Concluding Preservation Month at HI, we examine one of the biggest residential architectural murders perpetrated upon the citizenry of Indianapolis.
It’s hard not to wince when passing the northeast corner of 13th and Delaware, knowing that the spires, towers and turrets of the long-gone castle should be regally climbing into the sky. Instead, a lumpy parking lot betrays something lurking beneath the surface: a graveyard.
The architect of the dearly departed building was William LeBaron Jenney (25 September 1832- 15 June 1907), best known for his large commercial buildings, but also as the pioneer of skyscraper design and for his affiliation with the Chicago School of architecture. Jenney moved to Chicago following the Civil War in 1867 and began his own architectural office, which specialized in commercial buildings and urban planning. If you’ve never seen or heard of the Ludington Building in Chicago, check out this article, identifying the building as the earliest surviving steel-frame building/ skyscraper, clad in terra cotta, and brainchild of Jenney.
Word is, that student draftsmen who learned from Jenney included Daniel H. Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Martin Roche and William Holabird. And, long before Frank Lloyd Wright worked with the innovative open floor plan, Jenney had designed a Swiss Chalet style home with that concept. For a far better (and quite entertaining) account about Jenney, click here.
Today’s subject is not such a deep loss merely because a renowned architect designed it, or its aesthetic merits, but the home’s story and inhabitants who also left marks on the city of Indianapolis. This was what Booth Tarkington had in mind when he wrote “the house was the pride of the town.” It being the model for the home of The Magnificent Ambersons, even if, in Tarkington’s made-up world, the residence was part of a Woodruff Place-esque setting.
The elaborate abode was conceived by Hervey Bates, Jr, and wife after a trip to the Loire Valley in France. The ultimate construction cost of the house was estimated at $80,000, in 1874. That, of course, was in addition to the thousands to purchase the 200 x 195 (R.B. and J. S. Duncan addition) lot upon which the castle was built.
And how did Monsieur Jenney come to Indianapolis to construct this edifice? Wilmer Christian and James Shover, local contractors who helped build it (in addition to the new Bates Hotel, The When building, and many others) put Jenney and Bates in touch. In Mr. Christian’s words: “Of course, I know about the Hervey Bates house, I helped to build it. I had been in Chicago adjusting fire insurance losses after the great fire and I met there Mr. Jenney, the architect, who was building some fine new houses on the North side. I told Mr. Bates about the work Mr. Jenney was doing with Ed May, the architect of the Statehouse, [who had] also praised him. Mr. Bates had brought back from Europe the designs of the kind of a house he wanted to build. Mrs. Bates had made drawings of the general arrangement of the rooms, but they were not working plans.” Hence, the need for an accomplished architect.
The interior is described in detail in Hester Anne Hale’s book, Indianapolis in the First Century: “A visitor to the new Bates home entered into a long central hall that was crossed by another hall between the foot of the great staircase and the dining room. The staircase ran from the cellars to the ballroom at the top of the house, and the steps, six feet wide, were shallow and easily climbed. Between the first and second floors, mounted on the railing at the landing, was a clock in a gothic case. Inlays of holly wood and ebony surrounded the clock face. On the back was a picture of Father Time holding a child in his arms. An inscription read, “Dost love life, then do not squander time.”
Floorplan above and full view below, inset from rendering published in American Architect and Building News, January 8, 1876. Currently on loan to Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site for their exhibit: “Windows to the Past: Harrison’s Indianapolis.”
“Above the fireplace in the library, down the cross hall was a Latin inscription which translated to ‘Life without books is death.’ The doors of the house were heavy and high. The ceiling there was high, and the parquetry floor laid in diagonals. Glass-fronted cases lined the walls. The names of four poets—Homer, Sappho, Byron, and Burns—were carved above a window.
But the most unusual decoration was found in the dining room. Inlaid black and white panels there depicted English storybook figures—a fisherman with his pole and catch, a jolly butler with a game pie held high, a jester with cap and bells, such as that. The panels appeared throughout the room, figures of game birds over the sideboards, figures of animals and children in a central space.” The house was finished throughout with some of the best quality wood available: curly white walnut, black walnut, holly and ebony among others.
(Apologies for the quality–these are photocopies of microfilm)
Jenney reportedly selected the artists who made these panels, as well as the furniture makers and wood carvers.
“On the first floor also, were the drawing room, music room, billiard room, den, and kitchen. On the second floor belonged to the family, of course. Ellenore, the Bates daughter, who was about fourteen when the family moved into the house, in her room had a dressing case of curly white walnut and a large closet with shelves and deep drawers. But perhaps the finest feature in the mansion was the ballroom, large enough for fifty couples and an orchestra. Adjoining the ballroom was a small anteroom from which the Bates served when they lived there. An unusual little room, it had a platform in a bay window and a ceiling that rose to a peak. It truly was a grand mansion.”
An newspaper article on the home included in its description of the second floor—that the initials of members of the family were incised on the door jambs. “Hervey Bates III, now living at the Columbia Club, gave the names of those to whom the ciphers belonged. E.C.B. indicated the room of his sister, Ellenore Cathcart Bates, now Mrs. John Perrin of California; H.B. II marked his father’s room; C.C.B.—Charlotte Cathcart Bates—was on the left hand lintel of his mother’s room, and across the hall, M.M.C. showed where Mrs. Bates’ sister, Miss Margaret Cathcart, had her particular place…The incising of ciphers on the door casings is not known in any other houses of the period.”
The earliest known photos of the home show a long wood frame porch on the south side of the home. Later photos show the removal of this porch and the addition of a porte cochere, that was later enclosed. After the home was sold to the Knights of Columbus (for a pittance) in the early 1920s, there were further alterations to the building—including all that remains standing today—an auditorium addition built in 1922.
Four families occupied the home before the Knights of Columbus took ownership. Following the Bates family, who lived there until the fall of 1880, it was sold it to Elijah B. Martindale, who sold it the following day to Dr. Horace Allen and his wife, Harriet. The Allens lived in the home for the next sixteen years. Their four children ranged in age from eight to twenty-one. The twenty-one year old, Miss Harriet Allen was reportedly the model of Isabel in The Magnificent Ambersons according to Mrs. Donald Jameson, niece by marriage of Booth Tarkington. The aforementioned little studio off the ballroom was her art studio. She married in 1883.
While the Allens were in residence, they kept a myriad of pets-—a macaw, a monkey, a pony, a donkey and a cow. “In those days that corner was very nearly in the country.”
Amateur theatricals in Indianapolis took a big step forward in the home as well. The earliest of these theatricals were composed of females—-both audience and actors. They would perform in parlors and drawing rooms for the enjoyment of friends. Then during the Christmas holidays of 1888-1889, the Dramatic Club, for the first time, allowed men into the activities. “It was a great and joyous occasion, and the scene of it was the ballroom of the splendid Allen house…The Allen ballroom had a real stage; there were footlights, curtains, wings ‘and everything,’ and I think Henry Hart’s orchestra then first played the curtain up and for the dancing after the play.’”
One of the most notorious fires in Indianapolis history occurred at Dr. Allen’s National Surgical Institute in January 1892. There were many deaths and injuries and Dr. Allen was unable to re-establish his hospital after that tragedy. Presumably, this played a part in the family’s exit from the home.
The home was next sold to David M. Parry and his wife. They changed the driveway from the south to north side of the home and the city’s address numbering changed that of this home from 679 to 1305 North Delaware Street. At the time, Parry had established himself as a prosperous and self-made buggy manufacturer after trying out a number of vocations. Around 1890, he began manufacturing four-wheeled vehicles: piano-box buggies, surreys, phaetons, and road and spring wagons. This later became the Parry Auto Company. D. M. Parry had also become president of the National Association of Manufacturers and had considerable influence. The Parrys left the Delaware Street home in 1903, relocating to a 100-acre estate near the old Country Club and built a house there. The area is now known as Golden Hill.
The final family to reside at 1305 North Delaware Street was the Hugh McGowan family. As with Parry, McGowan was a self-made man. He worked fifteen to eighteen hour days and was dearly respected by those who worked for him. From a Missouri farm boy to raking cinders under a Wabash locomotive, McGowan exemplified the American Dream of turning hard work and brainpower into an improvement to the world, and made himself rich in so doing.
He was known locally as the “Traction King,” after merging 125 miles of street railway into a single system. Later, he also effected a merger of six traction lines into the Terre Haute, Indianapolis, and Eastern Traction Company. When he died, the Kansas City Star published: “No accident made Hugh J. McGowan’s career. No opportunity offered itself to him. He made his opportunity; he achieved his career, every step of it.” And further offering: “Whatever he said was true. His word was relied on because he always made it good.”
Hugh and Kate McGowan had four daughters, were members of the Art Association and the Country Club and had a second home above Broad Ripple, listed as “S.R. Williams Creek, Indiana” in the 1910 Blue Book. Though unverified, one account has the home where the current Blind Institute Stands on a property on North College.
In other McGowan related news, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, displays a small woven Indian basket, donated by Mrs. Kate McGowan in one of the older sections of the museum. How did this little basket fit into the decor scheme in the giant mansion on the corner of 13th and Delaware. Where would it have been displayed?
One of the McGowan daughters married at the home– Miss Louise McGowan, from The Indianapolis Star, July 5, 1914
It would be interesting to locate relatives of the four daughters.
Virginia Keep Clark composed a portrait of the young ladies in the 1890s.
One of the daughters married and moved to England. Miss Louise McGowan married race car driver, Spencer Wishart, who came in 4th place, driving a Mercedes, at the 1911 “Indianapolis race,” as it was referred to, and in 2nd place in 1913, behind the wheel of a Mercer. He participated in each “500-mile international sweepstakes at Indianapolis,” until his tragic early death at age 24, in a race in Elgin, Illinois in August 1914. The other daughters have been more difficult to trace and there has been scant available information on them. This invites the audience participation part of our site.
After Hugh McGowan died at home in December 1911, age fifty-four, Mrs. McGowan continued living at the home for a number of years before relocating to the Spink-Arms on Meridian Street. She sold this glorious mansion to the Knights of Columbus for a fraction of its worth. And this generous, but tragic choice led to the demolition of one of the most storied, beautiful and worthy homes in the city of Indianapolis.
Robert Braun, the first president of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana begged the Knights of Columbus to spare the building, but they would not be prevailed upon, saying the heating bills were too expensive. (insert expletives here)
So now, rather than an impressive castle envisioned by one of the city’s earliest pioneers, constructed by some of the most prolific contractors, planned by the father of the modern skyscraper, inspired by Chateaux of the Loire Valley, experienced and enjoyed by decades of Indianapolis’ most notable citizenry and immortalized in a way by “The Magnificent Ambersons,” there is a wavy parking lot (the home and its rich woods, stones and bricks under that uneven asphalt), and a frequently smoke-filled bingo parlor for the Knights of Columbus, Council 437 that remains.
This is why preservation is essential and so deeply moving. Had someone had a little foresight, a little heart, a little imagination—this would still be one of the tourist attractions of the city—as it was listed in many tourists booklets throughout the early decades of the 20th Century. 1963 is a year that will forever mar Indy’s architectural history.