By Noell Wolfgram Evans
For some, the address 179 South Powell Avenue brings back happy memories of favorite teachers and old friends; others might know it as just a Westside landmark.
Ruth Thurgood Mundy is hoping to get the entire country to see it for what she believes it to be – a national treasure.
If you drove out to that location you’d find yourself sitting in front of West High School (WHS). For over 100 years, the WHS Cowboys have been an important part of life on the Westside. Now Thurgood Mundy is leading a group of residents to make sure that West High continues to be a vital piece of the community for the next 100 years.
Thurgood Mundy is spearheading a campaign to get the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a designation that could help shape the future, not just of the school, but the broader community.
“I lived behind the school for several years and fell in love with the building. It’s a great bit of architecture and it’s an anchor of the neighborhood. I also couldn’t stand the talk of it possibly being closed or torn down,” Thurgood Mundy said.
She considered not only her own history with the building, but the history that connected it with so much of the community. In discussing all of this with other residents, an idea started to form.
“The idea presented itself through neighborhood conversations when talk of closing the school came around again,” she said. “I decided I wasn’t afraid of a little paperwork and took on the initial application through the state Historic Preservation Office, and now here we are!”
Part of that initial exploration process led Thurgood Mundy to approach Designing Local, a Columbus-based community planning firm that specializes in historic preservation.
Amanda Golden, the managing principal at Designing Local, said that it was the enthusiasm in the neighborhood that stoked their involvement.
“Ruth contacted us six months ago with the opportunity and we were immediately drawn to her excitement and passion for her neighborhood,” said Golden.
“It’s been a really fun project. The Hilltop is incredibly rich in history and we have so many places like this that are worthy of recognition and preservation efforts,” said Thurgood Mundy, who is an active participant in the revitalization efforts on the Westside. She sits on the Greater Hilltop Area Commission and is a co-founder of the farmer’s market.
If the building received the designation (Golden said that the State Historic Preservation Office has indicated that they believe that it is eligible for the National Register), it would be eligible for considerable (up to 45 percent between state and local) tax credits.
The nomination process is currently in its’ initial phases.
“At this point, we’re looking to raise funds, spread the word about what we’re trying to do, and gather any historic documentation anyone has,” said Thurgood Mundy. “The funds go toward paying the design firm to help us with the national application, which is a rather involved and daunting process.”
Golden said that the proposal alone would take between 400 and 500 hours to research and write. It’s part of what is typically a year-long process that can involve multiple hearings and proposal revisions.
Thurgood Mundy believes it’s time well spent.
“West is an anchor of the community, and what the historic district could mean is finally getting recognition for what a prominent part of the community the school is and has been for such a long time. In addition, the historic district would encompass a neighborhood that is largely rental properties, opening them up to funds available for restoration and repair efforts. It could bring a big bit of improvement to a very neglected part of the Hilltop.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for this project at www.gofundme.com/west-high-school-historic-district. Donations are also being accepted by the Westgate Neighbors Association who are acting as the “fiscal agent” for the endeavour.