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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis (at) yahoo (dot) com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line, and I will do my best to answer it. ~ Sharon
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