Sunday, May 26, 2013

Say Good-bye to Bloomington Part III: The County Next Door

Brown County, Indiana, adjacent to Monroe County (of which Bloomington is the seat), is an especially scenic, sylvan area known for its tall hills, burbling streams, and brilliant spring greens and autumn golds. An appreciable part of the county is the Yellowwood State Forest, and most of the rest is the adjoining 16,000 acre Brown County State Park. While these set-asides for nature may not compare to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (the great passions of my later adult years), they are the second important nursery (after Martha's Vineyard) of my love of the outdoors.
In high school, I had a horse. He was named Timothy by the person I acquired him from (Phyllis Hartroft, Assistant Professor of Pathology at IU at the time), renamed Timm (being a teenager, I had to use the fancy spelling) by me when I bought him from her in 1966. Even  when they were hers, Phyllis encouraged me and my friends to ride her horses, so I had already known and loved Timm for some years. She not only encouraged us, she generously enabled us by pulling them in her horse trailer the 25 or so miles from her Bloomington acreage to Brown County State Park, where my friend Rachel Perry and I set up a tent in the horse camp over Labor Day weekend, 1965. Unaccountably, our parents allowed this unescorted adventure. Perhaps because we didn't have a car, they determined that the amount of trouble we could get into would be self-limiting. I am not so sure. In any case, the camp site (or, "sight" as I spelled it in my childish hand on the back of the photo) was not exactly appealing, but we weren't perturbed by the tent's proximity to the road, or the myriad trailers and tents within a few feet from our tent stakes, or the "horse-leavings" a'plenty: 
We did manage not to hurt ourselves or be abducted or to make the horses lame. We in fact had a wonderful time exploring the beautiful trails and scenery. In this photo a shiny, healthy Timm and I are posing in front of a typical limestone outcrop: 
On the back of one of the photos I've noted that we were on our way to the teensy map-dot of a town, Story, Indiana. I do not recall what the appeal of Story was in those days, perhaps it was the General Store. But today it is known far and wide for the Story Inn, a restaurant in the old store building, and bed-and-breakfast with several rustic, romantic log cabins to stay in.My girlfriend LCB (who was visiting her mother at the Old Stone House while I was in Bloomington this spring) and I enjoyed a leisurely casual lunch at the Inn.
 
People still arrive by horseback. This handsome fellow was parked in the horse lot next to the restaurant.
All that successfully studied old-fashionedness certainly feeds my nostalgia as well as my stomach!
Near Story is a rural intersection that has been graced by a stone directional head since 1851. It points the traveler east to Columbus, west to Fairfax (no longer in existence), north to Indianapolis, and south to Sparkesferie, probably a crossing service on the Muscatatuck River.
On the way to Story from Nashville, seat of Brown County, are other signs of old southern Indiana. Given that it is tornado country, it's rather remarkable they have survived the ages.
Some have weathered better than others.
Nashville's claim to fame in the 1960's, besides being the seat of Brown County, was as the home of the Brown County Artist's Colony (more about which in a later post). Although on the whole the art isn't so fabulous any more, the town's proximity to the state park and national forest has sustained it all these years. The pretty old Queen Anne and Victorian houses have become pleasantly "quaint" shops and restaurants, which also contributes to its viability.This is Madeline's "Gifts for Home and Happiness" in Nashville.
And across the street, the Nashville House Restaurant and its country store are truly unchanged since I was a child (apple butter, anyone?):
But the crown jewel is still Brown County State Park. Although not on horseback this April weekend, I was still fully able to appreciate the scenery.
Here I am very near the same spot 45 years ago, in another "say good-bye" weekend, as I was to leave for college in Chicago not two weeks later (photo by none other than friend LCB):
 
The photos were taken at the base of the lookout tower; note the limestone foundation and log upper story.
Even the picnic fireplaces are charming (and made of local limestone, of course).
 
Spring in Brown County. I DO still miss it.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Say good-by to Bloomington Part II: Little City of Stone

One of the surprisingly interesting things about Bloomington, Indiana, is its distinguished public and private architecture. It's reasonable to generalize it as "Midwestern" in style, in the sense that Bloomington's buildings do resemble those of the same eras in other towns along that belt below where the glaciers stopped and the hills start across southern Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky,  though perhaps Bloomington has more examples than most, in large part due to the availability of oolitic limestone. The oldest date to the early nineteenth century, and a few of those survived to the 21st century. The settlers used local materials of course; Southern Indiana was (and, in some circumscribed areas, still is) heavily wooded; local poplar, oak, and hickory, for example, are woods ideal for log construction and for furniture.
The local limestone, found in creek beds, outcrops, and natural quarries, was quickly recognized as a more durable material, and  for that reason and because of the much larger investment of human capital to acquire and work it, was more expensive as well. In the early 1940's, the family of a friend from my early teens (and still today) acquired the oldest known stone home in Bloomington, erected by Daniel Stout in 1828, as recorded in the keystone in the lintel over the original entrance:
The Old Stone House, as it's known, was also the first house in Monroe County to be listed on the National Register of Historical Places:
When my friend's grandparents bought the house it was ramshackle and primitive; to get to the second story one had to climb a ladder through a hole in the ceiling, and cooking was done in the only fireplace, now the civilized centerpiece of the comfortable living room.  By the time I was a regular visitor  they had seamlessly incorporated additional stone blocks from the creek at the bottom of the hill to accommodate a small but modern (by the standards of the time) kitchen and bathroom with running water and an interior stairway between them. That and the installation of modern heating resulted in a fully livable home nonetheless in keeping with the "Federal I" style of the original Stout House.
To read more about the Old Stone House, see Carol Krause, The Inner Life of an Antique House, The Herald-Times, August 6, 2005 (not available online, to my knowledge) and Nancy R. Hiller with photographer Kendall Reeves, A Home of Her Own, Indiana University Press,2011.

Over time, Bloomington became justly renowned for many other limestone edifices. One of the more substantial is the Monroe County Courthouse, in the center of the downtown "Square," as was a typical layout for a municipal center in that part of the world.
The informational sign notes, "Present courthouse completed 1908; designed by Wing and Mahurin of Fort Wayne in Beaux Arts style; built of locally quarried limestone. Features original fish-shaped weather vane from 1826 courthouse, carved classical figures, Ionic and Egyptian columns, stained glass; completely restored 1983-1984. Listed in National Register of Historic Places 1976."

 
From the flyer, "A Walk through the Monroe County Courthouse" Historic Tour Number 9, Bloomington Indiana. City of Bloomington and Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2002: '"The Light of the World,' carved in limestone by Hungarian native Albert Molnar, Sr who was locally known through his work at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The central figure holds the torch of enlightenment and is framed by figures personifying the law and power."

In 1918, Bloomington, as the seat of Monroe County, was the beneficiary of a Carnegie Library.  Although the library's holdings and modernization needs had outgrown the small building (a new limestone structure was built just a couple of blocks away in 1970), it was listed in the Register of Historic Places in 1978 and has served as the home of the Monroe County Historical Society and Museum since the 1980s. I remember exactly how it smelled, the creak of the wood floors, and the precise location of children's books very well:
Monroe County's Carnegie-funded library, by architect Wilson B. Parker of Indianapolis, general contractor George A. Weaver and Son. I believe the interior plans of Carnegie libraries were fairly standardized.
Indiana University also has numerous historic and contemporary limestone buildings of significant design value on its campus:
Woodburn Hall, classrooms and offices, constructed in 1940; Thomas Hart Benton murals within. According to Campus Evolution/Campus History (from the Indiana University Master Plan) the style is, "...a hybrid of Collegiate Gothic and Art Deco...referred to as Moderne." I have been unable to identify the architect.
Showalter Fountain with The Birth of Venus, Richard Laurent, sculptor, 1961, in front of the Indiana University Auditorium,
Eggers & Higgins architects, 1941.
But the buildings that first penetrated my consciousness were the utterly romantic limestone homes along First Street, a few blocks east from its intersection with South Stull Avenue at its origin to the north. These houses were erected in the years between World Wars I and II, reflecting the relative prosperity among some citizens of Bloomington. In recent years when considering where I could retire affordably when the time comes, I mused on the idea of living in one of Bloomington's limestone jewels, of which there are quite a few. I have no idea what they sell for--I suspect they rarely change hands these days--or whether their interiors have been brought up-to-date in the last, say, 25 years. I wouldn't be surprised if they're a little hard to live in, most with a single bath, narrow stairways, and poorly insulated walls, but I'll take one anyway, any day.
 
 
 
For a lively history of Bloomington's private and public architecture (limestone and other) see Bloomington Discovered, Karen S. Craig and Diana H. Hawes, with photoraphs by James Clary, Discovery Press. Bloomington, Indiana 1980.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Say good-bye to Bloomington, Part I: One Family's Era

Both of my parents were professors at Indiana University when I was born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, locale of the original, and now main, IU campus. My father came to Bloomington in 1943, indirectly from Budapest, Hungary; my mother, who met my father at a Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, came in 1947, indirectly from Puerto Rico, and they were unceremoniously married (in Indianapolis) on September 10, 1947. When my parents divorced 26 years later, my mother  left her post to assume a professorship at the University of Puerto Rico. My father continued in his position until he died at the age of 81, but we were estranged from about the time my mother moved to Puerto Rico. In any case, I had left Bloomington for college at the University of Chicago in 1968, and rarely looked back.
Bloomington was a wonderful place to grow up in the 1950's and 60's, although it didn't always seem like it at the time. The populace constituted 28,163 souls in 1950, slowly increasing to 31,357 in 1960. The 1970 census count was 43,262, and in 2010, 80,405. Although now a much more crowded and sophisticated place, that the population has less than doubled in size in the last 40 years is remarkable compared to a lot of other places with such a high quality of life.
To us, it seemed in many ways provincial in those 25-some post-War years, often frustrating my mother, who, for example, was a sophisticated cook and couldn't find ingredients in the local groceries (owned by  families, in those days; I know, I went to school with their kids). If you needed medical care more exotic than an uncomplicated birth (mine was in 1950) or a tonsillectomy (mine was in 1954), you had to go to IU's medical school in Indianapolis, an hour's drive away. Likewise for a fancy dinner, though Bloomington got its first Chinese restaurant, then a special thing, sometime in the mid-1960s. It was a small town with a big university.
Most of the reasons for the good quality of life today, such as a variety of quality employment opportunities and clean air, date from those old days. In addition to the University, which employs  faculty and a sizable matrix of support staff, Bloomington is surrounded by farmland where corn, soy, alfalfa hay, and livestock are raised. These days people even manage, more or less successfully, to grow wine grapes.  Farming has always been hard and chancy work, but quarrying and carving the high quality oolitic limestone in southern Indiana provided a steady, if also hard and a perhaps not completely safe or healthy living for many. Of great importance was the early presence of major "smokeless" industries, including the family-owned Sarkis Tarzian Enterprises - electronics manufacturing and television and radio broadcasting - and RCA Television, where the first color TVs were made. 

Thinking that, if all goes well, within a year or so from now we will retire and leave the Mid West for the Great West, I decided to spend a long April weekend in Bloomington, revisiting my old haunts and several people that were lastingly important to my early years who are still there. I started by documenting the three homes I lived in before fledging.
The first of these was a small, dark, one-bedroom apartment in East University Apartments, adjacent to the south end of the campus along 1st Street, then and now a main thoroughfare. Note the limestone exterior! I remember several things about our life in that little apartment, including that the boys at the fraternity house next door kept an enormous gentle St. Bernard dog for a mascot; that there was a local Dairy Queen prototype across scary, busy 1st Street—I can still taste the cold, sweet soft-serve vanilla encased in its hard but yielding chocolate shell; and that the neighbor underneath us was a grumpy old fart who took umbrage at my toddling noises. In spring, we plucked dark purple violets that wilted before we could get them home to water. And finally, most soothingly, my bedroom—yes, I got the bedroom, my parents slept on the couch—had Venetian blinds with big slats my mother left slightly opened so the streetlamps outside would do nightlight duty. The headlights of passing cars made fascinating, and happily soporific, light and dark stripes that exploded diagonally, with a visual Doppler effect, up and across the wall to the ceiling before they vanished, only to recur with the next passing auto.
Here is what it looked like in the summer of 1951; the be-bonneted model in the foreground, of course, is yours truly:
The awnings were certainly a nice touch.


We moved to a comparatively grandiose two-bedroom third floor apartment at 812 South Stull just before I started kindergarten at Elm Heights Elementary School. Stull is a short one-block street with modest homes that T-bones into Maxwell Lane which, behind a single row of houses, forms the northern border of Bryan Park. If you have seen the lovely movie Breaking Away, you know exactly what Stull looked like (except it had our boxy, utilitarian three-story apartment house smack in the middle). The red-haired, freckly building manager, Mrs. Pless, lived there, and was the object of much teasing naughtiness. I found plenty of companions among the other children in the building and up and down the street, and we spent happy hours, besides those aimed at irritating Mrs. Pless, playing in the bushes and in the alley, where we occasionally got lucky and found a discarded girlie magazine or a half used but still smokable cigarette butt.
I, second from right, celebrated my 8th birthday posing with my friends on the front steps of 812 S. Stull.
The entryway hasn't changed in 55 years.

Looking back, it is clear that each of my family's moves coincided exactly with my progress through school. My parents became restless again as I neared 6th grade, at the time, the highest in the school. Ultimately unable to find an existing house that would accommodate us and my father's wish for a large home library, they decided to build. They selected a corner lot at 1104 Covenanter Drive, within walking distance to Binford Junior High, and on the school bus route to Bloomington Senior High. This was a new neighborhood for us, with nice houses, all custom-built and representing many styles from Colonial-traditional to contemporary, and filled with kids around my age. Ronald W. Sterkel, at the time professor of art at Indiana University, served as architect; Al Robertson was the contractor. Their names have gone down in history as the Japanese- and California-Mid-century Modern-inspired house was so significantly different from anything else in Bloomington at the time, and ever since, that it has been written up in the local newspaper at least twice (see Lois Schenk, Home of the Week: One for the Books, The Sunday Herald Times, May 21, 1967, and especially, Carrol Krause, After 50 years, still avant-garde. Heraldtimesonline.com, January 28, 2012). The house cost $40,000 to build.
Time and additional investment have greatly improved the look, and function, of the house, which finally passed out of the family's possession just about a year ago:
This is the only photograph ever taken of my parents smiling at each other. It is dated October 23, 1961. It's likely I took it, and that it was my bedroom behind them, one of only two in the original build; my father didn't like house guests, so the absence of a third bedroom nicely obviated that possibility: 
The house did, however, have an outsized study with floors reinforced to withstand the weight of library stacks filled with his books. Note that there was no desk space provided for my mother, also a professor. I believe my father's successor family (he remarried shortly after divorcing my mother) either added another bedroom, or, after he died in 2001, finally converted that study into a bedroom. The books were willed to the University of Tartu, Estonia. (I missed that part of his life story and have no idea how that particular inspiration came to him.)
This is the front of the house in September 1962; my mother eventually improved the landscaping so it didn't remain quite so terribly stark and raw for long. But the exterior was still unattractive by local taste. It had symmetrical windowless limestone gray brick fa├žades flanking dual entry-ways (how much more confusing can a home entry be than to have two front doors, separated by a series of tall narrow windows and a couple of artsy-colored panels?). The one on the right was meant to serve front-door duty, as it lead to a coat closet and to the living area down a hall, and the one on the left was to function as the back door, as it led more directly to the kitchen and utility room. Delivery men and first-time visitors had no clue which was which.
Between the two doors was a fern-filled patio screened from onlookers by, of all things, decorative cinder blocks. The roof was flat as a pancake (and consequently suffered leaks each winter as the autumnal rain turned into expanding ice with no place to go; this is what happens when an artist, as the imaginative and creative as Ron Sterkel was, and not a trained architect draws your plans and lays out your specs). The neighbors thought it looked like a barn, though certainly it more resembled an aviation hanger than some kind of loftless barn. Although not faced with highly prized limestone, the color of the bricks was carefully chosen to suggest it at first glance. Inside the house was more attractive and well designed for entertaining. My parents were famous for the parties they hosted there.

The last time I was in the house was probably 1973. My father and, in particular, his new wife, no longer welcomed me. I cared not, as I was busy with my own young adulthood. But I confess, when I learned his widow had sold the house and left town to be near her grandchildren, I felt the pang of the end of an important, 69-year era--my natal family's--in Bloomington history.