Bill Heffley's West Central cred runs deep. The 77-year-old has lived in the downtown Fort Wayne neighborhood for 53 years.
But his son's claim goes even deeper. Eric Heffley has lived on the same West Wayne Street block his entire life.
“I like to say West Central is not a place, it's a state of mind,” Bill Heffley said Saturday, adding that he loves the neighborhood's diversity and inclusiveness. “And even if you don't live here, you can have that state of mind.”
The Heffleys own and manage various rentals in the neighborhood filled with historic homes. Eric's property at 814 W. Wayne St. is one stop on the 37th annual West Central Neighborhood Home and Garden Tour. The two-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot home is available for rent on Airbnb.
This year's home and garden tour, which is paired with an arts festival, includes 12 historic homes and more than 45 arts and crafts booths, local food vendors and musical performances. The event continues today, with tickets for sale on-site.
Organizers say about 2,500 people attend the tour when it's sunny but not hot, like this year.
“This is like a Johnny Appleseed fall weather day, when it's a crisp autumn day where you can wear shorts,” said Tyler Bowers, the neighborhood association's vice president and chairman of this year's home and garden tour committee.
Among the things making this year's tour special, he said, are six homes that have never before been open to the public and a route that stretches farther south – and closer to the proposed Electric Works project – than usual.
Along the way, Bowers said, multiple fixer-upper properties are for sale, giving people who have dreamed of moving into West Central an opportunity to fulfill that wish without paying the $300,000 and $400,000 prices that renovated homes farther north along Wayne and Berry streets might command.
“At this point, almost no West Central homes get demolished,” Bowers said of the growing demand. “Even the roughest homes get bought and rehabbed.”
Also new, he said, is the decision to designate every dollar from ticket sales to the organization's Moody Park Improvement Fund. The money will pay for restrooms, lighting, a walking path and other amenities for the nearby park.
Bowers is renovating a home in the neighborhood, doing as much of the work as he can and hiring contractors for the rest.
“We really feel like we're in the midst of a neighborhood renaissance,” he added.
Erna Vanhelfteren attended her seventh or eighth West Central tour Saturday.
“I think it's really neat that they are preserving and restoring and reviving the neighborhood,” she said, adding that some homes are restored to their old glory and others are thoroughly modernized. “And that's cool, too.”
Vanhelfteren, who teaches high school Spanish, understands why others want to move into West Central, but she's not the home improvement type. She'd have to hire someone to do all the work.
“If you're not handy,” she said, “that's a fortune.”
Kathy Eggold attended Saturday's arts festival with Judy Herbest. Vendors were selling necklaces, wind chimes, tea, plants, stained glass, canvas tote bags and artwork. No admission is required to visit the booths. The ladies were still deciding whether to pay for the official tour.
Eggold, 75, grew up in downtown Fort Wayne. It was the place to be at the time, before scores of families moved to the suburbs, she said.
“In the past five years, it's just amazing what is happening – the renovations – and the excitement about being downtown,” she said. “It's really great to see it coming alive again.”
Herbest lived in St. Louis with her husband until five years ago, when they moved to Fort Wayne.
“Our friends convinced us it was a good place to retire in,” Herbest said, referring to the Eggolds. “And they were right.”
If you go
What: The 37th annual West Central Neighborhood Home and Garden Tour and ArtsFest, including tours of 12 historic homes and more than 45 arts and crafts booths, local food vendors and musical performances
Who: Historic West Central Neighborhood Association
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today
Where: West Central neighborhood, just west of downtown Fort Wayne
Admission: $15 for adults and free for children 12 and younger; available at ticket booths along the tour