The new owner of the infamously gaudy Kessler Mansion in the Fall Creek Valley neighborhood plans to redevelop the property into a small apartment community, after quietly acquiring the site earlier this year.
Spann Alexander REIG LLC bought the property in early March for $660,000, with plans to convert the cobbled-together mansion at 4923 Kessler Boulevard East Drive—consisting of multiple houses that are connected to one another—into 10 apartment units.
Originally built in 1953, the mansion for decades was owned by Jerry Hostetler, a local construction magnate who died in 2006. Hostetler was widely known for his larger-than-life personality and physique. According to The Indianapolis Star, he made the local papers in 1964 for pleading guilty to running prostitutes.
The home is about as unique as they come, spanning about 30,000 square feet between six different buildings on a 1.66-acre lot. It became known for its jumbled design styles, random statuary, oddly shaped windows and a plethora of indoor and outdoor staircases. In 2013, a story in the business magazine Fast Company asked, “Is This the Ugliest House in America?”
Indiana-born technology entrepreneur Chad Folkening bought the home and on multiple occasions tried to unload it, eventually selling the property to Spann Alexander.
Eric Armstrong, a principal with Spann Alexander, said the firm plans to spend about $1.5 million to modify the house for apartment uses, and will rename the property Chateaus at Kessler Mansion.
The project will be missing some of the lavish finishes for which Hostetler was known. Many of his prized possessions have been sold in estate sales over the years, including one earlier this year.
Each unit in the proposed development would have a distinct layout, with many spanning multiple floors. Asking rent for the apartments, which will include six three-bedroom and four four-bedroom units, will be run from $1,800 to $3,200 per month.
“This is a property that has a lot of character and potential, but it’s one that is going to require a special plan—and I like properties that have those kinds of challenges,” Armstrong told IBJ. “A lot of time has been spent talking to the neighbors surrounding the property and letting them address issues and challenges that they’ve had. We’re hoping to correct a lot of those, so this property is a better neighbor, and not such an eyesore on Kessler.”
The development plan indicates there will be shared amenities including the existing pool, recreational green space, a grilling area, a fitness area and multiple decks. New security lighting is expected to be installed, and a rear portion of the property will be paved to create a 26-space parking lot.
The plan also indicates property management will not allow large parties at the home or for the units to be subleased. It’s also expected to be connected to city sewer and water, rather than remain on the septic system on which it has relied since its construction.
Armstrong acknowledged that “a lot of people” would like to see the mansion torn down, but he said the decision to propose the alternative of apartments means the property won’t become a large apartment building that doesn’t fit in with the character of the rest of the neighborhood.
“I think 10 units, with on-site property management, is something that a lot of people are comfortable with, particularly with some limitations in the development plan on the number of number of adults per unit,” he said. “This is a cost-effective way to bring it closer to what the rest of the neighborhood is.”
Spann Alexander is expected to request approval for its project from the city’s Metropolitan Development Commission on Wednesday—specifically, to rezone the property from a D-2, dwelling designation, to D-P for a planned development. City staff, however, is recommending denial of the request.
Additionally, three nearby property owners said in letters to the city that they are opposed to the project, largely due to concerns increased density would devalue their property. At least one detractor was opposed for numerous reasons, including the decision to retain the existing building, concerns with green space and the fact the rental units would be surrounded entirely by single-family homes.
Neither Kessler View Neighborhood Association nor Millersville at Fall Creek Neighborhood Association formally shared a position on the project with city officials. However, The Greater Allisonville Community Council Inc. said it was supportive of the project.
Armstrong acknowledged that while the project isn’t in line with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for the property, he’s hopeful the MDC would support it as a solution for a troubled site.
A timeline for the project has not yet been finalized.