Friday, March 29, 2013

The Wheeler Estate, Marion College, and the Time in the Middle: New Discoveries in the Archives

Now part of Marian College’s campus in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Wheeler/Williams/Stokeley Estate was originally built in 1912-1913 by the Philadelphia architect William L. Price, of Price & McLanahan, for automotive industrialist Frank H. Wheeler and his family. Wheeler, one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and owner of Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, instructed the architect to design a “home that was luxurious without being ostentatious,” and the result was a stunning Mediterranean-style mansion that included a four-story water tower with apartments, man-made lake with an island, Japanese teahouse, and fruit orchards.

The Drawings + Documents Archive has digitized our collection of 39 black and white photographs taken by the H. H. Coburn Company shortly after it was built. All of these are available in the University Libraries' Digital Media Repository. There you'll find incredible images of the landscape, exterior of the home, as well as the interior, which includes some of Price's own furniture designs that were made specifically for the house.

This week the Archives uncovered another piece of the estate's history when processing a recent addition to the Pierre & Wright Collection. In 1927, the estate sold to G. Monty Williams, the CEO of the Marmon Motor Company of Indianapolis. He is credited with modifying the estate significantly, but the designers or architects he hired remains unknown.  However, thanks to these two drawings, shown below, we know he consulted Pierre & Wright to explore ways in which to subdivide and alter the substantial property. One solution appears to be apartment or connected housing that maintains the orchard and stables on the property, and the other shows conventional subdivided lots with single-family homes. This project, however, does not appear on the comprehensive Pierre & Wright job list.

Williams lived at the house for ten years and sold it to William B. Stokely of the Stokely-Van Camp Company, in 1937. Stokely lived at the home the longest length of time and in 1963 the estate was then sold to Marian College. Williams' swimming pool is now used by college students. The Japanese teahouse remains, although without the pond. Also missing are the gazebo, 2-story water tower, garage, and tennis pavilion.

Images: Wheeler Estate Photographs, ca. 1913. Wheeler Estate Photographs. Drawings + Documents Archive, Archives and Special Collections, Ball State University Libraries.

Preliminary site plans for G. Monty Williams, ca. 1927. Pierre & Wright Architectural Records. Drawings + Documents Archive, Archives and Special Collections, Ball State University Libraries.