Photography, Preservation

SoBro homes

I would love to live in the city again. Actually, I live in the city now, as my home is well within the city limits. But it’s not real city, as I live in a suburban-style subdivision. I miss living on a grid of streets with sidewalks, and being able to walk to the store.

I had some expired Tri-X in my Nikon F2AS a couple weeks ago when I had business in South Broad Ripple, a neighborhood whose homes were built mostly during the first three decades of the 20th century. It was a great day for a stroll, and stroll I did. The homes in “SoBro,” as it’s called, are a mixed bag of architectural styles and of levels of care. A real showplace home can stand right next to one that needs a complete rehab. I shot a handful of homes that were well kept and that appealed to me. Like this one.

SoBro homes

This Spanish-influenced house was built in 1925. (I looked it up.) I’m guessing it looked more conventional when it was new. It’s for sale and can be yours for $185,000. Homes in this neighborhood seem to sell as low as $50,000 and as high as $300,000. The median price seems to hover around the $150,000 mark.

SoBro homes

I’m not crazy about this style of roof. But this is still a striking home, and it’s much larger than average for this neighborhood.

SoBro homes

This home is more typically sized. I’ll bet it’s about 1,000 square feet on the first level. That peaked stone facade and arched front door shows up on a few other homes in this area.

SoBro homes

This little house is on the small side even for this neighborhood. But early in the last century we had very different ideas about how much space a family needed in their home. Most homes here probably fall between 900 and 1,400 square feet, not counting basements.

SoBro homes

I’ve lived in 900 square feet and I’m not sure I’d want to live in such tight quarters while I’m still raising teenagers. Maybe after my nest is empty! But to live in this neighborhood and stroll its streets after supper, and maybe stop in at a pub for a nip on the way home – that would be heavenly.


Autumn on Kessler Boulevard

George Kessler

George Kessler (1862-1923) was a pioneer city planner who believed that cities could be beautiful – lush and green, with limited pollution. Many American cities hired him to design their park and boulevard systems, including all three Indiana cities in which I have lived – South Bend, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis. Someday I need to write a series of posts about Kessler’s work in all three cities, because his work has shaped my very notion of what a city is.

Yet when I moved to Indianapolis almost 20 years ago, I didn’t know Kessler’s name or anything about him. But I was very drawn to the sprawling early-suburban neighborhoods along a wide, tree-lined road that bears his name. I’ve owned two houses within spitting distance of the beautiful boulevard he designed in 1922.

The boulevard skirted the city limits when it was built, but today it forms a west/north inner beltway. It begins on the west side, just east of the speedway at 16th Street, and heads north four miles to 56th Street. Then it heads east across town a bit more than seven miles, almost to Fort Benjamin Harrison on the Northeastside. Kessler was hired in 1923 to oversee the boulevard’s construction, but he passed away before much work was done. This is why the boulevard is named for him.

Kessler Boulevard is lovely end to end, but my favorite segment is on the Westside between 30th St. and about I-65. Homes were built along it in the 1950s, all  of them ranches set well back from the road. It creates a wide-open feeling that captures that 1950s feeling of prosperity and modernity. Trees line the boulevard, and when autumn comes the colors can be spectacular. I recently filmed a drive along this stretch, northbound from 30th St.

I drive this stretch all the time and I enjoy it at all times of year. Thanks, George Kessler!

Another historic Indianapolis road is the Dandy Trail. Read about it here, here, and here.


Rabbit Hill today

Not long ago, I returned to Rabbit Hill with my brother and his best friend Mike. We were in town to attend an open house at the elementary school we all attended, which had just completed a major renovation. Mike suggested we start by walking back to Rabbit Hill and then walking the three quarters of a mile to the school, for old times’ sake.

I had been back a few times before, and knew that time had not been kind to the old neighborhood. When we lived there, families took some pride in their properties. Some owners had extensive gardens, others had perfect lawns, and a few had built additions. Today, many of these houses are rentals, and residents come and go. The houses get minimal maintenance and the yards are optimized for easy care.

This was our house. In the years since we moved away, other houses got new windows and vinyl siding. But our old house got none of that, and remains the most original example on the street. Even the mailbox is the same as when we lived there. The only changes are cosmetic – the trim, once black, is now blue and the entry door has been painted. Oh, and the garage door has been replaced. I can still imagine Dad’s 1966 Ford parked in the driveway.

This is where Robyn, Sally, and Mary lived. The house was forest green with white trim then. Their dad landscaped the yard with a flowering crabapple tree and rosebushes, and he frequently puttered around in his yard keeping things in good trim. This house has the same layout as the one we lived in, even though the bedroom windows are placed differently. (I was playing here when a tornado touched down not far away; read that story.)

Michael and Danny lived in this house. It was painted gold with black trim back in our day. There were two three-bedroom floor plans in our neighborhood, one smaller and one larger, and this is the larger one. Michael’s dad manicured that lawn, and even pushed a heavy roller up and down that hill several times each year to keep the ground flat.

Darin lived here with his brother Craig and his sister Dawn. This is the same floor plan as our house and Robyn, Sally, and Mary’s, except that the bedrooms were on the left rather than the right. The back yard sloped steeply downward and seemed to go on forever. I’m sure if I went back there today it would seem remarkably small.

This is where my brother’s best friend Mike lived, with his sisters Tammy and Dawn. This house was identical to ours inside, and even had the widely spaced bedroom windows. In our time, the bedroom windows were the same drafty aluminum-framed kind in our house; someone upgraded them somewhere along the way.

This is the Secret Sidewalk, a narrow path that provided a shortcut to another street in the neighborhood. All of us walked along it every day on our way to school. A mulberry tree used to stand along it; when the berries were ripe, we picked and ate as many as we could reach. Not only is the mulberry tree gone, but the path needs to be edged and the hedges need to be cut way back.

It was strange that not a soul was outside on this pleasant autumn afternoon. No children were playing and no adults were working in their yards. That would never have been the case when I lived here. Maybe the families who live here now just aren’t making the most of their neighborhood. We sure did when we lived here. I think it shows that a neighborhood is as good as its residents choose to make it be.

I lived on this street when I started school. My mother walked with me on my first day, and it’s remarkable how that walk parallels my faith journey. Read the story.


Shopping in the suburbs

I’ve always lived in cities. I groove on grids of streets with curbs and sidewalks. So when I moved to Indianapolis, I didn’t consider living in the suburbs for a minute. But to get a better school system, I did buy an older home in the old suburbs outside the old city limits. (The city and county merged in 1970.) Out there, the grid gave way to cul-de-sac neighborhoods that even now lack certain city services such as water, sewer, and snow removal. These neighborhoods empty onto large arteries, which empty onto larger arteries, which pave the way to large, generic shopping strips. Wal-Mart ho!

I shop Wal-Mart. It’s about 20 minutes away along congested roads. I have to park at the back of the lot. The store is usually noisy, packed with rude customers. The unhelpful staff all have thousand-yard stares. The checkout lines have ten full carts in them. And then I have to drive back along those congested roads. I always come home whipped, but man the money I save.

The other day, a lady at church said that she goes to the Wal-Mart in Brownsburg, a nearby suburb. She said it might take a few extra minutes to get there, but its a much nicer store. So yesterday I made my grocery list and headed out to try it.

I’ve traveled the two-lane road to Brownsburg many times to visit friends. Traffic is usually light to moderate, making for a pleasant drive past a lush city park and over a reservoir, and then into the next county with cornfields and new housing developments. I enjoyed this trip as I always do – and arrived a full five minutes faster than I could ever get to my usual Wal-Mart.

I parked about mid-lot. As I navigated the store, I heard something I had never before heard in Wal-Mart: politeness from fellow shoppers as we steered our carts around each other. “Oh, pardon me.” “Excuse me.” “Oh, I’m sorry!” I quit counting after the 10th time I heard this, and by the time I was ready to check out, I caught myself thinking that it was becoming tedious to return so many apologies! Except for those polite exchanges, and the normal-volume conversations of other customers, the store was remarkably quiet. Even though I had to go back and forth through the store’s unfamiliar layout to find everything I wanted, I felt none of the usual tension or fatigue. My shopping completed, with energy to spare, I found a checkout line with only two carts in it. The young woman at the register chirped a friendly “Hi!” to me and we chatted about the weather. As I picked up one bag of groceries, the handle broke. I about fell over when she stopped scanning, opened another bag, and helped me put the broken bag into it. I have never experienced something like that at Wal-Mart before. And then I wheeled my goods to my car, loaded them in, and made the pleasant drive back home. I unloaded my groceries and put them away, and then did not need to sit on the couch for an hour to recover.

Last night, at the Brownsburg Wal-Mart, I got a serious glimpse of why people move to the suburbs.