by Connie Zeigler
In November, tenants of The Drake apartments at 3060 N. Meridian St. received notice to vacate the building by early December 2016. Management offered to help with relocation costs and provided a list of other apartment buildings along with the vacate notices.
But what will happen to The Drake? Neglected for years, the once high-end, now picturesquely worn building is a preservationist’s dream. A large, open lobby features a central fireplace and French doors. Hardwood floors, fireplaces, original casement windows, and even original kitchen cabinets are still found in many of the apartments. A modernistic brick structure with limestone accents across the façade, The Drake has an air of mystery in part because it is the only multistory apartment building remaining on the west side of the street immediately north of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
The Drake is owned by TRex Enterprises LLC, a development company formed years ago “at the request of” The Children’s Museum, according to Brian Statz, the museum’s vice president of operations and general counsel who also manages TRex. TRex bought and demolished another large apartment complex, the Whitestone at 3140 N. Meridian St., in 2014.
At that time the Indianapolis Business Journal reported that the “occupied and more architecturally significant” Drake would continue to operate as apartments. And so it has . . . but not for much longer. Statz says the pace of repairs in the circa 1928 building is too much for the management team. Plumbing is a particularly big problem that would require a lot of interior “tearing up” in order to install new pipes, he said. TRex and management firm TWG decided that the “responsible thing is to move tenants out and then figure out the long-term plan,” according to Statz.
Demolition is definitely an option under consideration. In fact, it was the first option in the “not exhaustive” list that Statz ticked off in a recent interview. However, he has been in touch with Mark Dollase, the vice president of preservation services at Indiana Landmarks, and Dollase provided Statz with a list of 12 to 15 development firms that might be willing to take on a Drake rehabilitation project. Statz plans to meet with those firms in the next few weeks.
Statz believes the cost of rehab would be “well into seven figures.” Has TRex decided upon a maximum amount of money that the company would invest in rehabilitation? “No,” he said.
Dollase agrees that rehab options are going to be expensive, but added that “Landmarks believes the building is architecturally significant and will stand up for it. We don’t believe it is a building ready for demolition.” He has suggested to Statz that TRex might consider a long-term lease to a development firm that would rehab the apartment building with their own funds, or using residential historic rehabilitation tax credits.
In addition to The Drake, TRex owns most of the west side of Meridian Street for several blocks north of the museum, including the Schnull-Rauch House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Stutz Motor Car owner Harry Stutz’s mansion at 32nd and Meridian streets, both buildings that Indiana Landmarks wants to see preserved.
Neighbors including Doug Day feel passionately that historic buildings like the Schnull-Rauch and Stutz homes, as well as The Drake, add to the architectural fabric of the neighborhood. “We should do whatever is necessary to ensure these historic structures are saved from demolition,” Day said recently. Day is the champion of the Destination Fall Creek task force and a member of The Children’s Museum Neighborhood Working Group. “We understand buildings like this are difficult to rehab, but other apartment buildings in the neighborhood faced a lot of the same challenges and were successfully updated in a very clever and cost-effective manner,” he said.
Day and other preservationists recognize the museum and its development arm will have a lasting impact on Indianapolis’s stewardship of historic buildings on this important corridor. For The Drake, for now, Statz says he is “not sure what the ultimate future for the building will be . . . no option is ruled out.”
Historian Connie Zeigler is a consultant who writes frequently about historic preservation issues. Her website is cresourcesinc.com
A version of this article appeared in the December ’16/January ’17 issue of the magazine.