The Bulows in Bates-Hendricks: Urban Nomads Settle Down and Become Homeowners


James and Esther Bulow had been happily inhabiting their small apartment in the historic St. Joseph neighborhood for several years when the reality began to creep up on them:  they desperately needed more space.  They lived in a 2-bedroom, 750-square-foot apartment in a near-perfect location; they could (and did) walk almost everywhere they needed to go.  The St. Joseph area is less than a mile from Monument Circle, just south of Old Northside and west of Renaissance Place & Chatham Arch.  When the Bulows had their first baby in 2011, Esther would often push the stroller a couple blocks to the Central Library, a few blocks further to the canal, or north about four or five blocks to the Old Northside playground.  "That was our greenspace at the time," she said, "the canal and the neighborhood parks.  That was where [our oldest son] learned how to deal with the texture of grass, when he was about 15 months old."

Then along came their next baby boy, and then a third child, a little girl:  and the apartment suddenly felt overcrowded.  "I think we technically exceeded the number of people legally allowed to live there," said James, "but they didn't evict us, because it wasn't new people moving in from somewhere else!"  James and Esther began looking into their options for moving--either renting a bigger apartment or buying a house.   Prior to living in St. Joseph, they had lived first in the Cole-Noble district and then the Chatham Arch neighborhood.  James is a structural engineer at a company headquartered in Fletcher Place and had always enjoyed a short commute, living and working downtown.  Both he and Esther felt strongly that living in an urban area was best for their family, although they were ambivalent about buying vs. renting; like many other millennials, they would have been okay with renting indefinitely.  The problem was finding a place that was affordable, with enough space for their quickly-growing family.  Rents were going up fast on downtown apartments, especially the spacious ones.

James and Esther planned to purchase a parkside duplex in the Old Northside, rehab it, live on one side and rent the other side.  Unfortunately, the appraisal process became problematic and they ultimately had to go a different direction.  Meanwhile, friends of the Bulows were away traveling for 6 months and invited them to house-sit in Zionsville while they were gone.  James and Esther obliged, moving out of their tiny apartment to a 5,000+ square-foot mansion in the suburbs, with a rush hour commute of 35-50 minutes or more, depending on traffic.  "It was a nice place, but very, very different from what we were used to," said James.  After their Zionsville house-sitting experience was over, they lived in an apartment near Eagle Creek Park while they continued to search for a house downtown.  Meanwhile, their oldest son started pre-kindergarten, James began working on his law degree through IUPUI, and their fourth baby was born.  Finally they found what they'd been looking for:  a 4-bedroom foursquare house in Bates-Hendricks, built in 1906, with the extra space they needed--an unfinished basement (which will become a playroom for the kids) and unfinished walk-up attic (which will eventually become a master suite).  "We definitely have some house projects in mind for the future," said James, "but all the woodwork is just gorgeous."

The Bulow family moved into their new home in January 2016.  Eight months later, they say they've seen the neighborhood change so much already:  "It's exciting and fun to see how quickly it's changing."  Only a couple years ago, there seemed to be hardly any families with young children and stay-at-home parents, and now there are quite a few families moving into the neighborhood.  There have been several houses rehabbed on James & Esther's street this year, thanks in part to the momentum sparked by the popularity of the HGTV show "Good Bones" (formerly known as "Two Chicks and a Hammer").   Planned improvements to Ringgold Park, a small pocket park, are on the way as the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood association works with Indy Parks to get new playground equipment and better landscaping.  Garfield Park is less than a mile away from their new house, and it's about a 15-minute drive to the Oaks Academy in Fall Creek Place where the Bulow's two boys attend kindergarten and pre-K.  James will occasionally bike to his office one mile away, and to the IUPUI campus for his law school classes about 2.5 miles away.  Homeownership has not been a completely smooth transition so far; there have been several bumps in the road in the form of basement flooding, window troubles or appliances needing to be fixed sooner than expected.  But all in all, "it's a good place to live," say James and Esther.  "We can see ourselves being here for decades."