Friday, June 28, 2013

New Archival Collection: S. E. Arvin & Sons Records

The Drawings + Documents Archive is pleased to announce a new collection available for research, the S. E. Arvin & Sons Records. This collection of business records, photographs, plat maps, and architectural drawings dating from 1940 to 1953 is unique among our collections because it documents the business of building a subdivision of prefabricated houses in Indianapolis during the residential housing boom following World War II.

Sherrill E. Arvin had worked independently as a home builder and, after returning home from service in the Navy during WWII, changed the name of the company to S. E. Arvin & Sons to reflect the involvement of his sons, Sherrill T, James, and Donald. Sherrill's wife, Isabell Arvin, also worked for the business as the secretary and treasurer and likely was the one responsible for keeping the detailed records. The papers were recently discovered in the attic of a home in Indianapolis and generously donated to the archives.

Sherrill Arvin had built homes for architects connected with the Indianapolis Home Show, most notably he built architect Leslie Ayres' "Manor House" for the 1941 Indianapolis Home Show, which has been discussed previously on this blog. The photographs shown of residences on Eaton Avenue and Kingsley Drive also show some of his work in 1940.

The main focus of the collection is the Arlington Woods subdivision in Indianapolis, with an emphasis on Bolton and Campbell Avenues from 30th to 33rd Streets. Individual house files date from 1948-1951 and document the process of funding, building, inspecting, and selling the homes. In the collection are blueprints for houses by the Strathmoor Company of Detroit, Michigan, and billing records for houses by the Thyer Manufacturing Corporation of Toledo, Ohio.

Images: Eaton Avenue (Washington Place), Indianapolis, Ind., 1940 and 5708 Kingsley Drive, Indianapolis, Ind., 1940. S. E. Arvin & Sons Records, Drawings + Documents Archive, Ball State University.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The (Often) Interesting Lives of Archival Materials

The route an item takes before it enters into an institutional collection can be incredibly interesting, mysterious, often serendipitous, and, sometimes, baffling. Such is the story of how one very large framed photo collage came to be reunited with its already-donated companions after ten years apart.

The photo collage in question measures five feet long and two feet high, so it’s surprising that it was overlooked when boxes containing the extensive Wright, Porteous, and Lowe collection were packed at the Fort Wayne offices of its subsequent firm, the Bonar Group. But the photo collage did miss the van that brought numerous rolls of architectural drawings, presentation drawings, and two similarly-sized framed photo collages to the Drawings + Documents Archive in the summer of 2003.
Ten years pass and this is when serendipity starts to happen. Over the past ten years, the Bonar Group has been sold to another firm and moves locations. The building sits empty for some period of time until it gets a new owner, RealAmerica Development, LLC, who hires RATIO Architects to renovate it. Architect, Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning alum, and friend of the Drawings + Documents Archive, Ben Ross, is the one who walks through the building and finds, hanging on a wall, the framed photo collage containing photographs of Wright, Porteous, and Lowe architects and building projects. Ben has no idea there are two other companion photographs already in the archives and we have no idea there is a third, missing photograph until he sends an email with the photo, below, asking if we would want it, which is answered with a resounding YES!

The photographs in the two collages that had already been donated represent the principals and building projects during different eras of the firm’s existence. Beginning with Vonnegut & Bohn, Architects, the first photo collage includes black and white photographic portraits of Bernard Vonnegut and Arthur Bohn, and photographs of some of their accomplishments in Indianapolis, namely the Fletcher Trust Company, Southside Turnverein, Athenaeum, Herron School of Art, William H. Block Company, L.S. Ayres & Company buildings, and a busy street scene along Washington Street.

The firm Vonnegut & Bohn operated approximately from 1887 to 1919. Bernard Vonnegut died in 1908, but was succeeded by his son, architect Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., father of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, so the name remained the same. From 1920 to 1944, the firm became known as Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller, with the addition of engineer O. N. Mueller.

George Caleb Wright joined this firm after his firm with Edward Pierre, known as Pierre & Wright, dissolved in 1944. The new firm became Vonnegut & Wright and then Vonnegut, Wright & Yeager for a short time before becoming Vonnegut, Wright and Porteous, Inc. in 1955.
The second photo collage dates appears to have been assembled sometime around 1950, the only date which appears on the front of the photograph of Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. Projects depicted include earlier work done by their respective previous firms, such as the Indiana State Library, Victory Field (now known as Bush Stadium), Perfect Circle Factory, and Oxford Gables Apartments, by Pierre & Wright, and Indiana Bell Telephone Company, Lyric Theater, and Roosevelt Building, by Vonnegut & Bohn.

The third photo collage, which we just received, dates from after the time of George Caleb Wright’s retirement in 1961. Wright’s son, William Caleb Wright, had joined the firm by then, as well as Alfred John Porteous, and C. Charles Lowe, Jr. The three gentlemen on the left are unidentified, but are likely W. C. Wright, Porteous, and Lowe. One of the architects in the photos has been identified as Robert LaRue. Projects depicted include the construction of the City-County Building before the demolition of the Marion County Courthouse, Lilly facilities, First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, (Pierre & Wright were the architects of record for Eliel Saarinen), Indiana University’s Metz Memorial Carillon, Bloomington, Indiana, and yet unidentified residences and office buildings.
The photographs fill in an important part of the history of the firm, and we’re thrilled to have them back with their companion pieces. When you start to think of all the decisive moments that added up to this piece being saved and coming to the right institution—from the person who originally found it and left it behind, to the building managers who left it hanging there and didn’t throw it away, to the new building owners who wanted to do the right thing, and the architect who recognized its research value and made the connection to our archives—it’s really quite astounding and serendipitous that it found its way back to join the others.

Images: Wright, Porteous & Lowe photograph collage, photo by Ben Ross, 2012. Vonnegut & Bohn; Vonnegut & Wright photograph collages, early 1900s-1950s. Wright, Porteous & Lowe Architectural Records, Drawings + Documents Archive, Archives and Special Collections, Ball State University Libraries.