Preservation, Road Trips

Lifting a blighted neigborhood: The Angie’s List campus

Since I wrote this, Angie’s List was purchase by its largest competitor, and left this campus for new space a few blocks west on the same street.

This was the scene in 2008 where the Michigan Road and the National Road intersect on Indianapolis’s Eastside. Ew.

Ugly buildings

Since then, this block and the block to the east have been extensively renovated. Here are the same buildings today.

At the National Road and the Michigan Road

The city has Angie’s List to thank, as the company chose this derelict area for its headquarters. You might know Angie’s List and its crowdsourced reviews of local businesses, but you might not know that the company has headquartered in Indianapolis for most of its 20-year history.

At the National Road and the Michigan Road

The company has renovated nearly 30 buildings here, creating a campus on which most of its employees work. It’s transformed this near-Eastside neighborhood from dumpy and dangerous to hip and cool.

At the National Road and the Michigan Road

One of Indianapolis’s oldest fire stations is now Angie’s List’s front door, the place where visitors go when they need to meet with employees. I gather that this was the first building they rented in this block, back in 1999 when they just needed cheap space. Nobody else wanted anything to do with this part of town then.

Angie's List

There’s even a fire truck inside, next to the reception desk. I know this because as I was looking for a new job this summer, Angie’s List considered me for a position. I entered the reception area more than once while I waited to meet people during the interview process.

Entrance

The brick sidewalk is a wonderful touch. I’m betting it was laid as part of the renovation project, but it is rustic and a little uneven as though it’s been there for a hundred years.

Brick sidewalk

Some of the bricks are marked by their makers; most of those come from the town of Brazil, about 70 miles west of here on the National Road. Brazil and surrounding Clay County were rich in, well, clay, which made it a great place to make bricks. Despite this natural resource, the county was named after Henry Clay.

Brazil Brick

Anyway, Angie’s List just kept buying and renovating property here. Their campus now fills more than two city blocks. But I say “renovating” rather than “restoring,” because these buildings have all been reworked to some extent for their new purposes. I saw it firsthand during my interviews. While the firehouse retains much of its historic interior charm, a large former factory building where software developers now work was gutted and is thoroughly modern inside.

Tools

Some preservationists might not be happy about that, but I think it’s a more than fair trade given how badly blighted this neighborhood was. This reuse is far, far better than no use! Angie’s List’s presence has dramatically lifted the surrounding neighborhood, too, raising property values and making it safe for residents.

It was hard for me to turn down Angie’s List’s employment offer when it came. How perfect would it have been for me to work where the National Road and the Michigan Road intersect? They’re my two very favorite old roads! And because Angie’s List has become a leading employer of Indy-area software-development and IT people, many of my former colleagues have wound up here — especially a woman of whom I think the world, a technology Vice President there. She’s simply the best at what she does. I would have loved to work with her and my other colleagues again. But another company offered me a position at about the same time, a role that’s a better match for my skills and career goals, for about the same money. It’s just too bad that their headquarters are in a charmless suburban office park, well away from any historic roads.

Moto Cafe

You can’t have it all, I suppose. But perhaps my VP friend and I can meet for lunch sometimes at the campus’s motorcycle-themed Moto Cafe. Heck, I can even come on my own; it’s open to the public. Reviewers on Yelp like it.

I love the Michigan and National Roads! Read everything I’ve written about the Michigan Road here, and about the National Road here.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Grand old homes along Indiana’s National Road

When you build a major road, people build along it to take advantage of the opportunities it brings. When that major road stands the test of time, as the National Road has in Indiana, you find some great old architecture along it. This home, for example, stands along the road in Plainfield. I’m no architectural scholar, but this looks like an Italianate to me, and so I’d guess it was built around 1860.

Plainfield, IN

I’m guessing this might be a Colonial Revival house, but I can’t guess when it was built. It’s also in Plainfield.

Plainfield, IN

This 1872 Italinate (which I know only because I looked it up) is known as Rising Hall.  It stands just inside the Hendricks-Putnam county line. A man named McHaffie built it; he is best known for providing more mules than anybody for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Rising Hall

A bit farther west in Putnam County stands this home, about which I know nothing. But it sure stands proudly along the road.

Old house on the National Road

I know a bit more about this house, which stands on the north side of the road just east of Harmony in Clay County. It was built by a doctor named McKinley in 1872 and today is the McKinley Bed and Breakfast. It is quite lovely inside.

The McKinley House

The home’s front yard was not always a jungle. When the house was built, the road was a narrow path much farther from the front door and was level with the front stoop. The house sits atop a rise, and as the road was widened and leveled over time, the rise was cut out. George Stewart, who photographed scenes along US 40 from coast to coast for his 1953 book US 40: Cross Section of the United States of America, also captured this house. Here’s his photograph, which shows the cut’s severity and how it eliminated the house’s front yard.

Isn’t it remarkable how, excepting the shutters present then but not now, the house looks as though it has merely glided forward through time, as if in stasis? Yet when Thomas and Geraldine Vale retraced Stewart’s steps for their 1983 book US 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America, they found the house abandoned and rotting, obscured by overgrown trees and shrubs. This house has been restored to its present condition.

It makes you wonder what the other houses’ stories are.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Personal

No fallow season

Wer rastet, rostet! – German saying
(Whoever rests, rusts!)

The Germans may be industrious, but we Americans are driven. Just before Christmas I read a Texas preacher’s blog entry in which he quoted an author’s observation of how Americans like to push themselves past burnout and then spend a weekend on the couch in a stupor, recovering just enough to return to the burnout track on Monday. The author, in contrast, had fled to Italy after a painful divorce, seeking to do nothing, and enjoy it, as her path to recovery. She took a Sabbath to restore herself from depletion.

I left a comment that it must be nice to fly off to Europe to rest, but unfortunately after my divorce I have bills to pay and children to raise. But right then I was nearly tapped. Most days I was spent before the work day was done. After work, some nights I heated up an easy dinner, ran to whatever commitment I had that night, and sat there in a fog. The remaining nights I picked up my children, pushed myself to make dinner and do dishes, and then slumped into my recliner and stared blankly at the TV while my sons played or watched with me. I knew I needed to rest, but I was out of vacation time at work.

I had to do something, so I backed out of my standing Tuesday night commitment so I’d have one night a week at home alone. I also decided not to take on any new commitments for a few months. It didn’t help. I still felt like I was running hard most of the time, and I was using my Tuesday nights alone to catch up, not rest. Little home maintenance jobs were piling up. I was on a project at work that frustrated me so much that I found it hard to get out of bed and make it to work on time. I turned to escape, staying up late watching TV or surfing the Net. Getting less sleep made things worse.

Then a few weeks ago I woke up one frigid morning to find my bathroom pipes frozen. My kitchen pipes worked, so I brushed my teeth over the kitchen sink. I managed to drop my contact lens there, though. I searched everywhere for it, including taking the pipes under the sink apart, but it was just gone. So I found my glasses – so old they make me dizzy if I wear them more than a couple days – and headed out to buy something that would thaw my pipes. At Menards, I slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot, breaking a rib. Then, in pain, I spent two hours under my house wrapping a heating element around my pipes. It didn’t work, so I drove to Wal-Mart and bought an electric space heater and installed it under the house by the frozen pipes. It worked in no time. But then I had to make an emergency appointment with an optometrist to get a new lens, which set me back $150. Meanwhile, I lost most of a day of work on that frustrating project, and its deadline wasn’t relaxing on my account.

That day took all of the energy, patience, and good humor I had left. When I returned to work, I found my already thin patience with the project to be worn through. I kept to myself to avoid saying something I might regret, except for seeing my boss to tell her that when the project ended, I needed to take the two vacation days I had accumulated.

I took the days around a three-day holiday weekend for five days away. I thought I might catch up on my backlog of minor home repairs, clean the house thoroughly, bathe the dogs, look at my taxes. But I lacked the energy and desire to work. I slept ten hours a night. I read. I napped. I watched the entire DVD set of Emergency!, season four. I surfed the Net.

I did take a day trip. The dogs and I drove down to Madison on the Ohio River. I walked the dogs through Madison’s early-1800s downtown, watching the people and enjoying the architecture. Then we followed the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s, back home. Much of the route is a US highway today, but a couple long segments are just old country roads. We crossed two one-lane 1800s stone bridges on the route. The one in the photo seemed to be miles from anywhere. I hadn’t encountered a car since I turned off the highway, and wouldn’t encounter another one until I rejoined the highway 20 miles later. The dogs were napping in the back of my little wagon, tired from their walk. I was alone on the old road, taking my time, enjoying the quiet. I could feel my heart beating in my chest just a little bit faster, as it does sometimes when I find joy.

Today is the last day of my five-day break. I’ve done a little housework, and I went to see a movie, but otherwise I’ve relaxed and written this. I’ve regained some peace and I’m better rested. I think if I took another week off I could have my energy back, and if I took a month off I could have my spirit back, but since it will take months to save that kind of vacation time there will be no fallow season for me. When I go back to work tomorrow, at least I won’t be running on empty. But I want to keep it that way. I think I will plan a couple more long weekends in the spring, and a full week off this summer when my sons are here, as time to rest and take a couple short road trips just for the enjoyment. If I’m to rust, so be it.

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