Mourning the Loss of the Mouse House

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I consider myself a traditionalist. Some say I’m just old and like old things. While that’s really quite true, as AJ Foyt would say – I was a traditionalist even as a teenager. I was told I am old in my ways, many times while I was in college. That’s partly where my “Change is Bad” mantra comes from.

Traditionalists do not like to see familiar landmarks go away. Every time a chunk of history is wiped away, it’s another deep jab to my being – especially when the history involves the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s another stark reminder that everyone and everything has a finite shelf-life. Monday delivered another jab as demolition of the Mouse House began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Many people who consider themselves serious students of the history of the Indianapolis 500 will scratch their collective heads and wonder what in the world I am talking about.

If you have ever driven down 16th Street headed west, you have driven right past the Mouse House. But it is quite certain you overlooked it, since the very imposing SE Vista Grandstand most likely had your attention as you were approaching it. While modest in stature, the house holds significant historical value when discussing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Mouse

If you google IMS Mouse House, not a whole lot comes up. I know some of the history of the place, but I’m not real sure why it is called the Mouse House. If any of you know, please share with all of us.

From what I can tell, the house may actually pre-date the track. I don’t think the house was original to the old Presley Farm, where IMS sits today; but the house was already shown as being there when the blueprints for the track were drawn up in early 1909.

T.E. “Pop” Meyers, who served as Vice-President and General Manager of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for over forty years, lived on the grounds in the Mouse House with his wife. The Speedway offices were actually downtown at that time. Donald Davidson loves to tell how every day, his wife would make breakfast for him. He would leave the house and turn west on Crawfordsville Pike, which is now 16th Street. He would make another right-hand turn and go onto the track surface. Each and every morning Pop Meyers would do one complete lap of the track, before heading east to the Speedway offices.

Pop Meyers was still living in the house when he died in February of 1954.

More recently, the Mouse House served as Mari Hulman George’s home for the Month of May for most of her adult life. Some have speculated that Mari’s housekeeping skills may have been suspect, and that the house was filled with mice as a consequence. Not surprisingly, the Hulman-George family has refuted that theory.

Over the last couple of days, I have called, texted and e-mailed several people for an explanation of why this modest home that sits in what is now essentially a parking lot, is called the Mouse House. No one really seems to know. Monday evening, I even e-mailed Donald Davidson and asked him. He finally responded on Tuesday morning, but it sounded as if he really wasn’t completely sure. His response was; “I believe it is because a critter or two were supposedly spotted in there years ago”. Hmmm…Maybe there was something about Mari’s housekeeping habits, after all.

But the most pressing question is not why it was called the Mouse House. The biggest question is why was it torn down?

I realize that nothing lasts forever. Sometimes, things have to be removed in the name of progress. Yes, the house looked out of place, surrounded by a parking lot with the Turn Two grandstands just a stone’s throw away. But there was over a century of history in that house. Two of some of the more iconic figures in the fabric of IMS took up residence in that house.

Pop Meyers’ tenure as IMS General Manager spanned three owners – Carl Fisher, Eddie Rickenbacker and Tony Hulman. My understanding is that Meyers lived in that house through his entire tenure until his death in 1954. It was about this time that Mari Hulman George was entering adulthood. In fact, she and Elmer George were married just three years later and always claimed the Mouse House as a residence. Supposedly, she still lived there throughout each Month of May until the last few years before her death in November of 2018.

Now, for whatever reason, the Mouse House is being razed this week. I am sure there is a good reason for it, and we will probably learn why over the next few months; but it baffles me why Roger Penske would demolish such a tangible piece of IMS history. Perhaps it was in disrepair, or the cost to maintain it simply didn’t justify saving it.

I haven’t questioned much that Roger Penske has done since he bought the place a little more than a year ago. Lord knows that he is having to keep more of a watchful eye on the bottom line than he expected this time last year. That’s what missing out on the bulk of a year’s worth of ticket revenue can do to you. So was the Mouse House a victim of COVID-19, or was it doomed to be demolished anyway?

Something outstanding may be going on the site where the Mouse House stood for over a century. Perhaps they are going to construct a much-needed new museum in that parking area, that will be much bigger and better than its outdated predecessor that currently sits inside Turn Two. Time will tell, but this week the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is losing one of the landmarks that just oozes history. I find that just a little sad.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Mourning the Loss of the Mouse House”

  1. Maurice E. Kessler Says:

    Post could not be read. Shown as error 404

    • My apologies to those that follow this blog and get e-mails when a new post goes up. I wrote the bulk of this Monday night and loaded it up to the site. I forgot to schedule it ahead of time, but realized my mistake as soon as I clicked “Publish”. By that time, it had gone out live, so I immediately deleted it. I then loaded it back up, scheduled to drop in today, where I was able to edit and make some last minute changes on Tuesday night. You are not the only one to contact me about the error message you received. Again, my apologies for any confusion. – GP

  2. What a shame this tiny bit of IMS history is being removed. I would have preferred it to have been rehabilitated and possibly rented out AirBB style. It is surrounded by parking spaces, it’s such a small footprint how many more spaces could be added in its space? I assume there is a “good reason “ for its removal but that doesn’t mean it’s right to do so.

  3. I also cherish old houses and buildings and hate to see them torn down. That house was part of history and should have been saved. This is the first move Roger Penske has made concerning the Speedway that I don’t agree with.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    Time Marches On …… But not necessarily forward.

    Am reminded of the original Gasoline Alley and then the Indianapolis Motor Speedwaty Motel & what a draw it would have been if a portion of the Gasoline Alley garages were preserved within Gasoline Alley (not necessarily as a single exhibit in the IMS Museum) and the Speedway Motel likewise had not been destroyed.

    Not to diminish the history of the Mouse House, the following article was printed in an issue of Behind the Wheel.

    MARCH 5, 2009 · 2:48 AM

    Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel: 1963-2009

    This week, demolition crews will knock down the final wall of the 96 room Brickyard Crossing Inn, originally dubbed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel, which was abruptly closed by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in December.

    Opened in 1963 outside of Turn 2, the IMS Motel was never an architectural masterpiece, but it had plenty of memorable guests during its 45 year tenure on West 16th Street. Many celebrities throughout the years attended the Indianapolis 500 and most of them stayed at the IMS Motel, given the fact today’s upscale hotels in Indianapolis didn’t exist in the 1960’s. Names like James Garner, Jim Nabors, and Paul Newman made it their home while in town for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Many a driver stayed there during the entire month of May, most notably 4-time Indy 500 winner AJ Foyt, who typically passed on the luxury motor homes for a comfortable room at the motel.

    Newman’s roots with the speedway and the motel run deeper than his celebrity. He filmed many scenes from the 1969 movie “Winning” at the speedway and the motel, co-starring Robert Wagner and his on-screen and off-screen wife Joanne Woodward. Probably the most memorable scene from the movie was when Newman’s character, Frank Capua, returned to the motel after leaving Gasoline Alley and caught Woodward and Wagner (his team mate in the movie) “in the act” in Room 212.

    When I found out the motel was going to be leveled, I was hoping to be able to get access to the room so Jennifer & I could get current day photos of the room. I went straight to the top and wrote a letter to IMS president Joie Chitwood, but to no avail. I got a nice “Sorry Charlie” e-mail from the IMS public relations department a few weeks later. Hey, I tried! Hopefully Joie enjoyed the issue of American Road magazine that I sent him along with my letter.

    The last photos I took from there during demolition, Room 212 was still hanging on….although gutted and broken.

    Newman was a fixture at the speedway for decades and became a car owner in the 1980’s for Mario Andretti. He made his final appearance at the speedway during qualifications for the 2008 Indianapolis 500, just four months before losing his battle with cancer to watch his rookie driver, 19 year old Graham Rahal, qualify for his first 500.

    The other more notable guests to stay at the motel were none other than The Beatles during their 1964 tour. Legend has it that during their stay in Indianapolis, fans were tipped off they were staying downtown at the Essex House Hotel. Their manager then put all four in one room at the IMS Motel.

    Whatever replaces the IMS Motel, it’ll have a hard time matching the history and lore of what stood before it………………..

  5. If walls could talk……now only to be in a landfill. 😕

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