We were very happy to be featured in a local Indianapolis magazine. For those friends of mine who probably won’t make it to the city before all the issues are bought in a mad fury by crowds wanting to see the article, I have been kind enough to include a low-res scan here for you.
This weekend is the Celebrate Irvington festival, taking place in the neighborhood. It’s going to be an interesting event as this year will be combined with the unveiling of a new marketing campaign and coinciding with the Irvington Art Walk.
Unfortunately, I will be out of town this weekend bumming around NYC (woohoo!) so it’s up to everyone else to make this event great and show support for all the businesses and artists in the neighborhood. But I thought it would be fun to show some photos and pieces from last year’s event, where we hosted an artist and the photography club in the icehouse main space.
Artwork perched safely on the steel walls and the easels
It’s a great venue for *Large* art items
New email from IDO says there will be additional events to sweeten the deal. Audubon Court
will be open for viewing, and IDO representatives will be on-hand to discuss the new Irvington logo and the streetscape
project breaking ground next year.
You might have noticed I haven’t said too much about the icehouse renovation this year. The only reason is that we haven’t made any progress. There are a few reasons for this…
- it’s a hell of a time to find a construction loan, esp. for a weird project like this
- we have been way too successful in our jobs this year, i.e. lots of overtime
- we have been spending our free time working on our other property
Basically life has been treating us very well. The bad news is that I don’t think we will be able to host any events like we did last year, it is always so fun to open up the place and fill it with art and such. But like any large project you must be able to enjoy the process, and so we are taking advantage of the downtime by really planning what to do with the icehouse.
I imagine we will take another year to let the economy do its thing, then hit the ground running at the end of next winter. I know it makes for a boring blog, but there is always plenty of engineering topics to discuss!
So far 2009 has turned out to be an interesting year.
1. Cold Weather – I mean cold. It’s no secret that my current living conditions in the icehouse are best described as temporary. We expected to be much further ahead on the renovation at this point, so the arctic weather was not welcome. My brick walls were not effective at blocking out the cold, the windows wouldn’t stay closed, and my poor little heat pump wasn’t pumping out heat. Compounding these issues was the fact that my plumbing froze up. I left the taps running but it did not help. So last week I came home and was greeted by the site of an exploded water filter housing and ice crystals all over. No heat and no running water make for a bad weekend experience.
2. Happy Wife – one of my goals was to make sure Heather was provided a space that she felt comfortable in. Obviously, this would include heat and running water. We discussed a few options and decided that a backup house would be best. We also wanted to stay nearby to the icehouse and within Irvington. So, thanks to the financial crisis and rapidly falling home prices, we were able to purchase a bank-owned home for a great price that was right in the middle of historic Irvington on the North side of Washington Street. Some people might say we are crazy for investing even more in real estate, but I say that desperate times (I need to shower, see above) call for desperate measures.
But don’t worry, we are still passionate about fixing up the icehouse. I think the new place will allow us a lot more freedom in what we are able to work on. Thus, instead of working hard to keep one bathroom and bedroom operating at all times, we can just gut the place and build from the bottom up. I’ve also got some great ideas on what stuff we need to recycle into other parts of the building.
3. Windows – I found a possible source for all our window needs. Salvaged steel windows saved out of an old industrial building. A glass artist saved them all because of the unique blue/cobalt glass panels. He doesn’t have any plans for the steel itself, so I just need to verify they will work for our situation. They were installed in huge panels with operable casements. It looks like a good match compared to the original windows, but I don’t know if I want to reconfigure all the masonry if they are too big. I like the glass masonry blocks too much to replace those, but there are about 20-30 cheap wooden windows that need to be replaced.
ice storage structure – before refrigeration
These days we take fresh food for granted, but keeping food refrigerated was a difficult prospect until the middle of the 20th century. Harvesting ice was an important industry everywhere in the world. Ice was saved for the summertime in icehouses. To make use of the ice to cool food, an icebox was employed. This pre-cursor to the modern refrigerator had several drawbacks, but mainly a melting block of ice that had to replaced constantly and usually left a large mess.
When clean surface water sources began to get scarce, technology came to the rescue. Industrial refrigeration technology allowed for artificial freezing of water. This meant ice could be produced in a factory setting right in the communities where it was needed. People quickly realized the benefits of this and thousands of ice factories all across the U.S. were in operation near the turn of the 20th century. Home ice production was not feasible until a safe and reliable process was developed (starting circa 1916), but eventually home production spelled the end of the ice factories.
Ice factories played a vital role in American city development, helping cities to sever the link between food production and food consumption (for better or worse). As these important structures were fading into obscurity around mid-century, the Historic American Building Survey
program was able to catch some of them in action. The best example is the Milford Ice and Coal Company
in Delaware (built 1893).
Milford Ice & Coal Company – a modern ice factory
Our own icehouse had a very similar process to the original system used here. Fresh water was fed from a water tank up high (the tower) into steel tanks surrounded by chilled refrigerant.
The water freezes in galvanized containers and is retrieved by a hoist crane
The block of ice is stored in a room below
The block of ice is sliced into smaller sizes and ready for delivery
I suppose this is a chipper machine, don’t put your arm in
A finely detailed plan
There are modern HABS floor plans and elevations on the website. It’s not the most user friendly website, but HABS is a great resource. They have historic photos of just about every kind of structure you can imagine. Just like any academic/library search, you should expect to come up with a lot of synonyms in order to find what you are really looking for.
Here are HABS records of two other ice factories:
The Irvington Ice and Coal Company began operation in 1916. The company was founded in the city of Irvington by a few local businessmen eager to fulfill a growing need for ice. It was near the commercial area of Irvington served by trains and streetcars, and situated adjacent to the railroad tracks. The building was very industrial in appearance, and slightly more modern than the other commercial buildings in Irvington. There was little adornment, no fancy awnings or architectural features, and the front entrance was easy to ignore.
The original Plat Plan showing a basic layout and floorplan
You can imagine trying to get a building like this put into a suburban neighborhood these days, it would be difficult if not impossible. Of course, we have records of opposition to its “offensive architecture” by the neighbors so it’s clear that it wasn’t easy back then either. The neighborhood continued expanding beyond the icehouse for some time, but when times got rough the railroad tracks seemed to be the dividing line and now the building is squarely on the wrong side. We are the first property outside the Irvington Historic District, which is truly a wonderful place.
The picture above captured a moment early in the history of the company. It’s a picture of a summer morning where the drivers are just about to start making their deliveries. Icehouses were full of modern technology and their product really benefitted everyone’s daily life. It made ice (and therefore fresh food) readily available and certainly improved people’s diets. But let’s get back to the building.
The company also sold coal during the winter, as was common practice for these businesses. The large piles in the photo above are actually huge chunks of coal. The railroad would deliver a large supply and the coal was stored on site throughout the winter.
Smaller rail tracks on the property allowed special vehicles to move and load the coal onto waiting trucks or carts. From there the coal was sold at the storefront or delivered in a similar manner to the ice blocks. I don’t rightly know what the little shed was for, but maybe to keep the residential orders out of the rain and ready for immediate sale.
Company letterhead from 1929
This model of business continued until self-refrigerating iceboxes became available. Ice wasn’t necessary anymore, so coal and heating oil became the important products. I believe ice was still sold, but not made on-site.
Here’s a heating fuel delivery truck circa 1960′s just about to go out for a delivery. At this point the icehouse building has been through several changes. The steel framed windows have been replaced with glass block. The ice-making machinery inside has likely all been sold off or scrapped, and the business has moved into the smaller commercial annex. While the Irvington Ice & Fuel company continued to deliver to the neighborhood, competition from other service providers and modern technology made it uneconomical to operate much longer. The property was sold in the mid-1960′s, but the heating oil delivery business stayed on site much longer.
The second owner was Custom Models Inc. This company specialized in sheetmetal fabrication and prototyping. Major clients included RCA. All those TV’s and VCR’s were first prototyped, and shops like this one created the sheetmetal forms to attach all the components to. It was a great business to be in at that time.
As you can see from the photo above, Custom Models made some large changes to the property. All of the original rooflines were overbuilt with either metal or asphalt roofs. The top of the tower collapsed due to disrepair and a small gable roof was built in its place. New metalworking machinery was placed in the icehouse and several shed buildings adjacent to the original structure were built for additional workspace. The coal yard became a parking lot for the employees, and the city claimed some of the property for their right of way.
As time passed, RCA and similar companies were moving all production offshore to lower their costs. These days, I don’t think prototypes are made anywhere, everything is checked on the computer screen. However, Custom Models stayed in business up until 2006 and probably could have gone on much longer had the family owners not lost their son (and manager of the business) to cancer some years ago.
The business owner’s former partner still has a workshop in the neighborhood, though, so I get to hear plenty of fun stories about life in the shop. There are also quite a few ex-employees living in the neighborhood, and they all have fond memories of working for the family owned business.
Now that we own the property, we are trying to renovate it in a creative way that keeps as much of the historic fabric as possible, while still being a comfortable residence. We very much appreciate the history of the building, it’s one of the reasons we live here and I desperately want to preserve the feel of the industrial setting. With any luck there’ll be a lot more layers of history added in the future!
We started renovating the apartment in the icehouse in August 2007. The existing space wasn’t in too bad condition, but we decided to go all out and strip it down and rebuild it. I think it turned out to be the right decision, especially considering how much debris we extracted. The room was originally the employee break room, and as such it had some residential features and so was a natural place to begin the entire project. A few decades ago it was converted into a real apartment where people lived, so it did have a kitchen and bathroom.
Here is the old living room. Wonderful linoleum with newspaper backing, luan (sp?) walls, drop ceilings, cheap windows, small closed in rooms, disgusting wallpaper, and an electrical/plumbing layout that almost made me cry…
Oh the horror, the absolute horror of this wallpaper! I probably shouldn’t mention the dead mouse behind the stove…
This is where we moved into for our temporary lodgings. It is the bottom floor of the tower (now known as the guest dungeon) with 24″ thick masonry walls. Living here was great, except the bathroom was at the other side of the house. Now that we have the nearby bathroom working well, this has become our guest room and includes a sofa, chair, TV, and A/C unit.
Ah, the first cut!
Work begins on refurbishing the old apartment. We ripped all the old wall panels down, cleared the floor off, cut down all the interior walls, and removed all mechanical components. That part was fun, except for the decades worth of dust and debris that would fall down in your face every time you touched something. Respirators were worth their weight in gold in this phase.
After everything was stripped down to original surfaces, we began building back up. Starting with many layers of paint to seal out the nastiness that once was. I think we have about 6 layers of paint and primer now, it’s glorious. A spray gun is definitely the best way to paint brick, I recommend you purchase a good one because it cuts your time to 1/10 of hand painting.
Here is Heather balancing on top of the ladder and painting our ceiling beams. We used a primer that would convert some of the existing rust into an inert compound, but otherwise just treated it like a normal surface. The beams looks great and add a lot of detail to the room now, and are great for hanging things from.
Speaking of paint guns, our little handheld was barely adequate for the walls. When it came to painting overhead it didn’t even work because of the paint feed system. We bought a contractor version with a separate pump and gun and life got much easier. You just stick the feed hose into the bucket of paint and spray like crazy. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of the project. Do yourself a favor and get the right tools for the job.
You might notice that nobody ever took a photo of me working on anything. Part of that is because around this time I managed to seriously wound myself. I fell off our loading dock onto a broken ceramic toilet and cut my left arm open. Miraculously I didn’t cut an artery, vein, or large nerve, but everything else was severed. Try this if you aren’t squeamish: ArmDamage.jpg All of my extensor tendons had to be re-connected and many weeks of therapy followed before I was able to use it again. I still remember the first day I could hold a beer in my hand, it was glorious.
In the meantime, I called on all my friends and coworkers for help. The winter was rapidly approaching and we had nowhere to stay warm. Luckily, we received a great response from everyone and after a few work weekends the apartment project was substantially complete. Thanks to all who pitched in, your assistance was truly noble.
Heather’s boss helped to re-plumb the hot water heater and install a filter. We still don’t drink the water but the filter does improve the water quality.
My friends David and Matt helped me run conduit for the main bedroom. Everything works great, so thanks for the help once more, guys!
My friend Tom with the big drill, helping me run conduit for later work. I am just about to start major work in this area, so hopefully we can double our finished living space within the next few months.
The old sink base was custom built in the apartment because the room’s door is too small to pass it through. We decided to keep it, which meant that when it was time to do the floors we had to levitate from the ceiling. Just another one of those wacky things you gotta do to get the job done.
Once the floor was finished, it was just a simple matter of putting the furniture back into the room, all by way of this beautifully preserved industrial ship’s ladder. No railing, no problem. honestly, the railing would have prevented us getting any furniture into the space because you the stairs are too narrow. Now that we’ve moved in we did install a chain railing, and that adds a level of psychological comfort that is hard to underestimate.
The final result is absolutely great. We repurposed a lot of our old furniture and things we found, and it all came together beautifully. The choice to use only black and white furniture and paint really makes our artwork pop out from the walls, it is quite nice.
The open shelving for the pantry makes it seem a bit messy at times, but convenient. Having the open space in general makes the apartment feel bigger, and the dogs get to run around and bark all they want.
As the final missing piece, we found two cats that match the decor. Here’s Charlie doing what she loves best, fantasizing about a fresh meal. We often had a wet cat until we unpacked the aquarium hood. But all is well now and everyone gets along very well in our small space.
So that was our first renovation project, and we finished it around January of 2008 after all was said and done. We have been waiting to start work on other parts of the property while we worked out financing options and got our plans fully worked out. If you know how hard it is to get a loan in this market, imagine what it’s like to get one for a project that doesn’t resemble anything else in town. But of course, that is a post for another day. Thanks once again to all who helped us on the apartment renovation.
Last winter I started an enormous project; my wife and I purchased an old industrial property, the Irvington Ice and Coal Company building, to renovate and convert into our residence. It was built in 1916, and was operational as an ice and coal distributor until ca. 1965. From that point until 2006 it was a sheetmetal fabrication shop. We are the third owners. We did an interview with the Irvington Development Organization about it, it’s a good overview if you are interested.
I fell in love with this property for many reasons. There is the old water tower in the front, which adds a great focal point for the property. Another is the huge shop floor inside, it is definitely a unique space with the old steel trusses and concrete ceiling. It also has some great garages that were converted from the old horse stable and wagon shed. But the main reason I love this place is because we’re right in the neighborhood of Irvington, and it’s rare that you can get such an urban industrial space located inside an old neighborhood like this.
I’ve posted some more pics of the property on picasa. We plan to renovate the old industrial space into a modern loft-style residence incorporating all of the old industrial features as architectural detail. I’ll share all the important details in a later post.
While we currently live in a 500 sq. ft. apartment space, our plan is to convert the entire building to useful residential space. This is a difficult endeavor, because it is a dramatically filthy, dirty industrial space. Pile on years of neglect and deferred maintenance, in addition to the fact it was never meant to be housing, and you’ve got yourself a large project no matter how you stack it.
Large projects can be a lot of fun or they can be quite stressful. You have to always remember that you are doing it for a reason and learning a lot in the process, or you might not enjoy it. Maybe you have to be a bit crazy too. For those who have passed the “must be this insane to ride” test, it just kind of makes sense. Fulfilling your dreams always takes hard work and risk. We bought the place in January 2007, but waited to officially begin work on it while we took care of bureaucratic necessities. Small scale renovation work started in August 2007, it wasn’t exactly “move-in ready”.
We were basically camping out for the first 5 months while we prepared our apartment. We eventually figured out how to use the office with an A/C while using the bathroom on the other side of the building for showers and everything else. Of course that meant a long cold walk across a dirty shop floor every time you wanted to get clean, but that’s another story. Our kitchen included a refrigerator and a toaster oven. I eventually broke down and bought a hot plate, and that made the best spaghetti I’ve ever had.
Our “apartment” turned out pretty well, and I love living here now. I’ll do a write-up on our apartment remodel soon, but for right now you’ll have to settle for the photos below and some of the before/after pics. Now that we’ve got a place to live and bathe, we’re looking to expand our functional space by moving the kitchen somewhere else and enlarging our bathroom and closet. That would give us a freaking awesome master suite. But like everything in life, it’s a question of resource allocation. Should we spend $X on a new bathroom, or spend it on a new lamborghini murcielago (yeah right). Let’s go ahead and make the assumption that I don’t have enough money to do everything I want to do right now, so the question really is what is a need and what is a want?
The old apartment space (originally the break room) had drop ceilings, bad lighting, ugly panelling and wallpaper, small closed in rooms, linoleum and shag carpeting, and was just a total disaster
The renovated apartment has high open ceilings, exposed brickwork, a simple color scheme, no interior walls for open flow, and plenty of room to put all our stuff
As you can see from the apartment renovation pics, we’ve got a pretty good start on this project and I think we know where we are headed. But there is only one way to get from here to there, and that is through a lot of hard work and organization. The end product will be well worth the effort, as it is with just about any project like this. Keep your eyes on the prize and remain firm in your resolve. If you ever get discouraged about your progress just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I have lived through one summer and one winter in this space now, so I feel like I have a good idea of what the heating and cooling requirements will be. Basically, we need to figure out some way of insulating the space along all the exterior walls and the ceiling. Using zoned heating/cooling areas will help too, as all the spaces vary in size and load requirements.
I strongly believe in environmental responsibility, and I’m happy to say the final product will be very efficient with power and material requirements. We are recycling our building – which provides a wealth of information about early icehouse operations as well as being an important historic resource in our local community of Irvington. We are enrolled 100% in the IPL renewable energy program, so every kWh used here comes from renewable energy sources. We are just beginning our steps to manage our stormwater runoff, with the eventual goal of collecting, filtering, and returning all water safely to the local watershed. We are insulating exterior walls and using an efficient HVAC system.
If anyone has suggestions about this kind of thing, please drop me a line. I’m learning as much as I can as fast as I can, so all help is very much appreciated. Expect more great things to come!