After more than a century of steady growth since its founding in 1821, the City of Indianapolis had become quite dense by the 1920s. The heart of the Circle City had also become more commercial than residential. The smoke and noise made it less and less desirable to reside in the core of Center Township. Fortunately, city officials had in recent years been following the advice of nationally recognized landscape architect George Edward Kessler, by constructing wider bridges over the city’s waterways, as well as by widening existing streets and creating new streets that connected all of the city parks to one another. In appreciation for his expert guidance, three segments of the upgraded streets were designated as boulevards and renamed for Mr. Kessler.
In addition to the city’s improved infrastructure, the invention of the automobile made it possible for people to live a few miles away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, yet be able to drive in to the city in a short amount of time. It was inevitable that people would choose to reside further out from the city’s center. Among those who anticipated a housing boom were three prominent Indianapolis businessmen. They conceived of an upscale neighborhood on the west side of Washington Township, about seven miles from Monument Circle. The forward-thinking men were Howard John Lacy Sr., President of the U. S. Corrugated Fiber Box Company; Arthur Henry Wolf, President of the State Automobile Insurance Association; and Robert Ayres MacGill, Manager of the Crane Company, purveyor of wholesale plumbing and heating supplies. The partners named the new addition “Northern Estates Section 1,” and divided the acreage into large building sites.
The first residence to be built in the subdivision was constructed in 1926 for Howard and Martha (Williams) Lacy. The architect was Henry L. Simons. Although the front of the home faced west, the residence was given the address of 4330 North Kessler Boulevard West Drive, which was the street bordering the east side or rear of the property. The second residence in Section 1 of Northern Estates was built in 1927 for Arthur and Emma (Mott) Wolf. The architects who designed the Wolf home were Paul Vanderen Matkin (1894-1976) and James Edwin Loer (1901-1983). Matkin and Loer were also partners in the Loman Building Company, along with Herman W. Kothe Sr. and Robert D. Colman. It was the Loman Company that conveyed the title to the subject property to Mr. and Mrs. Wolf. Like the Lacy home, the Wolf home also sat atop the knoll that sloped down to Kessler Boulevard. The Wolfs’ 130-foot by 330-foot lot was given the address of 4360 North Kessler Boulevard West Drive. Like the Lacy property, both the driveway into the property and the main entrance to the home faced Sylvan Road to the west. However, the residence would not have its present-day Sylvan Road address until several decades later.
Although upgrades have been made over the 97 years since the home was constructed, many of the original quality materials and fine details of the home remain today. The exterior walls of the English-style home have stucco and brick finishes, as well as half-timbers. The roof is slate. The formal entrance on the west side of the home is two stories high and made of Indiana limestone. Over the front door is a crest bearing a crossed sword and a knight’s helmet. The less formal entrance on the east side of the home overlooks the large lot, which slopes down to Kessler Boulevard below it.
The main and second levels of the residence contain 5,953 square feet. The basement adds nearly another 3,000 square feet, for a total square footage of almost 9,000 square feet. There is also a walk-up attic, although it is unfinished. The long entry hall on the main level has a marble floor. A powder room and lavatory off the entry hall were designed for guests. The main level includes a step-down living room with a beamed ceiling and a stone fireplace. The living room has a lovely bay window. A sunroom adjoins the living room and leads to an attached greenhouse. Adjoining the kitchen on the north side of the house are a breakfast room and a room originally designed for servants. A rear hall connects to a heated 3-car garage.
A massive winding staircase at the front of the house leads to the second floor. A narrower staircase at the rear of the house also leads to the second floor. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms and two baths in the front of the house, which are arranged in suites. There are also three smaller bedrooms and a bath off the back stairway, which were originally designed for servants but are now used for guests. The master bedroom has its own bathroom, as well as a dressing room and the entrance to a sleeping porch. A stairway behind a door in the upstairs hall leads to an unfinished attic on the third level. In the basement, there is a large social room with a fireplace and a terrazzo floor, as well as a laundry room and a furnace room. The basement contains 2,720 square feet, bringing the total square footage of the three levels to 8,673 square feet.
Surprisingly, Arthur and Emma Wolf never moved into the unique home they had built. They remained in the Prairie Style home they had built only a couple of years earlier at 4136 North Meridian Street. Instead, in December of 1927, the Wolfs sold the property to Forest M. Knight, the owner of a local real estate company. Mr. Knight did not ever occupy the home either. In 1928, he sold the property to Mr. and Mrs. Dudley M. Williston.
Dudley Mickey Williston (1891-1955) was a pioneer in the motion picture business. He started his career in 1911, by opening the first theatre in Muncie, Indiana. During World War I, he served as chief aeronautical engineer on U.S. dirigibles. After returning from service in 1918, he, his wife Louise, and their two young daughters, Mary Jane and Beth Ann, moved to Indianapolis. Initially, Williston managed theatres for Warner Brothers Pictures. He bought the Walker Theatre on Indiana Avenue in 1928, the same year that he bought the subject property. He later purchased and/or managed several other local theatres. In 1933, Dudley Williston also built riding stables near 44th Street on the east side of Kessler Boulevard. Frances Louise (Hamilton) Williston (1892-1970) assisted her husband in the operation of their theatres. She also enjoyed gardening and attending her children’s and grandchildren’s activities. The Willistons owned the home for less than two years.
By the time of the 1930 Census in the spring of 1930, there were new owners of 4360 North Kessler Boulevard West Drive. They were John Henry Christopher Warvel, Sr., M.D. (1893-1967) and Ruth Montgomery (Michael) Warvel (1894-1990). Dr. Warvel received his medical degree from The Ohio State University. He came to Indianapolis in 1919 and soon became a highly respected pathologist on the staff of Methodist Hospital. He gained recognition by being a key witness in the murder trial of D. C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Stephenson was charged with the 1923 abduction, rape, and murder of a young woman named Madge Oberholtzer. Dr. Warvel had examined her as she lay dying. He testified that there was no antidote for the poison that Madge was forced by her kidnapper to swallow. Ruth (Montgomery) Warvel was a graduate of the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing. In 1923, Ruth had the honor of administering the very first injection of insulin to a diabetic patient after Eli Lilly’s new drug was approved. The event was attended by the then-single Dr. Warvel, and the two were married a few months later. Mrs. Warvel was also the first president of the Indiana State Museum Society. The Warvels had three children -- Helen Louise (Warvel) Noland, Joanne (Warvel) Meyer, and John Henry Jr. In 1961, the Warvels installed an in-ground swimming pool in the yard to the rear or east side of the residence. In 1968, the Indianapolis Diabetes Association renamed its summer camp the ”Dr. John H. Warvel Summer Camp for Diabetic Children.” The Warvels lived in the home for thirty-six years.
After Dr. Warvel's passing, Mrs. Warvel sold the property to Charles Lawrence Herron (1930-2022) and Verlene Ellen (Kent) Herron (1928-2008). For some reason, the address of the property was changed from 4360 North Kessler Boulevard West Drive to 4370 North Kessler Boulevard West Drive during their initial year of ownership. In their final year of ownership, their address was listed in city directories as 4421 Sylvan Road (not 4521 Sylvan Road). The recently wed couple's family consisted of two blended families. Chuck and his first wife had divorced in 1965, and Vee's first husband had passed away in 1966. The couple were married in Fort Wayne in July of 1967. Born in Globe, Arizona, Chuck was a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. Following graduation, he had married Marcia Jean Stanforth. They were the parents of four children -- Kathleen, Daniel, Barbara, and John. Vee's and her late husband's children were Charles, Kent, and Joni. The newly formed family moved to Indianapolis for Chuck to be the VP of Manufacturing for Esterline Agnus. In 1975, Chuck and Vee purchased a travel agency, hosting trips around the world until they retired in 1996. In their twilight years, they enjoyed birdwatching, playing golf, and playing bridge. An additional interesting fact is that Vee was a member of St. Margaret's Hospital Guild and helped organize the annual Decorators' Show House events for several years. The Herrons owned the property for almost four years.
In 1972, the Herrons sold the property to William Robert Wise, M.D. (1923-2003), and Anna Katherine (Guy) Wise (1928-1987). However, the address of the property in city directories reverted to its previous address of 4360 North Kessler Boulevard West Drive. Dr. Wise attended Butler University for his undergraduate studies and Indiana University Medical School for his M.D. He served in the U.S. Army in WWII. After returning from the war, he had a private practice for fifty years. He was a member of the Indiana Medical Society and Kiwanis International. Following his retirement, he volunteered at local charitable medical clinics. Anna K. (Guy) Wise was a registered nurse at Wishard Memorial Hospital (now Eskenazi Health) and at Roudebush Veterans Administration Hospital. She was a volunteer at Meals on Wheels and the Marion County Cancer Society. In 1976, the Wises' garage served as the voting place for the precinct. Dr. and Mrs. Wise had three children – Robert Joseph Wise, Katherine Ann (Wise) Stewart, and Rebecca Lynn (Wise) Copenhaver. The Wises owned the home for eight years. It was towards the end of the Wise family’s ownership of the property that the address of the house began to be known by its present-day address of 4521 Sylvan Drive.
In November of 1978, the home was purchased by John Thomas Munshower. M.D. (1944-2023) and Marcia Jane (Ward) Munshower (1947 — ). As a young man, John Munshower served in the Peace Corps. His experiences in Ethiopia resulted in his enrolling in medical school after he returned home to Indianapolis. Dr. Munshower was a neurologist for forty-six years. He was affiliated with Community Hospitals. He loved nature and was especially fond of Sibley Guide to Birds and the Indiana Field Guides to Wildlife, Birds, Trees, and Wildflowers. Marcia is a graduate of Ball State University. She served as the Democratic precinct committee woman during the years they lived in the home. John and Marcia Munshower had four children: Najla (Munshower) Neumann, Rachel Katherine (Munshower) Fox. Juliette Cecile (Munshower) Tiriolo, and William Glenn Munshower. The Munshowers owned the property for almost twenty-eight years.
In 2006, Jordan Eric Rifkin (1969 – ) and Jeneane Marie Life (1970 – ) became the seventh couple to own the property. Jordan Rifkin was born in Monterey, California. His parents moved to Indianapolis in the mid-1970s. He attended Washington Township Schools, graduating from North Central High School in 1978. Jeneane Life was born in Florida. She attended Warren Township schools and graduated from Franklin Central High School. She spent a year studying at Gymnasium Nordenham in Germany, before enrolling in Indiana University in Bloomington. Jordan and Jeneane were married in 1997. The couple had lived in several historic residences in the Old Northside Neighborhood, including the bed and breakfast, Stone Soup Inn. They are the parents of sons Kalman Rifkin and Owen Rifkin.
In 2006, the Rifkins divorced, and Jeneane became the sole owner of 4521 Sylvan Road. Besides continuing to own and operate the Stone Soup Inn, Jeneane also owns and operates the Looking Glass Inn. She previously owned The Villa but sold it in 2018. She also owns and operates the Carlisle House Inn, a B&B on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.
St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild is pleased to present this unique residence as the site of its primary fundraising event for 2024. Guild members, along with the homeowner, designers, sponsors, and advertisers, look forward to another year of supporting Indianapolis' city hospital, Eskenazi Health.
The history of the 2024 Decorators' Show House and Gardens was researched
by St. Margaret's Hospital Guild member, Sharon Butsch Freeland.