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These doubles are located at 1726 Cottage Ave. and have been vacant for some time. The development, constructed circa 1922, was once a mildly upscale area for newly married couples to start their lives. (photo by Dawn Olsen)

There is but one thing missing from the archives, photographs, directories, and censuses of the past: a personal side. It’s true that collections and public records are abundant with facts—one can find what year a person bought a house, who designed a particular property, or what the original façade of a commercial building looked like. But, too often, the data doesn’t share what we truly seek—memories. Recollections of daily life. What was it actually like to live and breathe and walk the streets of historic Indianapolis?

These days, the 1700 block of Cottage Avenue is a bit patchy. There are some bumps, some cracks in the road. A chipped sidewalk or two. The homes are snugly nestled together, separated by the occasional chain-link fence. Plywood is nailed to the windows and doors of more than one home. And, in fact, it decorates all of the doubles at 1726 Cottage Ave.

The 1915 Sanborn Map (updated to 1941) is the first Sanborn to exhibit the doubles on Cottage Avenue. A larger home, unit No. 17, was the northernmost residential building on the property. Three carriage houses/garages were located on the back of the property as well.

The 1915 Sanborn Map (updated to 1941) is the first Sanborn to exhibit the doubles on Cottage Avenue. A larger home, unit No. 17, was the northernmost residential building on the property. Three carriage houses/garages were located on the back of the property as well.

The doubles, separated by a grassy strip deemed “Emily Court,” were constructed circa 1922. The first floor of each apartment home had a living room, dining room, and kitchen (arranged shotgun style). The bedrooms were located on the second floor. Front porches encouraged socialization and allowed mothers to overlook their children’s communal playtime. And while that sense of community is rare these days, Sue Zobbe—an individual who grew up in the area—recounted for me a time when the apartments were more than just a bundle of vacant homes.

“I saw Emily Court four times a day every school day from 1941 to 1949,” Zobbe said. “Those of us who lived south and west of there had to walk on the south side of Cottage to reach School No. 20. [We] all knew Emily Court.”

At that time, she said, mothers would sit out on the steps and watch the children play in the grassy strip. “A lot of people had little kids,” Zobbe said. “Moms [would] wheel the buggies and Taylor Tots out to visit with the neighbors.”

(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)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

Sixty years later, I shuffled my own feet up the steps and along the sidewalk of the Cottage court apartments. I tried to look past the shattered windows, falling gutters, and dangling, tangled wires. I tried to envision young mothers chatting to each other, sharing recipes and talking of community activities. Those women—women who would have been the same age as my great-grandmother—had been starting their families. Raising their children. Making a foundation there in Indianapolis, in Emily Court.

And what of that past was left?

The courtyard itself appeared to be in good condition, but no laughter echoed in the open space. There were no children to race between the homes, to dart and hide and scrape their knees. In fact, the only thing that scurried between the apartments (other than my significant other and I) was a small dog, a Chihuahua mix barely taller than the overgrown grass. The dog stared at us warily, one paw hanging in mid-step. It was judging us, and questioning why we were there when everyone else had given up.

“Are they going to tear those down?”

I turned and saw a casually-dressed man calling to us. “They finally getting rid of those?” He gestured to the apartments, which—if possible—looked to be in worse shape in the back than they were in the front. “I’ve contacted the State Department of Health a couple of times about getting these torn down, but nothing ever happens,” he continued. “They need to go. Bad for the neighborhood.”

“Have they been trying to renovate them?” My fiancé asked. “There’s a dumpster sitting there and there have been some new windows and doors added in some of them.”

“Yeah, but they don’t do very much at a time,” the man says. “They’ve done bits and pieces, but I haven’t seen them working on anything for about two months now.”

I look over my shoulder. I see graffiti. Loose boards. A practically non-existent back porch. “How long have they been vacant?” I asked.

The man’s mouth contorted with thought. “I think … hmm … I think about a year,” he said.

My eyes widened and my tongue hit the roof of my mouth. “A year? A YEAR?” I repeated, my eyebrows raised. “This … this … I …. Wow.” I had no words. I sputtered. Judging by the outside condition of the property, the apartments had been neglected for much longer. But what baffled me the most is that people—someone, a real person—had been living in the property despite its obvious maladies. “One year,” I said again. I hopped onto a back porch and immediately gasped with surprise as a bird rocketed from behind a board—out of the house itself—and flew just above my head. “One. Year,” I enunciated, after shaking off the feeling of nearly being kamikazed.

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

The 1980 city directory (the only directory to list the doubles under "Emily Court," rather than "Cottage Avenue") shows that a fourth of the units are vacant. Another three units are listed as "no return."

The 1980 city directory shows that a fourth of the units are vacant. Another three units are listed as “no return.”

“I wish I could talk to the owner,” I said to my fiancé. “But they haven’t called me back. I left some messages. I guess they bought the property last year. It says 2012 on the parcel information.”

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time when the Cottage court apartments went into a decline. But, as with many dilapidated properties, the downward slope is gradual and is often attributed to a combination of several factors—an economic downturn, a shift from streetcar to automobile, a change in industry, a shift a demographics. It is known, however, that four of the units were vacant in 1980, and another three were listed as “No Return” in the city directory. (The homes just across the street—1725 and 1727 Cottage Ave.—were also listed as “No Return” and “Vacant,” respectively.) The No. 17 unit, however, was inhabited at the time. No. 17 was the northernmost building, one at located at the “top” of Emily Court. Though that unit was part of the original construction, it was demolished around 1999. There is but a small pile of rubble left.

This 1937 satellite image shows the well-kept apartments surrounding Emily Court. The No. 17 unit is in place, and the three garages are also standing. The garages would be torn down sometime in the 1960s, and No. 17 would be demolished around 1999. (photo from MapIndy)

This 1937 satellite image shows the well-kept apartments surrounding Emily Court. The No. 17 unit is in place, and the three garages are also standing. The garages would be torn down sometime in the 1960s, and No. 17 would be demolished around 1999. (photo from MapIndy)

A satellite image from 2012 shows that work is being done on the Cottage Avenue apartments. Note that the four buildings at the back of the property (three garages and one residential dwelling) have been demolished. (photo from MapIndy)

A satellite image from 2012 shows that work is being done on the Cottage Avenue apartments. Note that the four buildings at the back of the property (three garages and one residential dwelling) have been demolished. (photo from MapIndy)

Zobbe, however, remembers when the homes were still in their prime. She described the homes as “mildly upscale” and said that they were a good starting place for newly married couples. She added that a man with the surname “Scheier” used to live in the apartments and that his sister, Marie, resided there when she first got married (to a man with the surname Gray, to my understanding). Zobbe herself had been inside one of units as well. “My parents’ friends lived there,” she said. “And I would stop on my way home from school and visit them. It was a big living room. Big for that size house. Pretty roomy. I probably didn’t get much past there. I don’t remember where the bathrooms were. But it had, maybe, a little back porch.” She paused. “Now why would I remember that? … I was nosy. Probably.” And she laughed, I with her. In fact, I hung to her every word, listening, typing, remembering, imagining. It wasn’t just the Cottage court apartments I was learning about, it was a personal childhood.

But Zobbe wasn’t the only one with stories.

The 1940 city directory lists "Harold P. Scheier" as the occupant of unit No. 2.

The 1940 city directory lists “Harold P. Scheier” as the occupant of unit No. 2. Paul H. Gray is listed as living in No. 6.

By chance, my fiancé and I spoke to another local, a man who had lived on Cottage his entire life. He had been watching us wander the property, and had watched me snap a few photos. So, when we finally crossed the street and headed back to the car, he, too, shouted toward us.

“They finally taking those things down?” Cigarette in hand, he gestured from his porch and toward the doubles. “Blight,” he says out of the corner of his mouth. He tells us all sorts of stories then. Stories about the fire hydrant that used to be at the corner of Cottage and Asbury; a hydrant that he and others would wrench open to host unauthorized hydrant parties. Stories about dozens of kids playing in the street, as compared to the two brothers who circled their bikes around the block now. Stories about his childhood home, and how the water heater had exploded. About how the Cottage court apartments were initially constructed as a place to go for the young men who grew out of the nearby General Protestant Orphan’s Home. And how, in 1973, Hells Angels bought the doubles and fixed each one of them up.

“They brought a bunch of trucks in,” the man says. “And each one of them had new washers and dryers and everything in them. When they were here, when the Hells Angels were here, [the Cottage court apartments] were nice. I used to let them park their bikes in my yard. Didn’t bother me one bit.” He extinguishes his cigarette, takes a step back and crosses his arms. “Yeah, they were only here for a few years, though. 1978 or so. Police raided them. They put down this long, black plastic tarp—” he points across the street, from one corner of 1726 Cottage Ave. to the other—“and lined up all the guns they found there. 300-some, I think. All lined up. I remember that.”

He remembered, and we listened. I listened. Because even if memories are tainted from time and whiskey, there has to be some story hidden beneath it all. There has to be a perspective. A personal history. And this man? Regardless of truth, he’s seen it. He saw the homes in pristine condition, occupied. And he saw them when the neighborhood children would play in the streets and in the yards, yelling and laughing. And he sees them now, empty, depressing.

“Back in the day,” he said, rocking back on forth on his feet. “Back in the day.”

Zobbe is sentimental as well. “I don’t go down the street I lived on anymore. It makes me cry,” she said. “It was a very loving neighborhood. It’s a war zone now.”

(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)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

16 responses to “Sunday Prayers: A Community on Cottage”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Dawn, there’s a similar block in the northeast quadrant of East Washington Street and State Avenue in the “State Plaza Addition” that was developed when the State Deaf School was relocated north of the State Fair Grounds from this location and Willard Park across the street (named for the first superintendent; this location was originally his farm as well prior to the Deaf School moving east from Pennsylvania Street downtown about where the original Indianapolis High School was located-now where the Minton-Capehart Federal building is at 575 N Penn). This block, running north for about a block from Washington Street, is about a block or so east of State Avenue. There’s a greenway with doubles on both sides that appear to be built when the State sold this land after moving the Deaf School. that one might be worth checking out as well. Just a suggestion. You and your husband could maybe wander over there for some “East Side Story” history.

  2. Joan Hostetler says:

    Basil: Do you happen to know anything else about this east-side housing area? Is in Hendrick’s Place or Parkview? Do you know the developers?

  3. Norm Morford says:

    Wow! Has anything been written by the academic community on the history of motorcycle clubs [gangs] in Indy? It seems that some time in the last 30 years there was a house on the north side of W. Michigan that had been such a “clubhouse.” Perhaps it had been under surveillance by the police and there was a “shootout” and some key persons arrested on drug charges. I suppose there must be some stories on that place in the Star’s records.

    SO, why hasn’t the Star done this kind of investigative reporting? With the reduction in their numbers of reporters and editors perhaps it has been impossible.

    Coming back from Grant County yesterday, I stopped at the only commercial place open in Windfall, Indiana. The Kokomo paper and the Indpls. Star were the only Sunday papers available, but the Star was for sale for $3.00. Imagine paying that for so little news and so many ads ! ! !

  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    100% agreement!

  5. Kevin Woods says:

    I lived in in the double, on the corner of Cottage and Dawson streets, from 1966 to 1974 , which is about 2 blocks away from the Cottage courts. They were in pretty bad condition by then. I attended elementary school at IPS school 20. And the school kids called them the “cottage dumps” . I also remember the motorcycle gang and the raid. The gang wasn’t the Hells Angles , their name was the Cossacks. There was a lot of guns piled up outside in the street. The alley behind behind State st. abd Cottage was a hill and the neighborhood kids used to use it for sledding and coasters.

  6. Monique says:

    This is a nice article. There are some other delevopments in town built like this, with the homes facing each other in a common yard. Anyone know what this kind of development is called?

  7. Rae says:

    “This 1937 satellite image shows the well-kept apartments surrounding Emily Court. The No. 17 unit is in place, and the three garages are also standing. The garages would be torn down sometime in the 1960s, and No. 17 would be demolished around 1999. (photo from MapIndy)”

    I don’t believe we had satellite images in 1937…Is the date incorrect or is it perhaps an aerial photo as opposed to satellite image – actually from 1937?

    I enjoy your site.

  8. basil berchekas jr says:

    i don’t know if this relates or not, but the US Dept of Agriculture used to have aerial photos done across the country starting in the 1930s…have seen some that used to be posted on the Marion County Extension website several years ago of the Castleton-Allisonville area that depicted the continued urbanization of that part of Northeast Marion County through aerials from the late 1930s through, say, 2004…

  9. Dawn Olsen says:

    Hi, Rae! You’re quite right; I did mean “aerial.” I used the incorrect word. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be trying to compose my articles at 3:00 in the morning.) The image is from 1937, regardless. The Map Indy site (http://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/) allows you to view aerial photos all the way to 1937. It’s interesting to go back and see how things looked then, or even how the city looked in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Thanks so much for reading!

  10. Dawn Olsen says:

    Kevin, thank you so much for clarifying, and for adding your memories to this post. Do you remember what year (and perhaps what month) the raid occurred? The man I talked to alluded to a news article about it, and I would love to find it and share it here. (I haven’t found it yet.) The man also said that the reason the bikers parked their bikes in his yard is because the bikes would fall over in the alley (as it was a hill).

  11. judy chadwell says:

    I was looking at the pictures of the doubles on 1724 and 1726 cottage st indpls ind and I lived in both sets at one time with my family. and we had a lot of memerios there and meet a lot of people and made a lot of friends there. I cant believe how run down they are now. really I cant believe that there still standing. they were bad when I lived there but I do miss the old place

  12. judy chadwell says:

    when I lived there it was 1990 to 1993 and then 2003. they were really bad then. the gentleman that owned them then name was steve and Melvin and penny Hayworth was the property mangers. we called them cottage courts. my kids went school 20

  13. Quentin E. Walton, Sr. says:

    I am the current owner of Cottage Mews

    (317) 937-1173 – mobile
    (317) 559-4252 – office

  14. Wendy says:

    I live at 1724 Cottage,#12,my Dad and I would watch Hee-Haw together,my sister Patti was severely burnt there,my brother Mike had some horrible life scaring times,I had my ears pierced when I was eight,a friend and I would try to outrun each other around an old iron gate,a friend pierced his leg on that gate,trying to look cool for the girls,my Dad would throw change out of his pockets to all my friends for Mr. Softy on a Friday night,one time my Dad dressed as a ghost for Halloween,the lady in #14 threw a brick at him,knocked him out–also Dad caught fire too in our basement once! He almost died. we of course had tornados warnings and watches and my Dad loved to look at the skies. we moved when I was 12, I miss those days, my Dad passed away in Ohio 1990. I miss him.

  15. Larry Striebeck says:

    I recently found a copy of my Mother’s Birth Certificate. Her address at time of birth?
    1724 Cottage. First I searched “Google Earth” and saw it at the time of that site’s last update.
    An internet search led me to this page, and I am certainly glad of that!
    I’m on a search now in her photographs for any images of that address and area.

  16. Larry striebeck says:

    As an addendum to my previous comment- My Mother’s date of birth?
    08 November 1924.
    I wonder if her parents, My Maternal Grandparents, were the first owners of the property.
    Sadly, there is no one left to ask…

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