Thursday, January 22, 2009
“It was brought to our attention that this was a historic house, and we have discontinued any effort to demolish it,”
Historic House in Pike Township is safe – for now
Developer sets aside plans to demolish 1850 Cotton-Ropkey House while preservationists seek a new location for itBy John Tuohyjohn.firstname.lastname@example.org
Preservationists appear to have staved off demolition of a landmark pre-Civil War house in Pike Township.
The Cotton-Ropkey House, at 6360 W. 79th St., had been slated to be bulldozed by its owners, the Kite Realty Group. The two-story wood house, built in the Italianate style in 1850, is one of only a handful of structures in Marion County that predate the Civil War.
Kite’s subsidiary, West 79th Street Associates, last week got permission from the city to level the house and four other structures on the property. The permits caught the attention of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, which quickly stepped in to save the house.
Marsh Davis, president of the foundation, said the organization pleaded with the company for time to relocate the house — and the developer complied.
“For now, we’ve had some time granted to us, and some of the pressure is off for a while,” Davis said. The foundation’s plan is to buy a plot of land, move the house there, renovate it and sell it on the open market.
“It would be a great home for someone, and it could probably fetch us a few dollars.”
Zeff Weiss, a lawyer representing the developer, said that although the house has been marked up for destruction with spray paint, those plans are on hold indefinitely.
“It was brought to our attention that this was a historic house, and we have discontinued any effort to demolish it,” Weiss said.
The house has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982 because of its age, architecture and the background of its first owner. Isaac Cotton was a Pike Township clerk and assessor, who served as the township’s Civil War draft enrollment commissioner and was an accomplished bee-keeper, swine breeder and wool grower.
“We have lost most of the buildings from that generation, so it is rare,” Davis said. “It is a fine piece of architecture that is still in very good shape.”
The house changed hands several times, and the Ropkey family bought it in 1937. The Ropkeys sold the property about three years ago to Kite, which plans to develop the land. The foundation had tried to find a place to move the Cotton-Ropkey House after Kite bought it, but couldn’t find a nearby piece of land to buy.
The white, 13-room house is in a rural area on 79th Street a block west of I-465. It is two stories and made of timber. The windows, most with original panes, have black shutters hung on cast hinges outside. The portico design front porch is framed by three columns that support a wrap-around second floor patio. It has been vacant for several years.
“This is just a beautiful farmhouse that recalls the countryside that once existed up there,” said Camille Fife, president of the Westerly Group, a historical preservation consulting firm in Madison.
The Italianate style derives from Italian renaissance architecture and was prevalent in the United States from about 1850 to 1880. The houses usually are two stories with low-pitched roofs; eaves with carved brackets underneath; and tall, narrow windows that are arched on top.
“They are very distinctive, and most of them in Indiana were built after the Civil War rather than prewar like this one,” said Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services for the Landmarks Foundation.
The foundation has begun negotiating with Normandy Farms Development Co. about buying land near the neighboring Normandy Farms Estate subdivision.
Bob Kleinops, chief executive of Normandy Farms, confirmed the company is interested in finding a new location for the Cotton-Ropkey House.
“It would be a shame if that house were lost,” he said, but warned, “we haven’t done anything yet. It’s just talk.”
Kite Realty has no immediate plans to develop the land so there is no urgency to taking down the house, Weiss said. The city’s Department of Metropolitan Development said the company has not filed a development plan for the nearly 200-acre property.
Dr. Peter Kunz, a neighborhood activist who owns Traders Point Creamery, said the company has been clumsy in its treatment of the house by neglecting to seek community input on what to do with it.
“That’s the sad thing about this,” he said. “They don’t even attempt to talk to anyone in the neighborhood about this. Nobody knows what’s going on. Where is their civic responsibility?”
Though the house is a national landmark, it doesn’t have local landmark protection, said David Baker, administrator for the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission
If it did, the commission could prohibit its destruction.
“Usually, that is something that is initiated by the owner, and it never was in this case,” Dollase said. “Probably because they never thought it would be necessary.”
If the foundation succeeds in relocating and refurbishing the house, it would place its own restrictions on the new owners and probably seek a local landmark designation to protect it, Dollase said.
“There’d be historic covenants about what could and couldn’t be done to the house’s interior and exterior,” he said. “If we got local landmark status, someone couldn’t just tear it down without a public hearing and some prior approval.”