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Reader’s Question: 

When I was growing up in the Butler-Tarkington and Meridian-Kessler neighborhoods, there was a home on the northwest corner of 40th and Meridian Streets.  It was demolished sometime in the mid-1960s to make way for Tarkington Tower.  Do you know anything about the history of that property? ~ Mary Liz Freund, Tucson, Arizona

HI’s Answer:

The single-family home that once stood on the site that is now occupied by the 16-story Tarkington Tower Condominiums was built in 1898 and 1899, by Francis William Flanner (1854-1912) and his wife Mary Ellen Hockett Flanner (1863-1947).  Frank Flanner was the first person in the State of Indiana to be licensed as an embalmer.  In 1881, he opened a mortuary at 72 North Illinois Street, which in later years became the location of the Wm. H. Block Company.

Francis William Flanner, 1854-1912 (photo courtesy of FindAGrave.com)

Francis William Flanner, 1854 – 1912  (photo courtesy of FindAGrave.com)

In 1887, Charles Buchanan (1856-1930), who was the husband of Frank Flanner’s sister Anna, joined Frank as his partner in the business.  Within a few years, the brothers-in-law moved their growing establishment to 320 North Illinois Street (now a parking lot for OneAmerica Tower).  Thus began the organization that is known today as Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Centers.

Frank Flanner wanted only the best for his wife and their three daughters, Mary Emma, Janet, and Hildegarde.  In addition to operating the mortuary business, Frank also made real estate investments in an effort to increase his wealth.  He purchased several parcels of land and built several new homes during his lifetime.  The last residence he would ever build was at 4020 North Meridian Street.

In 1899, the family moved from 1009 North Pennsylvania Street to their new country home just outside the city limits.  At that time, Maple Road (now better known as 38th Street) was the northern boundary of the City of Indianapolis.  The Flanners’ new home was situated on about ten acres, surrounded by a cherry orchard.  The property had 770 feet facing North Meridian Street and 600 feet fronting West 40th Street.  The Flanners’ lot extended from Meridian Street on the east to what was then called the Westfield Gravel Road on the west.  We now know the gravel road as North Illinois Street.

The country home that Frank and Mary Ellen Flanner built stood at 4020 North Meridian Street from 1899 until 1965            (photo from the book Genêt, A Biography of Janet Flanner by Brenda Wineapple)

In 1905, after living there just six years, Frank and Mary Ellen Flanner sold their home at 4020 North Meridian Street.  The sale included only six of the ten acres surrounding the house.  The Flanners retained four acres on the north end of the 10-acre plot for themselves.  Mrs. Flanner would later build a new home for herself and her daughters on a portion of the land they retained, after Frank Flanner died in 1912.

Residence built by Mary Ellen Flanner after the death of her husband Frank (photo by G. B. Landrigan)

Residence at 4061 North Illinois Street built by Mary Ellen Flanner after the 1912 death of  her husband Frank Flanner     (photo by G. B. Landrigan)

In the intervening years, the Flanners moved to a new home at 1910 North Capitol Avenue.  Today, that location is the site of one of the newer buildings in the IU Health Methodist Hospital complex.  The Flanner family also went on an extended trip to Europe in 1911.

The new owner of 4020 North Meridian Street in 1905 was Arthur Calvin Newby (1865-1933), one of the four co-founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Born in rural Morgan County near Monrovia, Indiana, Newby moved to Indianapolis in 1881 to seek employment.  He was soon captivated by the cycling craze.  In 1890, Newby started the Indianapolis Chain and Stamping Company, which later became the Diamond Chain Company.  Early on, the firm’s primary product was bicycle chain, but it went on to provide roller chains for a diverse range of industries.

In 1898, Newby built the Newby Oval, a bicycle race track just north of the northeast corner of East 30th Street and Central Avenue.  Newby and his partners in the velodrome, Carl Fisher, James Allison, and Frank Wheeler, soon turned their interests from bicycles to automobiles, and in 1909, they opened the IMS, primarily as a testing ground for vehicles.  Newby also founded the National Motor Vehicle Company, which produced automobiles from 1900 to 1924.

In 1928, Newby divided the land on which his home had been built into two parcels.  He donated the west half of his land to the Hoosier Motor Club.  Founded as a social club in 1902, the motor club’s membership had grown steadily, as more and more people were able to purchase automobiles.  In 1917, the local club affiliated with the national organization, American Automobile Association.  The building at 40 West 40th Street was the home of the AAA Hoosier Motor Club for more than half-a-century.  Today the former AAA facility is the Martin Luther King Community Center.

Arthur Calvin Newby (1884-1931)

Arthur Calvin Newby, 1865 – 1933  (photo courtesy of Speedway High School Class of 1964)

Arthur Newby used his wealth to help others.  He often did so behind-the-scenes or anonymously, which gained him the nickname of “the quiet philanthropist.”  He was reported to have cared for countless homeless people by buying homes for them.  He paid for the educations of hundreds of students on the condition that they not divulge the source of their scholarships.   He contributed a large sum of money to Riley Hospital for Children and made sizable gifts to Butler University and Earlham College.  He purchased woodland in Parke County, then donated the property to the State of Indiana for Turkey Run State Park, as well as donated ground for the William and Milton Newby Elementary school in Mooresville, not far from where he was born.

After Newby died in 1933, his cousin, Mary C. Edwards, and her daughter, Bertha M. Edwards, resided in the home at 4020 North Meridian Street for several years.  The property then had a few short-term owners of two or three years each, including Roy W. Brandt, Ernest K. Fisher, and Jameson G. Campaigne (1913-1985).  Campaigne was a reporter for The Indianapolis Star from 1946 to 1960 and editor of the newspaper from 1960 to 1969.

The final owner of the home at 4020 North Meridian Street before its demise was Charles E. Johnson, president of the National Liquor Corporation (now called National Wine & Spirits).  Johnson acquired the property in 1951 and sold it in 1964 to a group of investors assembled by local real estate developer Jack Weldon.  The country home built by the Flanner family in 1899 was demolished in 1965, and Tarkington Tower was built in its place.

Tarkington Tower was conceived of as an upscale apartment community.  The 16-story structure was completed in 1966.  The property’s former house number of 4020 was changed to the sleek address of 4000.  In 1979, the apartment building was converted to a condominium complex.  It contains 93 units, an attached parking garage, a swimming pool, an exercise room, two guest rooms, a meeting or party room, and a surprising amount of green space for a high-rise multi-family building in an urban setting.  It’s also across the street from Tarkington Park, which is slated for major improvements in coming years.

Tarkington Tower Condominiums at 4000 North Meridian Street               (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Tarkington Tower was named for the neighborhood in which it is located and for Hoosier author Booth Tarkington (1849-1946).   Some people mistakenly assume that one of Booth Tarkington’s homes was at this location, but Tarkington’s only residence on North Meridian Street was nearly three blocks north of this, at 4270 North Meridian Street.   Also, Tarkington didn’t move to North Meridian Street until more than two decades after 4020 was built by the Flanners.  It might have been more appropriate to have named the apartment/condominium complex for either Frank Flanner, who first improved the site, or for Arthur Newby, who owned the former residence the longest of its occupants.

Tarkington Tower sits on the eastern boundary of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association.  It is also located within the boundaries of the North Meridian Street Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  All that remains of the original home built by the Flanner family at 4020 North Meridian Street is the fieldstone wall along the south and east property lines.  The home at 4061 North Illinois Street that Mary Ellen Flanner built after Frank Flanner passed away is still standing today.

A fieldstone wall lines the Meridian Street and West 40th Street boundaries of the Tarkington Tower property                    (photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

18 responses to “HI Mailbag: The Home That Gave Way to Tarkington Tower”

  1. honore nichols says:

    I REALLY ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, HAD NO IDEA OF THE HISTORY OF THAT AREA. HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY.

  2. Tom Davis says:

    Great article! I really appreciate knowing more about Flanner and Newby and where they lived.

  3. Laura McPhee says:

    Just wanted to add that Frank and Mary Flanner were the parents of one of Indianapolis’ most influential writers, Janet Flanner, who lived in the house as a child.

    Janet left Indy as a young adult and moved to Paris in the early 1920s. Among many other things, she wrote the “Letters from Paris” column for the New Yorker magazine from 1925 until the 1970s under the pen name Genet. Her circle of friends in Paris included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude and Alice, Hart Crane, Djuna Barnes, Nathalie Barney and many others who have come to define the “Lost Generation” of the 1920s.

    In “Palm Sunday,” Kurt Vonnegut calls Janet Flanner “the most deft and charming literary stylist Indianapolis has thus far produced…” and goes on to explain who he called the Indianapolis Star when she died and could not convince them that she was worth a local obituary until he pointed out her father was the Flanner of the funeral homes. He then joked that when he died, he would be remembered by the Star as the grandson of a hardware store owner.

    Janet’s father, Frank Flanner, was also the man who donated the land and buildings near the current Lockfield Gardens in 1898 that began Flanner House as a community/service center for African Americans in Indianapolis.

  4. Esther Shir says:

    Another fascinating article, Sharon, and great photos. I remember bicycling on Meridian St in this neighborhood and enjoying the beautiful homes.

  5. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Thank you, Laura, for putting a little more meat on the Flanner family’s history. I am aware of all the information you’ve provided about Janet Flanner — aka Genêt — but my piece was already running long, so I had to leave out details on later generations of those persons who owned 4020 N. Meridian Street.
    .
    Although the Flanners built the home and were the home’s first occupants, there were others who lived there much longer than the Flanners did. Since the HI Mailbag questioner asked about the history of the house, I had to make decisions about how much information to include on each owner. It’s been 114 years since Frank Flanner began construction of the home, which is a lot of years to cover.
    .
    As you’ve noted, Janet Flanner was indeed a respected correspondent for The New Yorker. Her mother and her sisters were not as famous as she, but they too were well-educated and accomplished women. All were talented in poetry writing, playwriting, music, art, gardening, etc.
    .
    I probably should have mentioned that Frank Flanner donated property in the area that later became Lockefield Gardens, and that he was the person for whom Flanner House was named.
    .

  6. Beverly Raffensperger Fauvre says:

    So enjoy your historical articles and found this of particular interest in that my parents, Bill and Eunice Mae Raffensperger were among the first residents of Tarkington Towers. For some reason, they decided to sell their lovely home at 6020 Sunset Lane in Crow’s Nest and try apartment living for a change. Since my father loved gardening, I didn’t understand their decision. Their apartment, however, was quite lovely as I recall. They even had beautiful parquet flooring, which may well have been part of their decorating. I believe it was a two-bedroom apartment with spacious rooms. Already living in California, I only remember visiting once one May in the sixties. It was just north of the taller Summit House on the east side of Meridian. My husband wasn’t sure he recognized the building, so I hope I’m remembering the same one.

  7. Terry Janssen says:

    In all honesty, the house was a lot prettier than the towers. The history lesson was appreciated.

  8. Brad says:

    Great article. I definitely hope that you continue to contribute to this site.

  9. Dennis E. Horvath says:

    Thank you for sharing the history of 4020 N. Meridian Street. I knew Arthur C. Newby lived there, but forgot what the home looked like. Other Indianapolis auto pioneers lived along Meridian Street from 32nd Street to 49th Street. What a blast from the past.

  10. basil berchekas jr says:

    A VERY informative treatise on this valuable property. Mrs Barbara (Hawk) Velonis, a family friend (we went to Howe High School together) who lives on the east side of Meridian almost across the street from 4020, is a member of the North Meridian Street Preservation Commission (or whatever the proper name is!).

  11. Bruce Buchanan says:

    Great article Sharon. I learned a few new things about my great uncle. That stone wall on the property can also be seen on Illinois Street. I’ve been told that the house there was also built by Frank. Perhaps you could confirm that?

    Frank and my great grandfather Charles Buchanan took great pride in fighting racial inequalities back in their day. Thanks for mentioning the land donation to Flanner House. That gift is still benefiting the city today.

  12. basil a berchekas jr says:

    Yes…it certainly is! A good one!

  13. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    The Frank Flanner who started Flanner and Buchanan with his brother-in law, Charles John Buchanan, was Francis William Flanner (1854-1912). He was your great-grandmother’s brother, so he was your great-granduncle (or great-great-uncle, as some people refer to it).
    .
    The second Frank Flanner involved in the company was your first cousin two times removed. He was Francis Bates Flanner (1876-1954). Frank B. was the nephew of Frank W., as well as the nephew of Charles J. Buchanan and Anna Flanner Buchanan. Frank B.’s father was Charles Wallace Flanner.
    .
    I’ve seen some printed items in which the two Frank Flanners are assumed to have been the same person, and/or one Frank Flanner was mixed up with the other. They were clearly two different individuals and from different generations.
    .
    The first Frank Flanner built 4020 N. Meridian Street. He and his wife sold that home and six of the ten acres around it to Arthur Newby, keeping the remaining four acres for themselves. The land that the Flanners retained was north and west of where the house at 4020 N. Meridian stood (and Tarkington Tower is today).
    .
    The Frank Flanner who founded Flanner and Buchanan passed away in 1912. The family lived at 1910 N. Capitol Avenue at the time of his death. Frank’s widow then built a house at 4061 N. Illinois Street, on a portion of the four acres they’d retained when they sold 4020 N. Meridian Street. Mary Flanner and her daughters moved into the house at 4061 in about 1914. As Frank Flanner died before the house at 4061 Illinois existed, he could not have built it.
    .
    The house about which you’ve asked — the one that still has a fieldstone wall in front of it today — is not the house that Mary Flanner built at 4061. The address of the house you’ve asked about is 4021 N. Illinois. I have not been able to find out who built that house. City tax records say 4021 was built in 1903. Frank and Mary Flanner would still have owned the property in 1903, so it’s possible that Frank built it. However, all of the city directories from 1899 to 1905 say that the Flanners lived at 4020 N. Meridian throughout. An additional conundrum is the fact that 4021 N. Illinois appears to be on the portion of the six acres that the Flanners sold to Newby.
    .
    It’s my belief that entire ten acres of the Flanners’ original property had a stone wall around it at one time — or at least the three sides of the property that fronted on Meridian, 40th, and Illinois Streets did. The stone wall is no longer continuous. The wall is gone from the northeast corner of 40th and Illinois, where the AAA Hoosier Motor Club formerly was and MLK Community Center is now. The wall is also gone from in front of the home that Frank Flanner’s widow built at 4061 N. Illinois.
    .
    I will keep searching for who built 4021. The problem with finding records is that Maple Road aka 38th Street was the city limits in those days, so there are fewer records for properties outside the boundaries. In addition, street names changed over the years, and addresses of houses were renumbered. I’ll let you know when I learn something more about the history of 4021 N. Illinois Street.

  14. basil berchekas jr says:

    Will patiently await the next edition!

  15. basil berchekas jr says:

    Regarding buildings north of Maple Road…would the Washington Township tax assessor’s office have those properties archived when they were unincorporated (outside the city limits)?

  16. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I’m sure the information about who built 4021 N. Illinois Street, and when, must be available somewhere. I didn’t see Bruce Buchanan’s comment (asking if Frank Flanner also built the house on Illinois Street that still has a stone wall in front of it) until late in the day on Friday. By that hour, just about every govenment office, records repository, or library was closing for the holiday. Nothing is open again until Wednesday, so I don’t have access to their resources until then.

  17. Bruce Buchanan says:

    Sharon. Thanks for the Flanner details. My dad always distinguished between Frank W. and Frank B., but we know very little about them. I do know quite a bit about Anna Flanner Buchanan. She was very active in civic affairs and documented most of our family history. I credit her with bringing her husband Charles into the business with her brother Frank.

    Your story inspired me to do more research and I came across some information about an early funeral director in Indianapolis that Frank W. Flanner worked with for awhile. His name is C. E. Kregelo. Though Frank was the first licensed embalmer in Indiana, it appears that Kregelo was also a successful undertaker and performed over 24,000 funerals. Kregelo must have been a colorful fellow because he had a parrot at home who would squawk “hello” whenever the telephone rang. I saw this story in The Cornucopia, a book by W.W. Breese.

    It’s ironic that the Flanners owned all that land north of 38th Street. When I played tennis for Broad Ripple High School back in the 1970s we played our matches right there in the park. I never knew of the connection then.

  18. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Bruce,

    Learning about previously unknown connections is one of the reasons I get excited about Indianapolis history. Whether the subject is a person, a home, a commercial building, or an event, my research invariably results in the discovery of interesting connections to other persons, homes, commercial buildings, or events.

    Sharon

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