Iaria's owners face trouble over demolished historic home

Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission said the Iaria’s family (known for its Italian restaurant) destroyed this 1800s house without permission, demolished it without a permit.

INDIANAPOLIS( WTHR) — The family that owns a historic Indianapolis restaurant could be in big trouble for a historic house they were supposed to restore in the Fletcher Place neighborhood.

In fact, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission said it will pursue legal action against the Iaria's for what's now an empty lot on Lord Street.

The city and neighbors are extremely concerned that the family skirted strict rules regarding historic preservation and destroyed a home in the process.

Corey Dalton moved to historic Fletcher Place for its character, its history, the old stories these homes still share.

The houses along Lord Street were working man's cottages that housed people who worked on the railroad and date back to the days of Abraham Lincoln.

"All the houses are from the 1860s, so they're Civil War-era homes," Dalton explained. "I bought my house 15 years ago. It's from 1866. I love this neighborhood."

Many of the homes have been painstakingly restored under strict and specific rules of preservation.

That's why what happened to the cottage next to the parking lot of Iaria's restaurant has neighbors and the city of Indianapolis very upset.

"I was really excited when I initially saw they were going to fix the house up because it was sort of like saving this piece of history, right? So then when I came home from a business trip and saw it just a pile in the parking lot, I was heartbroken," Dalton said.

A pile of wooden boards is all that's left of 726 Lord St.

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC) told Eyewitness News that the house was destroyed without permission, demolished without a permit.

Curtis Ramsey, who lives across the street, watched it happen.

"We had all been so supportive up to that point and then they proceeded to cut the rafters off the old house. Pretty soon it was down to three stud walls. Then it was gone," Ramsey said. "I called the IHPC. By the time anyone from the city got out here, it was too late."

The owners of Iaria's restaurant own that property.

They're a family that's spent four generations in Fletcher Place. Their Italian restaurant's been in the neighborhood since 1933.

The Iaria's requested and received approval in July 2017 to renovate the Lord Street home. Part of the plan called for them to move it to the side temporarily, put in a new foundation, then move it back, expand the rear side of the home, and restore it.

The IHPC said they were not allowed to tear it down.

That was in no way part of the approved plan.

Neighbors couldn't believe what happened, especially considering the family's history in the neighborhood.

"I was excited because I thought if anybody has a vested interest in making that house nice again, it's going to be those guys and then, instead, this is what we've ended up with," Dalton said, gesturing to the empty hole in the ground.

The Iaria family is now seeking permission to demolish the house, after the fact.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, they said extenuating circumstances occurred during construction and renovation, which led them to demolish the structure:

"Over the past 18 months we have spent a great deal of time, effort, and resources trying to build our home at 726 Lord St. in accordance with approved plans by IHPC," the Iaria family said in a statement. "We plan on rebuilding the home to replicate the historic cottage style of the preexisting structure. Our approved 2017 plans by IHPC state that we did not have to reuse any external building materials and were approved to replace the roof framing and floor joists. Due to safety and liability concerns after the structure was lifted, we decided to remove the roof and floor while saving the studs. The studs that are salvageable are still located onsite. We feel any animosity towards this process is misguided and does not take all of the extenuating circumstances into account. Our family has been in Fletcher Place for over 100 years and four generations, and we have immense love for the neighborhood. We look forward to continuing to work with IHPC and their staff in order to build our home."

But the IHPC says the family should pay a maximum fine, should have to contribute $10,000 to the IHPC, rebuild the house by a specific date and prior to the sale of the property.

The commission also recommends an investigation into the construction company, which possibly could be stripped of its license.

Neighbors want punishment, too, to send a message and make sure preserving the past remains a priority here.

"If we allow that to be the precedent, then other individuals or developers will come in, buy old houses, tear them down, pay the nominal fine and then do what they want," Ramsey said.

"I feel like not only a fine, but requiring them to rebuild the house the way it originally was, without the planned expansion, would keep the historic character of this neighborhood intact and also it would be a good deterrent to people in the future who think they can come in and do this," Dalton added.

The Iaria's had a hearing with the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission set for Thursday.

That was postponed, at the family's request, until August.