James Allison chose master landscape architect Jens Jensen to design the grounds for his 64-acre estate, including the location of his residence sited prominently at the top of the bluff along Crooked Creek. The residence, designed by Indianapolis architect Herbert Bass, began construction in 1911 and took three years to complete at a reported cost of $2 million. Impressed by the design of his neighbor Frank Wheeler's newly constructed mansion, Allison fired Herbert Bass and hired Wheeler's architect, William Price, of the Philadelphia firm of Price and McLanahan, to complete the interior. Dubbed the "House of Wonders," the Allison Mansion contained many state-of-the-art conveniences including an elevator, a central vacuum system, a telephone intercom system, automatically lighted closets, pumped-in ice water, an indoor swimming pool, and sophisticated indirect lighting systems.
The exterior of the house is an eclectic blend of early Prairie School and Lombardy Villa architecture. The interior is lavishly designed in traditional European designs. For example, the foyer is done in a high Renaissance style, the library is Gothic, and the reception room reflects the era of Louis XVI. To produce this wide range of styles, Allison imported both materials and craftsmen from Europe.
The Allison family retained the estate until 1936, when it was sold to the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, Indiana.
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Marian University is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana.
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