This is going to be a shorter, sort of in-between post, as I work to finalize some future projects which are a little more in depth. Like many of my posts, this is related to my neighborhood, and struck me when I was walking my dog in the middle of last week. We had taken our normal route west on 44th Street to Sunset Ave., the southeastern most corner of Butler University’s campus. While we usually turn right to walk through campus, we turned left to walk towards Berkley Road, one block south.
The intersection of Berkley and Sunset is actually a “T” with Berkley Road ending at Sunset. At this point, the right of way for Berkley turns into a grassy strip of land, kind of a plaza or park area, with homes fronting the land on both sides. This plaza continues west for three blocks until ending at Haughey Avenue. This area is popularly known as the “Knoll,” or the “Berkley Knoll.” The video below is from the perspective of the "T" looking west.
The Knoll is a unique feature in the neighborhood, and it may be one of the few areas like this in the city. I know of one other similar feature, Washington Court, in the Meridian Park neighborhood. There may be others, but I’ll leave it to the readers to let me know if they are aware of a feature like the Knoll.
Anyway, as noted above, the Knoll runs for three blocks, and is crossed by Crown Street and Clarendon Road at each block. Sidewalks run on each side of the Knoll, just like they do along the road portion of Berkley farther to the east. All the homes in this section front the Knoll, with access provided via alleyways, named Berkley Place and Berkley Road. The Knoll is 43 feet wide as measured from each bordering sidewalk.
The land where the Knoll sits had been owned by the Blue family from the early days of Indianapolis, but was subdivided fairly early in the history of Butler-Tarkington and before Butler University had even moved from its Irvington campus. The first reference to the development was in 1916, where, at the time, the development was called Beverly Gardens (legal name for the property in this area is Fairview Park Addition). An advertisement in the Indianapolis News on September 16 was simple, and listed some attributes of the new addition, and the directions to reach the area, both by automobile and streetcar.
Development may have been a little slow, as three years later in 1919 a quarter page ad in the Indianapolis Star advertised the filming of a motion picture called “The Heritage,” at the Beverly Gardens site. The ad not only promoted the filming, but also the new addition and its attributes, including the way the addition was laid out with a central plaza area, as opposed to a street:
“Most attractive of all is the manner in which the tract is laid out-a charmingly landscaped row of gardens in front of the homes instead of a noisy street. Shrubbery and flower plots adorn this stretch of green and it is illuminated by artistic boulevard lights.”
Lots were advertised to be as low as $675, and the terms were “practically your own making.” Advertising for the addition continued for the next decade as the addition was developed fairly slowly. The numerous newspaper advertisements contained panoramic photos of the plaza and adjacent homes, mostly taken from the intersection of Berkley Road and Sunset. The clipping below from 1921 shows such a view. The two homes on either side of the plaza are both still standing and are visible in the video above.
The 1927 Baist map for the area showed relatively few homes constructed along the plaza, mostly centered to the east side of the development, which was the first to open. With the recent opening of Butler's Fairview Park campus, newspapers ads for the addition began to promote its proximity to the university as a attribute. The campus is just out of view on the top of the map below.
By 1941, more homes had been constructed, although there were still some empty lots as shown by the Sanborn map for that year below. Note, two different Sanborn maps were spliced together to create this image. The image on the right had a different tint, resulting in the quality issues you see below. Note the larger sized homes on the east (right) side of the Knoll, versus those closer to Haughey Ave., on the left. Note that the "Kreber" name for Berkley was used occasionally during this period.
The "Knoll" name by which the plaza is now called seems to be a more recent branding. I’m not sure where I learned this is what the area was called. We moved into the neighborhood almost 15 years ago, and we’ve seemed to always know it by that name. I spoke to residents who grew up in the neigjbrohood who confirmed that the "Knoll" name was not used when they were younger, and is a more recent development. In fact, there are not very many references to the Knoll found during research. Occasionally you’ll see posts to Twitter and Facebook about the Knoll, and Urban Indy did a blog post about the Knoll several years ago.
Newspaper searches reveal little, although the Butler Collegian mentions the Knoll occasionally, usually in regard to the Butler students who live in the homes that face the Knoll, as the area has developed a reputation for senior housing. In the later 2000’s and early 2010’s a music festival called “Knollfest” was held in the area. Additionally, the use of the “Knoll” moniker is used frequently in advertisements for rental properties along the stretch. The images below (use the arrows to slide to the next photo) were taken this past weekend, from the intersections of Berkley an Sunset, and Clarendon and the Knoll.
Today, the Knoll is still a greenspace, and is known for its large number of student rentals. Many of these student rented homes have been heavily modified to add more room and living space so landlords can jam as many students as possible into every nook and cranny. A walk through the Knoll on a Saturday or Sunday morning will often show debris from the previous night’s parties. Gardens and flowers referenced in the early newspaper articles are no longer present, although the Knoll is lined by mature trees, and some trees grow in the Knoll itself.
The Knoll has remained in a natural state, despite the development in the area. An article in the Butler Collegian in October 2019 interviewed a woman whose grandmother had lived along the Knoll, although she recounted how the Knoll had been a paved road until the 1990’s. I’m unclear about this statement, as aerial photos for the area show the Knoll in its current natural state continuously from 1941 onward. The aerial image below is from 1986.
Absent any development efforts from adjacent landlords or expansion southward by Butler University, the Knoll appears ready to continue into its second century of existence.
Indianapolis Star: October 19, 1919, April 14m 1929, October 9, 1938,
Indianapolis News: September 16, 1916, October 25, 1919, April 2, 1921, April 21, 1923, April 17, 1926
Weiner, Melissa, "Get to know your Knoll neighbor: The story of one long-term resident," Butler Collegian, https://thebutlercollegian.com/2019/10/get-to-know-your-knoll-neighbor-the-story-of-one-long-term-resident/
IUPUI Sanborn and Baist Map Collection: 1941 Sanborn (#'s 578 and 599K), 1927 Baist Map