by Thomas P. Healy
A small group of historic preservationists gathered outdoors at 4270 N. Meridian St. on August 5 to witness the unveiling of a new state historical marker.
The marker honors two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author Booth Tarkington, who lived in the home from 1923 until his death in 1946. A prolific author of short stories, plays, and novels, some of his works were made into popular Hollywood movies or performed on Broadway.
“Those books probably generated the funds to purchase the place,” quipped Doris Anne Sadler, who, along with her husband Tim, now owns the home built in 1911. While Doris Anne was familiar with Tarkington’s work before buying the house, her husband wasn’t. So it didn’t play much of a role in their deciding to purchase the place. “When we first came in and looked at the house, it needed a lot of work,” Doris Anne recalled. She said it wasn’t until Tim heard stories about how the Marx Brothers had been Tarkington’s house guests that he changed his mind and thought it was a great project to take on. “We have found and acquired the book that Booth Tarkington signed for Groucho Marx when he visited in the 1930s,” Tim said, adding, “We have other cool stuff, too.”
Doris Anne opined that the author, who observed the seismic shift in culture from agricultural-rural to industrial-urban and documented the automobile’s onslaught, likely moved to the house to escape the noise and dust of Indianapolis’s urbanizing downtown. “In 1923, when Tarkington bought this house, it was suburbs,” Doris Anne said. “The house sat amidst farm fields.”
Today, the home is located on a spacious lot within the Meridian Street Historic district, dubbed by an earlier state historical marker “One of America’s great streets.”
Casey Pfeiffer, historical marker program manager at the Indiana Historical Bureau, said that more than 675 markers have been placed around the state. “Markers have an important place in society, celebrating suffragettes, civil rights leaders, athletes, and the important legacy of writers in Indiana,” she said in brief remarks during the ceremony.
In conversation, Doris Anne said she was prompted to apply for the marker by a friend at Indiana Landmarks. Between her work schedule that involves a lot of international travel and the detailed research required for the application, the project took four years. “After that process, I realized just how well researched these markers are,” she said. “The Indiana Historical Bureau really makes you jump through hoops to make sure your facts are correct.” The marker was supposed to be installed last year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Tarkington’s birth but the Sadlers’ work and other obligations delayed the installation until this year.
Doris Anne is the incoming volunteer vice president of Indiana Landmarks and working to cultivate the next generation of preservationists. “What’s been driving what we’re seeing in preservation is a sense of place,” she said. “People want a sense of place that’s unique. That requires cultivation of historic places.” She considers homes like Booth Tarkington’s a part of the community’s cultural heritage. “There’s nothing wrong with beauty. We can celebrate beautiful structures and interiors.”
While Tarkington was one of the most famous writers in the world in his day, he is largely forgotten now. “I think he is just one of a number of hugely accomplished artists that came out of Indiana and I include composers like Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter,” Doris Anne said. “Booth was active in a period of time when Indiana was on the leading edge of the arts world in the United States—a period in Indiana history that was extremely fruitful.”
Besides updating and maintaining the historic structure, the Sadlers say they are committed to recreating the kind of community culture Tarkington fostered with his many and varied house guests. “Tim and I felt seriously that we should open up our home as much as we possibly can to everyone,” Doris Anne said. Pre-COVID, that included serving as the Decorator’s Show Home and hosting Booth Tarkington Civic Theater’s centennial with a tent party and sit-down dinner in the backyard.
Depending on the status of the public health emergency this November, the home is slated to be one of three on the Midtown Holiday Home Tour. Tim Sadler owns a company that specializes in sanitizing homes and buildings, and he’s offered to disinfect the homes before the tour, “to give people a sense of safety.”
He said he realized a lot of people don’t know who Tarkington was when a recent guest asked why the residence was called the Booth Tarkington home. “I told him, that is his name.”
The Sadlers even invited members of the Tarkington family over one evening in 2010. Many had never been in the house. “I told them I’m a Tarkington by mortgage,” he said with a chuckle.