historic District.

On March 22, the Ohio State Historic Preservation Advisory Board approved Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance’s nomination of the Kenmore Boulevard Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places.

If approved by the National Park Service, contributing structures will eligible for federal historic tax credits. The parks service’s decision is expected this spring. 

“This designation would be huge for Kenmore,” said Akron City Councilman Mike Freeman. “Not only will it set Kenmore Boulevard apart as a destination and a place to be proud of, it will encourage the kind of investment residents want.”

KNA began pursuing the historic designation in 2018, the same year the city of Akron named it one of 10 Great Streets Districts eligible for competitive façade grants and infrastructure investments from the city. KNA Executive Director Tina Boyes believes this combination of city investments and tax credits will magnify investment in the area.

“While compliance with historic renovation standards won’t be mandated by the national designation, it certainly offers financial incentive for developers to go the historic route: from a city, state and now federal perspective,” Boyes said. “We hope this will maintain and even improve the historic nature of Kenmore Boulevard.”

The Kenmore Boulevard Historic District’s contributing structures are located mostly between 12th St. and Florida Ave. According to historic architect Lauren Burge, principal at Perspectus Historic Architecture, the Chambers, Murphy, & Burge Studio, the properties reflect the architecture of the early 20th century, with entrances built to the sidewalk to accommodate pedestrians and street car users.

“The district retains its sense of scale and feeling,” she explained. “Most of the contributing buildings to the Kenmore Boulevard Historic District were constructed within a 20-year period between 1908 and 1928 and retain their materials and workmanship, imparting the overall feeling of an early 20th century ‘streetcar suburb’ commercial district.”

Kenmore Blvd. looking east toward 15th St. (Photo: Perspectus Architecture)

In 1901, the Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company developed street car lines to connect new suburban developments to factories. The Kenmore Boulevard line was sited down the center of Kenmore Boulevard, creating a connection between rubber factories in Akron and neighboring industry in Barberton.  That same year, the Akron Realty Company began developing Kenmore to be what they termed “the choicest residence section for both the busy cities, as well as for all the factories between them.”

Kenmore’s street car line stopped operating in 1947, but its impact can be seen in the tree-lined center median in its former location and in the growth of the neighborhood, which went from 1,561 residents in 1910 to 12,683 in 1920 to – today – more than 18,000 residents, making Kenmore the second largest of Akron’s 24 neighborhoods.

“Many Kenmore residents go back three, four even five generations,” said Kenmore Historical Society President Matt Zeiner. “They remember when Kenmore Boulevard was a vibrant commercial district, and it can be again. Now, we’re one step closer.”

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