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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.

931 Elm St. was boarded up in Sept. 2009. It is currently owned by an investment company. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

931 Elm St. was boarded up in Sept. 2009. It is currently owned by an investment company. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

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.

This mash-up of a 2012 aerial image and the 1887 Sanborn Map shows that another home once stood where 931 Elm St. is. The original home was demolished sometime in the 1890s, and the current bungalow was built circa 1900. The address of the original home was 131 Elm St., which was also a larger lot. Today, both 931 Elm. St. and its neighbor to the east stand where the original home stood.

This mash-up of a 2012 aerial image and the 1887 Sanborn Map shows that another home once stood where 931 Elm St. is. The original home was demolished sometime in the 1890s, and the current bungalow was built circa 1900. The address of the original home was 131 Elm St., which was also a larger lot. Today, both 931 Elm. St. and its neighbor to the east stand where the original home was constructed.

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.)

The 1898 Sanborn Map is the first of the Sanborn Maps to show the current building. The Map also shows that the property had a small carriage house out back. Both neighboring properties, however, were transformed in the 1900s.

The 1898 Sanborn Map (updated to 1914) is the first of the Sanborn Maps to show the current building. The Map also shows that the property had a small carriage house out back. Both neighboring properties, however, were transformed in the 1900s.

The 1915 Sanborn Map shows that 931 Elm St. has undergone a renovation, and has received an expansion. Though the carriage house is still standing according to this map, it was demolished in the middle of the 20th century. The properties surrounding 931 Elm St. finally resemble their current sizes and shapes as well.

The 1915 Sanborn Map (updated to 1941) shows that 931 Elm St. has undergone a renovation, and has received an expansion. Though the carriage house is still standing according to this map, it was demolished in the middle of the 20th century. The properties surrounding 931 Elm St. finally resemble their current sizes and shapes as well.

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.”

A 2012 aerial image of the Elm Street/North Square area. (courtesy Map Indy)

A 2012 aerial image of the Elm Street/North Square area. (courtesy Map Indy)

A 1972 aerial image of the North Square area, before the Interstate was constructed. (courtesy Map Indy)

A 1972 aerial image of the North Square area, before the Interstate was finished. (courtesy Map Indy)

A 1962 aerial image of the North Square area, before homes were demolished to make room for the Interstate.

A 1962 aerial image of the North Square area. (courtesy Map Indy)

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.

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

A VHS of "Save the Last Dance" rests, forgotten, on top of the fireplace. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

A VHS of “Save the Last Dance” rests, forgotten, on top of the fireplace. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

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.

7 responses to “Sunday Prayers: 931 Elm St.”

  1. William Wagon says:

    Come on down to Elm Street! I just renovated 1055 Elm Street to LEED for Homes Platinum standards (certification pending). I’m very bullish on this street and neighborhood. This house definitely has potential.

    If someone looking to renovate this place would like a friendly (and free) consultation on green building and lead-safe strategies appropriate to this neighborhood and property, just ask. I’m happy to share what I have learned along the way.

  2. Jordan Ryan says:

    I love this house! My boyfriend actually looked at it because he was considering buying a home close to my current home.

    There’s two things going wrong with this home. First of all, setback laws (10 feet total between the two sides of the house) would not allow for the house to be completely bulldozed and rebuilt. The house would have to be even skinnier than it already is. Because of this, you have to work with the foundation.

    Here lies the other problem: the company or an affiliated real estate company is a predator, buying foreclosed homes in bulk in the area then jacking up the price beyond reasonable to squeeze every penny out of it. Did I mention that they don’t put a dime of work into the house? So no one can afford to buy a house for that high, work with the existing foundation and rebuild the home from the studs, and make their money back in a reasonable amount of time.

    This is why Fountain Square house flippers like two chicks and a hammer won’t even buy it, if they can’t get their moneys worth they won’t go for it. 24k is just too high for even a small family or young professional to put all of the required work into it and see a good investment in the next 10 years.

    It’s a bad situation, perpetuated by these real estate companies. The real estate agent who showed us the house was told by an agent from the owning company “to pay full listing or don’t bother because it had two other offers on the table.” Well that was THREE MONTHS AGO. liars! bad for business and bad for Fountain Square. My boyfriend could have already been putting in work to this home if it wasn’t for these bad practices.

  3. Greg says:

    Thanks for this post. I live in North Square and walk by this house almost every day. I had no idea it was in such bad shape. Can an empty, mold-infested home ever be considered a public health hazard? I’d be very concerned if this house was next to mine.

  4. Dawn Olsen says:

    Thanks for reading, Greg! The home doesn’t look *too* bad on the outside, but there are tarps over some of the holes. I had never been in a home in such bad condition before. The smell of the mold was incredibly overwhelming. The entire thing needs to be gutted, and rebuilt from scratch. However, there are some complicated matters when it comes to rebuilding this property (you can read about them in Jordan’s comment).

  5. Dawn Olsen says:

    Jordan, you and your boyfriend’s frustrations mimic those of my fiance and I! This was one of the first homes he looked at in Fountain Square. He absolutely loves its North Square location. He also sees the potential in the home, and has spent several hours designing various floor plans for it. You’re quite right, though; it is a CHALLENGE. Rebuilding/redoing the the house with the existing foundation is the best option … assuming that the foundation doesn’t need a lot of stabilizing. The price tag attached to the property is appalling. When we walked through it, the realtor and construction manager said it was worth a fraction of that price, given all the work that would need to be done. I almost have to wonder what the intentions behind the home are because, in reality, there is hardly anyone who would be willing to take such a monetary risk. It breaks my heart. No one wants to see an empty, rotting house. And no one wants to see an empty lot where it once stood, either.

  6. Dawn Olsen says:

    Thanks for reading! I actually mentioned the 1055 Elm St. house (and also linked to the project website), as it is another example of how Fountain Square and North Square are growing and rehabilitating. Hopefully we’ll see more green homes/green construction pop up in the area!

  7. Bill says:

    It appears the home could not be saved as a 3-story structure now sits at that location.

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