Flanner House Homes is a postwar residential neighborhood in Indianapolis developed in the 1950s as a housing project for African Americans. The project utilized the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission’s specifications, designated to fight against spreading slums and blight in the city.
The Indiana Redevelopment Act of 1945 allowed Indianapolis to establish a redevelopment commission to acquire and redevelop parcels throughout the city. The near northwest side of Indianapolis had been home to most of the city’s African American population for more than a generation and became a target for mid-twentieth century displacement and redevelopment. The site selected by the Commission for the Flanner House Homes, identified as “Project A,” included 178 acres with a mixture of industrial, commercial, and residential areas bounded by 16th Street to the north, West Street to the east, 10th Street to the south, and Milburn Street to the west. Flanner House, an Indianapolis social service agency founded in 1898 to serve the African American community, established a separate non-profit named Flanner House Homes, Inc. in 1945 to acquire, underwrite, and supervise the construction of a self-help housing development in “Project A.” In 1946, Flanner House Homes raised $200,000 to organize a construction shop, buy equipment, and establish a revolving loan fund. Flanner House Homes purchased the land and materials for each house, while also organizing training for participants and managing the project.
As a “sweat equity” housing project, participants were required to work a minimum of 20 hours each week to support the project. Participants worked in cooperative work groups to build the houses, gaining a skill set that would not only help in future maintenance of the structures, but in some cases also allow homeowners to find related employment. The builders in the program logged their sweat equity hours to count as a down payment. Once a participant completed his house (women were not allowed to participate in construction), he obtained a mortgage on the remaining value, typically $8,000 to $9,500. The actual value of the house ranged from $12,000 to $16,000.
Similar to other postwar neighborhoods, the houses sit towards the back of the lot with a deep front yard. The setback for most of the residences is identical throughout the district. While the designs of the houses included some standardization, the project allowed each individual builder to customize as well. The foundation slabs are a uniform 26 by 36 feet and all houses contain three bedrooms. Elevations and floor plans, designed by architect Alden Meranda, were varied. Most residences feature simple rectangular massing with gabled roofs; some feature a cross gable over the front entrance. The individual builder could customize exterior materials, resulting in a mix of limestone veneer, brick veneer, and siding throughout the neighborhood. The use of limestone veneer on the front facade in some capacity was a popular option for many of the builder-participants. Many of the houses have been altered with contemporary windows and siding prominent but despite these alterations, most retain their original form.
The main period of construction was 1950 to 1959, when approximately 180 houses were constructed as part of the program, with a total estimated completion value of $2 million. Flanner House declared the project a success; not only did it support homeownership but it also developed stronger communities and healthy neighborhoods since its residents had to work together in construction. By 1960, the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission declared “Project A” complete.
Many of the houses remain in the ownership of the original families. In the late twentieth century, however, much of the surrounding area experienced disinvestment. In 2013, a developer announced plans to demolish 35 of the neighborhood’s 181 houses in order to build a big-box suburban retail store. The district was highlighted on statewide preservation nonprofit Indiana Landmarks’ annual “10 Most Endangered” list. Public outcry over the proposed demolition led to abandonment of the proposed development.
Flanner House Homes Inc. “Flanner House Homes, Inc.: A non-profit self help project in community development.” Flanner House Homes, 1955. Indianapolis Flanner House: Helping People Help Themselves Collection, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Flanner House. “Flanner House and Its Program.” Flanner House, 1949. Indianapolis Flanner House: Helping People Help Themselves Collection, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission. Annual Report of the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission for the Year 1952. Indianapolis, IN: City of Indianapolis, 1952.
Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission. Annual Report of the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission for the Year 1959. Indianapolis, IN: City of Indianapolis, 1959.