Indianapolis remodeling project saves 'scary house'
by Mike Walker
On a weekday afternoon in July 2006, Mark Webb heard pounding outside his home in Meridian Park. Curious, he strode across the street to find the owner of a dilapidated two-story home putting a "for sale" sign in the front yard. "If you take that sign down, I'll make you a deal," Webb told the owner. Within eight weeks, he and his wife, Lee Smith, bought the two-story, Arts and Crafts-style home at 3303 N. Pennsylvania St.
Webb and Smith, both attorneys, saw it as an investment. But they also had a bigger goal. "We bought the house to save it," Smith says.
Meridian Park — bordered by Pennsylvania Street, Washington Boulevard, 30th and 34th streets — joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The neighborhood gained a reputation in the early 1900s as one of the finest suburbs for professionals working in Indianapolis.
Originally a duplex built around 1910, the home was split into four apartments in the 1950s. Ten years ago, fire gutted the east side of the home and it was abandoned. Vagrants moved in, leaving syringes and trash behind. Since 2004, police have filed seven reports ranging from aggravated assault to narcotics and burglary.
"At one point, we called it 'the scary house' because it was absolutely horrific inside," says former neighborhood association president Lorraine Vavul.
Webb and Smith bought the home for $26,500. In September 2006, they hired Wayne Olander of highly rated Arteffects Architectural Interiors to plan the home's rebirth.
"I think [Wayne Olander] is part psychologist, because he did a lot of hand-holding when something popped up," Smith says. Rainwater rotted the burnt east half, time twisted the frame and a water main leak threatened the foundation. Board by board, contractors took apart the backside of the house.
"Some folks might have said, 'Let's just go and tear the whole thing down,'" Olander says. "That could have made economic sense, but Lee and Mark were appreciative and sensitive of the neighborhood's history."
While working to preserve the home's historical integrity, construction crews added a two-car garage — one of only three attached garages in the neighborhood — and a 22-by-20 master bedroom with a walk-in closet. The upstairs includes three more bedrooms, a laundry room and a full hallway bathroom with a whirlpool bath. The unfinished basement includes a 10- by 6-foot wine cellar. Smith and Webb are proudest of the dual porches overlooking Pennsylvania Street.
The 14-month project cost Smith and Webb more than $350,000. They used 20 contractors and spent countless hours overseeing construction. Due to market conditions, the couple now leases the home to tenants but they plan to list it for sale at $420,000 in the fall.
Vavul describes Smith and Webb's work as an important contribution to the neighborhood. "We have been absolutely delighted with it — from the care they have to given to the sensitivity they've shown to our neighborhood's historic nature," she says. "In an old neighborhood, you really wish there were more people like Lee and Mark to come in and do the right thing."