Submitted by: Tom Mote, ONSF Honorary Board Director
Great Oak Commons in the 1400 block of Park Street was built in 1990 by the Old Northside Foundation and its history also sheds light on the history of the Foundation’s sister organization, the Old Northside.
Thanks to a land donation by pioneering Old Northside residents, Mick and Rita DuBois (she was the neighborhood association’s first president) in memory of their friend Shawn Grove, the children’s park on Alabama Street was built by the association. The Old Northside Foundation was incorporated in 1988 to accept donations of trees for the I-65 embankment and took over care of Shawn Grove and its $50,000 maintenance trust. Foundation board members Tom Mote, Rick Patton, and John Detweiller decided to pursue building two additional parks as called for in the 1979 Old Northside Historic Area Preservation Plan. There was an empty lot in the 1400 block of Park Street, and it turned out to be owned by the neighborhood association that had competed with the Old Northside, College Corners. Down to three members they gave it to us, and we solicited monetary and in-kind donations. American States Insurance, a previous donor for Shawn Grove, contributed $25,000 along with many others (see the names on the park’s bricks) and Great Oak Commons, a Victorian Walking Park was built. A sign on the restroom building proclaims its purpose, “a place for quiet reflection in the midst of a bustling urban environment”. Features include a centerpiece fountain, restroom for special events, a performance gazebo that has hosted summer concert series, and a sensory park area inspired by a park in Bath, England.
Initial care of the park was by volunteers, which is not reliably sustainable so over the past several years the Foundation has been hiring vendors to do this. While the Foundation has grown the park maintenance trust to over $150,000 donations are still required as well as fundraisers such as Plunder in the Park.
It should be mentioned that the Foundation built the third park on our eastern border, the Old Northside Frank and Judy O’Bannon Soccer Fields, on land that had originally been cleared for I-69 to join the spaghetti bowl. Originally proposed as a Little League baseball site Rick Patton suggested a better use was for the growing sport of soccer as inner-city children didn’t have the facilities that were found in the suburbs. It was also envisioned as a trail head for the Monon Trail. Through grants and individual donations three fields were built. Rick and Judy O’Bannon worked with the Army Reserve Corps of Engineers to prepare the site. This was given to IndyParks when board members tired of mowing the almost 16 acres.
So, the Old Northside is proud that it was the first of Indianapolis’ historic neighborhoods to incorporate a foundation to facilitate donations and also first to build not one but three pocket parks.
Copyright © 2020, The Old Northside Neighborhood Association