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University Courts Historic District was signed into law on March 13, 2014. It is Bloomington's most consistent and coherent residential historic district, aesthetically linked by brick streets and substantial masonry walls. University Courts is a rare illustration of truly urban early twentieth-century design in a small Midwestern town. During University Courts development phase, single family homes were thoughtfully interspersed with duplexes and small apartment buildings. All were built at a comfortable and harmonious residential scale. Tree plots provided for the eventual mature tree canopy

 

History

The four original subdivisions in University Courts Historic District were platted between 1910 and 1913 on land that formerly belonged to an attorney and farmer Moses Dunn. The Dunn farm and property stood just east of the present neighborhood on the site of the Indiana University HPER building (the former Men's Gym). In 1883, after the fire at Seminary Square, the university began to construct a new campus on the Dunn farmstead. This immediately enhanced the real estate potential of all the adjacent land. The development at University Courts sought to capitalize on the proximity of what is now called the "Old Crescent."

The comfortable, gracious homes in "The Courts" were built by developers, limestone men, and others whose fortunes were made in business and industry. Many were the homes of distinguished members of Indiana University's academic community. The houses were constructed predominantly out of brick and limestone in the popular period revival styles of the day. Georgian, Spanish Colonial and Mission styles dominated in the 1920s and Colonial Revival in the 1930s. The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement is also evident throughout the district. The builders spared no expense in construction, selecting the very best materials and including every "modern convenience." Slate and tile roofs were common. No fewer than 13 buildings were designed by noted Bloomington architect John L. Nichols. The district is characterized by a relatively high number of architect-designed structures, reflecting both the affluence of its owners and the relatively greater number of practicing architects in the Bloomington market after 1920. University Courts can boast examples from at least 6 known architectural firms including Alfred Grindle, Edwin Doeppers, Burns & James, Merritt Harrison, Lowe and Bollenbacher, as well as Bloomington's own John L. Nichols.

Besides the men and women whose homes are described as part of this walking tour, other early residents of "The Courts" include: Agnes Wells, Indiana University Dean of Women; William Rawles, Dean of the School of Commerce and Finance; Zora Clevenger, Indiana University Athletic Director; Joseph and Agnes Nurre, of the Nurre Mirror Plate Company; Chester and Ethel Tourner, of the Tourner Coal Company; Tunie Buskirk, widow of prominent Bloomington lawyer; stone man Philip Kearny "P.K." Buskirk; and Kenneth Williams, professor of mathematics and celebrated author of a five volume history of the Civil War, Lincoln Finds a General; among many others.

University Courts, a neighborhood originally built to capitalize on its proximity to the University, suffered several demographic changes starting in the 1960s. The area was further endangered by the 1944 Master Plan for campus expansion. Original owners, who were mainly university professors and prominent local businessmen, began to age and sell their long-time homes. Many properties were converted to rentals or departmental annexes for the University. The area which once housed distinguished professors found itself increasingly defenseless in the face of maintenance issues and the clash between student and resident occupants. The struggle to preserve University Courts continued over more than three decades.

The University Courts Historic District was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in June of 1992, but was not listed until December of 2007, overcoming much opposition and controversy. The wealth of architectural styles, rich variety of building materials, retaining walls, and Bloomington's only remaining brick streets create a charming and unique environment, a synthesis of "town and gown." The story of University Courts is one of patience and persistence in the face of adversity. Today the properties are well maintained and a credit to both the University and property owners.

University Courts Design Guidelines

Use the Design Guidelines produced especially for University Courts. They are intended to guide the Historic Commission in their decision making, they are not intended to be inflexible regulations. A neighborhood design subcommittee will also recommend requests to the Commission. On page 9 of the Guidelines, there is list of things that DO NOT require a COA. The goal of this process is to preserve the features, architecture, and ambiance of the University Courts Historic District. 

University Courts Design Guidelines

Here is a selection from the neighborhood mission statement:

"These guides to the maintenance and modification of historic buildings outline flexible goals that include preservation and protection of our neighborhood's diverse architectural significance and retention of its historical integrity and fabric. To encourage a balanced approach, the district adopts a set of flexible guidelines that focuses on the conservation of green spaces, the ability to age gracefully in place, and ecologically sound energy practices including alternative energy sources, as well as to cultivate a working relationship with the city and university. Our neighborhood acknowledges its role as a point of convergence between university and town. To enhance its vitality, neighbors support reversions of single family homes from multi-unit to lesser intensity and duplexes to single-family if the facades remain intact. Ultimately, fostering the stability and enhancement of University Courts will enrich the collegiate atmosphere as well."