Saturday, June 30, 2012

Craftsman Stunner on Beechwood Avenue

Irvington has an amazing diversity of housing stock.  Grand Italianate villas sit near small post-World War II cottages, and then there is 5621 Beechwood Ave.  Built in 1912, for William G. and Sadie Forsythe, the home, according to local historian Paul Diebold, "has a distinctive pattern of half timbering on its facade."  Mr. Diebold in his book Greater Irvington also commented on the Prairie influence in the design.  Possibly created by Charles H. Byfield, the dwelling stood as the only house on Beechwood Avenue from Burgess to Audubon for many years.  William Forsythe (no relation to the artist William Forsyth) was a railway clerk.  His wife Sadie stayed at home and raised their children Helen, Marjorie and William, Jr.  The couple also employed a servant.  They moved from the dwelling in 1920.  Other families to occupy the beautiful home were the Falloons, Grays, and Beckers.

5621 Beechwood in 1923

In 1923, Delta Delta Delta Sorority moved in and stayed for the remainder of the decade.  After Butler departed Irvington in 1928, the lovely structure served as a long term home for several families.

Interior shots taken in 1923--5621 Beechwood Avenue

Notice the stunning woodwork, the unusual staircase, and the beautiful fireplace.  The home used to have a porte de cochere so that visitors would not get wet upon their arrival.  Wouldn't it be great to pay the home a visit during these days?  Notice the wallpaper frieze.  I wonder what colors the walls might have been.

5621 Beechwood Avenue in 2012

The historic images are courtesy of Amy Friedly.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Deal Near for Historic Building?

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission reports that Tharp Investments has asked for another continuance until August.  The firm is attempting to sell the former Post Office and Hook's Drug Store.  The company has been in lengthy negotiations with an unnamed buyer for most of the spring and early summer.  If the deal falls through then Tharp will ask for permission to demolish the building in August.  Hopefully, the ink can be signed soon and the building rescued from it current situation.  More details will be posted as they become known.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chaille's Shoes Operated During Much of the Twentieth Century

Howard L. Chaille (1890-1963) opened his first shoe business, a repair shop, in the 1920s at 9 North Ritter Avenue.  In 1935,  he began selling shoes and moved into the Tudor-Revival shops at 5622 East Washington Street.  Generations of Irvington residents purchased shoes from Mr Chaille.  His business became lucrative enough that the family moved into a charming bungalow at 832 N. Campbell Avenue.  His wife, Lola M. Chaille (1899-1975), helped to raise their children.  One child, Eva, would grow up to become a teacher and marry Robert E. Phelps.  Mr. Phelps took over the operation of the shoe store in the mid-twentieth century and ran the business until the early 1990s.  Loyal customers kept the store open longer than most independent shoe stores even as people began to flock to the suburban malls for their clothes.

Today's historic images, likely taken around 1985, show Chaille's Shoes towards to the end of its life span in Irvington.  Next door, you can see the A La Cheri Beauty Salon and the McCleish Dance Studio (click on the link below to more about this business).  A photo, likely taken around 1960, also shows the interior of the shop.

Robert Phelps, the son-in-law of Howard Chaille, took over the family business and ran it during the second half of the twentieth century.  The man in this photo has been identified as Louie Saba, a skilled cobbler for Mr. Phelps.  

East Washington Street shops circa 1985

East Washington Street shops on June 26, 2012

The contemporary image reveals that the present generation is busy improving East Washington Street. The facades of the shops are now protected by the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and the corridor is being transformed into more of a destination with new street lights, park benches, brick walkways and more.  Chaille's Shoes is the home of Edward Jones Investment Group in 2012.  Next door you can see two other thriving businesses:  Geneva Hair Studio and Homespun.  A future photo will be posted to document the transformation of the street that is ongoing as I type this post.

The historic images are courtesy of Kent Hankins.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Missing Tooth--A House Reemerges From the Grave 36 Years Later

Sometimes when you are a historian, you get sent into directions you never imagined.  For instance, when local Irvington resident, Kent Hankins, presented me with today's historic image, I had to do a double take.  With only one recognizable structure, I had to figure out where this photo was taken.  The photographer intended to take a picture of the procession of children.  In the background, there was clearly a church, but the house looked unfamiliar.

It didn't take long to figure out that the religious institution in the photo was the former St. Matthews Episcopal Church at 23 South Ritter Avenue.  That structure has hosted several denominations over the years including the Seventh Day Adventists and Baptists.  So, what of the house next door?  It is clearly gone today.  Who lived there?  I wanted to know more.

It turns out that the small bungalow at 21 South Ritter Avenue was likely built in 1927 by Harry L. and Grace L. Moore.  The couple would be the only family to ever live in the house and they dwelled in it for decades.  Mr. Moore worked in a variety of jobs.  He was a salesman and insurance agent.  He was probably most known for his appliance shop that he operated at 5420 East Washington Street called Moore's Modern Appliances.  An ad proclaimed that the shop sold everything from juvenile furniture to household "electrical" appliances.  Mrs. Moore continued to live in the house after her husband died.  Eventually, the Seventh Day Adventist Church purchased the property and leveled the house in 1976.  Today, the Moore's family site is a parking lot.

The Mobley family purchased this radio from Moore's Modern Appliance Store at 5420 East Washington Street (photo courtesy of Robert Mobley) 

Moore's Modern Appliance Store operated at 5420 East Washington Street. The Moore family dwelled at 21 South Ritter Avenue.  (photo courtesy of Robert Mobley)

The second mystery surrounding this photo still remains.  First, I am unclear on the date.  It looks to be sometime in the mid-1950s.  I know that the young people are on the grounds of School 57 on the southwest corner of East Washington Street and South Ritter Avenue.  It is obviously a warm day.  Perhaps the graduates of School 57 can help me out with this part of the photo. What are the young people doing?  Is this a practice? A ceremony?  A celebration?  Inquiring minds would like to know more!  Send me an e-mail at if you have any ideas.

The historic image is courtesy of Kent Hankins and likely came from the Phelps family, who dwelled at 5317 Lowell Avenue for years.  The contemporary image reveals that the church remains, although now sheathed in vinyl siding instead of stucco.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Phelps Family Moves into the Wheeler Home--1954

For the past week, we have been celebrating the centennial of the Wheeler Home (5317 Lowell Avenue).  Clifton and Hilah Drake Wheeler saw to the construction of the home in 1912 and dwelled in the house until 1954.

The Phelps family moved into the Wheeler Home in 1954

In 1954, Robert E. Phelps (1919-2004) and his wife Eva Mae Chaille Phelps (1921-2002) became the next long-term residents.  Mrs. Phelps grew up in Irvington.  Her father's family operated Chailles Shoes, a business that began at 9 North Ritter Avenue in the 1920s and eventually moved to 5622 E. Washington Street.  Mr. Phelps took over the family business and ran it until the early 1990s.  Chaille's Shoes became an institution in neighborhood as generations of Irvingtonians purchased shoes there.  (A future post will be dedicated to this business.)  Mrs. Phelps, as she was called by her students, taught at Schools 58 and 85 for twenty-eight years.

The Phelps family ran Chaille Shoes at 5622 East Washington Street in the second half of the 20th century. Louis Saba, a clerk for Chaille's Shoes stands next to the shoe rack.  He later moved to Las Vegas where he bought a gas station.  

The couple collected antiques and raised their children in the beautifully-sited home.  Mrs. Phelps liked bright colors and painted some of the rooms in the house, including the gallery, in yellows and reds.  They had the reputation of being kind neighbors and were very much interested in the home's history. The family maintained ownership of the property until 2004.

The Wheeler-Phelps Home in an undated photo.  

You may learn more about the history of this home by clicking on the Wheeler Family link below.  The  historic images are courtesy of Michele and Bruce Oertel and Kent Hankins.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Clifton Wheeler--Noted Artist, Muralist, Teacher

For the past several days, we have been celebrating the centennial anniversary of 5317 Lowell Avenue.  Clifton and Hilah Drake Wheeler built their dream home in 1912.  For decades the couple, created inspiring art pieces in the gallery room designed into the plan of the house.  Newspaper accounts from the early twentieth century describe the room bulging with art from floor to ceiling.

Spring by Clifton Wheeler

Clifton Wheeler (1883-1953) grew up in Mooresville, Indiana.  His father had planned for him to take over the family flour mill business, but he had other dreams.  An inspirational aunt invited him to live with her in Indianapolis on the weekends during his teen years so that he could take classes from noted artist and Irvingtonian, William Forsyth.  The young man generally sat for lessons on Saturdays.  Eventually, he made his way to New York City to study under Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller, and finally to Europe where he painted under the direction of William Merritt Chase.  While in Europe, he observed, critiqued, and recreated the classics.  He also developed his own style.  In 1910, William Merritt Chase gave young Wheeler the award for being his best student.  In that same year, while touring Europe, he met fellow art student Hilah Drake.  He would earn his second prize when she said yes to his proposal of marriage.

Mural at Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, c.1914

Clifton Wheeler murals restored in 2006 at School Number 54 (3150 East 10th, Indianapolis), 1921

Once settled in Indiana, the couple moved to Irvington in 1912 to be near other artists and to enjoy the beauty of Pleasant Run stream and Ellenberger Woods.  Many of Mr. Wheeler's works feature Indiana scenes.  He was frequently called upon to paint murals around the state.  Several of his works are still in existence including those in several schools, universities, hospitals, and at the Circle Theater.

He earned a living by teaching in his private studio on Lowell Avenue; at the John Herron Art Institute; and at Shortridge High School.  The Wheelers traveled the country for inspiration and spent time painting in the Catskills and Rockies.  Mr. Wheeler exhibited all over the state and country as well.  He was renown during his lifetime.  Hundreds of his paintings and sketches remain in private and public collections all over the United States.

Young Leaves by Clifton Wheeler

Winter Woodland by Clifton Wheeler

Up Fall Creek by Clifton Wheeler

It appears that the Wheelers remained close throughout their lifetime.  They had one child named Hilah Mary.  Mr. Wheeler continued to paint until his cancer would not allow him to do so.  He died at the age of 69 in 1953.  His companion, wife, and fellow artist, Hilah Drake Wheeler, outlived him by several years.  She passed away at the age of 92 in 1970.

Clifton and Hilah Drake Wheeler Home, May, 1913

One hundred years later, the home has been proudly restored.  The Wheelers would be happy to know that their shady lot and stuccoed home looks much as it did in 1912.  To learn more about the Wheelers click on the link below.   The historic images are courtesy of Michele and Bruce Oertel.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Talented Wheeler Women of Lowell Avenue

I ask you to remember the ladies...
               Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams

Two very talented ladies dwelled at 5317 Lowell Avenue along with their very accomplished husband and father.

Hilah Drake (1878-1970) met her future husband, Clifton Wheeler, while studying art in Europe.  The daughter of Alexander Drake, an art critic for The Century magazine, the young woman was a talented watercolorist.  In 1910, the couple married and briefly lived in his hometown of Mooresville, Indiana.  She gave birth to Hilah Mary Wheeler in 1911.

Hilah Drake Wheeler and daughter, Hilah Mary--1912

By 1912, they were building their dream home at 5317 Lowell Avenue in Irvington.  The Wheelers had their architect, George Hoagland, design a beautiful studio with a tall ceiling and a fireplace as part of the home.  Both of the Wheelers tended to paint landscapes and portraits although Mrs. Wheeler also specialized in still lifes and silhouettes.

Clifton and Hilah Drake Wheeler Home--1913

Flower Stall, Indianapolis City Market by Hilah Drake Wheeler 1925, Courtesy of Indianapolis Museum of Art

Hibben Home, Pleasant Run Parkway by Hilah Drake Wheeler

Still Life by Hilah Drake Wheeler

Their daughter, Hilah Mary Wheeler (1911-2002) was also a talented artist in her own right.  She married George Remaily (1912-2004) and moved to Hammondsport, New York.  Mr. Remaily became renown as a viticulturist.  His grapes were used in wines throughout the US.

Hilah Mary Wheeler Remaily with her daughter, Hilah Katrina Remaily--1939 at 5317 Lowell Ave

Portrait by Hilah Mary Remaily

The elder Mrs. Wheeler remained at Lowell Avenue for much of her life.  Upon Clifton Wheeler's passing in 1953, she painted this scene in 1954 to capture what the room looked like upon his sad death at the age 69.  She later moved from the home to be near her daughter.  The historic images are courtesy of Bruce and Michele Oertel.  The scene below is only a partial view of the painting. You may learn more about the Wheelers by clicking on the link below.

Wheeler Studio by Hilah Drake Wheeler, 1954, courtesy of Bruce and Michele Oertel

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Wheeler Home Celebrates 100 Years!

One hundred years ago this summer, builders broke ground for a beautiful home at 5317 Lowell Avenue in 1912.   George E. Hoagland (1872-1959) designed the house for Clifton and Hilah Drake Wheeler, both renown local artists.  The Wheelers actually purchased the large lot from Fred O. Ritter on July 29, 1911.  The couple, both in their late twenties in 1912, just welcomed a child into this world.  Mr. Wheeler (1883-1953) at the time taught at the John Herron Institute of Art under the direction of another Irvingtonian, William Forsyth (15 South Emerson Avenue.)

Both Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler studied in Europe under some of the most eminent artists of their day.  They actually met and fell in love in Europe while taking a class instructed by William Merritt Chase.  Mrs. Wheeler (1878-1970) came from the prominent Drake family, who were also artists and art critics living in New York City.  Mr. Wheeler worried about his new wife's reaction of moving to Indiana, but the couple sited their new home on a hill overlooking nearby Pleasant Run stream and Ellenberger Woods.  Both used the bucolic settings for their art.  The following photo, taken in May of 1913,  is the oldest known of the dwelling.

Wheeler Home, May 1913

Architectural plans for the home--May, 1912

In early September 1913, Lucille Morehouse, a local art critic for the Indianapolis Star, visited the Wheeler home and spent time in the gallery room.  The Wheelers asked their architect to design a large space to serve as a studio and classroom.  Mr. Hoagland placed a tall door on the westside of the house so that large canvases could be easily moved in or out.  He also placed four tall windows facing Lowell Avenue so that the artists could receive light from the north.   Ms. Morehouse wrote of the gallery on September 7 (page 36):

     One could spend a week there taking barely enough time to eat and sleep and still not be able to see everything in it.  

Side gallery door

     She also reported  that there are color studies and paintings large and small.  The journalist noted and gushed about the large collection of Japanese prints, the small sketchbooks filled with ideas, and the plethora of paintbrushes and tubes of oils.  Ms. Morehouse seemed completely enchanted by not only the studio, but also of Mr. Wheeler.  He is not yet 30 years old!  Mrs. Wheeler gets little mention in the lengthy biopic.

     The Wheelers would have no trouble recognizing their former home.  The house has been lovingly and superbly restored to its former grandeur.  The historic photos, architectural plans, and historical information are courtesy of Bruce and Michele Oertel.  More information will be forthcoming on this interesting dwelling and of the families who have called it home.  Stay tuned!

Wheeler Home in Summer of 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Irvington Ice & Coal Expands

Irvington Ice & Coal flourished in the neighborhood for decades.  Begun in 1916, the operation grew over the years at its location at 400 South Ritter Avenue.  While these images of the company may not fit the mold of the  neighborhood, largely known for its winding streets, tall trees, and stately homes, it was nonetheless, an important part of the community.  Behind the complex, and stretching towards Burgess Avenue, workers toiled in the coal piles.  As you can see from these photos, it was a fairly large operation.

The Swartz and Thompson families ran the business.  Over the years, numerous men and a few women worked with the company. Below, you will see a photo of Mr. Rumpler, the debt collector, and one of Ralph McClure, who worked in the coal plies.

By the 1940s, the company had added onto the already large structure located along Ritter Avenue next  to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  They also updated their fleet of vehicles.

Many Irvingtonians stayed warm in the winter thanks to this company and kept their food cool in their ice boxes during the warmer months.  As refrigeration became common, and citizens turned to natural gas, coal and ice companies like this one had to diversify or close shop.  Irvington Ice & Coal was eventually bought out by an oil company in the 1970s and shut down.  Today, several of the structures on the site still exist and a ghost sign still adorns at least one building.

These historic images are courtesy of Rodney and Sue Thompson.  You may also see additional views of this business by visiting the Irvington Historical Society located in the Bona Thompson Library.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Fleet of Irvington Ice & Coal--1920s

With numerous employees working several shifts, Irvington Ice & Coal (400 South Ritter Avenue) flourished as a profitable business for years.  The company provided both ice and coal to the neighborhood and all over the city Indianapolis.  In these historic photos, Leonard Swartz, the General Manager of the company in the 1920s, poses next to one of his vehicles that hauled ice.  Note the refrigerator on the back of the car!  Families would place a card (usually at the side or back door) in the window announcing the size of the ice chunk they would need for the next few days.  A very strong man would then throw a towel (usually) over his shoulder and carry the large piece of ice into the kitchen and place it in the ice box.  In the bottom photo, you can see just how many vehicles were needed to haul around all of that ice and coal!  The historic images are courtesy of Rodney and Sue Thompson.

You may learn more about the Irvington Ice & Coal Company by clicking on the link below or by visiting the Irvington Historical Society located in the Bona Thompson Memorial Library.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Coal Delivery in Irvington--1926

Rodney Thompson prepares to haul coal to his customers in 1926.  Notice that animal power was still used locally although Irvington Ice & Coal also had trucks by this time.  Mr. Thompson is standing across the street from the plant in the 400 block of South Ritter Avenue.  Behind him, you can see a small nineteenth-century cottage.  Mr. Thompson eventually worked his way up to becoming the General Manager of the company.  Irvington Ice & Coal operated in the neighborhood from 1916 until the early 1970s.  This historic images are courtesy of Rodney and Sue Thompson.  A contemporary shot, taken on June 10, 2012, shows the top photo today.  If you look towards the rear of the current structure, I believe you can see the gable of the original home.  Perhaps, this is wishful thinking on my part.

You may learn more about Irvington Ice & Coal by clicking on the link below.  The Irvington Historical Society, located at the Bona Thompson Memorial Library, also has an extensive photo collection and information about this local landmark.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Irvington Ice and Coal--1920s

Irvington Ice and Coal opened in 1916.  For years it was run by both the Swartz and Thompson families.  A sprawling complex, located at 400 South Ritter Avenue and next to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the company operated in Irvington for decades.  Employing dozens of workers, the business serviced the entire east side of Indianapolis and beyond.  Coal was the chief heating source for most Indianapolis homes by the the 1920s so the business was booming.  Both animal and automobile power hauled the products around the city.

In these three historic photos, taken in the 1920s, you can see how large of an operation it was along South Ritter.  The contemporary images show the structure as it is on June 10, 2012.  The historic images are courtesy of Rodney and Sue Thompson.  More photos will be forthcoming of this important Irvington commercial enterprise.