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  • 30 Jan 2021
    Decorators' Show House and Gardens - 5417 North Meridian Street

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A History of the 2021 
Decorators' Show House and Gardens

           The residence at 5417 North Meridian Street is located on the main north and south thoroughfare of the City of Indianapolis. Homes along this two-mile, boulevard-like stretch of North Meridian Street are part of several organizations that seek to maintain the area’s history, appearance, and quality of life. They include the Meridian Street Foundation, Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association, and the Meridian Street Preservation Commission. The North Meridian Street Historic District is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

            The real estate firm that designed the home and constructed it, the Schoen-Morgan Company, was founded by Effie Schoen-Morgan (1873-1960). Mrs. Schoen-Morgan's first husband, John Schoen, had died in 1910. Her second husband was named Morgan, hence her hyphenated surname. Effie was the company’s president and driving force, an unusual position for a woman in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Her son Robert Schoen Sr. was the designer of the homes, and her son Joseph Schoen was the sales manager. Schoen-Morgan built hundreds of homes over the years, many of them between 46th and 86th Streets and a few blocks on either side of North Meridian Street. After her retirement, Mrs. Schoen's grandson, Robert Schoen Jr. served as president of the company.  

     The house was constructed on a typical Meridian Street lot of 100 feet by 300 feet. At the time the home was built, there were fewer structures west and north of it than there are today. Sitting on the crest of a hill, the home originally had a view of the White River, just a few blocks away. The exterior of the two-story Colonial is red-brick veneer with Bedford limestone trim. A Southern-style open porch with eight immense Corinthian columns extends across the front of the residence. A long driveway winds its way up the hill from Meridian Street below to a 3-car garage with an addition at the rear of the property. The six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath home contains 5,536 square feet on the main and upper levels and 2,110 square feet in the basement, for a total of 7,646 square feet. Construction of the home began late in 1929 and was completed in 1930, but it did not sell for several months – possibly due in part to the stock market crash in September of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression.  

            The first owners of 5417 North Meridian Street were Willis Meredith Nicholson Sr. (1866-1947) and his wife Eugenie (Kountze) Nicholson (1867-1931). They moved into the residence on October 8, 1930, according to a newspaper article in The Indianapolis Star. Meredith Nicholson was a poet, author, journalist, and diplomat. Born in Crawfordsville, his family had moved to Indianapolis when he was five years old. His best-known novels were The House of A Thousand Candles, The Port of Missing Men, and A Hoosier Chronicle. Nicholson also served as United States Minister to Paraguay, Venezuela, and Nicaragua from 1933 to 1938. Mrs. Nicholson passed away only a year after the couple moved into the house. At that time, the Nicholsons' living children were Elizabeth Nicholson Claypool Brown, Willis Meredith Nicholson Jr., and Charles Lionel Nicholson. As they were grown, married, and living in homes of their own, Nicholson was then all alone in the house. In 1933, the widowed Meredith Nicholson married his second wife, Dorothy Wolfe Nicholson (1895-1951). He sold the home in 1933, just prior to their moving to Paraguay.             

            The second owners of the property were Warren Charles Fairbanks (1878-1938) and Helen Ethel (Cassidy) Fairbanks (1883-1944). Born in Indianapolis, Fairbanks was the eldest son of United States Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks. In 1898, he served as a captain in the Spanish-American war. Warren Fairbanks was the state director of President Herbert Hoover's unemployment relief commission in the early 1930s. He served on the Board of Directors of several companies and was a trustee of the McKinley National Memorial Association. Mr. Fairbanks was President of The Indianapolis News from 1922 until his unexpected death in 1938. The couple’s two daughters, Edith (Fairbanks) Modrone and Cornelia (Fairbanks) Poole, were grown and married by then, so Mrs. Fairbanks sold the property the following year. Mrs. Fairbanks passed away in Chicago in 1944. 

            The third family to occupy 5417 N. Meridian Street resided in the home from 1939 until 1961, which was the longest time period of all its residents. David Lurvey (1886-1959) and Frances (Traugott) Lurvey (1889-1942) and four of their five children -- Leonard, Rosalie, William, and Frances -- moved into the home in the fall of 1939. David Lurvey was the president of the Hatfield Electric Company. Fanny Lurvey was widely known in civic and philanthropic organizations, including the League of Women Voters, American Red Cross, and Indianapolis Council of Jewish Women. Mrs. Lurvey died in 1942. Two years later, David Lurvey married Ruth (Hammerman) Levey (1900-1962). Ruth had been widowed by the death of her husband, Louis Levey, in 1943. Over the next two decades, the Lurveys hosted many activities in the home. Three of the Lurvey children were married during the years the Lurveys resided in the home. Rosalie married Joseph Rothbard in 1944; Leonard married Mildred Briggs in 1949; and Frances married Samuel Ross in 1957. Two years after David Lurvey's 1959 passing, Ruth sold the home to its next owners. 

            The fourth owners of the home were Clarence B. La Dine (1904-1979) and Veneta (Leonard) La Dine (1907-2002). Dr. La Dine was born in Prophetstown, Illinois. During World War II, he served as an executive officer of several Army hospitals in Iceland, England, and France. He was discharged after the war with the rank of colonel. Mrs. La Dine was from Mount Vernon, Illinois. "C. B." and his wife settled in Indianapolis after he completed his studies at Indiana University School of Medicine. Dr. La Dine was on the staff of Methodist and Community Hospitals and also had an office in the Brightwood neighborhood for many years. Like the Lurveys, the La Dines opened their home to many social, civic, and philanthropic events. The La Dines were members of North United Methodist Church and the Marion County Historical Society. Mrs. La Dine was president of the Indianapolis Council of Women, chari of the Indianapolis Stay-In-School Project, and on the committee responsible for the building of the Indiana Convention Center.  The La Dines had no children, and following Dr. La Dine’s death in 1979, Mrs. La Dine sold the property to its fifth owners.

            Richard R. Hamilton (1941-1997) and Carolyn (Hohl) Hamilton lived nearby on Washington Boulevard when the La Dine residence became available. The couple had begun investing in real estate a few years earlier and were members of a local investment club.  Richard had previously been a salesman, and Carolyn had been a public health nurse. The Hamiltons and their young daughters, Wendy and Jennifer, lived in the Meridian Street property for only a couple of years, 1980-1982. During their ownership, Richard installed an in-ground hot tub in the back yard and built a playhouse in a tree for the girls. 

           The sixth owners of the home were Gerald R. Levin and Rhonda (Solotkin) Levin. Both are Indianapolis natives. Gerald is a dentist with a practice on the northeast side of Indianapolis, which continues today. The Levins owned the property from 1982 to 1984. 

            The seventh owners of 5417 N. Meridian Street were Robert L. Zerbe and Linda (Rhode) Zerbe.  Dr. Zerbe was born in Ohio in 1950. He came to Indiana to attend the Indiana School of Medicine. At the time the Zerbes purchased the home, he was executive director of Lilly Research Laboratories, a division of Eli Lilly and Company. Their residence was on the Crossroads Guild Holiday Home Tour in 1991. Since leaving Lilly and selling the home, Dr. Zerbe has gone on to work at Parke-Davis, Pfizer, and QUATRx.      

            The home’s eighth owners were Kevin M. Kelley and Karen (Sandy) Kelley. They lived in the home from 1996 until 2008. Kevin was a salesman, and Karen was a paralegal. The Kelleys installed the swimming pool and built an addition to the three-car garage that served as the pool house.         

            The ninth owners were Kenneth W. Rush and Shannon (Alston) Rush. They occupied the property from 2008 to 2012.  Ms. Rush is the Director of Operations at Eli Lilly and Company.   

            In 2012, Mark A. Graham and Susan (White) Graham became the tenth owners of the 90-year-old home. Mark is an Indianapolis native and the grandson of  Thornton F. Graham, the founder of Graham Electronics. Susan hails from Louisville, Kentucky. They are the parents of four children: Caroline, Peter, Katherine, and David. The Grahams’ residence was one of the homes on the 2015 Meridian-Kessler Home Tour. It is thanks to their generosity that St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild is privileged to feature this wonderful property as the 2021 Decorators’ Show House and Gardens.

The history of the 2021 Decorators Show House and Gardens was researched by
St. Margaret's Hospital Guild member, Sharon Butsch Freeland   

Email us: info@showhouseindy.org

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