Indiana couple buys birthplace of Broadway legend Cole Porter

Cole Porter’s childhood home in Peru, Indiana. Photo: Lee Lewellen, courtesy Indiana Landmarks

PERU, Ind. (AP) – A Peru couple has purchased the birthplace of famous Broadway composer Cole Porter and will continue to run it as an inn after the property went up for sale last year.

Jill and Marlin Ash, who own a consignment shop in Peru and a hog farm in Miami County, bought the house located at 19 S. Huntington St. in November for $110,000 from Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre, a nonprofit performance group.

The purchase marks the most recent chapter of the historic property that at one time was used as a meth lab.

Porter, who became famous for his cosmopolitan lifestyle and compositions such as I’ve Got You Under My Skin and the musical Kiss Me Kate, was born in Peru in 1891 and wrote some of his first songs inside the house.

Ole Olsen purchased the home in 2004 through a county tax sale. At the time, the house had fallen into disrepair and was being used as a meth lab before it was shut down by police.

The theater group spent the next three years renovating the property and converting it into an inn and museum dedicated to Porter. The rehabilitation was funded by grants and donations and included a new roof, restored windows and siding, and updated heating, plumbing and electrical systems.

But in 2010, the nonprofit put the home up for sale for $250,000. Officials at the time said maintaining the house had become too expensive and time-consuming for a group made up entirely of volunteers.

The house sat on the market until 2013, when Ole Olsen member John Kirk agreed to lease-to-own the property from the group and run it as the Cole Porter Inn, which houses three guest rooms decorated with themes from Porter’s music.

Early last year, Kirk stopped leasing the property, forcing the theater group to again put the house up for sale – and open up the possibility that it could be purchased by someone who had no interest in its historic roots.

But that worry is now gone that the house has been purchased by the Ashes, who say they will keep the property as an inn and promote it as the birthplace of Cole Porter.

Jill Ash, who for years worked in real estate but now is employed in the human resources department at Dukes Memorial Hospital, said she and her husband bought the house as an investment property as they near retirement, and have every intention of highlighting its history through its use as an inn.

“Being a historical landmark really pushed us over the edge on buying it,” she said. “We really wanted to see the place taken care of. We’re trying to keep up most of the traditions. Everyone was super glad to hear we were going to keep it up and keep it open.”

Ash said they plan to make further investments in the house, which is one of the main attractions when the city hosts the annual Cole Porter Festival every June celebrating the hometown celebrity. Those investments include new landscaping and an exterior paint job which, she said, is much overdue.

“It’s going to look even better after a paint job,” Ash said. “It looks so sad right now. I’m excited to get a coat of paint on it, which will do it a world of good.”

She said they are also looking at ways to expand and diversify the community offerings at the inn, including possibly adding wine and beer tasting events in the parlor room, which has historic items on display that came with the purchase of the property.

Ole Olsen board member Jim Walker, who was instrumental in buying and restoring the property when he served as the mayor of Peru, said the nonprofit is excited a local couple with a passion for the property’s history ended up buying it.

He said the theater group had received some offers from people who didn’t intend to keep it open as an inn, but decided to hold off until they got a bid from someone who appreciated its significance to the city. Walker said that bid came from the Ashes.

“We decided we’d rather hold on to it and wait until we got the right fit,” he said. “We had some people inquire about buying it who would not have kept it as an inn, but we held out, and we’re fortunate that the Ashes came along. They are a great couple and will do great things with it.”

Jill Ash said, although she and her husband have only owned the house for less than two months, the response from local residents has been unexpectedly positive about their decision to buy the birthplace of Cole Porter.

“It’s amazing that now that the word is out, people on the street will say, ‘Hey, I’m so glad that you bought that,’” she said. “The whole community has been great.”

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By CARSON GERBER,  Kokomo Tribune

Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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