Fred Holley, preserving the character of the city to ensure people take ‘a second look at Dayton’

Holley is treasurer of the Gem City Market and chair of the City of Dayton Landmarks Commission

You name it, and Fred Holley has been a part of it.

Holley, who grew up in West Dayton and graduated from Dunbar High School in 1966, joined the Dayton chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organization founded in 1942, when he was just 13.

Almost daily after school, he demonstrated outside the Rike-Kumler department store with Dayton civil rights leaders, W. S. McIntosh, Jessie Gooding and others over alleged hiring discrimination.

A trip to the 1963 March on Washington at 15 left him with “a renewed vigor and motivation to make changes in Dayton for racial equality. We worked even harder to break the racism that drove so many local businesses.”

Holley started a stock job at NCR for $98 a week when he was 18. Forty-one years later, he retired from the company as Director of Global IT Procurement negotiating global contracts for products and services totaling $300 to $400 million a year.

Holley was among the very first single men in the United States to adopt a child when, on his 21st birthday, he brought his son, Frederick Leon, home to live in 1970. “My son, daughter-in-law, grand and great-grandchildren are my legacy and my life — even when we are at odds over some insignificant issue.”

Today Holley lives his life in the thick of things, volunteering with numerous organizations, advocating for historic preservation and chairing the City of Dayton Landmarks Commission. He is also on the board of the Gem City Market and plans to celebrate the ground breaking of the new community market later today.

>> Gem City Market to kick off construction with groundbreaking celebration

Holley has a historic and unique perspective on our community and describes it best in his own words.

How have you seen Dayton change? What would you want people to know about the city’s past in relation to the present? 

I have seen a lot of changes over the years. Dayton was a Midwestern hub of manufacturing with 200,000 plus residents that was forced into a downturn where budgets and services were cut during those hard years. We are Dayton Strong, and we are in a period of recovery unprecedented for a city of our current size. We are seeing new construction, especially in the center city. We are seeing concepts for the North Main Street corridor and the Salem Avenue Peace Corridor. There are projects on the table through a partnership between Premier Health and UD. The city has heard our voices as it relates to including our neighborhoods in some of the reinvestment efforts.

I am a proponent of change that benefits all of us who shared and suffered through the hard times, and I want to see each neighborhood elevated in appearance and the needed services that draw people back for a second look at Dayton.

I want those who are concerned about gentrification to understand that certain services and facilities are a requirement for healthy communities. I remember when we all had local grocery stores, when West Third Street and the Salem Avenue Peace Corridor and North Main Street were all lined with retail, clothing, furniture, theaters, eateries, housing and night life. These were vibrant communities. They were not what we now mistakenly call “gentrified”. Those were expected local amenities. Bringing some of that back is an asset for the neighborhoods, not something to fear. If we do nothing for fear of gentrification, these neighborhoods will continue to decline and be left behind. That doesn’t bode well for anyone. Home ownership has always been a principle source of personal/family wealth. Increasing home values is not something we should fear. It becomes a vital part of our portfolio. Planning for diverse neighborhoods, both ethnically and economically across the entire city should be our goal. Proper planning so that each section of Dayton participates in the sharing of wealth and the sharing of more affordable housing is the only way we can begin to balance the scales. Doing otherwise will only perpetuate the inequities.

You are involved in many community volunteer groups, please list them and tell me what each does and what you enjoy about serving on them. 

I am affiliated with the following organizations:

• President of the Dayton View Historic Association (DVHA).

Our role is to enhance the livability of our Historic District and Dayton. We strive to participate in city planning that impacts our District to ensure our neighbors have a voice in community decisions and ensure we focus on the importance and significance of our historic fabric.

• Vice President of the Salem Avenue Peace Corridor LLC. (SAPC)

Our goals include: Creating and promoting a safe, prosperous community, along Salem Avenue, incorporating all 11 adjoining neighborhoods, their Community leaders, our businesses and institutions.

Reclaim and revitalize the Salem Corridor in support of Community and Business desires and leverage the City’s “Welcome Dayton” friendly immigration program and other similar programs to reinforce the rich history of diversity that resides along the Corridor.

Deliver on our promise to create an environment conducive to Safety, Prosperity and an improved Quality of Life

- Chairperson for the City of Dayton Landmarks Commission

The role of the Landmarks commission is to protect the integrity of our Historic properties and Districts. Ensure we identify properties that may qualify for state or local historic designation. Provide oversight where major and/or minor exterior modifications may be requested, meet the reporting and compliance requirements of the State Historic Preservation Office and provide owner education when and where required.

- Trustee on the Preservation Dayton Inc. Board (PDI)

PDI’s purpose is to promote historic preservation, promote appropriate restoration practices and educate the public on both the importance of our historic assets and the value and culture these structures bring to our city. We are here as a “Safety net” for the stabilization of properties that have a significant or important history but may be neglected.

- Treasurer on the Gem City Market Board (GCM)

- Our purpose is to provide oversight and planning for the construction and operation of a full service, multi-stakeholder, cooperative grocery store. Guide and engage in the business of selling fresh, high quality food and other products in a cooperative manner that is responsive to community needs; Develop an attractive and sustainable business model for worker and community ownership in food retailing and local economic development; create jobs that are secure, educational and that support the dignity of all workers of the Cooperative

- I am also on a team member for various Ad Hoc activities and other committees, including Dayton Is Yours (DIY), Planning/visioning team working with the city of Dayton on the redesign of the Salem Avenue Peace Corridor and the potential development of a mixed use “village” style approach to urban living along the Corridor.

Why do you feel it is important to volunteer? 

It allows me to try and do something good for my community, to give back. I do it because I can and because, doing it on a voluntary basis, ensures there is no ulterior financial motive. I have told members of the various organizations that I participate in that I can do what I do as a participant of the organization or on my own. Obviously, doing it at the group level makes for a much more pleasant experience and draws from the skills that each person brings to the table but if that organization strays from our principles or is remiss in the execution of our values, I need to move on to something more meaningful. There is no consideration of financial gain or loss in that personal decision. It’s very liberating for me and very principled for my community.

How did you become interested in historic architecture and neighborhoods? 

I have always been intrigued by antiques and antique homes. It represents a manifestation of those who came before us, their skills, their attention to detail, their ability to create some of the most ornate and beautiful treasures that have withstood the test of time, their ingenuity, at a time where virtually everything was handmade is a testament to their will and shows the pride taken in their work. It is a legacy that we won’t see have with much of the modern construction. Even today we can’t create the pieces of art they created a century or more ago. Saving those important examples of what we can do, when we put our minds and backs to the challenge is a way of showing this generations and those to come what they can aspire to do, given all the technology available to them. The old adage “ if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” is certainly appropriate when speaking about these historic homes.

What should people know about Dayton’s historic neighborhoods? 

We have about 14 Historic Districts in Dayton and numerous standalone landmarks. Anyone interested in architecture and history can find almost any architecture they might desire. Historic neighborhoods, for whatever reason also seems to bring the human and economic diversity not typically found in suburbia. These neighborhoods are typically close to the center city, with convenient access to services and amenities.

They are affordable, especially if a buyer is motivated to learn some of the restoration skills and willing to put some sweat equity into the property. The return can be very rewarding, both from a personal and financial perspective. I would say to any new buyer, know the lifestyle of the district you are considering, know that there are specific guidelines and certificates in place to ensure the exterior integrity and appearance of the structure is maintained. Living in a historic home should be viewed as being a caretaker of our history and should always be respected during a restoration and throughout your tenure. It is a rewarding experience. They remain true neighborhoods where relationships are built and endure.

You have lived in the Dayton View Historic District for 28 years. Why is it special? 

I have a home that is unique and special. I have neighbors who are true friends and neighbors. We are a community with our own challenges, as do most urban neighborhoods but we know we can come together and fix almost any situation. The Dayton View Historic District has one of the lowest crime rates of any urban neighborhood in Dayton. We are truly a community where people care for each other. We have an ethnic and economic diversity unrivaled anywhere else in Dayton. This is my home, in the larger sense of the word.

You serve as chair of the City of Dayton Landmarks Commission. In the past year the Dayton Daily News has covered stories about historic district residents critical of historic regulations. Why are these regulations important?

I think it is important for people to understand that those of us who choose to live in Historic Districts do so because we appreciate the esthetics of that lifestyle. Most criticisms come from the larger community who may not quite understand that ignoring Historic guidelines, given time, will lead to the loss of the historic fabric and ambiance that drew residents to that community. Worse yet, we lose a part of the original architect’s design intent. I think it is important to note that most of the cases the Landmarks Commission hears where a guideline violation occurs, are cases reported to us by other residents in those Districts. There is genuine concern about the loss of some significant, maybe even, to the untrained eye, insignificant characteristic of the structure. When we hear the criticisms, our hope is that we can educate those individuals about preservation and what that means to the larger community.

You serve as treasurer of the Gem City Market, the new co-op that will be built on the Salem Avenue Corridor. What excites you about this project? How will it make a difference for people in the community? 

I’m excited that we will have easy access to healthy food options that we currently have to travel to get to. I’m thrilled that the new market will have community space for neighborhood meetings, teaching facilities, a clinic that should be very meaningful to some of our seniors. It thrills me that the SAPC had the foresight to acquire the site that will be the new home for the market and that we were able to provide enough incentive, by selling the property for less than half its appraised value, to bring this new investment to the Salem Avenue Peace Corridor and that this investment may be the “seed” investment we needed to spark additional development.

What do you enjoy about living in Dayton? 

This is where my roots are. In my career at NCR, I had the opportunity to visit many other cities. I have traveled abroad. At the end of the day, this is home and I’m always glad to get back to it. It is the familiarity, the friends I have here, the place where my son and grandchildren are. It is the place where I can walk safely, enjoy the recreational amenities of Riverscape, the Levitt, have a great dinner, enjoy the architecture and be a part of the changes for our future.

What would your perfect Dayton date be? 

I’m well past the “Dating” phase of my life. I enjoy going to dinner with family, spending holidays together and having my private time to clear my mind, reflect and plan what I need to do next, in my life.

What is your favorite restaurant in Dayton and why? 

Most of my friends will tell you I’m a “picky” eater. Don’t believe them! I’m just a meat and potatoes, pasta (and donuts) kind of guy. I like Jay’s Seafood, several of the local steak houses but my “go to” is always Spaghetti Warehouse. I like the crowds and the atmosphere and yet, I enjoy not always having to be engaged.

If you could have a super power, what would it be? 

I probably need more than one super power (LOL). I would like the power to give our younger generation the wisdom to understand that everything can’t happen all at once, Small bites of success can accomplish so much while abandoned dreams deliver nothing but a loss of hope. Have that dream but make the commitment to see it through, one bite at a time. I’d like the power to like our community leaders understand that behind their words there must be action for change to occur. Concepts and philosophies are only a first step towards a goal. History should only be a learning tool, not a predictor of our future. I’d like the power to make everyone understand that every living being has value. Help them find their purpose. I’d like the power to be able to take the love and compassion that is created during a tragedy and make it our natural selves, always. I’d like the power to make our elected officials understand we vote them into public office to act for the good of all, to have the integrity, principles and values to stand up for what is good and right. I’d like the power to make truth, honesty and integrity rule the world and our nation. If we could do those things, the killings would stop, there would be no homelessness, no hunger and peace would be the order of the day, every day. I guess, if you limit me to only one super power, I’d like the power to make the world a good place for everyone.

What do people get wrong about Dayton? 

I don’t know how to answer that question. Perception is reality for most people and they aren’t willing to dig any deeper than their initial perception to get to the facts.

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