Historic Indianapolis Hero: J. Scott Keller

Written by on March 3, 2010 in Heritage Steward - No comments
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Preservation and service to the community is just in some people’s blood. Scott Keller, an indefatigable preservationist and community contributor happens to have come from a long line of Hoosiers who helped shape Indianapolis as we know it today. From a great-grandfather who was a state senator to a grandfather who helped found Goodwill Industries here in Indiana, to his great uncle Frank who started Flanner House and a brother who works for the United Nations—Scott Keller propagates a long-held family tradition of community service and admirable commitment to leaving his corner of the world better.

When asked what first got Scott interested in preservation, he noted that his mother had an appreciation of old buildings and was an early member of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. It probably didn’t hurt that Keller grew up in a home built in 1919 in Johnsons Woods and as he grew up was exposed to many of the admired historic Indianapolis neighborhoods: Meridian Hills, Meridian Kessler, Butler Tarkington and others. march-2010-036

Lockerbie Court (1901) one of numerous structures Scott Keller helped save

After participating in various National Trust conventions where participants would visit neighborhoods in other cities like San Francisco, St. Louis and Chicago, touring the older districts that were being redeveloped, Keller couldn’t help noticing that Indianapolis lacked the same large scale movement towards preservation so prevalent in these other cities. With that in mind, Keller took it upon himself to recruit other locals to help change that—downtown business owners, banks and American States Insurance Company on North Meridian all heeded the call. All told, 414 people helped actualize the vision. To date, Scott has helped rehabilitate 614 historic homes—primarily in central Indiana. There doesn’t seem to be any aspect of preservation with which Scott has not had experience. He sponsored four historic districts (Chatham Arch, Meridian Park, Apartments and Flats and expanded Old Northside) as well as 38 major buildings in downtown Indianapolis including the Wilson, Sylvania, Dartmouth, Plaza, McKay, Glencoe, Martens, Raleigh, Van Dyke, Harness Factory Lofts, Jefferson, Pennsylvania and many more. He even served on the board of directors of “Preservation Action” a national lobbying group as well.

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Forest Home, the one time home of Ovid Butler–deserving of a blog of its own at some point (note to self)

When asked to name some of his favorite historic buildings which he helped save and restore here in Indianapolis, Keller noted Lockerbie Court (1901) featuring an L-shaped courtyard in back “unique in Indianapolis” with real urban back doors and decks and porches and 643 Ft. Wayne. “Forest Home” on Park and 1226 North Broadway, both in the Old Northside, also favorites among private single family residences. It also must be said that all addresses easily trip off his tongue as if reciting a list of his dearest old friends.
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1226 N. Park Avenue, one of my favorites in the Old Northside, too!

When asked if there was ever a building he regretted not being saved, Keller immediately responded with a detailed description of former apartment building called “The Saint Clair” which had been located at 109 West St. Clair St., between Capitol and Illinois. This was a 3 and a half story building with 2 units per floor, and filled with spectacular tiles and woodwork, some rooms featuring coffered ceilings, painted frescoes lining the stairways and a prominent Romanesque arch and porches on the front façade. Had the building been properly boarded, the the fire which destroyed it may never have happened…this being way back in 1987 or so.

After years of devotion to rehabbing historic homes, Keller expanded upon his experience and know-how by honing the art of appraisal. As it turns out, our fair city was in need of a personal property appraiser, and Keller—ever the savvy businessman—would be willing and able to fill that niche. Keller spent three years on and off living and studying in London and traversing other parts of England in search of antiques that could then be sold to dealers along Portobello Road. Keller obtained a Masters in Asian Art from the University of London, and a Masters in Fine Art from University of Oxford, Harris-Manchester College. The studies were intense, rigorous, real-world and hands on. Keller attended auctions at Christies, Sothebys, and other major auction houses in London and had the opportunity to touch and experience real items, not just a set of slides from the chair of a vacuous lecture hall. Of all the pieces he at one time possessed, there are a couple of Arthur Benson pieces he most wishes he still owned today. Untold numbers of unique and prized possessions have passed through his deft hands and been surveyed by his keen eye.

Scott Keller is now in his 21st year as a Professional Appraiser. A Professional Appraiser distinguishes himself by knowing how to do research, knowing the appropriate questions to ask and being cognizant of his own limitations. This particular Professional Appraiser also taught various courses at the John Herron Art Institute for 14 years: classes in Art History, Silver, Pottery, Porcelain and the list goes on. Mr. Keller has opted out of the jewelry, stamp and coin markets, but does appraise most everything else under the personal property umbrella.

Keller has also served on the city-county council, and currently is in his third year on the Metropolitan Development Commission. He is a staunch supporter of equal rights for all and an estimable and admirable asset to Indianapolis. This cool cat really does have nine lives, and in all of them, he has made a difference to Historic Indianapolis.

The Inaugural event of the Hoosier Chapter, Victorian Society in America, “Antiques Appraisal Show” stars J. Scott Keller, in the flesh on Saturday, 6 March, 2010. The event starts at 10 a.m. when Scott will present a brief introduction/ short lecture on “The Characteristics of Value” which will help the layperson understand why anything is or isn’t valuable. VSA-INAUGURAL

Click to see your invitation close up!

Membership to the Hoosier Chapter of the Victorian Society in America is $20 for students, $40 for individuals, $50 for families(2 adults) and $100 for businesses. Membership includes appraisal of 2 items at Saturday’s event and a tour of the Morris-Butler House Museum, headquarters for the Hoosier Chapter, VSA—in addition to admission and/or discounts for events later in the year. If you aren’t ready to commit to membership, you may pay $15 per item to participate in the show and have your item appraised.

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About the Author

Tiffany Benedict Browne is the founder and driving force behind HistoricIndianapolis.com. She loves learning, sharing and inspiring Indy's stories.

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