Tuckaway House, Indianapolis, IN

Tuckaway House, a residence “tucked away” among mature trees at 3128 North Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis, was the site of a famed salon that attracted national and international celebrities from the 1910s through the 1930s.  In 1910 it became the home of arts patrons George and Nellie Meier who supported writers, artists, actors, dancers, and musicians.  They contributed to local arts organizations and sponsored visits of nationally known performers and artists to Indianapolis. Built in 1906 by acquaintances of the Meiers, the house is one of the earliest in Indianapolis of the bungalow style.  In 1910 when the original owners decided to move to California, the Meiers immediately consulted their attorney and within a few hours had a purchase agreement. The Meier’s remodeled the house to accommodate their active social life as well as their collections of art and period furnishings.  They altered the street facade of the house as little as possible to retain the quaint cottage appearance.  A two-story salon was incorporated in front with a complete second floor to the rear that included several bedrooms, baths, and a great open porch.  On a postcard in the collection postmarked in August 1912, Nellie wrote, “Carpenters commence Aug 12 to ‘raise the roof’!!”  Borrowing an idea from their friend Coco Chanel’s Paris reception room, the Meiers had the walls and spaces between the large beams in the ceiling covered in canvas and finished with a special paint that mixed gold powder in a varnish base to give a warm, glowing effect. In the 1920s a sun room (called the “green breakfast room” by current owner Kenneth Keene) with latticed walls and ceiling was added by architect Fermor Cannon, who later married Nellie’s niece, Ruth, who inherited the house from Nellie.  In 1972 the house was bought by designer Kenneth Keene.  Although Ruth had not been anxious to sell Tuckaway, Keene’s enthusiasm and appreciation of the house and its history won her over.  Ruth also consented to letting Keene have many dresses and accessories designed by George as well as Nellie’s extensive files and memorabilia to display in the house.  On 23 September 1982, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is listed as the George Philip Meier House.

George Philip Meier was born in September 1864 in Michigan to German immigrant parents.  He became a nationally known designer of women’s apparel.  In 1902 he began an affiliation with L.S. Ayres & Company and traveled to Europe annually in that capacity. Nellie P. Simmons Meier was born in Cohoes, New York, on November 10 (in 1864 according to the 1900 census; in 1867 according to her 1914 passport application). She became a palm reader of considerable fame.  She began studying palmistry as a science in 1895, and in the next forty years read (and in most cases took impressions of) more than 20,000 hands, including those of numerous well-known Americans and Europeans including Susan B. Anthony, Booker T. Washington, Walt Disney, Helen Hayes, George Gershwin, Amelia Earhart, Margaret Sanger, Jane Addams, Jacob Riis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Carole Lombard, Leslie Howard, Mary Pickford, Ethel Barrymore, Eva LeGallienne, Jascha Heifetz, José Iturbi, Ida Tarbell, Lowell Thomas, George Ade, Meredith Nicholson, May Wright Sewall, James Whitcomb Riley, and Lew Wallace.  She also lectured extensively and wrote for magazines.  She had a strong interest in elevating palm reading from the status of fortune-telling to that of a science. George and Nellie married on 14 February 1899 in Marion County, Indiana. At the time of the 1900 census, they lived at 838 N. Delaware Street in Indianapolis, and George worked as a tailor.  His older sister Emma Meier and a boarder lived with them. The Meiers moved to 843 N. Meridian Street in Indianapolis around 1906 or 1907, and by 1909 they lived at 940 Middle Drive in the Woodruff Place neighborhood of Indianapolis. The 1910 census shows the couple still living on Middle Drive; Emma was still living with them as was Nellie’s 15-year-old niece Ruth McGinnis.  George was still working as a tailor.  At some point that year the Meiers acquired the Tuckaway home, where they remained until their deaths. In 1920 the census listed George’s occupation as a designer of women’s clothes, and in 1930 as a gown designer. After George died in 1931, Nellie continued with her palm readings, travel, and lectures.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt personally asked Nellie to donate a large number of hand prints and their analyses to the Library of Congress.  The collection of Nellie Simmons Meier’s papers held in the Library of Congress includes autographed original palm prints, autographed photographs, and character sketches of 135 notable individuals that were assembled for her book, Lions’ Paws, the Story of Famous Hands. Nellie’s death in 1944 was mourned by thousands in Indianapolis (some sources list Nellie’s death date as 1939, but this appears to be an error).

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