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Welcome to Preservation Month 2011!

This May, each day we will feature favorite structures of Indianapolis where the opportunity to preserve was denied or affirmed. Gone, but not forgotten, or thankfully still here, we will feature some of our favorite bygone structures and welcome suggestions of your favorites, and very well may select yours to feature.

First up: the former home of William H. Block and family

William H. Block Company–a beloved retail establishment of Indianapolis for nearly 100 years. Though Ayres had a reputation for being more upscale and chic, many a fair damsel or dandy shopped at William H. Block Co. as well. Today, the flagship edifice still stands on the southwest corner at Market and Illinois streets–so located as to capitalize on the Traction Terminal Building, formerly across the street, and bringing many visitors to downtown past their beckoning windows. That Vonnegut & Bohn designed building still stands, now home to TJ Maxx and still frequented by bargain hunters on the lower level, while the upper levels have been turned into apartments. The  homestead of William H. Block built for his family at 1908, later 1918 North Delaware Street, is sadly no longer.

The Block family relocated to Indianapolis from Kokomo, Indiana and by 1897, the city directory lists the Wm H. Block Co “Dry Goods, Millinery, Cloaks, and House Furnishings 7-9 E. Washington” and Wm. H. Block personally at 957 N. Pennsylvania Street. (This was before the 1898 change in address, at which time the home became 1937 N. Pennsylvania Street–and finally, today 1939 N. Pennsylvania Street). Here is an advert from late 1905 when Block and his family prepared to move to their Morton Place mansion.

 

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block_house-_1918_N._Delaware-_1906

As it was in its younger days, one of the most splendid of Morton Place…The new Delaware Street abode spanned three lots and had a 2-story carriage house behind it–you can see a glimpse of the carriage house behind the main home.

Mr. Block died in 1928, if memory serves, Mrs. Block died after the 1940’s, at which time the home was donated to the Children’s Museum of Indiana. Lovely thought on the part of Mrs. Block, but what could the Children’s Museum do but sell it off as quickly as possible for cash.

BLOCK_MANSION_60sThis is a photo from late in the home’s life, from the archives of Herron-Morton Place. In speaking to residents who recall the mansion’s demise, the home was for sale for $18,000 and included a 12 cylinder Cadillac in the garage.The glitch was, you had to pay cash since Morton Place was no longer a desirable residence. Furniture left in the house was auctioned off at Marsh’s Auction House.

Ostensibly, the Children’s Museum sold the home to Lippman Associates, according to the following, printed in Indianapolis News on March 3, 1966:

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And as if that tragic loss wasn’t horrific enough, the building that replaced it could be our next WTH Wednesday feature…just check one of our favorite sites, WhatWasThere.com

What a loss to the city’s architectural heritage…another lesson in preservation.

8 responses to “Preservation Denied: The William H. Block Mansion”

  1. Bridgette Robeson says:

    I grew up in this area in the early 60’s, the house was still standing then…one day we discovered all you needed to gain entrance to the house was a doorknob,..you stuck the doorknob (with stem) in the door and it opened a portal to the past…I can still remember the wonder of being inside that house…I kept my doorknob long after the house was gone…b

  2. barbara bennett says:

    I lived with my mother and grandmother for a year on the first floor of one of the large, old Delaware Street houses, turned into a rooming house. One day we walked to the corner to watch the passing of FDR. It was quite a moment. This was in the late thirties.

  3. barbara bennett says:

    Oh, yes, one of the highlights of grade school was going to the wonderful Children’s Museum, second only to the concerts of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra with Fabian Sevitsky, a relative of the internationally famous conductor Koussevitsky. We couldn’t imagine that the Museum would morph into one of the largest, if not the largest, children’s museums in the world. I recall the curving staircase to the second floor with a knight’s armor from the Middle Ages right there on the landing–a big wow.

  4. Charlotte Johnston says:

    I have cup and saucer on bottom says Manufactured for Wm H. Block Co. Indianapolis, Indiana Theodore Hailand Simoges France Patented Applied for

  5. Barbara Haunton says:

    That would be Haviland. The best was manufactured in Limoges, though some was made in the U.S. I have a large set of the Limoges which one day I will sell but have not found an antique buyer who gets requests. Generally valued at about $50-$300 a piece. It’s often seen used in mansions on television, including, I believe the fictional Downton Abbey.

    It was an experience to have a sandwich and ice cream treat in the lovely cafe in Block’s through the ‘fifties. The cafe was designed to look like a glamorous NYC restaurant or a nightclub–black and silver with glittering lights and glass, as I remember. It was an Art Deco or nouveau design I associate with America in the 1930’s and ’40’s.

  6. Mark Worley says:

    Family lore has it my grandfather rescued two fireplace mantles from the home before demolition. One of these mantles is in my current home. I wonder if any photos exist that could confirm this?

  7. Connie Henn says:

    I enjoyed eating a quick sandwich in the Blocks Cafe. The sandwich was seeded rye with cream cheese , chopped olives and walnuts. Many years later a sweet little restaurant ,”Renee’s”, in Broadripple served the identical sandwich . I went there for years with friends just to have it.
    I ate at Blocks after coming in town at the traction terminal from Purdue while awaiting a ride home with my parents.

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