Heritage infrastructure in Homecroft: when evoking the past, size matters.

inappropriately sized heritage infrastructure in Homecroft, Indianapolis

Many, many years ago I featured some heritage infrastructure in the quasi-autonomous Indianapolis enclave of Homecroft.  If the most appropriate descriptor for a place like Homecroft is “quasi-autonomous enclave”, it goes without saying that it’s an unusual place.  The community (which functions largely as a neighborhood) sits about seven miles south of downtown Indianapolis as an outpost to the mid-sized Midwestern capital city.  And in the 1920s, when developers first platted what was to become Homecroft, that portion of Marion County consisted entirely of countryside.  After Frank and Oliver Gates paved roads, drained wetlands, and installed requisite infrastructure, the quarter square mile became increasingly popular as a bedroom community with quick access to the city via the Indianapolis, Columbus, and Southern Interurban line—one of many interurbans in central Indiana at that time.  Most homes date from the 1940s and 50s, by which point it was among the most developed communities on the south side.  Suburbanization eventually surrounded Homecroft, though it remained distinct for its more walkable, grid-based character.  Much of the neighborhood belongs within a National Register Historic District.

In 1970, Mayor Dick Lugar’s approval of Unigov worked to consolidate the Indianapolis city limits with Marion County’s 403 square miles—allowing a few exceptions that remained sovereign municipalities: Speedway, Beech Grove, Lawrence, and Southport.  Each of these cities are enclaves like Homecroft, but, being larger, have “excluded city” status, indicating complete political autonomy, with separate mayors and councils, though they also have the right to participate in Indianapolis elections and vote for Indy’s executive and legislative positions.  Homecroft is an “included town”, largely incorporated within Indianapolis and lacking a separate executive capacity (Indy’s mayor is Homecroft’s mayor), though it does still retain some self-governing capabilities, including a town council and police force with an appointed chief.

Quasi-autonomous.  And confusing.  And this weird middle-ground status that Homecroft enjoys (or endures, depending on perspective) results in a condition where its citizens receive many municipal services from Homecroft government itself, while others come from Indianapolis.  Viewed through the lens of the Indianapolis City-County Council, Homecroft is a minor consideration on the periphery, an older neighborhood in Perry Township that largely takes care of its own rudimentary functions through a government the operates a bit like a Homeowners Association.  But to those 750 people living in Homecroft, it’s a town unto itself with “welcome” signs that still shares its zip code with Indianapolis.  It has its own street lights but Indianapolis road signs.  It has its own elementary school but it’s merely a unit within the Metropolitan School District of Perry Township (one of eleven districts in Indianapolis).

Homecroft rests upon vaguely uncomfortable political middle ground—not fractious, but awkward.  And that middle ground prompts a contemplation on the other weird descriptor I used at the beginning; heritage infrastructure.   Basically the nuts and bolts that allow homes to sit alongside roads—the lighting, the signage, the very gridded streets themselves—assume a vintage, early 20th century look.  But they don’t always fit.  As I wrote about in the past, these old-fashioned streetlights look nicely scaled for pedestrians in some of the community, except that some parts of Homecroft have no sidewalks, so these pedestrian-scaled lanterns just sit alongside a grassy ditch.

And in more recent years, Homecroft has added additional heritage infrastructure:

I will confess this is a minor, petty criticism, but that stop sign just looks weird.  It’s fixed upon an “aestheticized” black post, but that black post extends a good two feet above the red octagonal shield.  My suspicion is that Homecroft town government purchased the black posts in bulk, to distinguish the community from the blander, more conventional infrastructure in surrounding Indianapolis.  They probably fall within the approved aesthetic parameters of the Homecroft Historic District, and they certainly help reinforce the notion the Homecroft is its own distinct place.  Yet I suspect that traffic safety regulations require the red octagonal shields to hang at a certain height/position that maximizes visibility.  And the heritage infrastructure—those black posts—are too big.

heritage infrastructure in Homecroft

The above photo at the northern edge of Homecroft, where Banta Road meets Orinoco Avenue, shows the effort at visual conformity between the stop sign in the right foreground and the streetlight in the left background.  But the scale for the road sign/streetlight is more appropriate.  Another view, standing in the middle of Orinoco Avenue and looking across Banta Road (where the distant side of Banta is fully within Indianapolis), further underlies the mismatch.

heritage infrastructure: oversized stop signs in Homecroft

Fundamentally the Town of Homecroft chose posts that were distinct but not custom-built (or, as the kids like to say these days, bespoke).  This heritage infrastructure is more expensive than the mass-produced posts used to hoist stop signs in Indianapolis, but a town like Homecroft doesn’t quite have the money for all the customized posts it would need.  So it ordered a bunch that are just too tall.

Simple considerations like these wedge Homecroft further between a rock and a hard place.  It’s hard to imagine it becoming a historic district of any great prestige.  It’s a nice middle- to upper-middle class neighborhood with strictly enforced speed limits (typical of urban enclaves) and well-kept, owner-occupied homes.  But it’s never going to compete with Pullman in Chicago, Mount Airy in Philadelphia, or even Lockerbie Square a few miles away in Indianapolis.  These trifling details with heritage infrastructure really are the ways communities like Homecroft can distinguish themselves, not just because there are other Homecrofts (even if they aren’t all quasi-autonomous enclaves) but because there are so many historic districts.  Replacing out all these black poles with something appropriately scaled would be a huge cost for a tiny community, especially when they’re only a few years old and in mint condition.  Maybe they can find a good artisan to lop off the top and cap it with a heritage hood ornament?

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11 thoughts on “Heritage infrastructure in Homecroft: when evoking the past, size matters.

    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Could be. It was platted in the 1920s, but it didn’t really surge until the 1940s and early 50s, which corresponds. I can guarantee, though, that these homes are pricier and more architecturally distinctive than the Levittowns that surged out east. And those Levittowns definitely depended on the GI Bill and soldiers returning home from WWII for their growth. As far as GI Bill inspired developments in Indy, my vote would go to Eagledale, centered around 30th-38th and Georgetown/Moller. That area definitely looks like the Levittown-style homes that sprouted like Mushrooms right after WWII.

      Reply
      1. Chris B

        Your hometown mass production builder was National Homes. They built northeast and northwest in Indy, including the Eagledale area north of the IMS.

        One National quirk: 2×3 interior wall framing.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          Yeah, I figured the Northeastwood (or whatever it’s called) fell under the same construction typology as Eagledale. Didn’t realize it was the same developer.

          It’s a shame these areas really cratered in the 1980s. I suspect it has more to do with the diminishing demand for homes in the IPS district (the westernmost and easternmost reaches of old Indianapolis limits, and IPS, are along west/east 38th street around Eagledale and Northeastwood, respectively) than with the homes themselves, which are hardly top quality, but similar homes in areas like Speedway and Beech Grove and even east of Broad Ripple (Glendale? Brockton?) are still much more desirable.

          Reply
      2. Steve P

        Thanks for the good insight on the Eagledale and Georgetown/Moller areas. Indianpolis Magazine, perhaps 20-25 years ago, noted Homecroft as the most desirable metro neighborhood to live in, which I found plausible but troubling since there’s so much flooding in yards adjacent to Homecroft and even grade/at-grade on Homecroft lots.

        Reply
        1. AmericanDirt Post author

          Hmm. I guess that’s probably not a huge surprise given that the original developers did largely reclaim a swamp to subdivide and build the streets/plats for Homecroft. And Homecroft got clobbered by a pretty serious tornado in the mid 2000s that took away a lot of its fine tree canopy. But it largely recovered. It’s amazing the inconveniences people are willing to put up with (particularly in terms of flooding) if the neighborhood has strong community ties and enough other amenities. Rocky Ripple, anyone?

          Reply
            1. AmericanDirt Post author

              That’s probably the one. Though it happened longer ago than I thought I wasn’t living in Indy back then either, but I remember coming home and noticing the tree canopy in Homecroft was considerably thinner.

              Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Yep, this is nothing a good lopping (or welding, or soldering) can’t fix. Provided, of course, that it’s ARTISANAL. Homecroft has to hold on to its historic clout. Thanks for chiming in!

      Reply

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