Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Booths Move to Downey Avenue

Dr. John H. Booth, a rising star within the Disciples of Christ's Board of Church Extension arrived in Irvington in 1928. He had already been named as the Executive Secretary for that organization as a young man and came to the neighborhood from St. Louis because the Extension moved into the Missions Building at 222 South Downey Avenue.

John Booth was born on a farm near Wichita, Kansas in 1880. His family moved around a lot so his education was intermittent. He was a determined young man, however, and managed to finished high school in his twenties. He matriculated to Drake University where he met Corinne Schultz. They married in 1907 and had six children. As a young man, he became a preacher for the Disciples of Christ.

In 1911, he joined the Board of Church Extension, an organization for the Disciples of Christ, that raised money and administered loans for congregations seeking to build churches or Sunday Schools. His job was a busy one and kept him away from his family for much of the year. Mrs. Booth, a classically trained pianist, kept the home fires burning in all of the places where the Booths lived. The couple moved into 280 South Downey Avenue in 1928 and remained in the lovely home for most of the rest of their lives.

One of his grandsons, Mac Fife, remembers Dr. Booth as a confident person with a booming voice. Mr. Fife noted that his grandfather was a man of conviction who was devoted to the church.  Another grandson, John Charles Booth, recalled sitting next to his grandfather as they listened to a radio newscast hosted by Gabrielle Heatter during World War II.  Dr. Booth frequently became emotional and angry upon hearing the casualty reports from the fronts. He also recalled that his grandfather smoked a cigar and that each time he smells one today he thinks of him.

The Booths frequently hosted missionaries from all over the world in their home. Mrs. Booth was a nurturing person who was very involved in Irvington organizations like the Chautauqua Club, the Tuesday Club, and many church groups. Beginning in 1938, Mrs. Booth began to document the family in her journals.  Dr. Booth led the Board of Church Extension through both the Great Depression and World War II. He retired in 1948 leaving the finances in healthy shape for the next generation.

Although he stepped down in 1948, Dr. Booth was still very active in the church for the remainder of his life.  He lived long enough to help dedicate the new Board of Church Extension building in the round at 110 South Downey Avenue in 1958. He died in 1960 of heart failure. Mrs. Booth passed away in 1971 and the beautiful home on Downey Avenue was sold to another family.

Dr. John H. and Corinne Booth posed in their home at 280 South Downey Avenue on Christmas Day, 1948. They had already dwelled in the lovely home for twenty years.

280 South Downey Avenue in 2018

Dr. John H. Booth and his son, George, listened to the radio in their home at 280 South Downey Avenue c1935.

Bill Watkins (on the right) and an unidentified friend visited the Booths at 280 South Downey Avenue sometime in the mid-1930s. Mr. Watkins had come to visit Marjorie Booth, a daughter of Dr. John and Corinne Booth. Bill and Marjorie later married. You can see the rear of 270 (at the left) and 280 South Downey Avenue in this historic image. The home at the far right sat at 287 South Downey Avenue. It was later demolished. 

Dr. John and Corinne Booth stood on their front porch at 280 South Downey Avenue in 1954.


Dr. John Booth and his wife Corinne Schultz Booth celebrated 50 years of marriage in 1957. Behind them, you can see a "money tree" in their home at 280 South Downey Avenue.
Corinne Schultz Booth wrote in her diary nearly every day of her life beginning in 1938. In this photo, she posed at her writing desk in her home at 280 South Downey Avenue c1960.  


Stories and photos for this post are courtesy of Mac Fife and John Booth, the grandsons of Dr. John and Corinne Booth.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Mid-Century Marvel Arrives in Irvington in 1958

On June 17, 1958, officials from the Board of Church Extension, a division of the Disciples of Christ Church, gathered at 110 South Downey Avenue to dedicate the new "office in the round." The division had been responsible for raising money and administering loans to hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and South Africa who wanted to build churches, Sunday Schools, or complete repairs to existing structures. The Extension had been in Indianapolis since 1928 in the Missions Building at 222 South Downey Avenue. In the mid-1950s, leaders began to look for a new site within Irvington to erect a separate headquarters.

By 1958, there was little land upon which the Board of Church Extension could build upon in Irvington. Therefore, they sought out an existing property that could be torn down. The site needed to be large enough to host an office building and a parking lot. They found that site just a block to the south of the Missions Building with the Scot Butler home and land.  Professor Butler, the son of the founder of Butler University, Ovid Butler, moved into Irvington in 1874. He and his growing family dwelled in the large brick Second Empire residence for decades. In 1943, the large old home became a post for the American Legion. Church officials bought the house and the three acres surrounding it in February of 1958. The historic home was removed and construction began in the spring of 1958.

The Disciples of Christ employed architects whose primary job was to help local congregations build a church that was appropriate for their community. From the 1920s through the 1950s, architects designed structures in the Gothic or Colonial style, but in 1953, the church declared these two styles "artistically archaic." (Lani Olson, Building a Witness, 1983, 59) The design of the new headquarters would give the Disciples a chance to demonstrate a new era in church architecture.

Three architects assisted with the plans for the new headquarters at 110 South Downey Avenue with Charles J. Betts as the leader. Assisting him were Rollin V. Mosher and E. Roger Frey. All three men worked for the Board of  Church Extension as church architects. James Pifer, another employee, supervised the construction.  Costing $200,000, the new structure dazzled and confounded many residents. Designed as a double circular building with an open-air courtyard in the center, the inner and outer walls were to be primarily of glass. Employees could make use of the natural or the florescent lighting in their offices. Desks were designed to fit the radii of the building. Other modern features included an intercom system, an automatic telephone system, piped music, and air-conditioning.

The Disciples held two open houses. Over 400 people streamed through the building at the first open house on December 9, 1958. Betts and his team's new 10,000 square foot structure was unlike any ever erected in Irvington. The Disciples pulled out of the neighborhood in 1995 and the building has hosted various offices and businesses since that time. The structure has largely remained the same although an air-conditioning unit now sits along the limestone wall that faces Downey Avenue.

The Scot Butler Home at 124 South Downey Avenue was demolished by the Disciples of Christ for a new office building in 1958. (image courtesy of the Indianapolis Star, June 2, 1958)

Architectural rendering of the new Board of Church Extension office for the Disciples of Christ in 1958 (image courtesy of the Indianapolis Star, March 2, 1958)

Dignitaries from the Disciples of Christ gathered on June 17, 1958 to dedicate the cornerstone of the new office building at 110 South Downey Avenue. William T.  Pearcy was at the microphone. The man standing second from the left was Dr. John H. Booth, a past President of the Board of Church Extension. The man is the dark suit was Spencer Austin. At the far right in the photo was likely Charles J. Betts, an architect. (Image courtesy of Mac Fife)


Dr. John H. Booth (left) prepared for his dedicatory address at the Board of Church Extension ceremony on June 17, 1958. The man with the cornerstone in the middle was likely the Reverend Lloyd Channels, chairman of the Board of Directors. At the far right, stood architect Charles J. Betts. (Image courtesy of Mac Fife)

110 South Downey Avenue in 2018

110 South Downey Avenue in 2018


Sources:  "Church Group to Dedicate 'Office in the Round,'" Indianapolis News, June 14, 1958, 5; "Circular Church Unit Office Utilizes Glass for Majority of Wall Surface," Indianapolis Star, March 23, 1959, 20; "Church 'Office in the Round' Dedication to be December 9," Indianapolis Star, November 15, 1958, 10; "'Office in the Round' Planned as Disciples New $200,000 Home," Indianapolis Star, March 2, 1958, 5; Interview with Mac Fife, June 15, 2018.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tragedy at East New York Street and Linwood Avenue--1946

A crowd gathered at the intersection of East New York Street and Linwood Avenue on May 1, 1946. It was a rainy and sadly a tragic day for Mrs. Luella Cummings, who dwelled at 423 North Linwood Avenue. The eighty-year old woman was attempting to walk across New York Street when she was struck and killed by Dexter Maitland of Los Angeles, California. Mr. Maitland was later charged with reckless driving, vagrancy, and failure to maintain his brakes.

The shops visible in the photograph were located at 4417 to 4427 East New York Street. The Tudor-Revival structure still stands in 2018. The accident had been on a Wednesday afternoon so it was likely that all of the businesses were open and perhaps hosting customers. Some of the shops operating that day included:  Ward's Radio Service, Elmo Douglas Photography, Janie Hughes Beauty Shop, G & S Gift Novelties, and Red Seal Cleaners. If you zoom in on the faces of the men, you will note that they have grave expressions. Were they customers in the shops? Business owners? Is one of the men Mr. Maitland? The Buick in the photograph belonged to him. One police officer is identified as Audry Jacobs.  Inspector Jacobs worked in the traffic division for the Indianapolis Police Department for years. At age 15, his father was killed by a drunken driver so he dedicated his life to various causes that could help with traffic safety including one-way streets, synchronized traffic signals, and "walk-wait" signals.

With School #54 located nearby, the police department likely had to work quickly to get the area cleared before the dismissal of the pupils.

Scene of the Tragedy: Luella Cummings of 423 N. Linwood Avenue was struck and killed as she walked across East New York Street on May 1, 1946.

Luella Cummings
The historic image is courtesy of Patrick Pearsey and Indy Long Ago Facebook page. Information for this article came from "Woman Pedestrian, 80, is Year's 25th City Traffic Victim," Indianapolis News, May 2, 1946; Obituary of Audry Jacobs, Indianapolis News, December 28, 1968, 11.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Final Days of the International Harvester/ Navistar Plant

Irvington has gone through many changes over the years. The neighborhood began as an exclusive enclave, morphed into a college town, and by the mid-twentieth century it had transitioned into an industrial era. While the original founders might have chafed at the notion that factories might be constructed near the community, it would be enterprises like the addition of the International Harvester plant at 5565 Brookville Road in 1938 that would keep the area stable for the remainder of the twentieth century.

Shortly after its construction, factory workers and management began to purchase or lease residences throughout Irvington. It would be an easy walk or a quick drive to work. During World War II, the factory became instrumental into contributing to the "arsenal of democracy."  Sons followed their fathers into the plant as workers brought home decent wages. A similar story unfolded when Navistar moved in.

Today, the factory is silent as are many nearby. In the spring of 2018, demolition crews have been working around the clock to dismantle this once vibrant place. The Irvington Historical Society has been documenting the lives and stories of the workers at the plants. If you are in the Indianapolis area, be sure to stop by the Bona Thompson Center and check out the rooms dedicated to this era of Irvington's history.

The former International Harvester/ Navistar plant in the spring of 2018

Coming Down: The International Harvester/ Navistar factory at 5565 Brookville Road (spring, 2018)



Sunday, May 13, 2018

Police Accident Along South Emerson in 1945

William and Orpha Lawson were the first family to call the modest bungalow at 156 South Emerson Avenue "home." They had lived in the residence since 1928 along with their only child, Gerald.  The house located just two lots north of the Pennsylvania Railroad would be an apt place for the family to live as Mr. Lawson served as a conductor for that rail line. On a cool evening on November 30, 1945, the Lawson home became the scene of an accident involving a police car. It must have been a minor accident as there was no write-up in any of the Indianapolis newspapers and the photograph from that evening shows little damage to squad car 33.  Were the Lawsons home at the time?  Their dwelling is barely visible in the darkness that had descended upon the neighborhood.

In researching this accident and trying to uncover morsels about the Lawsons, I found a rather remarkable story. Gerald or Jerry Lawson, the only child of William and Orpha Lawson, graduated from Shortridge High School. The handsome young man lived with his parents on Emerson Avenue and eventually met a stunningly beautiful local Shortridge graduate named Priscilla Shortridge. He quickly discovered that the high school had been named for her grandfather although her father, Elmer Shortridge, was a foreman for a local railroad. The couple married on March 6, 1932, at the Englewood Christian Church. She was 18 and he was 25. Nothing in this story so far is unusual, but everything changed on September 24, 1933, when Jerry died of pneumonia. His nineteen-year-old widow signed his death certificate.

Priscilla Shortridge Lawson packed her bags and with her own mother in tow traveled to Miami Beach, Florida where she entered a beauty contest. It is unknown whether the Miss Miami Beach promoters knew that Priscilla Lawson had been married, but she won the contest. Soon, she and her Mother were off to Hollywood, California. Several Hollywood casting agents noticed her beauty and she received several smaller parts including as Princess Aura in Rocket Ship (1936).  Censors demanded that the directors reshoot some of her scenes in the film due to her skimpy costumes. The entire time she remained in Hollywood she was known Miss Priscilla Lawson even after she married actor, Alan Curtis. None of her Hollywood biographies ever mention how she acquired the name Lawson and poor Jerry seems to have vanished in history.

And while Priscilla Lawson appears to have never mentioned her first husband again, nearly every year after his death, William and Orpha Lawson published tributes to their deceased son in the Indianapolis News.  By the time of the fender bender in the photograph below, Miss Lawson's career was over and her former in-laws prepared for retirement.

A damaged police car parked in front of 156 South Emerson Avenue on a dark night on November 30, 1945 (photo courtesy of Patrick Pearsey and the Indianapolis Long Ago Facebook Page)

156 South Emerson Avenue in 2018: It was built in 1928 for William and Orpha Lawson.

Gerald Lawson, the son of William and Orpha Lawson (156 S. Emerson Avenue) died tragically young leaving a young widow.  (source: Indianapolis News, September 26, 1933)

Priscilla Shortridge married Gerald Lawson in 1932 at age 18. She was a widow by age 19. She eventually won a beauty contest and received several acting roles in Hollywood films in the 1930s and early 1940s. She died in 1958 at the age of 44. (source:  Indianapolis Star, December 19, 1937)





Saturday, April 28, 2018

Intersection and Accident Scene in 1945 and 2018

On November 26, 1945, a police officer was involved in an accident at the intersection of East Washington Street and Audubon Road. It was not a terrible crash, but someone from the Indianapolis Police Department documented the scene. While the focus of the photographer is on the damaged vehicle, behind the squad car you can see the Audubon Court Apartments and the two houses that used to stand at 5723 and 5731 East Washington Street. Beyond the two houses, you can view the Indiana Bell Telephone Building.  The historic images are courtesy of Patrick Pearsey and the Indianapolis Long Ago Facebook page.

Damaged Police Car: Parked on the north side of East Washington Street, you can see some of the commercial strip that used to sit on north side of the street in 1945 as well as what is today called the Suites of Irvington Apartments at 5730 East Washington Street.

In this view, you can see the Audubon Court Apartments as well as the homes that used to sit at 5723 and 5731 East Washington Street. The Pinnick and Lawler families dwelled in those homes at the time of the accident in 1945.  

The intersection of East Washington Street and Audubon Road in 2018.  

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Stone House on the Corner

One of the most intriguing and unusual homes in Irvington is located at 380 South Emerson Avenue. Likely built in 1907 for Elmer and Luella Gay, the house appears to face Brookville Road, but has an Emerson Avenue address. Mr. Gay worked for the New York Store and Pettis Dry Goods. He was also involved in Republican party politics.  Mrs. Gay was an active club woman and helped to raise their two daughters, Dorothy and Hazel. The 1910 Federal Census reveals that the Gays also had an African-American servant named Kate Tarant living with them along with Mrs. Gay's mother, Ada Smith.

Little is known about the construction of the residence nor why the Gays chose fieldstone, but they did hail from Maine so perhaps they had been inspired by a house in that state. More investigative work will be needed on this topic.

The "Society" sections of the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star reveal that many events and meetings took place in the dwelling. On November 9, 1909, Mrs. Gay hosted the Irvington Tuesday Club and gave a speech on "The Development of the English Novel."  Her daughter, Dorothy, a student at Butler University, hosted a dance at the house on Christmas night, 1913, for the Butler football team and the Pi Beta Phi Sorority. The Indianapolis Star carried a lengthy description of the event. Forty guests attended and found a house decorated for the gala. Mrs. Gay placed clusters of poinsettias and Christmas candles throughout the living room and dining room. Holly dangled from archways and windows.  A small Christmas tree on a large table served as the centerpiece in the dining room. The Gays recruited several adult family members to serve as chaperones.

Perhaps one of the loveliest events to take place in the home occurred on the evening of February 2, 1918, with the wedding of Dorothy Gay to Lt. Clifford R. Wright. Mr. Wright was about to be deployed to Europe during World War One. The Reverend M.L. Haines, a Presbyterian minister, conducted the service.  The couple stood under an archway draped with an American flag as they spoke their vows. A violinist played "The Broken Melody" by August Van Biene and "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert.  Miss Ruby Winders sang "Out of the Mist," while Miss Vera Sweetman played the piano. Guests sat near the fireplace festooned with palms, ferns, and greenery. Pink and white roses donned nearby tables and window ledges. It must have been a beautiful night.

Mr. Gay had a strong interest in Republican-party politics. He served twice on the Indianapolis Board of Pubic Safety. In 1929, seventeen prominent businessmen in the city endorsed him as a mayoral candidate although he later removed his name in favor of another candidate. In 1930, he was appointed to run the Indiana Masonic Home in Franklin. He had been an active Mason his entire adult life so at the age of 65, he took over the responsibility of running the home. He was a widower at that point in his life as Mrs. Gay had passed away in 1926. His daughter Hazel and her husband Justus Paul took over the responsibility for running the property at 380 South Emerson Avenue. They remained until 1932.  Mr. Gay died in Methodist Hospital in 1954.

Elmer Gay's photo appeared in the Indianapolis Star on November 20, 1909, after he was appointed to the Indianapolis Board of Public Safety by Mayor Lew Shanks

Elmer Gay in 1930

Hazel Gay's wedding announcement appeared in the Indianapolis Star on August 5, 1917. Her sister, Dorothy, married six months later.  

380 South Emerson Avenue in 2018

Sources:  "E.F. Gay Seeks Office of Mayor," Indianapolis Star, September 25, 1929, 1; "E.F. Gay on Board of Public Safety," Indianapolis Star, November 15, 1922, 1; "Elmer F. Gay Withdraws," Indianapolis Star, October 5, 1929, 1; "Gay Named Superintendent of Indiana Masonic Home," Indianapolis Star, July 8, 1930, 1; Elmer Gay Obituary, Indianapolis Star, November 27, 1954, 16; "Society" (Butler Dance) Indianapolis Star, December 26, 1913, 7; "Becomes Officer's Bride," Indianapolis Star. February 3, 1918, 28.