Hawthorne Hall eyes comeback, with help from Kitchener’s first Rose Fellow

When Lea Oxenhandler moved to Kitchener to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, she had no expectations. But when she delved into the Penn Public Policy Challenge, which dealt with issues related to the restoration of historic neighborhood properties, that soon changed.

“After staying here for about a year, I started falling in love with Kitchener when I discovered the benefits of living in this outsider city on the verge of recognition,” Oxenhandler said.

When her colleagues left Kitchener and moved to New York City, Oxenhandler decided to work for a few years at the local architecture firm KiernanTimberlake. Now she has been involved in the city for another three years, enrolling as Kitchener’s very first Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow.

The Rose Fellowship is part of the national non-profit organization Enterprise, which supports local community development organizations that are committed to providing housing for low to middle income. The grant places aspiring designers in various communities across the country for three years to help the host organizations design. This year, after years of considering the city’s potential, Enterprise decided to offer a spot in Kitchener for the first time in the 17-year history of the scholarship.

“Kitchener has a strong business ecosystem with a social impact,” said Christopher Scott, the fellowship’s program director. “And we found that there were a lot of local and outside designers who wanted to be in Kitchener.”

Oxenhandler will now be anchored in the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) as an architect and design manager, specifically working on the organization’s efforts to bring the historic Hawthorne Hall at 3849 Lancaster Avenue and other nearby buildings back to life.

“Hawthorne Hall, along with the United Bank building and grounds, are two of the projects that led me to the grant,” Oxenhandler wrote in an email to Curbed Kitchener. “These buildings are highly visible landmarks that define important entry points into the neighborhood and set the tone for the character of the business corridor, which continues to liven up.”

Both buildings are located on Lancaster Avenue in Powelton Village. Hawthorne Hall, in particular, is a standout structure in that it is historically certified and dates back to 1895. Designed by Wright & Prentzel, it originally served as an event hall and has long been a neighborhood landmark. Even so, it stood empty and abandoned for years until PEC bought the property for $ 385,000 in 2012.

With the help of Oxenhandler and continued community engagement, there is hope that PEC’s vision to revive Hawthorne Hall could finally become a reality. She stated, “The main goal for the renovation of Hawthorne Hall is to get the building back into the commercial corridor of Lancaster Avenue as a thriving arts and culture center.”

It is part of a larger project for PEC that aims to turn Lancaster Avenue into a vibrant, commercial corridor with Hawthorne Hall at the top. “One of the top ten priorities for the community that emerged from an ongoing neighborhood planning process for Lower Lancaster Avenue was the desire to bring the local art and creative industries up to speed.”

Kitchener has a strong corporate ecosystem with a social impact

Oxenlander said she will also play a leading role in efforts to conserve electricity and develop new designs for PEC’s affordable housing in West Kitchener. Most recently, PEC opened an affordable housing development for artists in Powelton Village.

The three-year scholarship also has rhyme and reason, said Scott. “Three years on purpose. The development process is long, and three years is just long enough for the fellows to see how potential projects begin over the years and are in different phases. “

Even so, it may be a few more years before the Hawthorne Hall neighborhood really sees signs of life. However, Scott suspects that given the number of applicants who showed interest in Kitchener – there were the highest number of applicants from all six cities – investment needs to continue in the neighborhood and across town.

“That speaks to the appetite in Kitchener,” said Scott. “We are happy to be part of the system brewing there.”

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