Southsider Voice editor
Indiana Landmarks has announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Landmarks,” and a new entry is the Mills House at 944 Fry Road in Greenwood.
The unusual home, nestled back a short way from the road, is surrounded by stately trees on rolling land that features hills and ravines. Bushes that once accentuated the sidewalk now grow into the walkway. Signs of flower beds and landscaping are merely long-gone suggestions.
The history of the house dates to 1955, when Ernie Mills, who loved Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural work, contracted with Harry Cooler to design the house.
Cooler took his inspiration from Wright’s Usonian houses, giving the building a flat roof and broad overhanging eaves, clerestory windows and a broad cantilevered balcony. The house blurs the distinction between inside and outside, with walls of floor-to-ceiling glass, many doors to the outside and fieldstone and other natural materials used inside and out.
Mills owned a company that sold Formica counter tops and cabinetry, and he used his home as a showcase for his products. He and his family lived in the home after it was finished in 1956.
The current owner is D. Charles Gantz, who had legal offices on the property. The home is listed under the name of Atlas Property Group but is still owned by Gantz. A sign by the driveway shows phone numbers for Atlas Property and Abbey Church Properties, which seems to indicate the businesses are still operating at this location.
Atlas Property is listed as a commercial and residential real estate firm, and Abbey Church Properties is listed as the newest division of the company.
In February 2013, Lisa Gantz, a representative of Atlas Property, indicated on the company’s Facebook page that the house is being restored and will be for rent; there are no plans to sell it. Gantz also noted that the company would be transitioning to St. Petersburg, Fla.
How long the house has been vacant is unknown. What is known is that it has been deteriorating for years with a leaking roof and rotting soffits. Outdoor security lights on the second floor flail in the breeze, and ineffective tarps on the roof are blown out of place.
Cooler, vigorous at 88, says the damage could be repaired if it isn’t allowed to escalate. While the owner values the architecture of the house, he doesn’t match his admiration with rehab action, so a pre-eminent mid-century modern landmark is slipping away.
There have been no repair estimates at this time.
When asked what is the next step for Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services, said, “We would like to assist Mr. Gantz to determine a beneficial future for the property. If he decides to sell it, we may assist him in marketing it to a preservation-minded buyer who will restore it. We do have some modest grant funds available, which we might use to determine the structural issues the house may have or to determine costs for rehabilitation. It is an excellent example of mid-century modern design, and we think it deserves better than to end up in the landfill.”
Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit preservation organization, said, “Our mission is to save meaningful places. ... But they’re not lost causes – all have the potential for revival and reuse.
“These landmarks preserve connections to community heritage and restoring them can spur broader revitalization.”
Indiana Landmarks uses its endangered list to bring attention to the imperiled sites and find solutions that will ensure their preservation.
Gantz told Dollase that he was seriously considering selling the house. Hopefully, he will make a decision soon so this Southside prize will have a chance to be removed from the list.
To find out more about the endangered landmarks, visit www.indianalandmarks.org or call 639-4534 or 800-450-4534.