Commentary: How houses become homes

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – History matters.

Place matters.

People matter.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Those are the lessons I glean from chatting with three couples who have built lives and raised families in historic Herron-Morton Place neighborhood. We’re talking as part of a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

All three families – the Osilis, the Greens and the Ranasinghe-Rutts – have lived in their homes, sturdy, stately structures dating from the late 19th century, for more than 15 years. Their stories are tales of reclamation and redemption, of building their present lives on the foundations of the past.

It wasn’t always easy.

Dan Green and Kristi Allen-Green are police officers.

When they first bought their home in 1998, Dan says, people looked at them funny because the neighborhood was part of “Dodge City,” a high-crime area. He and Kristi each had police cruisers to drive, which they parked in front of their house. That reassured the neighbors, he adds, but it didn’t solve every problem.

“Even then, I caught people smoking crack in the alley,” he says. “Had a guy passed out in my front yard with no pants on. My daughter found him. Caught people, crackheads, stealing my neighbor’s’ stuff off of their porch. So, there was a lot of that stuff that goes. It doesn’t just happen magically.”

Kristi says she loves how much the neighborhood has changed.

Thirty years, while working undercover, she says she “bought dope” at a house just around the corner from where she and her family now live.

“Now, it’s this palatial mansion,” she laughs.

All three families say they have spent years, decades in total, working on their homes. They talk – a little ruefully, a lot lovingly – about the care and maintenance old houses require.

Why did they do it?

They like the connection with the past.

Kishan Ranasinghe and Victoria Mara Rutt, both self-employed, had no intention of buying an old house when they looked at their current home during an estate sale. But the grand staircase spoke to them of a lost elegance. They were enchanted.

Vop Osili, an Indianapolis-Marion County Council member and an architect, fell in love with his home twice. He spotted it first more than 20 years ago, when he and his father, who was battling cancer, took a drive through Herron-Morton. They parked at a corner just across from his current home and noted the beauty of the flagpole, the flag flapping in the breeze, the strong trees, the stolid grace of the house itself.

When he and his wife, Una, a dean at Indiana University, were looking for a home seven years later, they found the house was on the market. He mentioned the earlier moment to her, they looked at the house and knew they’d found a place to raise their children.

Kristi Allen-Green’s home once was owned by Virginia Keep, an illustrator for Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley. Kristi says she likes to think of Riley spending time in her home.

But the real satisfactions, she says – and her neighbors echo this – come from the ways these old homes enhance lives.

Kristi says that too often people are entranced “by the newest, greatest thing.” Sometimes, the old ways are the best.

She says these houses have dining rooms that invite families and friends to sit down, break bread and spend time together. Victoria Mara Rutt says that, because the yards are close together and the garages are detached, neighbors see each other frequently and often linger to talk and catch up.

Kristi says front porches are a crucial component of neighborliness.

“Sitting on your front porch … that’s inviting people to come up and speak and talk to you,” she chuckles. “That’s how I met the Osilis. we were on the porch. Then we were all fast friends.”

This neighborhood, like so many others, didn’t save itself.

It came together because the people who live here worked and cared and because government encouraged them with tax credits and other forms of support.

By working together, these neighbors created a place where history matters.

Where place matters.

Where people matter.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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