Friday, December 30, 2011


Ahead of the New Year, let's take a look back.  To 1948. I found these Oldsmobile ads in some old Vogue magazines.  The 1948 cutting-edge design of the cars doesn't hold up so well, but take a look at the architecture!  The "Futuramic" homes still look modern and new even to world weary almost-2012 eyes.

April 1948 Vogue featured a bright yellow Futuramic Oldsmobile and a wowser of a modern home by Chiarelli and Kirk. Their partnership started in 1944.  This home was a real construction. The text states that the house was (is it still?) built in Port Angeles, Washington.  Some more research indicates it must be the Dr. Schueler house built in that city in 1947.

The only photos I can find of the Dr. Schueler House are interiors.

The May 15 issue brought the design with a delightfully curvaceous Olds Club Sedan and a delightfully angular house by Marcel Breuer!  Look at that house!  That's in 1948. That huge car fits nicely under the cantilever at the rear and it's all view out the front through those floor-to-ceiling windows! Breuer's Bauhaus ideals are shining here.  Does anyone recognize this Breuer?  It appears to be the Gilbert Tomkins House built in 1945 in Hewlett Harbor, NY. 

Here's a photograph of the Tomkins house from .  Same house, yes?

In June Vogue gave us a cherry red Oldsmobile and a cheer-worthy piece of architecture by Vincent Kling.  It's a beach house, but there's no location noted. Kling was a Philadelphia architect.  Anyone have a clue as to where this house might be? This one is so futuristic I can't believe it was constructed. But I hope it was and I hope one of you readers can tell us where.  Here's Miss June 1948 and isn't she a beaut?


1948 was a very good year for good design. In 2012, let's celebrate good design from all eras. 

Cheers to you in the Futuramic New Year from C. Resources and INArchitecture! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Demolition ain't Development.

We can all agree that Indianapolis has an abandoned home problem. The City has identified 4,500 buildings that are abandoned.  Some burned out, abandoned homes in Indianapolis would probably never be rehabbed or repurposed as anything other than housing for squatters.  Most of us are ok with those houses being demolished.  But the City's new plan to demolish 1,200 buildings by the end of 2011 and take down an additional 800 -- a total 2,000 ---  by the end of 2012 has preservationists and neighborhood advocates rightfully concerned, even outraged.

Looking for a quick fix with a sudden influx of money from the water utility sale, but without any redevelopment plans in line, the City/County Councillors and the Mayor allocated $15,000,000 to demolition and $0 to any other options that might save some of these homes and fill them with new neighbors.

If you have a gut feeling this isn't a good plan, you're right.  Here are just a few of the salient reasons why.

1. All Smart Growth and New Urbanism tenets say that urban density is the best way to achieve a sustainable city.  Empty lots between houses is counter to urban density.  Empty lots lower walkability scores, don’t make the highest use of urban infrastructure and don’t use the embedded energy of the existing buildings. 

2.  While many houses may need to be demolished, clearly many on this list are not unsafe and many are saveable.  The buildings were not surveyed by structural engineers.  Health and Hospital, the agency that makes the "unsafe" call, does not do interior investigations. The decision of which buildings to add to the list was based on a wide variety of criteria, which may or may not include a hole in the roof, a hole in the foundation, tall grass, and/or police runs.  But, many structural issues are repairable and demolishing a house should never be based on police runs.  The bad tenants will just move to another house.  We can't demolish every house they live in until they eventually move out of the county.  Or at least, we shouldn't.

3. Right now, the City owns only a tiny percentage of the buildings to be demolished.  Which means that any future development would be reliant on the absentee landlords being found and willing to sell the lots to developers.  

4. This plan is a quick fix that will result in empty untended lots still in the possession of landlords who have already failed to maintain them.  Health & Hospital will be putting thousands (or more) of extra dollars into maintaining these 2,000 lots after the demolitions.  More money down the drain.

5.  According to Reggie Walton, Assistant Administrator of the Abandoned Housing Initiative, the great majority of these properties are “severely delinquent” in property taxes.  This means the City could take the properties and make them available for purchase. But the City has no intent to take the properties, which means little to no potential for development.  [See Point 4]

6. Few if any of these properties have been offered up for sale.  At least some might sell if the City would take the property and put them on tax sales or find other ways to get them into the hands of new owner/occupants. 

7. Once the demolition has occurred the lien for demolition goes onto the property.  Unless the original landlord is willing to pay the demolition cost, or the City is willing to forgive the fees, any new owner would have to pay off the cost of the demolition lien, as well as buy the property, adding even more cost to the properties and making their eventual reuse even more unlikely.

8. The bond was written to allocate all the money for demolition. It could and should be rewritten to allocate some for uses that are positive, such as rehab grants, stabilization programs, urban homesteader grants, and $1 house programs (such as the one introduced by Republican mayor William Hudnut). 

9. In most cases, even neighbors who complain about the abandoned homes would rather see them filled with new homeowners than see them demolished.  Alternative programs could use the same monies now designated for demolition to bring urban homesteaders into these buildings. 

If you agree that this wholesale demolition is a bad idea, please join the Facebook page,

Friday, September 30, 2011

Now for something completely different: Gene Fowlkes -- Indianapolis Jazz History


            Eugene (Gene) Fowlkes was born in 1930.  He grew up in an African American neighborhood on the Eastside of Indianapolis where he went to public schools 56, 37, and 26 before attending the all-black Crispus Attucks High School.  Gene is a tall, still-handsome, lanky man with long arms, legs and fingers. He laughs a lot.
As a child, Gene was intrigued by his oldest brother’s trombone, but his arms were too short to play the instrument.  “That could be the reason that later on I just decided to get one [of my own].  I went to Sack’s pawn shop that was on Indiana Avenue . . . bought a trombone for either $50 or $75.”  That was in 1947.
            Gene’s first musical influences were the well-known trombonist, J. J. Johnson, and Johnson’s wife Vivian.  It was Vivian who introduced Fowlkes to Johnson’s recordings and the stories of their lives in New York City.  When Gene began to play his pawn shop trombone he practiced by playing along to J.J.’s recordings loaned to him by Vivian.  He played those 78s so much he wore deep grooves in them. 
Playing trombone turned Gene’s life around.  “I don’t guess I was pretty much no different than the 17, 16, 17 year-old kids now, just want to hang out. Then I heard about the Hampton family. Now that was the turning point of my whole life.”  How’d you hear about them? “I went over to McArthur’s Conservatory of Music (on Indiana Avenue) that’s how I met the Hamptons.”
            Gene paid for his lessons at McArthur’s with his G.I. Bill, a benefit he received at an early age.  At the end of World War II, Gene enlisted, faking his age. When his mother sent the Commander Gene’s birth certificate showing he was only 16, he was sent home.  But his benefits kicked in anyway affording Gene a chance to train at the premier music school in Indianapolis.  Soon he started hanging out with Buddy Montgomery at Wes Montgomery’s house on Cornell Street in Indianapolis.  “So between the Hampton family and Wes Montgomery, Buddy, and Monk  . . . I just fell in love with jazz,” he says.
            Because the trombone was not an essential instrument in most jazz groups, Fowlkes rarely had a steady job in a house band, but he stayed relatively busy playing in quintets or larger groups whenever he could land a gig. His work ethic matured when he started at the Cotton Club in Cincinnati.  There he played in a group that also included left-handed trombone player Slide Hampton (of the Indianapolis Hampton family). “I remember one morning in particular . . . I heard him practicing and I was so inspired. Now, here’s a guy that played better than me, now he’s up practicing, I’m laying in the sack. So I got up, shook my head and put my clothes on and went down and I started practicing.”
            When Gene returned from his second stint in the armed forces--this time he was drafted--he got a job at the Turf Club at 16th and Lafayette Road.  Drummer Sonny Johnson formed a group with tenor saxophonist Pookie Johnson, Monk Montgomery, on the just-introduced electric Fender bass, Gene Fowlkes on trombone, and Carroll DeCamp on piano. It was a “wonderful, wonderful gig.”
Unfortunately for Gene, Sonny Johnson eventually decided to change the group. He "fired" Carroll DeCamp and replaced him with Buddy Montgomery, “fired” Gene  and replaced him with guitar phenomenon, Wes Montgomery.  The new Johnson-Montgomery Quintet became the hot jazz band in Indianapolis. "For people old enough to remember what that group was, you know, and how they sounded, man that was really good,” Gene says years later, despite his own bad luck in situation and an intervening period of admitted sour grapes.  The change in band also made the two outcasts, DeCamp and Fowlkes great friends with a shared disappointment, both in losing their jobs and knowing how much better the group was after they were kicked out.  “We talked about them like dogs,” Gene says with a laugh.  But even the outcasts knew there was something very special in the chemistry of the Johnson-Montgomery quartet.
            After losing that job at the Turf Club, Fowlkes went on the road with Jimmy Coe, Earl Van Riper, Mingo Jones, Earl Fox Walker and Bill Boyd in Indianapolis band leader Jimmy Coe’s band.  They were the opening act for an all-black group with a rock-and-roll hit. Gene no longer remembers the name of that band nor their song.  But he’ll never forget the dismal segregation of the South.  He saw first-hand separate water fountains, separate lines at ice cream stands, and when they played in Dallas, Texas, “There was one big rope tied right down the middle of the room. The blacks on one side and the whites on the other side. You couldn’t cross the line.”
            In 1957 Gene fell in “LUV” [his pronunciation and emphasis] and passed up the opportunity to go on the road with the Lionel Hampton group. Instead he got married and took a factory job at Western Electric.  He didn’t give up music but about that time he decided to switch from the trombone to the bass, figuring he could find more work on the weekends as a bass player.  Because both instruments are in the bass clef he didn’t have a problem reading the bass part; says he had to slow his mind down for the bass, because the trombone “is faster and quicker.” He learned the new instrument from other bass players in town at the time, several of whom went on to make very big names in much bigger cities: Leroy Vinnegar, Larry Ridley, Monk Montgomery, Philip (Flip) Stewart.  A bass player from Detroit, Bill Yancy, who was playing at George’s Orchid Bar on Indiana Avenue, taught Gene the correct hand positions, which made him a much more controlled player. He was no longer “just grabbin’” at his new instrument.
            As a bass player Fowlkes worked with Wes Montgomery whenever Monk was out of town, and went on the road with the famous Earl “Fatha” Hines.  Though a testament to the skill he had developed, that road trip also turned Gene away from his musical career.  Earning $400 a week in the late 1970s, he found it nearly impossible to live in Los Angeles and make enough money to pay his mortgage in Indianapolis.  He says he barely managed to pay his dog food bills to fellow musician Claude Sifferlein, who was dogsitting for the recently divorced Fowlkes. 
            Tired of hiding from bill collectors, when Gene returned to Indianapolis he took a full-time job with the CETA program in the purchasing department at the City/County Building.  While there he saw a posting for a position as a correctional officer.  It paid $12 an hour, so he decided that would be his next job.  On his first day of work at the Indiana Youth Center in Plainfield, he “saw so many of my old buddies. Boy it was like old home week.” When he found out he could be a parole officer if he earned 15 hours of college credit, he completed an associate’s degree, and began to look for a new position.  Never one to believe that racial discrimination held him back, Fowlkes plainly states that it was age discrimination, not his race, which prevented him from finding a position as a parole officer.  But he continued to work in the corrections field and eventually retired at age 62 from his job at the men’s work release center.
            During these years of working the midnight shift in corrections, Gene had to give up playing gigs.  Although he missed it for a long time, he doesn’t anymore. Now, he loves to stay home with his dog, Sheba and grow flowers. He plays music, keeps the remote control “duct-taped” to his wrist so he can stay up-to-the-minute on sports, and works on his house. At age 70 believes Gene Fowlkes says he’s had one wonderful life.
Connie J. Zeigler

With David Andrichik, owner of the Chatterbox Jazz Club, filming them, I completed 16 oral histories with jazz musicians inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame between 1998 and 2002.  Gene Fowlkes was one of my favorite subjects. He was funny and modest and irreverent.  I wrote this short biography a couple of years after our interview.  The taped interviews and their transcripts belong to the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation.

Eugene Fowlkes died on February 25, 2005.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gunnison Homes -- The New Miracle

I've written about Gunnison Homes before in this blog. See:   Running across a newspaper article while I was doing research gives me an excuse to post up a bit more information. 

Gunnison Magic Homes was the first really successful pre-fab housing firm in the United States. By 1940, this Indianapolis Star article claims that it was the "nation's largest home builder."  In the pre-World War II era that may have been true. It's safe to say that the company sold thousands of homes over the course of its history.

From his factory, which still stands in New Albany, Indiana, Foster Gunnison produced pre-fab homes built with insulated plywood panels in an assembly-line system. Forbes called him the "Henry Ford of housing."  Raw materials arrived at the front door, the walls, ceiling and floors were factory finished, doors hung and "windows installed, washed and screened" as the panels moved along the conveyor belts and out the rear door onto trucks headed all across the nation.

This September 29, 1940, article introduced a new line of Gunnison Homes, the Miracle Home.   Demonstration homes were already built by this time in Indianapolis, South Bend and Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Unlike the Deluxe Home, which came in nine standard sizes ranging from four to seven rooms and retailing from $4,000 to $8,500, these new Miracle Homes were all four rooms. They could be installed with or without a basement and were sold on installment plans, approved for FHA loans, for $360 down and $25.60 monthly payments, including insurance and property taxes.

Indianapolis builder, Robert L. Mason was the local rep for the Miracle Homes.  It's hard to know how many of these little Miracles were built in the city, but the demonstration home shown in the picture at the bottom of the article and located in the 3500 block of North Keystone Avenue, still stands as you can see in this google maps pic. I wonder if its owners know the history of their house?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Christian Church by Eliel Saarinen Opens May 31, 1942. Here are the goods.

I Stumbled upon two articles about the opening of Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church  in Columbus, Indiana (at that time called Tabernacle Church of Christ), as I was doing research in the "Indianapolis Star".

Nearly everyone interested in modern architecture knows that Finnish-born Eliel Saarinen, chief architect, head of the architecture department and first president of Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, received the commission from William G. Irwin and his sister, Mrs. Hugh Thomas Miller, to design the small town's first piece of modern architecture.  This church ingrained a love of modern architecture in Miller's son, J. Irwin Miller, created a bond between J. Irwin and Eero Saarinen, and set Columbus on a path of modernism that continues to astound even today.

This first illustration jumped off the screen at me as the microfilm advanced. The tall campanile tower of First Christian was unmistakable and had me reversing instantly for a closer look.  [click on images to enlarge]

I learned a wonderful bit of not-so-trivial trivia when I read the caption under the drawing. Indianapolis's Pierre & Wright were the associate architects for First Christian. When Eliel Saarinen's name is on a project of course local firms drop by the wayside, but Edward Pierre & George Wright, whose work includes Perry (later renamed Bush) Stadium,  the competition-winning design for the Indiana State Library building, and numerous others, were lights of modernism in Indianapolis. They would have been a logical choice to manage this project for Saarinen.

If you haven't taken the Columbus Architecture tour, which I highly recommend, then you may not know that the church was designed around a reflecting pool as mentioned in this article.  I wish I'd seen it when the pool still existed but in the 1950s it became a concrete courtyard due to leaking issues and damage caused by the reflection of the sun onto the tower--you get the essence of what was here, but it must have been an even more lovely spot when it was filled with water creating a mirrored image of the tower.

I like how the author talks of the church's "symmetrical balance rather than conventional symmetrical plan".  In person, the asymmetry strikes the casual observer but I think this writer is correct, this luminous church is an artful balancing act. 

The second article makes note of the working partnership between Eliel and his son, Eero Saarinen, on the church. Eero, who would go on to design Columbus's North Christian Church and the Miller Home in Columbus, designed interior furnishings at North Christian for his father.  The church was a family affair: Eliel's wife Loja Saarinen, designed the tapestry, which was woven at Cranbrook.

[Both Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church--at left, and Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church are National Historic Landmarks]

Most of the text from the second article was about the dedicatory service for the church.  It does mention the price tag: $650,000 in 1942, prompting the insupportable claim that it was "one of the most expensive churches of modern design in the world." 

Certainly for those with an eye for modernism, First Christian is one of the most beautiful churches of modern design in the world. 

Today, you can view the church through a Henry Moore sculpture, Large Arch, which sits just across the street. It was dedicated in 1971, five years after Eero Saarinen designed a rather large arch of his own in St. Louis.

You can read the successful National Historic Landmark nomination and the statement of significance for First Christian Church online:

Then, drive, fly or bus yourself to Columbus, Indiana, and see it in brick and mortar.  It's worth the trip.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Good Reason for Pride

This week I came across a 1958 newspaper article bragging about the bright future of modern architecture in Indianapolis.  Yes, that's right, in the 1950s there was good reason to be optimistic that Indianapolis might become one of the nation's showcases of modernism.

Two office buildings and a beautiful limestone-skinned J. C. Penney store by Skidmore Owings and Merrill were already completed or under construction; a glass curtain-wall City-County tower with limestone wings would open in 1961; a new State Office building by the Chicago firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst and White was scheduled to break ground, a complex of high rise apartment buildings by Perkins + Will, and a handful of other great projects were in the works or recently completed in the city.

Here's how we felt about our new buildings in 1958.  [double-click on images to enlarge].

Sadly, by the early 1960s the excitement over urban renewal, and apparently the federal dollars that helped pay for it, were drying up, leaving Indianapolis with a few good buildings but not much architectural future to count on. I'm not a fan of disrespecting Indianapolis, which is a trendy thing to do among the people who live here, but I'd like a good reason, like a few interestingly modern buildings, to make me and others feel really prideful in the city's architectural future again. Maybe that will happen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Some History with our Culture?

 [An interurban ran right along Virginia Avenue. The track has been severed in the demolition of the street for the Cultural Trail]
[The cut for the Virginia Avenue leg of the Cultural Trail -- click images to enlarge]

A few years back Indianapolis began construction of a "Cultural Trail."  This trail links the "Cultural Districts" that the city's marketers thought up a few years before that.  The Cultural Districts include Mass Ave, Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, the Wholesale District, and the Canal District, and probably some other place I've forgotten.  Some of these places definitely have pizzazz  and all have some version of culture.  Anyplace where humans hang out probably has culture.  But a big part of capital-C "Culture," the stuff that defines and is defined by specific places, people and events, is history.  Arguably a shared history is the biggest factor in creating culture, in fact.

I like the Cultural Trail for bike riding. It's wide and smooth and safe.  And I love the natural landscaping used in swales beside the trail.  But I have a big gripe with the Cultural Trail's impact.   In the process of creating a wide, paved sidewalk with a lot of lights and way too many bollards and signs, the city is distracting from and even destroying parts of our history, which are probably more worthy of remembrance and reverence than anything the trail offers.   The trail is so distracting, with all its tchotchkes, that it becomes the focus of the view in the areas it travels through.  You might once have noticed the old commercial buildings on Mass Ave or the old residences on Walnut Street.  Now, you'll be noticing the Ikea style light fixtures and way too many silly metal bollards.

This year, my neighborhood of Fountain Square gets its leg of the trail.  I've been sure to walk along the construction/destruction zone often to gaze into the big dig as they tear up the street down to about 2 feet deep.  What can currently be seen on Virginia Avenue under the layers of modern concrete and asphalt pavement is the old big-bricks street and old interurban tracks still laid on their wooden ties.

[A clean cut shows the old brick street beneath the many layers of modern pavement]

There's a view at our culture!  This pavement and these tracks harken to the days when Virginia Avenue was a happening hub of German retail businesses, theaters showing silent films, grocery stores and artisans shops and traveling dramatic troupes.  A time when you could get on the interurban in Franklin and quickly arrive to spend the day in Fountain Square, maybe stopping at the farmer's market that used to be on South Street, or going on to downtown to shop at Ayres. The days before the interstate severed Fletcher Place and Fountain Square, before Fletcher Place even had a separate name, back to the time when Woodlawn Street might still be remembered as a reference to the Calvin Fletcher farm, Woodlawn, which he platted into building sites to create this entire area.

[more of the old Interurban line not yet yanked out and discarded] 

Today Fountain Square lays some legitimate claim to being an arts district.  There are a few galleries and there are lots of artists living and working here.  There's definitely culinary craft in our great locally owned restaurants and cool stuff in our handful of funky shops.  We're worthy of being a leg on a trail to connect up the downtown Indianapolis interesting spots.  But an even deeper view into our culture is briefly revealed now by construction  of the trail that will soon rip it from our past.

I think it would be great if the movers in this trail idea would take a step back from creating a uniform, generic sidewalk with a few bits of art installed along it and the occasional marker to SAY something historic happened here, to somehow preserving and revealing a small portion of the actual link to our history and formative culture, which they are currently digging up and destroying in order to install their cute pavers.

[See the old railroad ties beneath the brick street?]

I know that isn't likely to happen. Our history is being destroyed every day by the city and private interests.  And the Cultural Trail is a fun idea so it's not popular to dislike it.  Still,  it could be a truly great idea if it also preserved our culture in the process of marketing it.  Any chance you're listening, Brian Payne?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Enochsburg. Wow! look at these limestone houses! Oh, and the fried chicken is great!

A drive through southeastern Indiana took me into Enochsburg yesterday. Bordering Decatur and Franklin counties, Enochsburg, like much of this area, was settled by German immigrants.  Smaller than nearby Oldenburg, which was and is a Catholic community, Enochsburg's forefathers and -mothers were German Evangelicals. These stalwart immigrants built a stone church on a strong foundation in 1858.  The church still stands today, although the centerpiece of the community is probably the Fireside Inn, which draws a large regional clientele to its tasty fried chicken.

I've eaten my share of fried chicken, but these days it's the limestone church, houses and nearby bridge that fascinate me more. With apologies for my blackberry-snapped photographs, here's a little bit of what's charming about the countryside's built environment in this area.

Decatur County isn't, but should be, famous for its beautiful, arched limestone bridges.  A very early limestone industry sprang up in Decatur County (the foundation stone for the second Indiana State House came from Decatur County). This triple-arched bridge on County Line Road just south of Enochsburg is just one example of how the county made aesthetic and practical use of its limestone. Off to the west of this bridge on CR 150 S, is another example, a beautiful stone house.

Although there are metal numbers on the facade of this great vernacular style house that date it to 1880, I suspect it's an even earlier example. Probably from the 1860s.  Isn't she a beauty?

Travel north on County Line Road just a bit and there's another equally beautiful limestone house sitting on a rise, still partly sheltered by the cedar trees that were probably planted in an allee leading to the front door at one time. 

A number of limestone outbuildings remain at the modernized farms nearby and behind some of the more modern bungalows in Enochsburg proper.  These outbuildings attest to the easy pickings for scraps and overburden that were leftover from harvesting stone for proper buildings.  Limestone outcroppings are still visible along the creeks and waterways of the area, too.

Finally, like the German settlers before us, we reach Enochsburg's grand limestone church.  Placed on the highest spot in town it was once the figurative center of community and culture.  It's a beautiful old building; marked 1858 on the gilded tablet in the facade.  Perhaps less of a draw these days than the Fireside Inn's fried chicken, this church reminds us why Enochsburg is here and how our ancestors made the highest use of a local material.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Muscatatuck State Mental Hospital / Army Urban Combat Training Grounds

The Muscatatuck State Hospital opened in 1920 as the Indiana Farm Colony for Feeble Minded Youth.  It was one of several state hospitals serving Indiana's mentally disabled. According to the idea lab at Purdue University's webpage the hospital initially served only male youths. They lived in three farmhouses on this property near both Muscatatuck River and Brush Creek.   Like the architecture at all of Indiana's state mental health institutions this campuses's architecture is wonderful.

In the 1920s and 1930s the first dormitories went up on the campus and the first women became inmates. These dorms and most of the other existing buildings went up in the midst of the Art Deco Movement and they are grand representations of that style. These photos, captured with my telephone  don't do justice to the marvelous Deco genre expressed in aluminum details and yellow brick walls.

The hospital building is an Art Deco gem built in the 1940s.

The state hospital stopped treating the mentally ill in 2005 and became an Indiana Army National Guard training center.  Today, the campus holds acres of shipping containers, FEMA trailers, a inexplicable mosque, steel girders supporting concrete block half walls, and topsy turvy structures creating an intentional look and feel of a bombed-out town. 

In the midst of this intentional chaos, the original buildings retain their streamlined machine-age stylishness.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I went to Alert Indiana and found a round barn--and a state bank.

Alert, Indiana, sits at a lonely crossroads in the southwestern corner of Decatur County.  There's very little reason to visit.  Once you find, it you can see why not many people live there. My father, who has lived all his 82 years in the county and now spends a good portion of his time with my mother on daily "country drives," says it's been 60 years since he last drove through Alert.  We drove there yesterday to look for a building shown in the 1882 Atlas of Decatur County.

Alert was important enough to merit its own map in that Atlas (that's it above).  In 1882, it was a town of about 100 souls (probably triple the number who currently call it home), the second largest in Jackson Township after Sardinia, which had twice as many residents. The town had one local merchant, J. W. Spears, who was also Alert's biggest  landholder and a breeder and purveyor of fancy chickens.  Spears' general store, shown in the 1882 lithograph below, no longer stands. Though his house appears to still be the one that's falling down in the spot shown on the lithograph.
The location of the former Spears store is now occupied by a Masonic lodge constructed in the 1920s when the town still had enough residents to populate Alert Lodge #395. Sadly the lodge building has been worked over extensively and badly in the years since it membership died off or left town.

But there are a couple of buildings in Alert that are cool enough to justify the drive there. 

The first is a round barn right at the edge of town (of course the edge of town is only four buildings from the center of town).  Sitting on a rusticated concrete block foundation this barn must date to around 1910.  It's horizontal siding could use a coat of paint but look at those great 9-light windows, not to mention the fabulous cupola on top. Its original owner must have been proud of the state-of-the-art choice he made when he opted for an innovative cutting-edge round barn. Perhaps he was sold on the idea by Benton Steele, Indiana's renowned round-barn designer/builder/promoter. In 2011, the shiny new standing-seam metal roof is a happy sign that someone feels proud of this beauty again.

A round barn was a representation of modernity and innovation in agriculture. Just a couple of doors north of this barn is Alert's other interesting building. On the main street of this town centered on one rural intersection, this bank building was a built environment metaphor for growth and potential when it was constructed around 1900.  The limestone frieze in the bank's brick facade announces it the "Alert State Bank."

Nowadays,  the Alert State Bank is someone's house--a nice reuse of the town's fanciest remaining building---aside from the round barn, that is. 

In this tiny corner of Decatur County, Indiana, be Alert, there's interesting stuff in unexpected places.