Tuckaway, built in 1906, was purchased by George Phillip Meier and Nellie Simmons Meier in 1910. Nellie loved its country cottage look; and even though it was necessary to enlarge and reapportion the structure to accommodate their many elegant possessions and provide a suitable space for entertaining the large social circle the Meiers gathered around them, she insisted that the bungalow effect and setting in the trees be maintained.
The roof was raised and set on the ground. Several rooms at the front were gutted to create a great drawing room. A second story was added at the rear. And the roof was replaced. The sun room was added some time later as a gift from Indianapolis architect and investor, Fermor Cannon. An apartment over the garage — built for the housekeeper — was modified later for Eva LeGallienne, who was a guest of the Meiers while she was doing summer stock in Indianapolis. She called it her “chateau in the tree tops.”
Newspaper articles of the time described the sumptuous furnishings, many of which the Meiers collected on their yearly summer visits to Europe. Photographs taken at the time help us visualize how Tuckaway looked to the many famous people who enjoyed the Meiers’ hospitality and friendship. Various correspondence from these people describe visits and dinner parties there and further add to our understanding of the home and the ambiance it provided.
George Phillip Meier was a fashion designer of some reputation in Indianapolis and on the continent. Newspaper articles inform us that he opened a “ladies tailoring and dressmaking residence” at 962 North Pennsylvania on September 10, 1889. Diaries at L.S. Ayres Department Store tell us that they opened a shop for him in their store in 1901, and he remained there until his death in 1931.
Nellie Simons Meier made her international reputation reading palms. Her approach, which she referred to as “scientific palmistry,” was based not on some occult version of fortune telling, but on studying the relationship of lines on the palm to “character traits” and compiling from this “Character Readings.” The great amount of data collected as well as carefully researched books and manuscripts show that Nellie did indeed approach the endeavor as a “study.”
Volumes of correspondence show that her meticulous work was rewarded by the respect of her contemporaries, including Lowell Thomas, Albert Einstein, George Gershwin, Frederick March, Amelia Earhart, Duncan Hines, Margaret Sanger, Elsie de Wolf, Carol Lombard, Mary Pickford, Ramon Navarro, James Whitcomb Riley, Meredith Nicholson among others. At the request of Franklin Roosevelt, 137 palms and character analyses are housed in the Library of Congress. She refused to tell fortunes and seems to have been consulted, often times in the course of a lifetime, by those who appreciated her talent and skill as a counselor. For us, she has provided a glimpse of the personalities of her era and of the concerns which she and her contemporaries felt important.
Owner of the home, Mr. Keene, has called Tuckaway “a study piece of the early twentieth century.” It is especially fine study piece in that so many of the factors that epitomized the era and created the ambiance within which the era unfolded are still available to the student. The house, pictures of the occupants and furnishings, clippings and correspondence of the professional lives and friendships of the owners and most of their famous contemporaries, gowns which George Phillip Meier designed and his family and clients wore, and the memories of friends, clients, and professional associates who knew them are at hand to reconstruct a picture of life in Indianapolis and the popular culture of our nation in the first half of the last century.
After the Meiers glorious reign, Mr. Keene purchased the house in 1972 from their niece, Ruth Austin, a well-known dancer and teacher of modern dance and ballet. Mr. Keene inherited many of the Meiers’ personal effects and has restored the home to its salon-style elegance, adding many of his own finds to enhance and honor its rich history.
For its architecture and historic role, Tuckaway was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s. At the time of its inclusion, it was one of a few private homes listed on the National Register. Tuckaway sits within the Historic Meridian Park Neighborhood just a few miles north of bustling downtown Indianapolis. The home is still nestled away in the trees much like when Nellie fell in love with its quiet charm.
Ken Keene and Tuckaway are prominently featured in an article about bungalows in Indianapolis in Indy Spirit in American Bungalow magazine.