Written by: Karen Bradner/Photos by: Chris Bucher
When someone who loves to throw big themed bashes in his home for 400 to 500 guests tells you he spent a recent New Year’s Eve filling in surface nail holes on the trim around his home’s doorways, it makes you wonder. Well this particular homeowner, Joe Everhart, explains, “that’s just how I like to relax.”
By day, Joe works as a realtor with the Sycamore Group, and the vast majority of his work is with urban, historical properties in Central Indianapolis. His partner, Ken Ramsay, a former CFO of Conner Prairie, works as a real estate investor. This is the 19th residence the two have renovated together.
“We are serial renovators,” Joe says. “I am the creative force and Ken is the workhorse.”
The team’s latest project sits on the corner of 13th and Park in The Old Northside, just across the street from the original estate of Ovid Butler, founder of Butler University.
This 8,500-square-foot Italianate mansion was originally built in 1873 by a buggy builder named Dalyrimple. The residence remained a private home until 1927 when it was converted to the Sahara Grotto social club. In the 1940s the mansion changed hands again and became the Saenger Chor, a German American men’s singing club. This group used the place for 40 years or so but held on to it until 2003.
That’s when they called Joe and asked him to list it.
Being a resident of The Old Northside for over 13 years, Joe knew the place well, having walked past it many times. Once inside, there was no doubt in his mind that this would be the next project his team would tackle.
It was meant to be
Originally from Terra Haute, Joe attended culinary school in Charleston, South Carolina where his interest in historic renovation began. After meeting Ken, the two began to tackle a residential rehab one house at a time. Eventually Joe moved back to Terra Haute to open a restaurant. For five years, he dabbled in weekend renovations, but finally in 1991 he decided to sell the business and work full-time in real estate and historic preservation.
Since then both Ken and Joe have flung themselves full force into keeping the history of Indianapolis alive. Both volunteer with the Historical Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. Joe is also a member of the Board for the old City Market, which is currently undergoing a huge renaissance.
First, do nothing
Once Joe and Ken took possession of the six-bedroom, 4-1/2-bath home, their first task was a hands-off, but thorough inspection.
“We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what might have been and what might be,” Joe says.
The first floor was one big open space with a commercial kitchen tucked into one corner. A built-in mahogany dining room service bar was covered in red Formica and used for banquets and bingo nights. The second floor appeared to be the same private living quarters as it was almost 100 years ago, and the third floor housed an expansive ballroom.
Without a doubt, “the biggest challenge was the sheer scale,” Joe says.
“For example,” he says, “the original walls were 14 inches thick.” Joe and Ken duplicated that scale whenever possible—the new walls are just as massive as the original. Details like that helped the renovation come in accurately. Joe says, “People don’t realize how important details like that are.”
While authenticity was important, the rehabbers knew they needed to add modern conveniences to make the mansion attractive to those of us living in the 21st century. “We try to be historically accurate and work carefully around historical elements, but we want it to be livable,” Joe says.
One of the first things the pair knew they needed to do to the home, which had been built when buggies were big, was to add previously non-existent garage space. The lot size did not permit a garage to be built to the same massive scale as the rest of the home, plus Joe and Ken didn’t want a garage to feel “like it was just done this year.” So, architect Dave Gibson of A3 Design was brought on board to design a solution everyone could live with.
The result is two separate garage pavilions with an alley of Cleveland pears leading to the rear entrance of the home. The size, design and finish all add appeal to the already chock-full-of-charm estate.
Gibson was also instrumental in creating new room layouts for the first floor where none existed before. Together with Joe and Ken he carved out an entry with a recreated grand staircase as its focal point, powder room, sitting room, front parlor, back parlor, back hall, dining room and kitchen.
Each room is distinct in wall colors and furnishings, but the flow from room to room is gracious. Ceilings that are up to 14 feet overhead go far to add to the overall grandeur. With the exception of the original oak floors in the dining room which were able to be salvaged, the floors throughout the first floor are new and were milled in a herringbone pattern sassafras specifically for the home.
The kitchen was designed with the help of Johnna Rogers from The Keeping Room. Pine cabinets add to the romance of the home and cleverly conceal modern conveniences such as a Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer, icemaker, dishwasher drawers and microwave, and a large pantry.
Another expansive walk-in pantry sits behind a crisply painted door. Created by local artist Amy Falstrom, hand-painted cement tiles, which are reproductions of a European design, adorn the backsplash over the AGA stove.
The walls are painted a rich Italian saffron and segue beautifully into the dining room where burnt copper walls welcome you.
The dark oak wainscoting, beamed ceiling and built-in buffet are original to the space, as are the leaded windows seen so prominently in this room and throughout the rest of the home. In the front parlor, olive walls frame a striking mantel.
The staircase off the gracious front entry leads to a second floor which had been renovated in the 1890s. The condition of this space at the time of their purchase gave Ken and Joe a pretty good idea of how the first floor probably appeared before the interior walls were removed.
Moving on up
At the top of the stairs, toward the Park Avenue side of the home, is what Joe calls the stair landing. This sun-drenched space is the perfect setting for a number of drawings by David De La Venezia and a chandelier picked up at a Paris flea market.
The second level has a guest bath and three guest bedrooms, two of which were used by Joe’s sister and her eight-year old daughter Madeline. Joe’s sister recently married but Madeline still has a room to call her own here when she visits.
To the rear of the home a master suite includes a 20×14-foot dressing room equipped with a morning kitchen which includes a refrigerator and instant hot water spigot. A Eurotech washer/dryer unit combines both functions in one space-saving appliance. Reminiscent of the home’s original time frame, a claw foot tub sits against a wall of this space and in the more private bath area, dual pedestal sinks and a modern steam shower await.
The third floor still houses the home’s original ballroom, now used as a casual seating area, but in a nod to modern day desires, a theatre room was discreetly carved out the floor plan and is a favorite space to relax for the homeowners and for guests staying in the two additional bedrooms on this level.
Perfect for parties
Relaxing aside, this home is really built for entertaining. A remnant from the home’s days as a social club, a beer hall style party room and bar area fill most of the 2,800-square-foot basement. Festive German sayings are painted on the ceiling beams in the room including, “There’s no beer in heaven, so drink it while you’re here.” And slightly less noticeable is a Sharpie inscription on one of the support posts reading “Live Strong” and signed by Lance Armstrong who stayed here during a recent Indianapolis 500 weekend.
With the rehab complete and the mansion looking marvelous, it normally would be time for the team to move on to the next project. No doubt, someday soon, they’ll sell the house, but in the meantime it appears that the two will be happy ringing in another year finding one or two more projects in the home to sand, scrape or paint with a passion.
RESOURCES Architect Dave Gibson, A3 Design; Designer Johnna Rogers, The Keeping Room; Window treatments Silk Trading Company through ABC Home, New York; Chandelier ABC Home; Art and antiques Leslie Hindman Auctioneers