It’s a quaint neighborhood, one of green grass and fenced yards. One where neighbors wave and wish each other a hearty “Good morning.” One with trees, with color, with renovations (and even a couple new constructions). It’s North Square, to be exact. Elm Street, to be exacter. But in the comfortable—almost cozy—900 block of Elm, there’s a lonely bungalow.
The one-floor home is snugly tucked between two other properties, near Elm’s “T” with Leonard. And while its neighboring properties are manicured and cared for, 931 Elm St. is vacant and exposed to the elements. It’s actually been empty for a few years; the plywood plastered across the front window is dated Sept. 2009. But despite the home’s condition, there are still the remnants of human presence: left behind soda bottles, a full ashtray, and—mingled among fallen insulation on the kitchen floor—a child’s name tag. “Devon’s” name tag.
The home was built circa 1900, and one of its first residents was Walter W. West (or W.W. West, as his name frequently appeared in the city directories). I first saw West’s name in the 1914 city directory, and he continued to be associated with the property for around 40 years, until the 1950s. A man by the name of Orville Dugle lived there after West, residing in the home for more than a decade. The bungalow was also occupied in 1980, when the rest of the area suffered. (That year, there were eight vacant homes on the two blocks of Elm Street that are east of the Interstate.)
Today, North Square (a Fountain Square neighborhood) is a walk-able, livable part of town. New homes have been put up, and countless renovations have increased property values and curb appeal. Recently, a modern, industrial-looking home was constructed at the corner of Elm and Grove. What’s more, Green Path Homes finished renovating an abandoned Craftsman-style home just down the street, at 1055 Elm St. (That particular property, according to the website, is “on track to be the first LEED Platinum renovation in Indiana.”) The North Square Neighborhood Association is also on a campaign to revitalize and maintain the area. In fact, one of the Association’s purposes is to “combat community deterioration and to promote the enhancement of this area.”
There has been a buzz about Fountain Square in recent times. In April, the Indianapolis Star shared an article by Matthew Tully titled “Fountain Square is finally, truly on the verge.” And—a year and a half before the Star article was published—Tiffany Benedict Berkson shared “10 Reasons Why Fountain Square Would Be My Next Indianapolis Neighborhood.” (That particular article remains one of Historic Indianapolis’s most popular posts.) And while Fountain Square is experiencing commercial growth, the residential areas still have some challenges. As Tully states in his article, “… despite the impressive heart of Fountain Square, it takes only a short detour off the main streets to find abandoned homes and other signs of decay.”
And, sadly, the most appropriate word for 931 Elm St. is “decayed.”
When visiting the home, its desperation weighed on my lungs. The mold, as black and slick as oil, settled in my chest, heavy as bricks. I had to step out, had to leave. And as I crouched on the sidewalk, coughing and spitting and heaving the spores from my bronchial tubes, I had to wonder if the home could be saved. If someone would love it enough to revitalize it.
There are three known holes in the roof—one in the kitchen, and one in each bedroom. The floorboards have, of course, rotted through. The moisture has dampened each room, damaged walls and floors and closets. Insulation tumbles from the ceiling to the kitchen floor, and also into the bathtub. Daylight and the elements also steak into the home through a hole at the back of the property, which overhangs the basement staircase.
Oh, that house. That poor, poor house.
According to public records, the bungalow is owned by an investment group. An interested party did make an offer on the property, and also offered to level the home. Ultimately, the offer was turned down. And so, 931 Elm St. sits empty, collecting dust and rain and mold. The upside of this home? If someone were so bold as to purchase it, he or she can scrap the inside and start anew. Design a new floor plan. Construct a garage. A privacy fence. Add a second floor, even, to take advantage of the spectacular views of downtown. There are options; there are always options. And, really, it’s hard to say “no” to friendly neighbors, a buzzing cultural district, and a neighborhood association dedicated to enhancing the liability of each quaint street, of each home.