Never heard a thing about this place until Janie White Hensley shared her story last week. I’d never heard of “Stewart Manor,” part of the campus of Tudor Hall School for Girls the last ten years it existed as an all-girls school. (1959-1969)
Coincidentally, I learned of an IPS environmental magnate school property, “Sommers Mansion,” originally owned by the Charles B. Sommers Family. Turned out, the ‘Manor” and the “Mansion” are one and the same.
The Sommers Home is near the Marian University Campus–not far from Riverdale, the former home of James A. Allison, most recognizable as one of the founders of the Indy 500. One online resource identified Charles B. Sommers as a cousin of James A. Allison. And while the Sommers Mansion was constructed in the early 1920’s, it was April 1912 when Sommers bought lots 27-30 in Brooklyn Heights, Wayne Township of Marion County for $17,500. (Indianapolis Star). He and his wife lived for a number of years in a flat at 3119 North Meridian, in The Buckingham.
Sommers had been an actor in his youth, later writing a play that debuted at the Murat in 1910 (its inaugural year). He married Lenore Dickey in Cincinnati in April 1911 and returned, taking up residence at the Claypool Hotel in May 1911. In 1914, Sommers was the Secretary of the Empire Auto Company. From Cruise-In.com: “The first car to try out the new paved surface at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in December 1909 was the first Empire off the line of the Indianapolis plant. Major players in the development of the speedway — Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, and Arthur C. Newby — also had an interest in the Empire Motor Car Company. Their primary interest was in developing Speedway, which diverted their attention from the Empire auto firm. After resurfacing the track, they concentrated their efforts on making the race track a paying proposition.”
In 1918, Sommers was President of both the Gibson Company and D. Sommers and Co., a furniture company at Washington Street and Capitol Avenue. Gibson Company started life as a bicycle company, eventually also operating the aforementioned Empire Auto company. Sommers was one of the owners of the Gibson Company; Carl Fisher had been one of the owners of the prior iteration, the Fisher-Gibson Company.
Key takeaway: Sommers had multiple relationships and connections with the founders of the Speedway and the burgeoning automobile industry. The Speedway founders were also some of the Sommers’ closest neighbors.
The Sommers Homestead is an elaborate and enlarged Cotswolds style home–certainly unique in Indianapolis–constructed in the early 1920’s. Equally impressive to the main house was the Jens Jensen designed landscaping, bath house and other features. While the framework is still standing, time has not been kind to the (former) luxurious interior appointments, tiles, pool, tennis court, landings, miniature golf course and much more.
There is a current movement afoot to restore the Jens Jensen designed landscaping to its former glory. For those interested in volunteering time or other resources, click the Register as a Friend link on this page. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this property restored for public use or for private parties? It was a truly extraordinary property that could be so again. As with many older properties, it will take time and financial resources, but the bigger the project, the more dramatic the save/ transformation may be. The ties to the Indy 500 scene should further explored–it would be great to see vintage cars traversing the property again, as they did in the earliest years of the automobile…