History, Preservation

The incredibly sticky sense of place

The land on which my home stands was farmland not 20 years ago. It’s typical: thanks to sprawl, many American neighborhoods occupy land that produced crops sometime within the last hundred years. In my town, a suburb of Indianapolis, neighboring subdivisions and shopping centers are brand new. I remember well the farmland that was there before.

But at some point the last farm will become another vinyl village or strip mall. Children born here then will have no memory of this area’s bucolic origin.

I was such a kid once, born into a busy and thriving South Bend, Indiana, neighborhood where the last new house had been built 20 years before. It was a typical 20th-century city neighborhood bordered by shops, businesses, and schools. You could almost get away with not owning a car.

My mom managed it: she walked to her job as a teacher’s aide at James Monroe School a block away. I visited her at her job one day when I was about 13. While snooping through some cabinets, I came upon this photograph, and it blew my mind.

MonroeSchoolMayDay1930s

This is that school’s front lawn on the occasion of a May Day celebration. I found the image online recently with a comment that the photo was taken in 1939. That’s eight years after the school was built, but twelve years before my childhood home was built. It and many others would soon be be built on that distant grove of trees in the photo’s upper-right corner. It is fascinating to not see the houses there that have always been a part of my memory!

To me as a kid, our 1951 house might as well have been built in 1851 or even 1751 — it was a time I could not imagine. From my limited childhood perspective, my neighborhood had always existed.

I knew intellectually that this couldn’t be true, of course. But I had no way of imagining the neighborhood before it was completed. The 1939 photograph made that time more imaginable!

school-houseAt right is an excerpt from a 1922 map of South Bend. It shows the location of my childhood home and of the school, neither of which had been built yet. I lived on Erskine Boulevard, the curved street, which would eventually curve back and end at Donmoyer Avenue, the street at the bottom of the map.

I’ve written about my elementary school here many times, and occasionally other former students find my posts and leave comments full of memories. One fellow who attended Monroe School in the 1950s commented on this post how his father never stopped calling my neighborhood “the new extension.” He clearly remembered when this land was that grove of trees.

This is the same delusion in reverse, and it illustrates how sticky our sense of place can be. Because this man remembered the grove of trees, he likely considered it to be this land’s true use and purpose.

Similarly, I have childhood memories of neighborhoods being built well south of James Monroe School. I still recall what was there before, and forty years on those neighborhoods still feel new, in a way, to me. And on my first visits to Indianapolis as a child, US 31 in the county just north of Indianapolis passed through nothing but farmland. A building boom that started in the 1980s brought tall office buildings to that corridor, plus a long string of stoplights. Recently US 31 has been converted into a limited-access highway there. But even after all these years I still marvel at how it’s all changed.

Even the existing built environment changes. If you’re a young student of James Monroe School – or, should I say, Monroe Primary Center, which is its name today – you might not know a time before the school was renovated and expanded (read about it here and here). My memories of this building do not include its current dropped ceilings, and include rooms that no longer exist. And my mind’s eye will forever remember the school’s front yard looking as it did in this photo, which I took in 1984.

James Monroe School

Visiting my hometown in 2013, after the school’s renovation was complete, I happened to take this photograph one gray morning from about the same place. Little of the landscaping survived the addition of the driveway — except the pine trees at right, which are almost certainly the same little pine trees in the lower corner of the 1939 photo.

James Monroe School

The years to come will surely bring more changes, and they’ll surprise both current students and aging alumni like me. Because place imprints on all of us.

I first shared these thoughts and photographs in 2014, but rewrote the article for today.

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Photography

Favorite subjects: 56th & Illinois

Twenty years ago my neighbors were bakers. They made breads, pastries, and cookies for a popular deli at 56th and Illinois Streets here in Indianapolis. They brought unsold products home and gave a lot of it to us. They’d call and say simply, “Meet us at the fence.” Such sweet words! They made a flat-out wonderful challah bread that never sold well. For years we hardly bought a loaf of bread, so much challah did they give us!

I never actually visited their deli. Never once drove over to that neighborhood. It’s an easy drive from where we lived, and there were and are lots of other little shops and restaurants over there. Plenty of reasons to go! Yet it wasn’t until I went looking for subjects for my old cameras that I finally visited.

56th & Illinois

Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears, Fujicolor 200, 2015

I’m not always clear on where one Indianapolis neighborhood begins and another one ends. I think this area is part of the larger Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, or perhaps it only borders it to the north. Either way, it’s a neighborhood of lovely older homes that stretch for blocks in all directions.

House in Butler-Tarkington

Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears, Fujicolor 200, 2015

56th and Illinois

Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

Tree

Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Efke 100, 2013

Cars on the Street

Polaroid SX-70, Impossible Project PX 70 Color Protection, 2013

The Indiana Central Canal flows past this neighborhood and forms its northwest border. A concrete-arch bridge carries Illinois Street over it. This bridge is noteworthy for having been designed by Daniel Luten, who patented a particular kind of arch used in bridges his various firms constructed. Today Luten-arch bridges are considered worthy of preservation, and many are on the National Register of Historic Places. This one is not on the Register, but it is considered eligible. It was probably built in the early 1920s.

Canal bridge

Agfa Optima, Fujicolor 200 (probably), 2011

Canal bridge

Agfa Optima, Fujicolor 200 (probably), 2011

Central Canal

Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

Bridge over the Central Canal

Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

But the star of the show is the business district. Looking back through my images, it looks like I’ve photographed Kincaid’s meat market more than anything else. It’s an old-fashioned butcher shop — take a number, wait, ask for what you want from the counter, wait while they wrap it up for you. They’ll custom cut anything you want. You know, like every meat counter used to.

Kincaid's

Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (expired), 2013

Outside seating (crop)

Agfa Optima, Fujicolor 200 (probably), 2011

Custom Cut Meats

Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Many of the businesses here have been there for decades. A few have closed during the years I’ve lived here. But this strip never seems to have trouble attracting tenants.

Overexposed!

Agfa Optima, Fujicolor 200 (probably), 2011

Charles Mayer & Co.

Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Graeter's

Kodak Six-20, Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired), 2016

Safeway

Agfa Optima, Fujicolor 200 (probably), 2011

Chase Bank

Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

Chase

Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears, Fujicolor 200, 2015

The business district provides many opportunities to move close to details.

Bank Building Detail

Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

On Illinois Street

Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

Bicycle locked

Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Efke 100, 2013

Fried Chicken

Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears, Fujicolor 200, 2015

56th and Illinois

Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

Shadowed door (crop)

Agfa Optima, Fujicolor 200 (probably), 2011

Another shot I make over and over again is of the northeast corner of these two streets. I love the scene.

On Illinois Street

Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

56th and Illinois

Pentax KM, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2017

There’s plenty I’ve still not photographed here, including that deli! Of all the places I’m leaving behind as I move, this is one I feel like I’ll still come visit. There’s no butcher shop like Kincaid’s in Zionsville!

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History, Photography

Favorite subjects: Broad Ripple Village

What is now the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis started as two rival towns far north of the city limits and along the White River. It was 1836 and construction of the Indiana Central Canal had been approved. The two towns were platted that year to bracket it, Broad Ripple to the north and Wellington to the south.

BRV

Broad Ripple, bisected by the Indiana Central Canal. Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

The Mammoth Internal Improvement Act that funded the Canal and other infrastructure improvements would quickly cause a financial panic that brought Indiana to the brink of bankruptcy. Many of the Act’s improvements were aborted, including the Canal. Of the hundreds of miles the Canal was intended to span, just eight miles were completed, all within Indianapolis.

But the Canal’s construction brought people to the area, and the two towns grew. But by the 1880s Wellington had become a thriving community while Broad Ripple foundered, dwindling to about 35 residents. Yet when a new post office was located in Wellington but given the name Broad Ripple, the less-prosperous town won out and the entire area soon had the name all of Indianapolis knows today.

At first, just the canal and a single dirt road (now Westfield Boulevard) connected Broad Ripple to Indianapolis. In 1883, a railway came to Broad Ripple that connected to Chicago; it would later become the Monon Railroad. In 1894, electric street cars were extended into Broad Ripple; in 1904, the same tracks were used to carry interurban trains. The advent of the automobile led Indiana to form its first highway system in 1917; Westfield Boulevard became part of State Road 1 and, later, the first alignment of US 31. Broad Ripple had become very well connected.

Canal

On the Central Canal. Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

Broad Ripple

Walking path on the Canal. Canon Canonet QL 17 G-III, Fuji Neopan 100 Acros, 2010

Rainbow bridge

The 1906 Guilford Avenue bridge over the Canal. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012

Monon bridge

Monon Railroad bridge over the Canal. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

With so many ways to reach Broad Ripple from all over, the town increasingly became a place to go for fun. The well-to-do built cottages along the river; an amusement park went up on the eastern outskirts of town. Businesses filled the town’s main street.

And then in 1924 Broad Ripple was annexed into Indianapolis, and more and more houses were built in the area. It started to become a neighborhood, and the former town’s identity as an amusement destination began to wane. The amusement park was transformed into a city park. The village started to become a commercial center for residents.

In time, buses replaced the streetcars and interurban and the tracks were paved over. US 31 was routed several block west onto Meridian Street, newly built north of the canal. Even the fabled Monon Railroad went defunct. And as happened in every American city, the suburbs kept pushing farther and farther away from the city center. By the 1960s, Broad Ripple was in decline. Residents were leaving and businesses were failing. But the falling rents created opportunity. Quirky shops went into the storefronts and even into some of the homes. A vibrant night life formed, with bars opening along the main street and the former movie theater, the Vogue, becoming a concert venue. Broad Ripple was, once again, a destination for fun.

IMG_3724

The Vogue at night. iPhone 5, 2015

The Vogue

The Vogue by day. Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (exp. 1996), 2013

The Monkey's Tale

The Monkey’s Tale bar, Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012

Big Hat Books

Bookstore in a big old house, Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012

Kayaks

Kayaks for sale, Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012

Ripple

Ripple Bagel Deli, Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

My first visit to Broad Ripple was in this era. It was about 1992, and the Terre Haute radio station where I worked gave me tickets to see a concert at the Vogue. And then when I moved to Indianapolis a couple years later I ended up in a neighborhood that’s a quick drive from Broad Ripple. I’ve been there most of the last 23 years. Broad Ripple remains a common destination for me.

Broad Ripple’s main street, today called Broad Ripple Avenue and known as “the strip,” was a fun mix when I moved here: by day, popular shops and art galleries; by night, bars and late-night food joints for a younger crowd. I found the night life to be great fun then.

Now that I’m pushing 50, that kind of nightlife isn’t fun for me anymore. But I still enjoy Broad Ripple’s offbeat shops. My favorite coffee shop in town is there; I’ve written a few blog posts at one of its tables. And the Village remains a great place to go for some photography. I’ve visited it dozens of times for just that purpose.

Broad Ripple Kroger

Tiny Kroger. Olympus XA, Kodak T-Max 400, 2016

Shoe repair

Shoe repair. Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017

Corner Wine Bar

Corner Wine Bar. Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

Colorful clothes

Clothing shop on Westfield Boulevard. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

Today's specials

Good food at Petite Chou. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

196x Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

Karmann Ghia parked in front of the natural food store. Palm Pre, 2012.

Awning

Street seating awaiting customers. Pentax ME, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, Kodak T-Max 400, 2012

Some things haven’t changed over these years. The strip remains lively and young; the streets just off the strip appeal more to those who’ve graduated from their 20s. The tiny Broad Ripple Kroger remains open somehow. Many of the former residences off the main business district still contain small businesses and restaurants. And when you drive through you can still imagine a time when Broad Ripple was a small town.

But much has changed in Broad Ripple. Businesses have come and gone, of course. Art galleries that used to dot the strip have mostly closed, replaced by more bars and late-night food joints. The Monon rail bed has become a very popular running and biking trail. Bazbeaux Pizza, which started in a garage, moved into a very nice facility down the street. And a giant polka-dotted chair was painted onto the side of a building.

Ice cream station

Former Monon station, now an ice-cream shop. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

Carter Bldg

Winter in Broad Ripple. Canon Dial 35-2, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Brugge Jeep

Former Internet cafe, now a brewpub. Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (exp. 1996), 2013

Brown Rolls, brown brick

I don’t know what this business was, but it’s long gone now. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

Bazbeaux

Bazbeaux Pizza, a Broad Ripple institution, moved down the street from its original location. Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016

Monon Coffee Co.

My favorite coffee shop in Indy opened since I moved here but is 20 years old now. Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016

Brick Chair

The Bungalow. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011.

For more than 40 years, Broad Ripple has had a quirky, offbeat, hippie vibe. But that is beginning to change as yet another major transition comes to the area: urban densification. The neighborhoods around Broad Ripple have been very popular over the last quarter century or so, which has driven home prices and rents up. Developers have taken notice. They’ve sought and won zoning changes and are building multi-story apartments and parking garages with first-story retail. The buildings crowd the street. Broad Ripple had formerly felt open and airy, but it increasingly feels closed-in and tight.

Pedestrian Bridge

Monon bridge. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011

The new Broad Ripple

Behind the pedestrian bridge now. Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017

Blue mural

Mural on a building recently torn down, Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

BlueIndy

Electric cars for hire taking up prime parking, Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017

I love old bridges and I have a preservationist’s heart. So I was sad to see that the railing on the 1906 bridge over the Canal was altered, I’m sure to make it safer. The railing was about knee height before, making it easy to fall off.

Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow bridge railing before. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011

Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow bridge railing after. Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

Taking the long view, change has been constant in Broad Ripple. But many places of quirky charm from Broad Ripple’s most recent era remain. I never lack for photographic subjects there. I can always photograph the Monon bridge or the polka-dotted chair one more time. Or I can walk down a side street I haven’t visited in a while and see what’s new.

Monon bridge 1

Monon bridge. Pentax ME, Kodak T-Max 400, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, 2012

Polka-dotted chair

Polka-dotted chair. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012

Fence

Blue picket fence. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012

Dilapidated

Dilapidated building (restored since I took this photo). Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

Vintage

Vintage clothes. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011

Brugge

Brugge. Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

Broad Ripple has survived many transitions before and forged a new identity. I expect it will survive this one just the same.

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Photography, Preservation

As society changes there’s always someone there to make a buck off it

The Broad Ripple neighborhood has been a nighttime destination the whole time I’ve lived in Indianapolis, going on 23 years now. But in those days “the strip” still featured many small businesses that served the neighborhood by day. Today it’s even more a bar-and-nightclub spot, with only a couple of the old neighborhood businesses hanging on.

For most of the time I’ve lived here, Broad Ripple was characterized by low buildings and open skies. I made this photo several years ago of a pedestrian bridge over the Central Canal. If you look through the truss, you can make out a little apartment house and the trees that have characteristically lined the village’s streets.

Pedestrian Bridge

But density is the name of the modern city game. As millennials flock to walkable neighborhoods like Broad Ripple, developers are there to meet the need. This tall apartment building was recently completed. It and others create dramatic change in Broad Ripple’s look and feel.

The new Broad Ripple

Longtime Broad Ripple residents are generally and unsurprisingly not happy with these changes. And arguments are being made that while millennials are being targeted to live in these apartments, they can afford it only if they’re upper-middle-class or wealthy.

It’s always been a little more expensive to live in popular Broad Ripple, but it wasn’t necessarily out of reach for a middle-class young adult, especially one willing to take a roommate. But do middle-class young adults exist in any significant number anymore? I see working-class and well-heeled so-called “creative-class” twentysomethings and little in between.

Every time Margaret and I walk through the neighborhoods surrounding Broad Ripple Village, we are drawn in: single-family dwellings on small lots with mature trees, sidewalks connecting these neighborhoods not only to little parks where our eventual grandkids can play, but also to the Village and its burgeoning shops. Fresh Thyme is a delightful little grocery. We’d love to have one within walking distance. I wonder if other empty nesters and near-empty-nesters are charmed by Broad Ripple as well.

I can’t make sense of all the trends. But here’s what I do know: societal change brings economic opportunity, and someone is always smart enough to capitalize on it. Let the Broad Ripple Villagers cry and protest, but greater density is coming to places like Broad Ripple because money is to be made.

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Life, Stories Told

Happy life in a modest neighborhood

It’s a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Isn’t the aspiration supposed to be for more, for a fresh build in a tony suburb? But I’ve been happy here, surprisingly so. It has been a good place to rebuild my life after my first marriage crashed and burned.

My humble home

The homes here are ranches, usually faced in brick, largely built in the 1950s and 1960s as people moved out of the city proper. But a couple lots remained vacant until almost 1990, which is about when the golf course was built behind us, putting an end to flooded back yards on each heavy rain. And the cornfield across the main road finally succumbed to suburban sprawl in about 2010 when the megachurch went up. Thanks to the city’s MapIndy site and its historic aerial imagery, you can watch my little neighborhood go from farmland 80 years ago to what it is now.

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I’ve been here ten years now. I probably shouldn’t have bought this house; my divorce left me broke. But I’d moved three times in three years and I craved permanence. And this house was less than a mile from where my sons lived with their mom. And my credit was very good. So I got an ill-advised 100% mortgage and moved in.

I couldn’t see the looming housing bubble about to burst. I couldn’t see my ex-wife soon remarrying and getting that fresh build, that tony suburb, 20 miles away. I wanted to move to live closer to my sons, but my house was suddenly worth less than what I owed on it. And so I remained.

It’s worked out; my sons and I have been happy here. But now my sons are grown and all but gone. And the housing market has recovered. And I’ve remarried; my new wife and I would like to share a roof. This one is too small and would take her youngest son out of his school, so now I’m preparing to put my house on the market.

I’m thrilled to move into the next part of my life, but sad to leave this home behind. I’ve been so content here. Preparing to leave has me in a reflective mood, which drove me to look through my photographs. I was surprised by how many I’ve made around the neighborhood. Could this be the most-photographed neighborhood in Indianapolis? Let me share it with you.

The homes are spaced wide and set back deeply on broad streets. Lots are about a third of an acre.

IMG_0222

In the late autumn and early spring, when the trees are bare, the neighborhood looks dingy and tired. That’s in part because so many houses here have become rentals and receive minimum care. Strangely, all corner houses here are duplexes and have always been rentals. And during the worst of the housing crisis a good number of these modest homes went abandoned into foreclosure.

My front yard

1967 Ford F250

In my neighborhood

But the neighborhood wakes up in the spring, thanks to so many flowering trees the original owners planted.

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

And a few owners have taken great care in their landscaping, which looks best during the summer. And even now, after so many dead ash trees have been removed here, the neighborhood remains heavily wooded and deeply shaded all summer.

Neighbor

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Because of the tree cover, autumns here can be spectacular.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

Neighborhood trees

Autumn leaves

Autumn Street

Even the wintertime has its charm as the snow hangs in the tree branches. However, the city has plowed our streets but one time that I can remember, making it challenging to get in and out. One snowstorm a few years ago stranded me at home for a week — the snow was simply too deep for my car to cut through.

Snowy day

Mild winter in old suburbia

Snowy day

Snowy neighborhood scene

Down the street

It’s quiet here. Neighbors mostly keep to themselves; I know few of them. But I guess that’s the age. It’s also safe here — crime is very low. About once a year I drive to work and forget to close the garage door. Never once have I found anything missing or even disturbed upon return.

10396284_10152139682973499_2982548482521486908_n

I won’t miss a few things. The houses that need upkeep but never get it. The one fellow who parks his giant trailer on the street; it’s so hard to see it at night. The neighbors who forget to keep their storm-sewer grates clear, leading to flooded streets under heavy rain. I certainly won’t miss going out in my raincoat and waterproof shoes to rake the drains clear in front of their houses. But I’ll miss a lot of the rest.

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On Illinois Street

56th and Illinois
Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak Gold 400
2017

Margaret and I keep walking Indianapolis neighborhoods, considering where we might like to settle after we’re empty nested in a few years. The neighborhood around 56th and Illinois appeals deeply to me.

Photography

Photo: Street scene, 56th and Illinois, Indianapolis

Image