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THE Miller house isn’t even open for tours yet, and already it has drawn a national buzz that would be the envy of any tourist attraction.
The modernist dwelling on Highland Way, which for a half-century was home to this city’s greatest philanthropists — the late J. Irwin and Xenia Miller and their family — officially will open to the public for limited tours May 10.
It is owned and operated by Indianapolis Museum of Art, which received the 8,028-square-foot building and surrounding grounds as a gift from the Miller children. In addition, the family also created a $5 million endowment to help pay for maintenance and operation costs.
Judging by the advance publicity given the Eero Saarinen creation, it’s likely that a lot of the early visitors will be from out of town.
So far the attraction has been or is scheduled to be the subject of articles and/or photo essays in the following: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Modernism, Elle Décor, Dwell, Travel & Leisure, Garden Design, Interiors, Midwest Living, Architectural Digest, North and Indianapolis Monthly.
The publicity ranges from a couple of paragraphs in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to a 10-page spread in Dwell magazine.
The text has been pretty effusive. Architectural Digest refers to the house as a “modernist triple threat,” owing to the overall vision of Saarinen, the landscape plan by Dan Kiley and the interior layouts of Alexander Girard.
Travel & Leisure described the home as “the most significant modernist residence in America.”
The advance publicity isn’t limited to print media. Ed Forgotson, a producer with the CBS “Sunday Morning” program, is expected in Columbus next week to scout the Miller property and arrange for film crews to record one of the early tours.
With all this attention, tickets for tours this spring could be among the hottest items in demand for any venue.
That’s due not just to the advance publicity and the natural draw of the iconic home, but the fact that tours are going to be limited to two per day, seven days a week.
They also will be limited to 15 people. The limits are due to a number of factors, one relating to a desire not to disrupt the northside neighborhood.
There’s an additional limitation in that visitors will have to go to Columbus Area Visitors Center, where they will be transported by a tour bus to the home. That bus was purchased by Indianapolis Museum of Art specifically for the Miller home.
The Visitors Center is serving as the local agent for the home in a joint arrangement with IMA. It has been in charge of training local volunteers who will be serving as tour guides.
“I think the IMA was really taken aback when we had 50 people sign up to be tour guides,” said Visitors Center Executive Director Lynn Lucas. “The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that the vast majority of people who live in Columbus had never been inside the grounds. It was, after all, the private home of the family.”
In fact, all 50 tour guides live in Bartholomew County, with one exception.
“We have a gentleman who lives in Louisville who wanted to be associated with the Miller home,” Lucas said.
Although there is an obvious universal appeal to the home and its former residents, special attention has been paid to the Columbus community throughout the planning process.
That’s due in large part to the insistence by family members that a number of stipulations in the original agreement pay heed to local considerations.
One dealt with the traffic that could have been created in the neighborhood — especially on the two-lane stretch of Washington Street that fronts the property — had visitors been given direct access into the property. Another had to do with access by local residents.
“The family insisted that some times be set aside so that the property be available for local residents to tour free of charge,” Lucas said. “Right now we’re looking at some times in January and February.”
OPENING DATE: May 10.
SCHEDULE: Tours are offered daily at 1 and 3 p.m. Visitors should arrive at Columbus Area Visitors Center at least 30 minutes before their scheduled tour.
LENGTH: Tours last about one hour. No photography is permitted.
ADMISSION: Tickets cost $20 per person.
TO ORDER TICKETS: imamuseum.org; columbus.in.us; or 800-468-6564.
Last week’s column about public buildings and facilities that have been named in honor of local residents had one unfortunate omission.
In listing the areas within Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. — most of which are named for local educators — I omitted the Robert Chappell Tennis Courts at Columbus North High School that were so named because of the contributions of the school’s legendary tennis coach, Bob Chappell.
He is in the Indiana High School Tennis Hall of Fame.
I should also mention that although he doesn’t have anything on BCSC property that bears his name, veteran North cross country coach Rick Weinheimer has a plaque in Noblitt Park that salutes his achievements.Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or by email at email@example.com.
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