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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.

Inside Sommers Mansion

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.

More damaged tiles within bath house

Detail, sea horse, decorative floor tile remaining

 

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.

Bath house and pool from the river

former interior in bath house- all stripped and no evidence left of this motif and finish.

Former miniature golf course on the property

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…

21 responses to “Seldom Seen Space: Sommers Mansion”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Would definitely like to stay in touch on this one; Cold Spring Road is unique to Indianapolis, as is the White River valley near the Holcomb estate (have swam in his pool a couple of times while he was still living…)

  2. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    You might be interested in getting in touch with Penny (Savage) Landrigan about the Sommers Mansion / Stewart Hall. Penny is the daughter of the late Realtor, Bruce Savage (1906-1993), and the wife of the late Realtor, Richard Landrigan (1935-1984), and the mother of the very much alive Realtor, G.B. Landrigan (I’ll be discreet, here, about his year of birth!). Penny was in one of the last classes to graduate from Tudor Hall School for Girls when it was located at 3171 N. Meridian Street. Her father Bruce represented the school in both the sale of the old property to Lincoln Chiropractic College and the purchase of the new property at 3650 Cold Spring Road from the Sommers family. The Savages were visionary in selecting the Sommers’ estate for Tudor Hall, due to its proximity to Park School. This undoubtedly helped pave the way for the ultimate merging of the two schools to become the educational institution it is today, Park Tudor. My stepfather, John Bulger, Sr., began his real estate career in the 1950s with the Bruce Savage Company, and three decades later, G.B. Landrigan began his real estate career in the 1980s with the Bulger Company, so our families’ real estate careers were intertwined. Penny Landrigan resides in the same house her parents owned when she was a student at Tudor Hall School for Girls. I’m sure both Penny Landrigan and G.B. Landrigan would have some great stories to share.

  3. basil berchekas jr says:

    This post is worth staying with…North Meridian to Cold Springs Road to 71st Street…

  4. Rev. Mike Walker says:

    I thought I heard on TV that you were looking for volunteers to help restore this property. I am skilled in tile and other handy work and would be interested in helping. When I attended Marian University, back in 1980, I used to have lunch in the pool house on the sly. I always thought this property was so beautiful and would have loved to been able to see it in it’s hayday.
    e-mail me your response.
    Mike

  5. Betty says:

    My husband grew up in Indiana and his family had furniture made by the D. Sommers Furniture Co. We still have a few pieces. I can’t seem to find out any information about the furniture other than references to the fact that there was a D. Sommers Furniture Co. Any suggestions?

    We visit relatives in Indiana quite often and would be thrilled to see this Mansion restored. It looks like a great property – will check in on it the next visit.

  6. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Charles Birk Sommers and Leonore Dickey Sommers had two sons, Sheldon Charles Sommers (1916-2002), and Richard Warren Sommers (1919-2000). There are Sommers descendants still living in Indianapolis. I’ll get in touch with them and see if they are willing/able to supply Historic Indianapolis with more information.

  7. Wendy Sommers says:

    My grandparents were Charles Birk Sommers and Leonore Dickey Sommers. My father, Richard Warrend Sommers and his brother Sheldon Charles Sommers grew up in the mansion on Cold Spring Road. We have many photographs of the house and property (I’m guessing the ones in the post originally came from my mother).

    I live in Indianapolis and have two sisters, one in Indianapolis and one in Chicago. We would be interested in the preservation of the Sommers estate.

  8. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Thanks for visiting, Wendy. What an extraordinary place. Absolutely loved it! The pool and especially the bath house was the biggest heart breaker–the before pictures vs. after are mind-blowing. Would love to chat with you sometime!

  9. Wendy Sommers says:

    Send me an email and I will give you my phone number.

  10. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    I sent an email Wendy, but fear I may have landed in your spam folder. 🙁

  11. Jon J. Roberts says:

    Pearl Doyle was my great-grandmother and worked for the Sommers’ and lived there. My mother talks about the place a lot as she would pick her grandmother up on her day off so mom would get to see the house on the inside all over; quite a treat for a girl who lived out in the country. I’d love to be able to take mom in there one time.

  12. Wendy Sommers says:

    Jon –
    I am a granddaughter of Charles and Leonore Sommers and we heard about Pearl (the cook) for years! I have two sisters and we would love to meet your mother and hear her stories. We were born just as our grandmother was selling the house and furnishings, so we didn’t have the pleasure of enjoying one of Pearl’s meals.

    We had a family reunion last week and toured the home. IPS has done a nice job restoring it.

    Would love to meet you and your mother.
    Wendy
    wendysommers@comcast.net

  13. Wendy Ford says:

    Jon, I would love a chance to talk with you about an oral history project the Friends of Cold Spring School are conducting. We want to tell the stories of people who lived and worked at the Sommers estate, and your mother would be an ideal candidate for an interview. Please email me at friendsofcoldspring@gmail.com so we can get together.

  14. Anonymous says:

    4.5

  15. McPetty says:

    I would post a photo if allowed, but the bath/pool house area has been cleaned out and reseeded with grass and area businesses and families bought tables so there is seating for class out there. The project was started and labored on by the 7th graders.

  16. Deborah Parsons says:

    My name is Deborah ( Ogden) Parsons, my grandfather and grandmother both worked on the Sommers Estate. My grandfather James Ogden and grandmother Manie Ogden used to tell stories of working there. My mother was given the middle name Lenore after Mrs. Sommers, because my grandmother liked her so much. My mother was Velma Lenore Ogden.

  17. Wendy Sommers says:

    Hi Deborah – My grandparents were Charles and Leonore Sommers. Love that about your mother. I would love to hear more about your grandparents! Please contact me at wendysommers@comcast.net. I’m working on a book about my grandparents and the house. Would love your input. Thanks!

  18. Wendy Sommers says:

    Still love to chat with you. Working on a book about my grandparents. wendysommers1@gmail.com

  19. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    I just sent you an email from my personal account. Look forward to connecting.

  20. Jo-Ann Somers says:

    any relation to Rev Herbert O Sommers born in Canada 1851/1852 married Joan Avery of Lockport, NY. Was a Universalist Church Pastor in Indianapolis, IN?

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