Friday, July 27, 2018

Returning From the Front: A Joyful Christmas Reunion--1945

With World War II over in 1945, many veterans began to stream back to their families. In Irvington, the Booth family at 280 South Downey Avenue had a special reason to celebrate Christmas in 1945 as two of their sons and two of their son-in-laws made it back safely. Dr. John Booth, the Executive Secretary for the Board of Church Extension (Disciples of Christ) and his wife Corinne Schultz Booth busily prepared for the big day. Mrs. Booth kept a diary so we know that all six of the Booth children and their spouses made it home for the big day.

On Sunday, December 23, 1945, Mabel Booth Bergesen, the oldest daughter, and her family arrived  to 280 South Downey Avenue around 11:00PM. The Chicago crew would have been there earlier, but their car broke down in Dyer, Indiana and they had trouble finding a mechanic. The Bergesens were wise to have left on Sunday as a fierce storm slammed most of the Midwest on Christmas Eve. Ice and heavy rain battered the city of Indianapolis. Inside the Booth home, however, preparations were underway for the Christmas Eve dinner. Mrs. Booth likely had help from her daughters and in-laws in the kitchen. We know from her diary that she baked a turkey and several pies. As heavy rain mixed in with some ice lashed at the windows, the family sat down for a series of portraits.

The four veterans in the house that night must have breathed a sigh of relief at being home. John Booth, Jr. served as a Second Lieutenant Navigator in the Army Air Corps. George Booth served in Patton's Seventh-Armored Army Division. He saw house-to-house combat in mop-up operations in Germany. Eugene Fife, Jr, the husband to Jean Booth, was deployed as a Lieutenant JG in the Navy in both fronts of the war. Bill Watkins, the husband of Marjorie Booth, fought in the Red Bull Division (34th Infantry) in North African and Italy. All four men made it home safely and now found themselves on that stormy night surrounded by their family.

Mrs. Booth recorded in her diary that the family arose quite early on Christmas Day. They shared breakfast and then Grandpa Booth passed out presents. The weather outside continued to deteriorate with roads becoming icy. Mrs. Booth noted that the day was rather "quiet" with lunch and dinner served from the "remnants" of the feast on Christmas Eve. Oscar Bergesen, a talented illustrator and husband to Mabel Booth, began to paint a portrait of Dr. John H. Booth. It took him several days to complete it.

It wouldn't be the last gathering at 280 South Downey Avenue. In fact, it became a tradition for the family to gather at the home on Thanksgiving as well. Mac Fife, the grandson to Dr. John and Corinne Booth, remembers that his Grandmother would sit at one end of the table and his Grandfather would sit at the other end. Dr. Booth always carved the turkey. Idelle Booth Barnett, a daughter to the couple, always brought her delicious rice salad. Mac Fife noted that some of his happiest childhood memories were spent at that dining room table at 280 South Downey Avenue.

The Booth family gathered on Christmas Eve, 1945 at the home of Dr. John and Corinne Booth at 280 South Downey Avenue. Standing (left or right) John Booth, Jr., Jean Booth Fife, Idelle Booth Barnett, Mabel Booth Bergesen, Marjorie Booth Watkins, and George Booth; Seated Dr. John H. Booth and Mrs. Corinne Booth (image courtesy of Mac Fife)

Christmas Eve, 1945 at the Booth family home at 280 South Downey Avenue; Standing (left to right) Eugene Fife, Jr, Jean Booth Fife, William "Bill" Watkins holding Marjorie Grace Watkins; Oscar Bergesen, George Booth, John H. Booth, Jr; Seated on the sofa arm-Marjorie Booth Watkins: Children standing behind the couch--John Eric Bergesen, John Charles Booth, Julie Booth; Standing next to Idelle Barnett: Ann Barnett, Gwendolyn Barnett, David Barnett, and Carolyn "Dee Dee" Barnett; Seated on couch--Karen Bergesen, Mabel Booth Bergesen, Corinne Schultz Booth, Dr. John H. Booth, Dorothy "Dot" Booth (married to John, Jr.); Seated on chair--Gwynne Barnett (husband to Idelle Booth) and the kids on his lap are Cynthia Barnett, and Doug Barnett  (image courtesy of Mac Fife)

Home from World War II on Christmas Eve, 1945 at 280 South Downey Avenue (left to right) John Booth, Jr., George Booth, Jr., Bill Watkins (husband to Marjorie Booth Watkins), and Eugene "Gene" Fife, Jr. (husband to Jean Booth Fife) (image courtesy of Mac Fife)

Oscar Bergesen, the son-in-law to Dr. John and Corinne Booth began painting this portrait of Dr. John Booth on Christmas Day, 1945 at 280 South Downey Avenue. Mr. Bergesen was married to Mabel Booth, the oldest daughter of the couple. He was an illustrator.  The Bergesens dwelled in Chicago.  (image courtesy of Mac Fife)
Sources:  Diary entries from Corinne Schultz Booth; Interview with Mac Fife, the grandson of John and Corrine Booth; "Storm Ties Up Traffic," Indianapolis Star, December 25, 1945, 1.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Marriage of Gene and Jean: A Wedding Celebration on Downey Avenue--1942

1942 had been a difficult year for the Allied powers during World War II. Many young men and some young women were heading off to various fronts. Worry gripped Irvington families as they bid good bye to their loved ones. The Germans and Japanese had gained significant ground. Under these frightful times, Eugene Fife, Jr. and Jean Booth decided to marry. The handsome couple had met at Butler University. Jean had been named Queen of the May her senior year. Eugene or Gene had deep ties to the campus because his mother Evelyn Henderson had been a professor of theater at the college. Gene had already graduated from an officer's school for the US Navy on the Notre Dame campus so the couple decided to tie the knot on September 30, 1942, before he shipped out to sea.

Jean dwelled at 280 South Downey Avenue. She was the fourth child of Dr. John and Corinne Booth. Dr. Booth was an ordained minister for the Disciples of Christ although he worked for the Board of Church Extension as the Executive Secretary. He read the vows to the couple on the day of their wedding in the Downey Avenue Christian Church. The ceremony took place at 4:00PM. It had been a gloriously sunny day. Marjorie Booth Watkins, a sister to Jean, served as her maid of honor while Roscoe Batts served as Gene's best man.  The couple hosted a small reception in the foyer of the church, a building that no longer stands in Irvington as church leaders replaced it with the current edifice in 1952.

After the ceremony, the families walked or drove down to 280 South Downey Avenue where the Booths hosted a dinner for the young couple. Mr. Fife had graduated from the Indiana University Law School in 1939 so he was able to resume his law career once the war was over. At some point in the day, the Booths and the Fifes gathered for a few photographs. In one image, the couple posed next to their parents in the front yard at 280. Behind them, you can see the brand new home at 261 South Downey Avenue. It would not be long before Gene was shipped out to sea for the war effort. Jean followed him to whichever port he was based in. Thankfully, he came home from the war and the couple settled in Indianapolis although not in Irvington. Gene later became an elected judge in Marion County. The couple had two children.

Jean Booth posed for the photograph c1940, a few years before her wedding in the front yard at 280 Downey Avenue. No houses stood across the street at that point as the Thompson/Hibben mansion had been torn down and none of the smaller homes in the 200 block had been built yet. 

Every May, Butler students crowned a Queen of the May.  Jean Booth of 280 South Downey Avenue, received this honor in 1938.

The Fifes and Booths gathered for a family photo on the day of Eugene Fife, Jr. and Jean Booth's wedding on September 30, 1942.  Behind them, you can see the newly built Cobb family home at 261 S. Downey Avenue. Pictured (left to right): Eugene Fife, Sr., Evelyn Henderson Fife, Eugene Fife, Jr, Jean Booth Fife, Corinne Schultz Booth, Dr. John H. Booth

Jean Booth Fife stood next to her sister and maid of honor, Marjorie Booth Watkins on September 30, 1942. Behind the young women you can see 261 South Downey Avenue.

The happy couple, Eugene Fife, Jr. and his new bride, Jean Booth Fife, posed in the front yard at 280 South Downey Avenue on September 30, 1942. 

Eugene Fife, Jr. and his wife, Jean Booth Fife posed in the "woods" next to the Booth home at 280 South Downey Avenue in the spring of 1943. Mr. Fife served in the Navy during World War II.  Mrs. Fife followed him from port to port throughout the war.
The historic images and stories for this post are courtesy of Mac Fife, the son of Eugene and Jean Booth Fife.

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.