NAME: Meg Purnsley
TITLE:  Sr. Architectural Reviewer   FOR: The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, Department of Metropolitan Development, City of Indianapolis
SINCE? 2000
ORIGINALLY FROM? Chicago, Illinois
• I review applications for Certificates of Appropriateness
• I provide technical assistance to property owners in IHPC districts and occasionally outside districts
• I serve as a Hearing Officer for administrative hearings
• I conduct property research and analyze case history, and prepare written recommendations for requests to the Commission
• I coordinate with other departments throughout the City of Indianapolis, State and other local entities including Code Enforcement, Marion County Health Department, Dept of Public Works, Planning, Indiana Landmarks and the State Historic Preservation Office to name a few.
YOU WORK HOW MANY HOURS WEEKLY? 40 hours most weeks
PROJECT/S YOU ARE MOST PROUD TO HAVE BEEN PART OF? The restoration of the Indiana Landmarks Center, saving of the Meridian Street United Methodist Church, and the Askren House, a c. 1825 Federal-style I-House in Warren Township.
OTHER PROJECTS WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE? College Corner, Mill #9, Triedstone Baptist Church in Ransom Place (currently for sale by Indiana Landmarks), Central Supply Warehouse Redevelopment, The Cultural Trail, and a lesser known 1860’s building in New Augusta known as the Wagle Brothers General Store.
WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO? I love helping people. Most people do not expect to like working with the government, but when they do, I know I have done a good job and that makes me happy.
WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO? Seeing people not happy. The enforcement nature of my job is not easy. And, when that causes a property owner to become angry, confused or upset, it never feels good.
HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS? Loving what you do. If you love what you do, you will be good at it, and as a result, you will be successful.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? Be sure you have a passion for preservation. Then, go to school and get your degree. Believe it or not, you can get both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Historic Preservation. And, because Historic Preservation is a very specialized field, getting the proper education is required. You can now even earn a Master’s degree online from several very reputable schools out there.
IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? That buildings in America were not made to be disposable and historic preservation was considered to be culturally required, like it is in Europe, Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT? Vision. I took an architectural history class in college and it opened up my eyes to the world of Historic Preservation. I went to Egypt that following year and studied Egyptian architecture and brought home with me a very crystal clear vision of what I wanted to do for my career.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? Motivated people. Whenever I see other people doing things, it makes me want to do things, too. I am especially motivated by creative people doing creative things in new and interesting ways.
WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP? Jon Davey, Bob Dickensheets, Mike Jackson, Valecia Crisafulli and David Baker. Jon was my professor in college who introduced me to historic architecture. Bob was my professor in grad school at the Savannah College of Art and Design and he made me truly understand why historic preservation is so important. Mike and Valecia were my bosses when I worked for the State of Illinois and their passion for Historic Preservation goes beyond the passion I have ever seen anyone have for their career. David Baker, Administrator of the IHPC, has taught me about the process and analytical thinking. I have learned volumes from these folks.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY? All I knew when I went to college was that I wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t know what that something was. I majored in Interior Design, but it always felt slightly off of what I thought was the right career path for me. When I took my first architectural history class with Jon Davey, a light bulb went on.
YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY? Kurt Vonnegut. He was happy, creative, and quirky but rocket-scientist smart all at the same time. I’d also like for Madame CJ Walker to be at that dinner so I can get some tips on being a successful business woman and millionaire.
YOUR CAREER IN AN ALTERNATE LIFE? A photographer for National Geographic.

FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY? Crown Hill Cemetery, of course.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS? Toss up between Recess and Oakley’s Bistro.
FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE? The Bondswoman’s Narrative. This book was printed after a discovery of a transcript for a novel written by a runaway slave woman, who taught herself to read and write while in captivity. They believe she was made to work inside the “big house” where she had access to books and taught herself in secret. She even gave herself a pen name, Hannah Crafts. The book is allegedly a fictional novel, although it is believed to be essentially her life story told in character even though they don’t know exactly who she was. The novel was written between 1854 and 1861 and is believed to be the first novel ever written by an African-American woman.

ULTIMATE BEVERAGE? I love Coca-Cola in the glass bottle.
COLLECT ANYTHING? I collect lots of things. Old photos, wooden boxes, picture frames, historic building nails and other materials, photography books, perfume bottles, and paintings-both oil and watercolors.
FAVORITE QUOTE? “Be the change you want to see in the world”.—Mahatma Ghandi
IF YOUR LIFE HAD A THEME SONG, IT’D BE? “She Works Hard for the Money”

2 responses to “Heritage Steward: Meg Purnsley”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    i like her favorite song by Donna Summer! Also, she is obviously one of the pistons running the engine at IHPC (along with the other partners). Also like her favorite location; Strawberry Hill, the highest point in Indianapolis…

  2. Shelby says:

    This is a wonderful article. My great great grandfather Matthew Wagle opened Wagle brothers store!!!

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