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January 5, 2019

Avriel Shull, trail-blazing home builder and designer

Avriel Shull, as photographed for a 1951 issue of Life magazine, which featured a spread on her wedding. Well respected as a designer and builder of mid-century modern homes in the Indianapolis area, Shull was known for her splashy personal style as well.
Courtesy Life magazine.

Catalog listing for an Ariel Shull home design from the early 1970s.To kick off the 11th year of Hoosier History Live with flair, we will spotlight the impact of an Indiana architectural trail-blazer who had both pizzazz and spunk.

Beginning in the 1950s, when women home builders were a rarity, Avriel Shull designed and built mid-century modern homes in Carmel, Indianapolis and other cities. National periodicals eventually distributed the house plans of "Avriel" (she often was referred to by her first name only), with orders for her home patterns continuing long after she died in her mid-40s in 1976.

"Years before branding became an essential component of business success, Avriel was both a well-known company brand and a synonym for modern design," according to our guest, historian, researcher and preservationist Connie Zeigler, owner of C. Resources. Connie prepared the nomination for the National Register of Historic Places of the Thornhurst subdivision in Carmel, where Avriel designed 21 mid-century modern homes.

One of many Avriel Shull designs offered in a book of home plans published in 1978.Just as Avriel's homes created something of a stir - with their floor-to-ceiling windows, sliding glass doors, vertical cedar siding and walled patios during an era noted for basic ranch houses - red-haired, charismatic Avriel drew attention on a personal level as well.

In 1951, Life magazine devoted a multi-page photo spread to her splashy wedding, during which Avriel entered amid a release of white birds; at 2 a.m., she lifted her white gown to perform the can-can.

Her husband was one of Indiana's best-known journalists of the era. An irreverent TV columnist for the Indianapolis News (and, before that, for the Indianapolis Times), R.K. Shull also answered reader questions in "Shull's Mailbag," which appeared in 260 newspapers across the country.

None of that overshadowed his wife, who, as Connie has written, "lived life at breakneck speed."

According to Connie, Avriel "often laid the stone herself on the houses she designed." As for an enduring architectural legacy, Connie notes that "At least 50, and probably more, of her houses are still standing in the Indianapolis area."

Avriel Shull often signed her work, as in this mark she left in the masonry of one of the homes she designed.But Avriel was not an architect. In fact, although she studied at what was then the John Herron Art Institute during the 1940s, Avriel never earned a college degree.

In all of her Thornhurst subdivision houses - which were the focus of a 2017 home tour organized by the Carmel Clay Historical Society - Avriel featured modern fireplaces, some of which she built herself.

In a cover story about Avriel for a 2012 issue of Traces magazine published by the Indiana Historical Society, Connie notes that many of the fireplaces "had two-sided hearths opening into two different rooms."

Connie writes that for home interiors, Avriel chose vinyl-topped stools, tripod-legged lamps and sofas with hairpin legs, "unlike the ruffled sofas and overstuffed chairs of earlier eras." In many of the bathrooms, she painted murals - and added an elaborate "Avriel" as a signature to her work.

By the mid-1960s, Avriel landed contracts to design homes in upscale neighborhoods on the northside of Indianapolis including Avalon Hills, Crow's Nest, Meridian Hills and Sunset Lane. In the final years before her death shortly before her 45th birthday, Avriel was building houses in Brownsburg, Kokomo, Westfield and Evansville.

An Avriel Shull home in the Thornhurst neighborhood of Carmel, Ind. The design shows typical Avriel features including vertical siding, floor-to-ceiling windows and a gabled roof with only the slightest of angles at the peak.

 

History Mystery

Detail from a 1958 cover of an issue of Life magazine that portrayed an Indiana city as a "thriving cesspool of vice." What was that city? Courtesy Life magazine.

The multi-page photo essay about the wedding of home builder Avriel Shull in Life was one of many times during the 1950s that the magazine - which then was published weekly as one of the country's most widely read periodicals - focused on a topic related to Indiana.

In 1958, a six-page essay in Life described an Indiana city as "a thriving cesspool of vice." The illustrated article included descriptions of illegal gambling and prostitution in the Hoosier city.

For several years after the article's publication in 1958, it remained a topic of discussion in households across the state. Outraged and distraught, civic leaders in the Indiana city were quoted as worrying that it might cause "irreparable damage." Reacting to the Life article, a local newspaper published a front-page editorial with the headline: "A Low Blow If There Ever Was One."

Question: What Indiana city was the focus of the controversial article in Life magazine in 1958?

Please do not call in to the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your first name to our engineer, you must answer the question correctly on the air and you must be willing to give your mailing address to our engineer so we can mail the prize pack to you. The prizes this week are four admissions to the Indiana History Center, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, and a gift certificate to Story Inn in Brown County, courtesy of Story Inn.

 

Ringing in the New year with Hoosier History Live!


Hoosier History Live podcasts are now available at the Apple iTunes store!

iTunes logo.We've been providing podcasts of Hoosier History Live for a couple of years, posting links to recent shows at the top of each newsletter and on the weekly update to our website. Listeners tell us they love the opporunity to listen to the show at a time that's convenient for them; our fans also share the link to the podcast with friends who might be interested.

Those who like to subscribe to podcasts can now find us in the Apple iTunes store as well - just open your iTunes app and search on Hoosier History Live. We're working to get listed on all the major podcast providers as well; send us an email if your favorite one doesn't carry us, and we'll make sure it gets posted there. We'll keep posting podcast links on our newsletter and website as before. And if you're looking for a podcast from a 2017 or 2018 show, just go to the Archive page on our website and you'll see the podcast link posted right below the show's title.

Thanks to associate producer Mick Armbruster for heading up our online distribution project. Our growing availability as a podcast and on iTunes is great news for our sponsors as well. More media reach!

New to podcasts? All you need is a computer or smartphone, and you can listen to radio shows (and more!) wherever and whenever you want. Confused by the new-fangled technology? Check out this guide to podcasts, provided by Wired Magazine.


Coming Soon: Our 11th anniversary party

Mark your calendars for our annual bash, hosted by our friends at Indiana Landmarks! The party will be held Thursday, February 28 from 5:00 to 7:30 pm at Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 N. Central Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46202. Come as you are, or (better yet!) dress in historic garb as your favorite character from the past.

More details to come!

Nelson Price, host and historian
Molly Head, producer/project manager, (317) 927-9101
Michael Armbruster, associate producer
Cheryl Lamb, administrative manager
Richard Sullivan, senior tech consultant
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, special events consultant

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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgments to Monomedia, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Henri Pensis, Aaron Duvall, and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship, and by individual contribution at the yellow button on our newsletter or website. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and credits in the show, contact Molly Head at (317) 927-9101 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org. And any of our podcasts can be sponsored for a nominal fee.

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January 12, 2019 - coming up

Movies with obscure Indiana connections

Close Encounters of the Hoosier kind? The typical American family portrayed in Steven Spielberg's 1977 science fiction drama lived in Muncie, Ind., although the scenes involving the family were actually shot Mobile, Ala.

Eric GraysonEven though Close Encounters of the Third Kind was considered a blockbuster after its release in 1977, many Hoosiers may have forgotten its connection to Indiana. No scenes were filmed in the state, but the central characters were described as residents of Muncie.

In a scene played for laughs in Brother from Another Planet (1984), the protagonist, an alien who doesn't speak, encounters wide-eyed tourists from Indiana on a subway in New York City.

Titanic movie poster.The Great Dan Patch (1949), a biopic about the world's greatest racehorse during the 1890s and early 1900s, is set in the Benton County town of Oxford. (Hoosier History Live explored the life of Dan Patch during a show in 2012.) But the movie wasn't filmed in Indiana; that's obvious because of the mountain range visible in scenes of Oxford, which is in a flat region of west central Indiana

In the 1953 version of the film Titanic, a fictional passenger on the doomed ocean liner is a student at Purdue University. Played by Robert Wagner, the character is described as a college tennis star.

A Midsummer Night's Dream movie posterThose are among movies that we will spotlight with our guest, Indianapolis-based film historian and preservationist Eric Grayson. Known across Indiana for his popular screenings of vintage movies ranging from classics to films so rare that Eric owns the only existing copies (including some he salvaged before they were about to be destroyed), he has been described as a "walking encyclopedia" of movie lore.

In addition to talking about movies with obscure links to Indiana, during our show Eric will share insights about actors and directors with Hoosier connections who - unlike the more famous James Dean, Steve McQueen, Carole Lombard and other stars - are seldom discussed today.

The Hoosier Schoolmaster movie poster.

They include Otis Harlan (1865-1940), a comedian and character actor from Martinsville. According to Eric, Harlan was featured in hundreds of silent movies and early talkies, including a film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). Harlan also provided the voice of the dwarf Happy in Disney's animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

Richmond native Norman Foster (1903-1976), an actor who enjoyed greater success when he became a director, also was involved in Disney projects. Foster was associated with Orson Welles for many decades, serving as the director of the spy thriller Journey into Fear (1943) starring Welles, as well as several Charlie Chan mysteries. As an actor, Foster had a major role in Welles' final movie, The Other Side of the Wind, which began filming in 1970; it was uncompleted when Welles died in 1985 and finally was released in 2018 after being reconstructed by other filmmakers.

Both Foster and Harlan were in the cast of The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1935), a movie based on a 19th-century novel by Indiana author Edward Eggleston. The setting is southern Indiana after the Civil War.

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