Home renovation saves a 'piece of Indianapolis history'

by Barbara E. Cohen

The Latta-Oberreich House, located at 1930 N. Alabama St. in the Herron-Morton Place neighborhood of Indianapolis, wasn't high on Carole and Gary Swift's list when they went house hunting in 2001.

"We nearly overlooked it," says Carole. "It was the ugliest house, on the outside, we'd ever seen."

But their Realtor encouraged them to look beyond the unimaginative white aluminum siding to the spectacular interior of the 6,000-square-foot, three-story house. In doing so, the Swifts decided to buy the place, which was built in 1898-99 and is named for several former owners: attorney William Latta, Louis Oberreich and his grandson, Steve Oberreich, who did much of the internal rewiring and plumbing repair in the 1970s.

With the interior woodwork intact and in good shape, the couple collaborated with contractor Mike Mullin, owner of Mullin Remodeling, to tackle the exterior restoration.

"It was hard to imagine what we would find underneath the aluminum siding," Mullin says. "But actually, it preserved the original wood shingles and siding."

Except for minor termite damage, in fact, the exterior was in good repair. Mullin restored the trim, most of which had to be custom made, relying on "witness marks" or impressions left by the trim boards that had been removed. He also ran through 45 gallons of primer and 400 tubes of caulk before applying the earthy custom color palette designed by Carole.

Restoring the old house ultimately required more work than the owners imagined, but the effort has been well worth it.

"We've saved a piece of Indianapolis history," says Gary.

He and his wife also have won the 2004 Angie's List Old House Rehab Award, one of several preservation honors being handed out by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana during National Preservation Week, May 2 through 8.

"Receiving this award makes us especially proud," adds Gary.

Jonathan Chumley, chair of the Historic Preservation and Land Use Committee of the Herron-Morton Place Association, nominated the home for the award because of the Swifts' collaboration with a knowledgeable contractor.

"By turning that 'ugly duckling' house into a swan, the Swifts have become an example for others," says Chumley, who adds that homeowners value Angie's List because it helps them find a contractor who can restore old homes like the Latta-Oberreich House.

"This kind of project is just what we envisioned when we created this award in 2002," says Angie Hicks. "It's a way to showcase great restoration skills lovingly applied."


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