Author: Dawn Olsen

Sunday Prayers: Horner-Terrill Home

The Horner-Terrill home, located at the southwest corner of Emerson and Brookville, was built in 1875. It was vacant for nearly 20 years before homeowners Amanda and Eric Browning purchased the property in 2011. (photo by Dawn Olsen) I had been thinking about the Horner-Terrill home all day. At work, I had been distracted— I’d allowed my mind to wander across the city, from downtown to the corner of Emerson and Brookville. The home was still on my mind several hours later when I opened my front door, removed my boots and catapulted myself onto the bed without even...

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Sunday Prayers: Being an Urban Pioneer, Being the Change

Future home buyer Aaron visits a North Square property in need of rehabilitation. Aaron, who is interested in purchasing and reviving a vacant home, has turned to Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP) for aid in the home buying process. (photo by Dawn Olsen) I was blind at first. Blind and choked by mold. It coated the walls—as black, as slick as oil—and it left me with heavy, heaving lungs. I couldn’t be inside; couldn’t breathe, couldn’t walk, couldn’t see the potential in the decaying house. So as I crouched on the sidewalk, coughing and spitting, I couldn’t understand why...

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Sunday Prayers: Dear Katherine …

Dear Katherine, I hope this letter finds you. It was difficult to track you down. In fact, it was practically impossible. The directories listed you as “Catherine”—with a ‘C’—so I can only assume that this is you. … This is you, right? The Katherine at the corner of Brookside and Olney? The brick building across from the park? The one that’s all … well … the one that’s all … um, let me just back up. I write articles, you see. Features that talk about historic buildings. Buildings in need of rehabilitation, funding and love. Sometimes the buildings are...

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Sunday Prayers: 131 N. Gladstone

I’m in the heart of Tuxedo Park, trying to remember what “Indianapolis Architecture” told me. My copy of the book, which is split-right-down-the-middle, described the Tuxedo Park area as “a middle-class area, not too near the switchyards and industries, but without the ‘fashionable’ feeling of the north.” But when I look up at this particular dwelling, the book’s descriptions are fleeting. I’m not thinking of the middle class, or of rapid, post-war development. No, I’m thinking of “The Old Gray Mare.” And because I’ve an unfortunate habit of talking to myself, I’m even singing the blasted song. “The old...

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Sunday Prayers: Dearborn Building

“Cheery” is a word I would use to describe a front-yard flower garden, not an abandoned building. But when it comes to the property at the corner of 10th and Dearborn, it’s hard to attach another description. The plywood boards—which stretch across some two dozen windows and doors—are slathered with sky-blue paint and a slew of airplanes. It’s certainly not something I’m used to; I’m usually tiptoeing up and down sidewalks, squinting up at uneven roofs and crooked front doors. This … this is different. This is art where you’d least expect it. Developed by Public Art Indianapolis and...

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The Multi-Family Italianate on Olive

You don’t even notice the house at first. It’s the lush, green thicket that catches your eye. The overgrown bushes, the heavy vines. The path to the alleyway that has been devoured by grass. Once your eyes have woven through the jungle, you see the tire swing. And the shopping cart that blocks the front sidewalk. And the graffiti. On every wall, on every slice of plywood, there are spray-painted signs that “tag” the home. There’s been a graffiti war. There’s also been activity. Despite the weeds and the boards and the darkness, there have been people here. The shopping...

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Sunday Prayers: the Shortridge-Voss house (1301 Broadway)

“A country whose buildings are of wood can never increase in its improvements to any considerable degree.” Thus spoke Thomas Jefferson. The quote, part of a discussion on the durability of architecture, appeared in Jefferson’s book “Notes on the State of Virginia,” which was first completed in 1781. Jefferson added that when buildings are constructed of durable materials, such as brick and stone, “every new edifice is an actual and permanent acquisition to the state, adding to its value as well as to its ornament.” For a few days, I mulled over Jefferson’s statements, and asked myself what I...

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Sunday Prayers: 2015 N. Senate Ave.

 We meet again, plywood. Once more you grace the windows of an aged Victorian. Though you mark a property as uninhabited, you blend into the beige paint. I hardly notice you. No, I pay heed to the home’s sweet, simple gingerbread. The original touches. The carvings. The curve of wood and spindles. The fish scales. Even some of the details on the front door are visible through the layers and layers of paint. You’re still a beautiful thing, 2015 N. Senate Ave. Or is it 2015 Senate Blvd.? 2015 Boulevard Place? What about 2007 Mississippi St.? All of them?...

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Sunday Prayers: The Gladden-Stempfel House

The Gladden-Stempfel home, located at 1564 N. Park Ave., was constructed in 1898. This undated photo shows the home in pristine condition. (Copyright IHPC Collection, IHPC, courtesy Digital Collections of IUPUI University Library. Photo used with permission.) The wooden giant on the corner of 16th and Park has always intrigued me. Its curved windows draw my eyes up and around to each detail. The modillions, the columns, the arch on the second floor, even the “cornerstone” in the brick chimney. From what I can see, the roof is intact. And from what I know, there isn’t mold. It doesn’t...

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Sunday Prayers: Rivoli Theatre

Downtown Indianapolis. Noon. At most tables, the lunchtime chatter was of clients, projects and “the kids.” But at our table—which was crowded with soup, a sandwich and notebooks—there was talk of an empty, dilapidated property. One on the Near Eastside, to be exact. The Rivoli Theatre, to be exacter. Jim Kelly, president of the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., tilted back in his chair, his hands folded. “When was the last time you saw a movie?” he asked me. I furrowed my eyebrows. “It’s been awhile, unfortunately.” “Well, let me ask you this,” he said. “How would...

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Sunday Prayers: 619 E. New York St.

Homeowner Krsana Henry was devastated when she first walked through 619 E. New York St. Only weeks before, she had inherited the Italianate-style home from her mother, Emma Jean (Gina) Rotstein. Rotstein, as it were, had inherited the property from her mother, Lou Venna Lester. Lester had owned the home—which is located on the south side of Lockerbie Square—for nearly 50 years. After Lester’s death, however, the home was caught in probate, which was rumored to be the longest-running probate in the state of Indiana. During those years, 619 E. New York sat empty and unused. Squatters moved in....

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Sunday Prayers: 931 Elm St.

It’s a quaint neighborhood, one of green grass and fenced yards. One where neighbors wave and wish each other a hearty “Good morning.” One with trees, with color, with renovations (and even a couple new constructions). It’s North Square, to be exact. Elm Street, to be exacter. But in the comfortable—almost cozy—900 block of Elm, there’s a lonely bungalow. The one-floor home is snugly tucked between two other properties, near Elm’s “T” with Leonard. And while its neighboring properties are manicured and cared for, 931 Elm St. is vacant and exposed to the elements. It’s actually been empty for...

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Sunday Prayers: Stop the Muddling

“We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents.” So said Bob Ross, who—through The Joy of Painting—taught techniques and positive thinking. His work was never muddled; his paintings were a balance of light and color and nature and, of course, “happy little trees.” When it comes to architecture, “happy accidents” typically aren’t desired. Not when things are so calculated, so precise, so deliberately designed. One cannot easily drag a brush across an empty lot and paint a structurally sound house. Renovations and additions require thought as well. Will they be economical in the long run? How will they...

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Sunday Prayers: A Community on Cottage

These doubles are located at 1726 Cottage Ave. and have been vacant for some time. The development, constructed circa 1922, was once a mildly upscale area for newly married couples to start their lives. (photo by Dawn Olsen) There is but one thing missing from the archives, photographs, directories, and censuses of the past: a personal side. It’s true that collections and public records are abundant with facts—one can find what year a person bought a house, who designed a particular property, or what the original façade of a commercial building looked like. But, too often, the data doesn’t...

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Sunday Prayers: 1415 Olive St.

(photo by Dawn Olsen) Charm. It’s one thing this gambrel-roofed property still has, despite the plywood that protects the front windows. Though the word “foreclosure” has been associated with this home recently, its outer appearance is still friendly and inviting. The grass is kept short, and the paint is bright, not faded. Not peeling. And unlike so many other empty homes in Indy, this property is safely tucked between others, still loved by the neighborhood. The home, located at 1415 Olive St., was constructed circa 1910, making it approximately 100 years old. But while humans are marked with silver...

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Sunday Prayers: Oxmoor Apartments

(photo by Dawn Olsen) It was a sunny afternoon, and the breeze, though light, brought with it the scent of smoky decay. It breathed through the once boarded-up windows of the Oxmoor Apartments and engulfed me and my fragile lungs with dust, ash, and secrets. It was a musty smell, one heavy with age. It came from the red brick. From the tired, worn wood. From the blackened plaster. From the remnants of the asphalt roof, which pebbled the stoop on which our six-person tour group stood. Included within our party were Michael Osborne, president of the Near North...

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Sunday Prayers: Readers’ Choice

It was my co-worker who posed the question. “So, you write about dilapidated properties, right?” “Yes,” I grinned, “and I’m always up for more ideas.” Historic Indianapolis appreciates and loves your comments, suggestions, and questions. We are ever-eager to hear your memories and see your photos. We want to hear your stories—Indy’s stories—and share them with others. So, this time, instead of putting together an in-depth look at one—and only one—property, I thought I could let you—the reader, the lover of history, the resident of Indianapolis—choose. Below are six properties—two residential homes, two corner commercial buildings, one theater, and...

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Sunday Prayers: A Pair on South Park Avenue

421 S. Park Ave. (left) and 423 S. Park Ave. (right) are currently for sale. They were built in 1865 by William H. Loomis. (photo by Dawn ) We’re curious beings, humans. The “air of mystery” is what attracts us but, ultimately, we prefer answers. Solutions. The backstory. We spend hours searching the details, combing references, and talking to locals. And we curse time and ourselves, especially on the second floor of the Indiana State Library, where we quickly rewind microfilm with increased frustration. Nope, not this one. Nope, not here, either. Damn, my half-hour lunch is already over....

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Sunday Prayers: Paving Over The Past

(photo by Dawn Olsen) The intersection of South and Delaware streets wasn’t exactly paradise … but it was paved and made into a parking lot. Several parking lots, in fact. Though the lots are used (mostly by Eli Lilly employees, I assume, and also for downtown events), their necessity has transformed the area’s architectural landscape. Quite literally, entire blocks have been leveled in order to make room for the modern day vehicle. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area was one of industry. There were coal yards, tinsmiths, warehouses, liveries. I’m sure the area was full of...

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Sunday Prayers: 3470 N. Meridian (Frontenac Apartments)

3470 N. Meridian, the Frontenac Apartments (photo by Dawn Olsen)“Is that a jail?” The query came from a curious youngster, a boy out for a walk with relatives. With one foot on the ground and one on his scooter, he balanced himself. He pointed to 3470 N. Meridian and again called to his family. “Is that a jail?” A dismissive “no” was the answer. And soon, the boy was propelling himself down the sidewalk once more, the rest of his troupe in tow. Just passerby on the street, they were. Much like the traffic on Meridian, they were present...

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