TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute’s 12 Points neighborhood is like a little village all its own.
Called 12 Points because it is at the intersection of Lafayette Avenue, Maple Avenue and North 13th Street — creating three distinct intersections with four corners each — the area has long had its own feel and it continues to play an important role in Terre Haute’s social and economic landscape.
“I love it,” said longtime 12 Points business owner Cecil Tilford, who has operated Tilford’s Variety Store in 12 Points since 1968 and is known to some as the “mayor” of 12 Points. “It’s just like a small town,” he said.
Twelve Points was “hot” when Anita Parkhurst, who now co-owns a business in the neighborhood, was a young girl and would visit the area. Parkhurst, 50, remembers eating Coney dogs in 12 Points and buying candy at Tilford’s Variety Store, she said.
Yet 12 Points also is struggling to stay alive. A large number of vacant and sometimes condemned buildings dot the landscape. Outside several storefronts, the smell of burned wood and plastic from recent fires still lingers in the air.
“12 Points is just kind of a neglected area, unfortunately,” said Jay Jones, owner of the 12 Points Hotel and several other buildings in the area. Jones, who has been active in the neighborhood since 1998, is the landlord for a number of small business tenants and also is an advocate for keeping the historic feel of 12 Points, often using his own money to promote the cause.
Yet Jones, who told the Tribune-Star in 1998 that he hoped the neighborhood could evolve into something like Broad Ripple in Indianapolis, seems a little less optimistic today.
“There’s not a lot of incentive to invest up here,” Jones said. Some of the buildings are beautiful, but much of what he is doing to the historic buildings he owns are just “stop gap” measures, he said. “It’s usually a break-even proposition,” Jones said.
What might be
But Jones and others in 12 Points continue to see potential for much more than the neighborhood currently offers. Many business owners in the district believe that just a few new businesses are all that’s needed for a major breakthrough.
“This is a cool area and we’d like to see it rejuvenated,” said Neil Ward, owner of Medusa’s hair salon on the corner of Lafayette and Maple Avenues. Ward, who set up his hair salon inside the former 12 Points State Bank building two years ago, would like to see a coffee shop, an art gallery and even other hair salons move into the neighborhood.
“You have to make a destination,” Ward said. With a few new businesses, 12 Points “could be very cool,” he said.
People have been saying similar things about 12 Points, however, for several years.
A 1984 Tribune-Star article quoted a 12 Points business owner saying the neighborhood needed a fast-food restaurant to bring in more visitors. Even then some were speaking of the neighborhood’s “deterioration” and looking back several decades to find the district’s “heyday.”
“Sometimes I call it Jay’s folly,” Jones said of his efforts to restore the 12 Points Hotel and other buildings in the neighborhood. There are simply not enough businesses in the neighborhood anymore to maintain the buildings, he said. And the infrastructure, such as the sidewalks, needs a lot of work, he said.
Jones and other members of the 12 Points Greater Northside Merchants Association worked recently to get the neighborhood listed on the state and national registers of historic places, something that lends a little prestige to the area, Jones said.
The district also now can receive charitable contributions as a 501(c)(3) organization, Jones said.
But the historic designation does nothing to prevent older buildings from being torn down or changed, Jones said. He has tried hard to bring historic buildings in the neighborhood back to their original looks, he said.
“When we lose a historic building, that’s the end of that story,” Jones said.
Old buildings with a lot of historic character are a fairly common feature in 12 Points.
Apart from the hotel, the 12 Points State Bank building, which later became Merchants Bank and then Old National, there is another historic bank building at 13th and Maple, where Parkhurst’s Sewing Lounge is now. She and the business’s co-owner, Denny Thompson Jr., said they were attracted to the location by the inside of the old building, which includes a bank vault, now used as a fitting room.
“Everyone wants to talk about the vault,” Parkhurst said.
In addition to fixing up his buildings, Jones also worked to restore a historic Coca Cola advertisement on the brick exterior wall of the 12 Points Hotel facing Maple Avenue. He and others worked to make the sign look just as it did more than 50 years ago, he said.
A good place to go
Many people remember when 12 Points was a very active and vibrant part of Terre Haute.
Carolyn Dreher Burke, who grew up a few blocks from 12 Points in the 1940s and ’50s, remembers watching World War II news reels at the Swan and Garfield movie theaters that served 12 Points. She also remembers shopping at West’s Drug Store on Lafayette, window shopping at Mi-Lady’s Dress Shop on Maple Avenue and getting grilled cheese sandwiches and cold Cokes at the Steak ’n Shake.
Burke also remembers when the streets of 12 Points would be closed each year for a fall festival, complete with rides.
“It was just a good place to go,” Burke said. Every Friday night, she and other kids from the area would meet at the movie theater, sit in sections according to which school they attended and enjoy the shows. “It was always a lot of fun,” she said.
The 12 Points Hotel also has a colorful past.
For many years, the hotel was operated by Eddie Gosnell, husband of Terre Haute’s famous Madame Brown and one of the city’s “Red Light District” kingpins, according to a history of the district by local historian Mike McCormick.
At least two or three murders took place in the hotel, Jones said. The most recent murder, in the mid-1970s, remains unsolved.
Low rent, high traffic
The 12 Points area still serves an important purpose in Terre Haute’s economy.
Because of its high level of traffic and low rents, the district is a perfect place for small business entrepreneurs to set up shop on a small budget.
Many of these businesses come and go, but others such as Thomas Funeral Home have been a fixture in the neighborhood for decades.
“The store was perfect,” said Rich Curtis, owner of The Old Piano Shop at 1277 Lafayette. Curtis set up shop six years ago and business has been very good over the years, he said, adding that relatively low rents originally drew him to 12 Points.
“This is a good area, a busy area,” said Amy Lenges, owner of Amy’s Corner Mall at 1239 Lafayette. Lenges, whose father owned Mickey’s Corner on Maple Avenue in 12 Points for several decades, opened her shop just three months ago. “So far, I love it,” Lenges said.
Business also has been good — although for a much longer time — for Don Vrabic, owner of Vrabic Car Center on the corner of 13th and Lafayette. Vrabic has been working in 12 Points since 1954 and remembers well when Lafayette Avenue was U.S. 41.
In those days, there were four gasoline stations just at each corner of his intersection, Vrabic said.
Another 12 Points landmark, A Ring Brings Pizza on Lafayette Avenue, has been doing business since 1963, said manager Marty Patterson. The pizza shop’s sign, which advertises the restaurant’s phone number as both 232-5951 and C-5951, harkens back to an earlier time.
“We didn’t have the heart to change the sign,” Patterson said.
Despite losing U.S. 41, 12 Points continues to see a lot of automobile traffic. A new Circle K gas station and convenience store on Lafayette Avenue resembles a beehive during most of the day and another new, large-scale business, CVS Pharmacy, also sees considerable traffic.
Around 20,000 cars travel Lafayette Avenue each day, Curtis said.
“The traffic is excellent here,” said Pamela Blade, owner of Pamela’s Wigs and Hair Boutique on Lafayette. Much of her business comes from people just passing by, she said.
Here to stay
In addition to being an affordable place to start a small business, 12 Points still has its own charm and character. A small park with a historic marker in the middle of the neighborhood helps remind people of the area’s past and creates a little “green space” in an otherwise urban setting.
“I enjoy being here tremendously,” Blade said. “The people on this side of town are so nice,” she said.
And there are signs things may be picking up.
For the first time in six years, Curtis said, all of the storefronts in the 12 Points Hotel building are rented.
“Business is getting better every day,” Parkhurst said of business at her Sewing Shop.
Tilford agrees that, while business is still a “struggle” sometimes, he enjoys the area and is not ready to quit anytime soon.
“I like it up here,” Tilford said. “I’m here to stay.”
Still, 12 Points, which offers no sit-down restaurants other than A Ring Brings Pizza, or other attractions for casual foot traffic, has a long way to go to become another Broad Ripple or the kind of artistic shopping area many people have wanted to see for decades.
Yet, with a few dedicated business owners and a small-town feel, in addition to affordable rents, the area that was the first suburban shopping district in Terre Haute in the early 1900s remains its own unique part of town with a clear vision and hope for the future.
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or email@example.com.
But some continue to see potential in the once-thriving area
TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute’s 12 Points neighborhood is like a little village all its own.
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