(photo by Dawn Olsen)
Charm. It’s one thing this gambrel-roofed property still has, despite the plywood that protects the front windows. Though the word “foreclosure” has been associated with this home recently, its outer appearance is still friendly and inviting. The grass is kept short, and the paint is bright, not faded. Not peeling. And unlike so many other empty homes in Indy, this property is safely tucked between others, still loved by the neighborhood.
The home, located at 1415 Olive St., was constructed circa 1910, making it approximately 100 years old. But while humans are marked with silver hair and crows’ feet, the age-defining features of this property are more difficult to find. In 1993, the Southeast Neighborhood Development (SEND) acquired the home and put many an update into it. (SEND is a non-profit community development corporation “created by neighbors to revitalize the near southeast side of Indianapolis and to enhance the quality of life for its diverse spectrum of residents.”) According to an area resident who used to live next to 1415 Olive St., SEND spent tens of thousands of dollars on renovations, including updates to the roof, the plumbing, the wiring, and the walls. It was also remarked that the home had beautiful woodwork. After the renovations were complete, 1415 Olive St. was sold to a family who resided at the address until this past year. Currently, an LLC is responsible for the property.
It’s not often that an entire neighborhood takes responsibility for a home. Luckily, this home on Olive Street benefits from actions originally taken by the Bates-Hendricks Neighborhood Association (BHNA) and the Southeast Abandoned Housing Initiative. In January 2008, BHNA sponsored a street-by-street inventory of all the vacant properties in the neighborhood. From the data collected, BHNA identified the most dilapidated properties—referred to as the “Dirty Thirty”—and began to find solutions for the properties. As the history about the Southeast Abandoned Housing Initiative states, “letters were written to property owners, data was collected of code violations and police runs, and neighbors began to remonstrate against these properties in court. After two years, ten properties on this list were remediated in some way.”
Two years later, in July 2010, the pilot program that originally identified the “Dirty Thirty” was expanded to include Southeast Indianapolis in “full scale.” That August, 40 area residents surveyed nearly 900 city blocks. This project allowed—and still allows—city officials, neighborhood leaders, and others a closer look at abandoned properties in the city (including homes on Olive Street). In fact, a Bates-Hendricks resident told me that members of the neighborhood still survey the streets and compile a list of the most morose-looking properties. She stated that “with new legislation, [one] can actually work to clean up yards and trash which help to make these [homes] much more attractive to purchasers.” She also informed me that she now lives in the home of a former neighbor, and in a home that was owned by one family for over 90 years.
Similarly, 1415 Olive St. had a family legacy of its own. For many years, the home was inhabited by Edward W. Beck. He most likely lived in the home when it was first constructed in the early 1910. Decades later, in 1951, his name still appeared in the city directory next to 1415 Olive St. However, in the 1960 directory, a new named appeared: Mrs. Helen J. Mader. With a quick search on Ancestory.com, however, I learned that Helen was Edward’s daughter. The 1940 census revealed that Edward had been born in Indiana in 1879 and had a son, Don Beck, and a daughter, Helen Mader. The census also listed his wife, Blanch Beck, and grandson, Edward J. Mader, as household members. Helen remained in the home for a few years but, by the mid-1970s, it changed hands. Since 1980, 1415 Olive St. has been owned by seven different individuals or institutions, including SEND and Veterans Affairs. (Veterans Affairs owned the home just before SEND, in the mid-1980s.)
It is likely that this home will be purchased, and filled once more with generations of the same family. In fact, it’s almost inevitable, given both the care the neighborhood provides, and the affordability of property in Fountain Square. So, for now, we tolerate the plywood, and look to the future.
What sort of initiatives or pilot programs does your neighborhood offer to combat dilapidated or abandoned homes? Have you ever witnessed any neighborhood attempts to maintain a particular property?