Historic photo courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection, Muncie, Indiana.
By Annelise Hanshaw and Madaleine Townsend
The Kitselman Mansion once sat on over 26 acres with a manmade pond reflecting the home’s ionic columns to onlookers. Peacocks roamed the gardens, and swans floated in the pond. According to his granddaughter, Suzette Kitselman, Alva Kitselman spared no expense when he commissioned the house in 1913. He had just returned to Muncie, Indiana, after his honeymoon. Kitselman and his wife saw a similar house during their year-long vacation and had bricks flown in from Italy to mirror the estate they loved. They named the 31-room house “Hazelwood” after the hazelwood trees speckling the property.
Kitselman was an inventor and moved to Muncie after the local discovery of gasoline. The city offered free natural gas to businesses that moved their factories there. Kitselman brought railroads closer and shipped his products nationwide. Locally, his wealth could only be rivaled by the Ball brothers’. Hazelwood was a trophy of industrialization, and it stayed polished until Kitselman’s death in 1940.
The Kitselman Mansion was in danger in 2015 when owner Hazelwood Christian Church was quoted $150,000 to demolish the structure. Solutions included crowdfunding and approaching Ball State University, which sits just down the street. After a year and a half, a beauty salon bought the property and began Parlour at Hazelwood.
Hazelwood is a fairytale among historic buildings in small towns that don’t have such happy endings. Since the industrial decline of many American cities, areas like northeast Indiana have houses on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) that are ghostly, vacant shells of the once-beautiful buildings they had been. Individuals motivated by sentiment, architectural significance or tax breaks are what preserve these landmarks.
The consequences of globalization is affecting several American cities across the country. Muncie is one of these cities. It is what is called a “legacy city.” The term is defined by The American Assembly as an “older, industrial urban areas that have experienced significant population and job loss.”
Richmond, Indiana, is a legacy city similar to Muncie, says assistant professor of historic preservation at Ball State University J.P. Hall. He has worked in Richmond as an architect and with Richmond Neighborhood Restoration, Inc. to restore historic properties down to fine details. Hall says Richmond has more resources and historic homes to work with because of its location. Lying just off Route 40, the first federally-funded highway, Richmond once attracted more manufacturing and extravagant architecture.
Deindustrialization severely affects housing. Twelve percent of housing units are vacant in Muncie, Census data shows. Vacancy is a large problem in the historic districts of Muncie. An example is the Emily Kimbrough Historic District. Forty percent of homes in the Census block that covers the district are vacant, according to the 2010 Census.
Terms like “blight” follow high vacancy rates. Blight is the byproduct of neighborhoods evolving over time alongside economic conditions, owner of Studio Three Architects in Muncie Brian Hollars said. People blame the residents, but it’s a process that occurs over time. Blight is often used to justify demolition, Hall said. But it’s not the only solution.
“It takes people on the fringe of normaldom”
Renovation is harder to fund in legacy cities. It is often difficult to secure a loan with a bank, for properties can be worth less than the actual renovation cost. The Muncie Civic Theatre saw this problem when it underwent renovations costing $2.6 million. The theater had to reach out to the community for donations and had to wait eight years before the project was finished in 2017.
Income tax breaks make it easier to get a loan for a historic restoration project. In order to receive historic tax credits, plans have to be approved by the National Park Service. The plans can be modified and can make a more expensive renovation. Then, it must be reviewed after the project is finished before credits are given.
Non-profit organizations at local, state and national levels fund restorations. Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit founded in 1960, gives grants and loans to further historic preservation. It is the largest statewide preservation organization in the United States. Indiana Landmarks issued 65 grants in 2017, according to its annual grants report.
“People with money who live on the fringe of normaldom” are what it takes to revitalize a neighborhood, Hollars said. People will follow the initial few, he says, and renovation will trend there.
Brian Hollars on the motivation behind historic preservation
“[People] would say things like, ‘congratulations’, and I didn’t do anything, I just bought this house.”
Video by Annelise Hanshaw
Jennifer Criss and her family bought a house within the Emily Kimbrough Historic District in downtown Muncie in what is called the old “East End.” This neighborhood, named after the famed author Emily Kimbrough, was where she spent her childhood, and was home to much of the city’s elite. The district was dedicated in her name in 1976 and was added to the Historic Register in 1978. It includes several historic homes and mansions that once belonged to these residents, and are ghostly reminders of Muncie’s grandeur when it was in its prime. Several residents in this neighborhood are Ball State faculty, just like Criss, who is employed by Ball State’s marketing and communications department. She and her family moved into one of these historic homes in March of 2016. Initially looking for something with about an acre of land and without close neighbors, it was an opportunity they never thought they’d take.
Owning a home that is 126 years old can come with its fair share of setbacks, says Criss. Since moving into their home, the family has experienced several roof repairs, a $13,000 boiler replacement and even the occasional bat. However, Criss finds the experience to be rewarding despite its challenges.
The Old Washington Street Festival is held within the district every year, which offers house tours of the homes within it. Criss’s house was a part of these tours for the first time this past year. She says the people who came through were genuinely curious about the history, the architecture and the beauty of their home. “On their way out they would say things like, ‘congratulations’, and I didn’t do anything, I just bought this house.”
Another historic rehabilitation project in Muncie comes in the form of the Neely House. Privately funded by Robert Irving, the home of Thomas S. Neely, who built his home in 1852, and kept 41 years of diary entries about Muncie until his death in 1901. Thanks to Irving, the old homestead has been rehabilitated according to what it might’ve looked like when Neely was alive, and is now an upscale restaurant.
The Kitselman Mansion had to be converted to a beauty salon to remain viable. Indiana Landmarks designated it as part of their top 10 Most Endangered list in 2016 when Hazelwood Christian Church owned the property. The church acquired it in 1951 and eventually stopped being able to maintain the large estate.
Now, visitors of Parlour at Hazelwood can step into the past when they come for a haircut or manicure. The salon spent five months renovating the house. Layers of tile were ripped up to get back to original hardwoods, and owners allude to the history in the decoration. Hanging is a blueprint of one of Kitselman’s inventions, and owners Bryce Anderson and Janet Smithson are in touch with Alvin Kitselman’s granddaughter Suzette Kitselman.
Kitselman was very glad to see it restored and open to the public again. As a real estate agent in California who has experience in restoring Victorian homes, she had hoped that the mansion would return to its former glory as a beacon in Muncie’s community like it had during her grandfather’s time. She believes that communities like Muncie must keep and maintain their historic buildings like Hazelwood, because it is part of the community’s identity and culture. “Can you imagine Muncie without any of those beautiful buildings?” she asks.
Residents in the community expressed
their appreciation for the restoration. “[The mansion] is just part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” neighbor to the Kitselman Mansion Sara Shade said. “You feel that presence, whether it’s just walking the dog and having that in the background or just driving along.”
Restoration helps connect residents to their community in a tangible format, Hall said. But, it takes dedication to see that these home are revitalized and to stay that way. Criss says, even when signing the papers, they were told that it was a “labor of love,” and she knows that it is absolutely true is from her experience.
“The only way [historic preservation] can work is by individuals willing to take a risk to make it happen,” Hollars said. He is dumbfounded at the success of Parlour at Hazelwood. It’s not the kind of ending he expected but he is grateful that the salon beat the odds.
The future can shine a little more brighter for historic buildings, like the Kitselman mansion, that have been saved by motivated individuals. With community programs such as Muncie’s Old Washington Street festival that showcases these historic homes, people can step into the world of the generation that had built them. This can instill a sense of pride in the community that once was, a hope to bring about change for the future.
Photos courtesy Parlour at Hazelwood