Perseverance Key to Preservation

by MaryBeth Eiler

The persistence of one Midtown resident paid off for the entire Meridian Street Historic District and its surrounding neighborhoods.

After Indianapolis became a test city for the 5G fiber-optic cable network in 2017, resident lawns were dug up, cable was laid, and pole markers were installed throughout the Meridian Street Historic District and surrounding neighborhoods. When 4-foot orange and white fiber-optic identifier poles began appearing, Allie Madden, president of the Meridian Street Foundation, decided to take action.

“The street was, and continues to be, protected under a 1971 state law enacted to maintain the Meridian Street Historic District in addition to the area that extends a block east into Meridian-Kessler and west into Butler-Tarkington,” she said. “The beautiful preservation of the district is maintained by the law as it governs what you can do to the exterior of homes and landscapes. The community tries its best to abide by the rules to keep its streets looking beautiful.”

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Meridian Street Foundation was founded in 1960 to protect the stretch of Meridian Street from 40th Street to Westfield Blvd. The law was prompted by residents concerned about the demolition of historic homes, plans by the city to widen Meridian Street, and further commercialization throughout the district.

“According to the law, anything of a permanent nature with regards to outside installation cannot just happen,” said Madden. “There is an application and process that must be adhered to in order to be heard before the Meridian Street Preservation Commission. Only if a certificate of appropriateness is issued may someone install, build, or renovate something of a permanent nature.”

Fiber-optic poles like this one have been removed from the Meridian Street Historic District. Allie Madden photo.

As identifier poles began popping up throughout the historic district, Allie learned that two companies—Zayo and Verizon/MCI—were involved in the installation. Thanks to a prior connection at Zayo, Madden was able to resolve the issue quickly.

“I explained that the poles really shouldn’t be in the district and asked them to work with me to remove the poles from the primary and secondary preservation areas. Not only did they say yes, but they fully removed them from the historic district as well as the adjacent neighborhoods—all with a promise not to install future poles,” said Madden.

Finding the right contact at Verizon/MCI to eliminate the remaining poles proved challenging. After receiving the runaround for nearly a year, Madden’s tenacity paid off.

“Mid-May 2020, I connected with a representative from TCS Communications who provided the same result Zayo had delivered in 2019.”

Both Meridian Street Foundation and the Meridian Street Preservation Commission share a central mission in advocating for the original homes and landscapes of the neighborhoods.

“While it might seem silly to care about identifier poles amid everything going on in the world, it was a small yet important win for our community. We must continue to preserve the historic district. Not only is it preserved under Indiana state law, but preserving this stretch of Meridian has also enabled both Butler-Tarkington and Meridian-Kessler to flourish into the amazing neighborhoods we have today.”

MaryBeth Eiler lives and writes in Midtown.