THROW BACK THURSDAY - If these walls could talk - Plaza and Forest Place apartments in Culver

Jeff Kenney
Staff Writer

Our latest "If these walls could talk" entry arrives as ongoing discussion centers on "affordable housing" in Culver, and our focus here is on two Forest Place apartment complexes aimed at providing just that, representing some of the few multi-apartment structures in town (one of the others, and the earliest still standing, by the way, is the Pearl Street complex behind the movie theater building, that complex having come into being after the White Swan floating dance hall was removed from the lake in 1905 and used as the core structure for the apartment building).

As readers may recall, our most recent "virtual" journeys through the history of the buildings of the Culver area has taken us west along Academy Road, and this week we're detouring north onto Forest Place.

The Plaza Apartments, located just southwest of today's Park N Shop, began to take shape in 1978, according to The Culver Citizen, which reported a 20-unit Farmers Home Administration-financed project slated to begin Oct. 1 of 1979. The plan was that of developer Jim Locker of Lakeville along with Tom and Tony Sell of Bourbon and Tom Flatt of Mishawaka. Rezoning for the project had been approved by the Culver plan commission and town board in July of `78, and part of the preparation for it included paving Forest Place north from Academy Road (it was noted that the driveway leading west from what was then Alford's IGA store -- today's Park N Shop -- would also provide access for emergency vehicles.

The 20 apartments would be housed in two buildings on the half-acre site, with a community building alongside for laundry, a meeting room, and the manager's office. In the summer of 1979, the Citizen reported 16 one-bedroom apartments would rent for about $158 per month, and two-bedroom units for $185 per month, with utilities at an additional $28 to $31 per month.

"Persons of all ages can rent the apartments planned for Culver," reported the Citizen. "The purpose of the FmHA program is to provide housing for 'low-to-moderate' income families in rural areas. Tenants who would have to pay more than 20 percent of their income for rent will be eligible for the federal rent subsidy program," with up to eight of the apartments eligible for such subsidies.

It's interesting to note a similar project was proposed for development in Bourbon, Ind., at the same time, but was denied "due to substantial community opposition."

Also interesting is Locker's comment that he and his partners had a total of three acres in Culver rezoned for apartments and that they planned to build more apartments adjacent, a plan which of course never came to fruition. That may relate to the note in the Citizen that the FmHa up to that point had only agreed to finance the already-planned units.

While added Plaza units may not have happened, what did come to fruition some ten years later were the Forest Place Senior Apartments, which opened just west of the Plaza Apartments, in 1990.

With a total of 24 single-story, "senior-friendly" units in three separate structures with additional community room and laundry center, the "Low Income Housing" project aiming to give Culver-area seniors (which is to say, age 62 and over, according to the apartments' website at an affordable, yet clean and safe option (which also allows pets) for residence seems to have succeeded handily.

A similar project in town was added a few years ago in the form of Culver's Garden Court senior living project, on South Main Street (and so on the opposite end of town from our current historical focus), and it will be interesting to see what develops from the efforts of the Town of Culver to secure more "entry level" dwellings in the area, even if nowadays that effort is a response to an unprecedented change in the real estate market absent in the days of those earlier Forest Place endeavors (and if its main goal is to open housing for employees of the three largest employers in the community: Elkay, Culver Comm. Schools, and Culver Academies).

“Culver History Corner” is a semi-reg­ular feature sponsored by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver. whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen.