History, Preservation

A sense of place: Going home to Twelve Points

Twelve Points State Bank

How well do we actually see the places where we live? Truly notice the details that give it identity and make it a place?

For me, the answer is: Better now than when I was young. I’ve lived long enough now that the stomping grounds of my youth have changed a lot. But back then my inner historian, preservationist, and photographer had not yet awakened. I had not yet learned to see.

In the early 1990s I lived in the Terre Haute, Indiana, neighborhood known as Twelve Points. The area got its name from the awkward intersection of Lafayette Ave., Maple Ave., and 13th St., which created twelve corners.

TwelvePoints

Imagery and map data ©2013 Google

Twelve Points was once a hot spot, at a time when Lafayette Road was still US 41, when passenger-train and streetcar service still delivered hundreds of people each day to shop here, and before the big shopping mall was built on the south side of town.

When I moved there, Twelve Points’ best days were already well in its past. Many of the buildings were empty and in poor repair.

A handful of businesses remained. I used to walk over to Hook’s drug store to fill prescriptions, and I’d sometimes stop at the little IGA grocery store on the way home from work. I could have done my banking, gone out for pizza, gotten my hair cut, and visited the dentist in Twelve Points, too, but I never did. Today I’d do it on principle, but that’s the kind of man I’ve become only lately.

A few years ago I visited an exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society that made me deeply regret not getting to know Twelve Points better. Part of the IHS’s “You Are There” series, the exhibit recreated Citizens Grocery, owned and run by Ernest Zwerner on Lafayette Road in Twelve Points, as it had been in 1945.

It was a painstaking recreation based on 1940s photos of Zwerner’s store (one is here), with period equipment and goods both real and carefully reproduced. Actors portrayed the shopkeeper and customers, all dressed in period clothes. Visitors to the exhibit could go inside the store and talk with the characters, who responded as if it were really 1945 and they were going about their daily business. It put visitors in touch with a time few of us knew.

Remarkably, I knew a couple who would have shopped at Zwerner’s: My landlords, Steve and Henrietta, who had lived since the 1930s in their home a few blocks away and rented its attached apartment to people like me. Inside the recreated grocery, I imagined young Henrietta there doing her marketing. Or, more likely she phoned in her order and waited for delivery.

I became a little misty eyed as I experienced my connection to this store and this time. I wanted to play along with the actors, tell them I lived a few blocks away on 8th Street (which I had, 45 years later), lament rationing, and ask them how much longer they thought we’d have to fight in this war. But I lacked the guts. I walked around the store in silence, slightly dizzy in delight, the corners of my lips curled up in a slight grin that I tried to suppress lest it let the mist in my eyes get out of hand.

(You will learn more about Zwerner the man and his business in this Google Books excerpt of An American Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana, 1927, here.)

When I last visited Terre Haute, I made a point of returning to Twelve Points with my camera. The building that held Zwerner’s store was demolished decades ago, so I photographed the buildings I remembered from my time living nearby in the early 1990s.

The Twelve Points State Bank building held a branch of the Merchants National Bank when I lived there. It looks pretty good yet, despite the boarded-up storefront there on its south side.

Twelve Points State Bank

Thirty years ago this building was in such poor condition as to be derelict. While it still shows some rough edges, it’s in much better condition today and on the day I took this photo was significantly occupied by Tilford’s Variety Store. Unfortunately, Tilford’s struggled to make its way and closed shortly after I visited.

Tilford's

This was the Garfield Theater, which I’m sure was a focus of the local night life. Many Twelve Points businesses and buildings have Garfield in their name because of the former Garfield High School, which once stood around the corner on Maple Ave. The Banks of the Wabash Chorus, a barbershop harmony group, has been in the building for at least a quarter century.

Banks of the Wabash Chorus

I can’t believe that in the five years I lived nearby, I never ordered a pizza from A Ring Brings Pizza. The now-me shakes his head at the then-me. And now nobody can call C-5951 for pizza anymore, not because C became 232 when seven-digit dialing arrived, but because the restaurant is closed. At least its great sign remains.

A Ring Brings Pizza

The Garfield Barber Shop and Coiffure Salon is also defunct. I swear that the sign and the lettering painted on the window look just as they did 25 years ago.

Garfield Barber Shop

Since I moved away, a new gas station was built on the southwest corner of Maple Ave. and Lafayette Ave., and it was hopping while I visited Twelve Points that day. A CVS Pharmacy replaced the little grocery store on the northeast corner of 13th St. and Maple Ave., and it showed every sign of doing well. These kinds of businesses aren’t enough to reinvigorate Twelve Points on their own, but they at least show that there is some life left in the neighborhood. Here’s hoping it finds revitalization one day.

I first shared these thoughts in early 2013. In the 4½ years since, according to Google Street View, a few things have changed: the defunct Garfield Barber Shop has finally been replaced with a new tenant, and the A Ring Brings Pizza sign has been taken down. Tilford’s is still closed, but the men still sing at The Banks Of The Wabash Chorus. 

If you’d like to see my apartment near Twelve Points and hear my story of getting started as an adult, it’s here.

 

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Stories Told

Everybody wants to know where Jimmy has gone

My brief radio career ended just before Labor Day 23 years ago.

MeOnWZZQ

On the air at WZZQ, Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1994

I’ve written about my broadcasting days many times because it remains a proud, fond memory. As a boy, I wanted to be the voice coming out of the radio speaker. I got my chance in college, and parlayed that experience into two part-time gigs on commercial stations.

After I moved to Indianapolis I sent an audition tape to every station in town. None of them bit. Only one station bothered to send me a rejection letter, which kindly said that I might have been fine for Terre Haute but I wasn’t ready for the big time. I took the hint and moved on from radio forever.

But I still remember the fun I had. And I have lots of aircheck tapes, all of which I digitized a few years ago so I can enjoy those memories anytime.

For my last show, I asked the program director to schedule a certain song coming out of my last break, a song new that year from The Allman Brothers Band. Its first two lines were spot on:

Everybody wants to know where Jimmy has gone
He left town, I doubt if he’s coming back home

Here’s the audio I recorded of that last break. You’ll hear me talk after a song and start the first commercial. Then you’ll hear the end of the last commercial in that break – and then you’ll hear me sign off for good.

I walked out of the building and out of radio forever. I listened to the rest of the song in my car as I drove home.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember this post from the first time I published it, about this time of year in 2012.

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Preservation, Road Trips

The Indiana Theatre: A crown jewel of Terre Haute

Tucked quietly into the corner of 7th and Ohio Streets in Terre Haute is this grand and gorgeous theater.

Indiana Theater

Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200, 2017

Opened in 1922 and designed by John Emerson in Spanish Andalusian style, this is considered the first theater in the nation to embody “atmospheric” theater design, which recreated exotic foreign locales. This style quickly became common and characterized many theaters built during the 1920s.

Indiana Theater

Konica C35, Fujicolor 200, 2013

The versatile Indiana has hosted vaudeville, movies, live theater, and music events throughout its life. But when I lived in Terre Haute, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, it was a dollar theater. It showed The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight every Friday; I still remember many of the audience-participation lines. A girlfriend and I saw a fair number of movies here because it was a cheap date. I especially remember seeing Born on the Fourth of July here, because on the theater’s enormous screen (54 by 33 feet, the second largest in the state, I’m told) the film’s violence and gore chased us away long before the movie ended.

Inside the Indiana

Konica C35, Fujicolor 200, 2013

I haven’t set foot inside the Indiana in more than 20 years. This is the only interior photo I’ve taken, of the atrium behind the box office. What awaits behind those doors is truly stunning — and was even during the dollar-theater days, when the building had fallen into some disrepair. The second balcony, for example, was permanently closed because of rumored structural issues. But since 2013 the building has been renovated and restored. Check out the theater’s Wikipedia page to see some of its gorgeous interior today.

The theater is now primarily an event center. Seats on the floor in front of the stage were removed in favor of tables, which lets the venue host meetings and parties. Taking a look at the venue’s calendar, I see live theater, weddings, and a rock concert booked in the near future.

Indiana Theater

Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200, 2017

I try to stop by the Indiana for photographs every time I visit downtown Terre Haute. I’d love to see just one more dollar movie here. And I’d bring a good camera and photograph the interior extensively.

Indiana Detail

Konica C35, Fujicolor 200, 2013

But I, and by extension you, will have to be satisfied with these exterior shots. And so finally, here’s a long shot of 7th Street from Wabash Avenue, the famous Crossroads of America, where US 40 and US 41 once intersected. The Indiana truly is tucked tidily into the Terre Haute streetscape. Do you see it there?

Southbound Old US 41

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom, 2009

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Photography, Road Trips, Stories Told

A visit to Headstone’s

Every time I go back to Terre Haute I try to at least drive by Headstone Friends. It’s a record store in the late-60s head-shop tradition. I spent a lot of money here in the late 80s when I was in college. Pretty much every dollar I earned at my part-time job, less whatever it cost me to eat Saturday and Sunday nights when campus food service was shut down, was traded here for music.

Headstone's in Terre Haute

Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200

I was sad to find the shop’s exterior mural and sign to have deteriorated so. Contrast it to this photo I made in 2008, when I first wrote about this place. But inside everything was as it ever was: used records in the back in boxes perched on stacks of cinder blocks, cases full of CDs lining the walls up front, music blaring, dimly lit. The water fountain still doesn’t work and the room of black-light posters is still black-lit.

Headstone Friends

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

Hey, check it out, there’s my lamented, lost red Matrix. I was driving the blue Matrix this time; you can see its tail in the first photo. Or, rather, my youngest son was driving. We’re practicing driving toward his license and this day we burned down a solid three hours driving to, around, and from Terre Haute. It was a nice day together. And I was thrilled to share Headstone’s with him. I know he didn’t get it, but I tried to explain it to him anyway: how important music was (and is) to me, how most used records were $2 (indeed, many of them are still), and how I amassed a fabulous music collection on the cheap here. As long as Headstone’s keeps going, I’ll make occasional pilgrimages.

Incense burns constantly at Headstone’s. And they still carry the hard-to-find stuff. That stuff isn’t as hard to find today thanks to the Internet, but I still found a CD I’ve been looking for: a four-song live set Paul McCartney did in 2007, called Amoeba’s Secret. And even now, weeks later, the CD’s cardboard sleeve smells like Headstone’s. And so did we, all the way home.

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Stories Told

Headstone’s

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Headstone FriendsWhen I was in college, I should have just had my work-study paycheck direct-deposited into Headstone Friends’ bank account. I spent most of it there anyway on used records and CDs.

Headstone’s is a music store in head-shop trappings. Step inside, and suddenly it’s 1969. Well, it’s 1969 after your eyes adjust to the dim light. But you smell the sweet incense right away. Heck, you hear the loud music all the way out in the parking lot. Anyway, the counter is on the left, offering jewelry and silly buttons and, at least at one time, scales and rolling papers. On the right are ceramic dragons and fabric Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix wall hangings and a rack of incense sticks. Then racks of CDs line the wall all the way to the back where a few bins of records remain. In the corner, next to the drinking fountain that has never worked, is a room aglow with black-light posters.

Things do change at Headstone’s. When I first set foot in the place twentymumble years ago it was half the size it is now, full of waist-high record bins. They expanded into the building’s back section a few years later, and slowly tall homemade CD racks crowded out most of the record bins. And every so many years, when the building’s mural and sign are faded and worn almost beyond recognition, they repaint. When I was there last Saturday, it looked pretty fresh.

Headstone Friends

Headstone’s is seriously old school. They have one location, on Poplar at 12th Street in Terre Haute. They’re not on the Web. They don’t take credit cards. The owners, aging hippies who were about the same age I am now when I first visited, work the counter. They keep inventory records on index cards in cardboard boxes. When you find a CD you want, you go to the counter and have someone come unlock the cabinet for you. Then they total your purchases on paper receipts and calculate the tax by hand.

The staff is very low key, but while I lived in Terre Haute I visited so often that they came to recognize me. One fellow named Harold became friendly and came to recognize my buying habits. One day a college friend came by my dorm room and said that I should see Harold next time I was in. He had set aside a promotional poster from a Paul McCartney album for me. The album wasn’t Paul’s best, but the the cover photo, of Paul and his wife taken with the kind of camera used for 1940s Hollywood glamor shots, was outstanding, and larger than life on the poster. “We get this junk all the time and never use it,” he said. “You buy all kinds of Beatles and McCartney so I figured you’d like to have it.” Sure enough! I had it framed. Despite generous offers from collectors, it still hangs in my house.

Tie-dye

Harold was there on Saturday. I haven’t seen him in at least ten years, but he looked just the same – long brown-and-gray hair curling halfway down his back, reading glasses at the end of his nose, and a round, tan fisherman’s hat covering his head. There was a glimmer of recognition on his face when he saw me, but it had been so long I wasn’t sure he’d remember me even if I did give him my name, so I kept to myself. I didn’t find any CDs I couldn’t live without, but just for fun I did buy a tie-dyed T-shirt. It filled my car with Headstone’s scent all the way home. I hated to wash it.

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Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Spring morning, Rose-Hulman, 1988

As a boy, summer was my favorite season, but as I grew up spring began to overtake it. I remember well the day that spring clinched the top spot. It was the day before I took this photograph, one May morning in 1988.

These were my college days, and this was the view from my residence hall’s back door. I walked this way to breakfast every morning, but my mind was always preoccupied. This lovely scene shouted to me so I had to notice, and I stood there a few steps from the door startled and amazed by how beautiful the campus was. I didn’t want to look away from the still pond, so lovely with all the reflected trees. For the first time I smelled the sweet air, noticing how cool it felt on my arms in contrast to how the sun warmed my skin. As I heard birds chirping in the distance I wondered how many days spring’s arrival had escaped my notice.

Photography

Captured: Rose-Hulman spring morning, 1988

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