Whispers of Yesteryear: The Magic Stick Style Cottage

  • September 09, 2021 8:04 AM
    Message # 11025216
    Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submitted by: Murphy Hendy, ONS resident and Realtor

    The magic of the past sings poetically through the rooftops and tree canopies of downtown's Old Northside, painting the grounded historic streets with an ominous yet strangely familiar haunt from yesteryear. Grab your butterfly nets and prepare your senses for a delicious array of floral undertones as you venture past the magical Stick-style cottage at 1431 N. Alabama St. Just behind the monumental climbing hydrangea (40 years united to the covered front porch), stands a bewitching portal into another realm - a threshold taking us all the way back to the 1880's. Recognized by its exterior saw-tooth trim, an iconic hip roof, and the effective balloon-framing techniques of the time (exposed architectural 'sticks' that would later come to define the popular 'Stick'-style of the 1870's and 80's), this treasured original ONS home still stands today. Mr. Francis Tiffany Holliday built the storybook Eastlake abode in 1882 for himself, where he would remain until his death in 1922. Francis was the younger brother of known civic-leader & philanthropist, John Hampden Holliday, of Holliday Park fame. The then-80-acres of farm & forest were purchased by John in 1892 and later donated to the City of Indianapolis in 1916, under the expectation that it would remain a place singularly suited for family recreation and the study of nature alongside the meandering White River (the same exact land he and Francis would traverse with playful admiration and curiosity throughout the earlier years of their childhood). To mark this generous gifting-of-land, a giant festival would commence as a part of the Centennial Celebration of Indiana Statehood, where older brother John was quoted in orating, “I believe that a responsibility of his community rests upon every citizen. If he has prospered through the growth and business activity of the place, he ought to do something to make it better than he found it”. This very sentiment would later come to provide the steady heartbeat that has breathed life back into 1431 N. Alabama St, which had since become separated into 3 individual apartments prior to its critical purchase in 1977 by today's owners and stewards, Paul and Karen Smith. Paul, a self-proclaimed urban pioneer who dedicated decades of service to Indiana Landmarks, HUNI (Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis) and the ONS - where he would serve as President of the association over 4 different occasions - shares in this incredible Victorian tale with his unbelievably talented artist and visionary wife, Karen (who began her lengthy artistic career as a professional medical text book biology artist, drawing the published images many of the gifted students of the time would learn from while developing their early medical careers). Together, they described the initial realities in the home as less-than-favorable. Karen reminisces, "When we purchased, it was separated into 3 apartments operating on only a 60 amp service (for the entire structure), each filthy dirty, falling apart with cracking plaster walls, stripped of original lighting, missing pocket doors & several fireplace mantels, with a severe pest and pigeon problem. Our kitchen consisted of a yellow plastic etagere with a camp stove, a first model Cuisinart, and the bathroom bathtub as our sink". When asked what drew them to this intense project, Paul snickered with a certain illumination behind his eyes, "A huge catalyst for us was living down the street from two of the founding members of the neighborhood, Bob and Sue Beauchamp; good friends". Paul continued, "Karen wanted to live in a house that reflected the same exuberant style as a Victorian bed frame gifted to us by Karen's parents, following our wedding. It was purchased from Bob & Sue's nearby heritage novelty store, The Den of Antiquity". He concludes, "...after learning of Karen's unearthed & kinetic desire to live in such a home, Bob mentioned there was a small house down the street that was available on contract: 1431 N. Alabama St". Karen quickly confirmed through a proud and vibrant smile, "Yes, everyone thought we were crazy...and the rest is history."  Karen lovingly describes Paul as providing the 'practical side' of this gutsy restoration; making many of the challenging decisions involving converting it from the multi-family dwelling they purchased in '77 into the seamless single-family home we see today (all while becoming more central to the early pulse of this evolving neighborhood). Karen admits to taking the lead with the 'romance & art' of it all. She thoughtfully explains, "I knew my life's work was to bring era-appropriate interior design back into this Eastlake cottage by relying heavily on Anglo-Japanese influence & the trademark concepts that defined The Aesthetic Movement I was so deeply & artistically moved by". Karen gaily proclaimed, "I dedicated my entire adult life to researching and installing the complex period wallpaper designs (much of which are no longer in production), while also sourcing authentic lighting and period furnishings". She recaps, "It seemed as if this would take an eternity, but we never thought of it that way - we are still working on it!". Paul and Karen have manifested a real partnership together since embarking on this story many decades ago; not only as life-partners, but as members of a core group of passionate people who have chosen to plant their residential roots firmly into the ground of this community at a time it needed it the most. The Smiths have paved the way for many ONS families to follow - we owe a great deal of gratitude to them; although, they would never expect it from us, as they are among the most humble and approachable people we might ever have the pleasure of knowing. So while you're catching butterflies amidst the flora that envelops the entire front yard of 1431 N. Alabama St, take another look at that climbing hydrangea Karen so lovingly planted over 40 years ago--it clings to the home as if to blanket its corners in a special custodial warmth, where it would dedicate its life to honoring, embellishing and protecting the home for decades to come; just as intentionally as Paul and Karen have done. Art, love and nature unite. The sentiment shared so excitedly by Francis Holliday's brother over a century ago, "...he ought to do something to make it better than he found it...," resides blissfully and eternally within the historically accurate walls of this enchanted & re-imagined ONS cottage.

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