Submitted by: Monica Bopp, ONSNA 2020-21 Director
Love thy neighbor as thyself. I do. But I’m lucky. Fortunate to know them, even luckier to share North Alabama Street with Paul Smith and Karen Chevalier Smith over 22 years. ONS residents since October 1977, Paul and Karen have lived in our neighborhood nearly as long as they have been wed. And all because of an antique bed. A wedding gift for the Smiths purchased from Beauchamp Antiques, this bed basically catalyzed their Old Northside residency. Paul and Karen needed matching bedside antique tables for their antique bed in their modern Castleton area apartment. At this point, Bob and Sue Beauchamp resided at and had moved their antique business to 14th and Alabama near The Traymore. While searching through antiques, Paul and Karen experienced 1977 ONS through Bob’s and Sue’s eyes. There was NO WAY Paul could resist Karen’s plea to love on a neglected Victorian home across from the Beauchamps. So they bought it! Their intention was to purchase antique furniture for their new, modern apartment in the ‘burbs, but instead purchased a Victorian home FOR their antique furniture downtown. With 95% of its gorgeous original woodwork miraculously intact, 6 coats of stairway paint, no kitchen or light fixtures, 3 oddly-divided apartments full of dirty diapers and roaches, and only 60 amps of electrical power, they now owned this 1882 gem. Karen, the talented artist with a long-term vision; Paul, the can-do problem solver with a strong work ethic, could surely rehab this once pristine Victorian. And rehabilitate it they did. The love and decades-long work they have poured into their beautiful forever home is stunning.
For perspective, people weren’t exactly flocking to downtown Indy in 1977. Or not even for another 20 years or so. At the time, few lenders would readily mortgage or offer insurance to anyone risky enough to live in such a long-forgotten area. Soon, they found like-minded folks in the ONS and got involved in the relatively new (formed in 1974/75) neighborhood association. Paul became President of the ONS Association 5 times throughout the years- he learned all about the politics and all else associated with living in an historic neighborhood. The struggles were real. No grocery store for miles- 65th and Keystone or 10th Street on the westside were the closest ones. O’Malia’s didn’t appear downtown until 1986. The Hooks drugstore at 17th and Illinois had security at the door. Public safety was risky as downtown Indy had become a ghost town of sorts with a boarded-up Block’s and L.S. Ayres and century-old homes in need of repair. Public school options for their son were sparse until Key School opened in about 1990 with a lottery, which he didn’t get into. This reality for urbanites such as the Smiths was also very real- the lack of downtown public schools at that time. Many families moved into the ONS, then moved away from downtown as soon as their children reached school-age. This is one huge positive change Paul and Karen note, the fact that many public school options exist currently in downtown Indy.
The ONS has maintained its eclectic neighbors and its ability to connect people via neighborhood activities throughout its history. Maybe architecture brought some to our historic neighborhood or its close proximity to downtown. Whatever brought folks to the ONS, because of the efforts of “pioneers” who came before us, we reap the benefits they worked to sow. Thank you Paul and Karen. I love you, neighbors.
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