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Book cover of The Quiet Hero, A Life of Ryan White, by Nelson Price.

Indiana Legends book cover.Book cover of Indianapolis Then and Now, 2016 edition, by Nelson Price and Joan Hostetler, featuring photos by Garry Chilluffo.

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December 14, 2019 - coming up

Meridian Street mansions in Indy history

Built primarily during the 1920s in a mix of architectural styles, the stately homes along North Meridian Street in Indianapolis are troves of city and social history, their stories intertwined with visits by famous Americans ranging from notable politicians to movie stars and business tycoons. Courtesy Meridian Street Foundation.

As showplace mansions built primarily during the 1920s with a mix of architectural styles, the stately homes along North Meridian Street in Indianapolis captivate motorists on one of the Hoosier capital's busiest streets. Not only is Meridian the city's east-west divider, the street is the route for U.S. 31 on the Northside.

Book cover: Meridian Street.The mansions in the North Meridian Historic District - 177 structures on both sides of the thoroughfare between 40th Street and Westfield Boulevard - are troves of city and social history, their stories intertwined with visits by famous Americans ranging from notable politicians like John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman and George H.W. Bush to movie stars and business tycoons.

With, in many cases, marble entryways, third-floor ballrooms, leaded glass windows, French doors, terraces, turrets, crystal chandeliers and carriage houses, the mansions will be the focus of our show as we explore more than 100 years of their history, including the 1960s and '70s, when the homes fell out of favor and often could be purchased for a pittance. The Meridian Street Foundation was formed in 1960 to protect the heritage of the homes; during the 1980s, the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Nelson's studio guests will include Kassie Ritman, the author of two new, deeply researched books about the history of the mansions: Meridian Street, part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, and Meridian Whispers (Knocking River Press).

Other guests will include civic leader Peggy Sabens, who lives in a Meridian Street mansion built between 1926 and 1929 that's considered to be among the district's best-preserved historic homes. Peggy, a former president of the Meridian Street Foundation, and her late husband, a physician, bought the mansion from an owner who had a direct connection to a celebrity unlikely to be associated with the elegant mansions: the pro wrestler known as Dick the Bruiser.

Tarkington Tower opened in 1960 as an apartment building. Now luxury condominiums, the building offers a North Meridian Historic District alternative to single-family homes. Courtesy realtor.comHer home was built in the Tudor style, as was the Meridian mansion that became the residence of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright Booth Tarkington (1869-1946). Other mansions - which typically have landscaped gardens - were built in architectural styles ranging from French Renaissance and Southern Colonial to Colonial Revival, Italian Renaissance and Renaissance Revival.

Much as there is to explore about the mansions and their previous, illustrious owners - who included early auto-making families such as the owners of the Cole Motor Car Company and nationally known political figures like Bill Ruckleshaus, who died last month - we will broaden our scope to examine changing demographics over the years. Current owners of the historic houses include many families with young children.

We also will explore buildings in the North Meridian Historic District that are not single-family homes. They include Tarkington Towers, a high-rise that opened in 1960 as apartments and now is luxury condominiums, and a restaurant in the 5600 block of North Meridian that today is called The Meridian. Many listeners will remember the restaurant as Dodd's Townhouse, its long-time name under previous ownership. Part of the restaurant's structure was built as a log-walled farmhouse in 1900, according to Kassie's books.

The North Meridian Historic District includes both the current residence of Indiana's governor - a mansion at 4750 N. Meridian built in 1928 - and a former governor's mansion. The latter is a grand house in the 4300 block built in 1920 with buff-colored brick and a green-tiled roof that served as the governor's residence from 1945 through the early 1970s.


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So says John Guerrasio, a professional actor who lives in London, England. We met John in 2008 when he played a role in the Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of The Ladies Man, a French farce by Georges Feydeau.

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What people are saying about Hoosier History Live

 

"Hoosier History really is 'Live'--and 'Lively' as well. The program brings to new audience the delight and wisdom that comes with knowing more of our past and our connections as Hoosiers."

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Indiana University

 

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Former Lilly research scientist who developed Prozac

 

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