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


  1. I lived at 5331 Lowell from 1958 to 1964, when the Phelps lived in this home. I thought it was beautiful and special, even though I never went inside. I didn't know the history of the house, so I enjoyed reading it on your blog.

  2. Hi Jane, I am so glad you enjoyed the post. Someday, I would love to blog about your family. Take care!! Bill