The Glossbrenner Mansion

Have you ever passed by a grand old home and wondered what it looked like inside? I recently got to tour one I’ve admired as long as I’ve lived in Indianapolis — the Glossbrenner Mansion, at 32nd and Meridian Streets. I first noticed it because it reminds me of where I attended elementary school. I am especially drawn to its arches, which lend a stately air. I count eight from the carriage port to the main entry.

Public domain photo

It takes a wealthy man to build a home such as this. Alfred Glossbrenner (1869-1938) certainly qualified, having made a fortune in printing. As you drive by, it seems odd to see such a grand manor surrounded by other buildings deep within the city. But in 1910, when the home was completed, 32nd Street was pretty far north in Indianapolis. In this old photo, the house appears to be way out in the country!

In 1949, physician Joseph Walther (1912-2005) bought the mansion and practiced medicine in it. Walther founded Winona Memorial Hospital in 1966; I’m under the impression it operated here for some number of years before moving to a larger building. He sold the hospital in 1985 and used the proceeds to fund cancer research. His Walther Cancer Foundation operated out of the mansion for many years.

After Walther’s death, the foundation donated the mansion to Indiana Landmarks hoping to see it preserved. Indiana Landmarks had its annual Indianapolis holiday open house here, which is how I got to see it. Much of the house is in fine shape, but there are a few rough edges, especially in the stairwells leading to the third floor. Also, a few windows provide a view to a wall, as a 1950s addition blocked them. I took my camera along and took a whole bunch of interior photos, the best of which are in this slideshow. They’re not my best work, but my excuse is that I was shooting handheld in available light in a crowd. Still, they show you the home’s inner beauty. Click here to see the slideshow.

It’s funny how I came to have an interest in historic preservation – I trace it to my interest in roads. When I started to tour the old roads, my interest was solely in exploring former highway alignments. But soon I started to notice the structures on and along the roadside, first old bridges and then old homes. I came to really appreciate the care and attention that goes into maintaining or restoring these structures. Then in 2009, after meeting preservation architect Kurt Garner through his blog, we partnered on the Historic Michigan Road Byway project. Exploring the Michigan Road with him, he began to teach me about historic architecture, and my interest exploded. Thanks, Kurt!

Many great homes stand along the Michigan Road, including the Fairmount House, the Conwell House, the Boardman House, and the Corbin House.


18 responses to “The Glossbrenner Mansion”

  1. Karen Knight Avatar
    Karen Knight

    Great photos! I love the old houses and the artful way they were constructed. It is amazing the little details that are added.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Yep! Details that just never seem to be added today.

  2. Rama Sarma Avatar
    Rama Sarma

    The old mansion is a great bridge across a wide expanse of time.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Rama! We’re fortunate to have several grand old homes like this one in Indianapolis.

  3. Scott Palmer Avatar

    Wonderful photos and commentary! Houses like that are pretty much a thing of the past.

    It’s a shame that the Indiana Landmarks society couldn’t preserve the surrounding neighborhood as well: now it’s a beautiful house in the middle of a slum. Shortridge High School used to be two blocks north, and in its heyday was one of the finest public high schools in the country. When I was a kid, my Dad’s office was at 34th and Meridian in a building that’s no longer there. On Saturdays, we used to go to Mr. Wicker’s barber shop on 34th Street for haircuts. Today, I would hesitate to get out of my car on that block.

    1. Jim Avatar

      When my brother moved to Indy several years ago he looked at apartments on Meridian St. south of 38th. He was drawn to the architecture. He was repelled by the crime. He rented at 91st and College instead.

      1. Lee Smith Avatar
        Lee Smith

        I’ve lived “south of 38th” for 18 years in a lovely neighborhood called Historic Meridian Park, east of Meridian, but just a few blocks from the Glossbrenner Mansion. Urban life is not for everyone, but my family has found a warm, close-knit community. Although there are occasional bursts of vandalism (as most neighborhoods do, even suburban ones), we have never experienced violent crime within our neighborhood. My husband and I have raised our sons here, and we can’t imagine living anywhere else.
        To those interested in the Glossbrenner Mansion, or any urban neighborhood, I encourage you to truly investigate the area and attend a neighborhood association meeting before making your decision.

        1. Jim Avatar

          Lee, good point. Knee-jerk-reaction fear of “south of 38th” is probably the least effective response.

  4. Lorraine Phillips Vavul, Chair of Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis (HUNI) Avatar
    Lorraine Phillips Vavul, Chair of Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis (HUNI)

    I too live a stone’s throw from the Glossbrenner Mansion in nearby Historic Meridian Park and find the wonderful, grand architecture of the mansion breathtaking. I am grateful to Dr. Walther, the Walther Cancer Foundation and to Indiana Landmarks for saving and preserving this treasure for further generations to enjoy. So many homes south of 40th street have been razed to make way for new development. Historic homes, like the Glossbrenner, and historic neighborhoods contribute to the architectural and social fabric from which Indianapolis was born. These historic treasures give us cause to celebrate our heritage through their unique and distinct contributions to the Indianapolis landscape.

    Thus it is disappointing that some would consider my neighborhood – on the National Register of Historic Places and one of Indianapolis Monthly’s Best Up & Coming Neighborhoods – a slum and express fear to walk the area I (along with my two young children & husband) call home. We, in fact, live, work, play, run, and gather in this vibrant urban neighborhood 24/7. I love walking my children to St. Richard’s School, one of the finest schools in the city (and likely the state) which is just cattycorner to the Glossbrenner Mansion. Black, white, rich, poor, traditional family, untraditional family structure; I LOVE my diverse neighborhood and the fantastic people who populate it. I recognize diversity is not for everyone, but with the MKL holiday quickly approaching, I’d love to paraphrase the great man…“My dream is not to be judged by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.”

    Jim, thank you for featuring the lovely Glossbrenner Mansion. I would live there in a heartbeat, if I could only convince my husband to buy it. It would make our walk to school even closer!!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Lorraine, thank you for stopping by! You know, I have lived near Kessler and Michigan on the Northwestside for 15 years. My sons all attended Washington Township schools, which are racially and economically diverse. They got good educations there. Sure, the homes are modest. Sure, some neighborhoods here are clearly in decline. But I’ve always felt safe here and have not regretted living here.

      Yet when I tell my colleagues, most of whom live in places such as Carmel or Geist, where I live, they pause. Some even wrinkle their noses. One asked me about crime.

      I think that we judge other neighborhoods relative to what we’ve chosen, and we are nervous when things look enough different. Even when it’s not warranted.

  5. vanilla Avatar

    Thanks for the tour, Jim. As many times as I have driven past, it has never occured to me to stop in. Perhaps I shall.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I hope you get to see it one day.

  6. Mark Dollase Avatar

    Jim–you may want to let your readers know that Indiana Landmarks is having an updated peek inside the house on April 4, 2013. Perhaps they will share your enthusiasm for the House, and the neighborhood at large. Some significant changes have occurred in the past 2 years, including removal of the 1950s addition. You might want to see the changes before we put it up for sale!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Mark! I wish I was going to be in town on the 4th, so I could see it myself!

  7. jdsaiainc Avatar

    Beautiful building and soon to be the new home of our firm, R&B Architects, LLC. All of the original woodwork inside is intact, inlaid hardwood floors, wall panels, elaborate trim. Some exterior work on the masonry and roof is being completed. Mechanicals needed the most work but for the most part the house is in wonderful shape. We are all quite excited about working here and about preserving an Indianapolis treasure.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by! So glad this building will get a good use.

      1. jdsaiainc Avatar

        You are quite welcome! If you are free this Friday, (12-04) we are having an open house from 5pm to 8pm. Please drop by and take a look!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thanks for inviting me! I wish I weren’t already committed for Friday.

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