Allison Mansion

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Indianapolis, IN
United States
Allison Mansion

Now part of Marian University campus, this 64-acre property situated high on a bluff overlooking Crooked Creek was originally “Riverdale,” the summer home of James Allison, co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and owner of a number of automobile engine manufacturing companies. In 1910 he hired local architect Herbert Bass, and then Philadelphian William Price, to design the Arts and Crafts red brick mansion, and Chicago landscape architect Jens Jensen to design the grounds.

Much of Jensen’s design has since been incorporated into the layout of the university. A singular curvilinear drive, designed to provide access to the mansion and grounds, serves as a circulation route for the greater campus. The rear of the mansion overlooks a large meadow and several Jensen-created ponds with informal walkways, now part of the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab. Remnant forest surrounds the mansion, and to the southwest the trees were cleared to create a series of formal gardens by Jensen, on axis with the house. Cedars and barberry line the perimeters of the gardens and brick pathways lead to lawn terraces accented with benches and sculptural elements. Two rustic limestone stairways provide access from the gardens to the EcoLab below. A series of columns are all that remain of Jensen’s arced stone colonnade, which once encircled a rose garden with a central fountain. The Sisters of Saint Francis, who purchased the property for their college in 1936, replanted the garden with perennials, and replaced the fountain with a sculpture of Saint Francis. The estate was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.