Submitted by: Mindi Woolman, Director of Marketing & Communications, Indiana Landmarks
In the nineteenth century, substantial houses built in the popular Victorian styles of the day—Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne—lined tree-shaded streets in the capital city’s grandest residential district. By the 1960s, however, fires and demolition had claimed many of the houses, leaving weed-choked vacant lots. The majority of Old Northside structures that remained suffered neglect and abandonment. Crime and vandalism intimidated people interested in renovating the houses, most of which had been broken up into apartments following World Wars I and II.
After buying and restoring the Morris-Butler House in the ‘60s, Indiana Landmarks enlisted the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and the Junior League of Indianapolis as partners in a three-year project that produced a master plan for the area and a historic district nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
The partners also created a revolving fund to rescue vacant houses, starting in 1977 with the Eden-Talbott House on Delaware Street, slated to be demolished for a parking lot. Removing the gray paint revealed an elegant red brick and stone manse, drawing attention on the heavily traveled thoroughfare. Restored and sold two years later to the Federation of Music Clubs for its national headquarters, the 1871 house is now one of five Delaware Street landmarks proudly owned and occupied by Plews Shadley Racher and Braun law firm.
Proceeds from the sale of the house allowed the buy-restore-sell cycle to save other structures in the district. Indiana Landmarks bought and stabilized 20 derelict places, then sold them with protective covenants to people who restored them. This approach revived the 1903 Georgian Revival-style home on Delaware Street of novelist/journalist/diplomat Meredith Nicholson, now owned by Indiana Humanities, and the massive 13th Street home of abolitionist Ovid Butler, namesake of Butler University.
Rescuing endangered properties grew less urgent after 1979 when the Old Northside Neighborhood Association formed to improve livability and recruit restorers, including many young DIYers. The same year, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission designated the Old Northside as a local historic district, offering demolition protection and design review. By the first decade of the 2000s, only a handful of unrestored properties remained in the district, including the former Central Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, which Indiana Landmarks rescued in 2010, transforming the building into Indiana Landmarks Center. Historically the building was a hub of social and cultural activity—all of which had been lost. Now rescued and restored, Indiana Landmarks Center is fully reconnected with its surrounding community and beyond. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.
This article has been excerpted from Indiana Landmarks Rescued & Restored, a new coffee table book from Indiana Landmarks featuring dramatic before-and-after photographs that show the remarkable turnaround of endangered places around the state. Find details and order information at bit.ly/ILRescuedRestored.
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