Football, Architecture the Draw in South Bend, Indiana

OFF THE GRIDIRON: Forget football. Gorgeous architecture and fascinating museums are the draw in South Bend, Indiana

Items displayed in Beiger Mansion
The view inside the 103-year-old Beiger Mansion

 

DESTINATION South Bend, Indiana
DISTANCE FROM CHICAGO 100 miles

More than 35 years have gone by since the last generation of Olivers lived in Copshaholm, the architectural crown jewel of the Center for History, a museum complex in South Bend, Indiana. But wander through the 114-year-old 38-room mansion, built by the industrialist tycoon J. D. Oliver, and you don’t feel like you’re in a museum. You feel like you’re spying, gazing into private rooms with an amazingly detailed view of the past. Oliver’s topcoats and hats still hang in the closet. Meticulously arranged rows of pipes are arrayed in a bedroom suite. In the dining room, the table is set for a formal meal—silver, crystal, and porcelain gleam. In the kitchen, a cookbook is open to a recipe for cookies; measuring bowls, spoons, and a whisk stand ready.

“The family left us so much,” says the Center for History’s Marilyn S. Thompson. “Right down to the recipes they’d make for football parties. It feels like they’re still here.”

Ah, yes, football—seemingly South Bend’s only modern-day claim to fame. But let’s do the math, shall we? In a given year, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish play football around six times in South Bend. Beyond those sacred days, Touchdown Jesus, the Messiah mural towering over the university’s Hesburgh Library, spreads his arms in an all-encompassing embrace over an area that’s got a lot more going on than pigskin prowess.

South Bend and its southeastern neighbor, Mishawaka, are defined by a wealth of historic architecture that dates back to before Knute Rockne knew a linebacker from a long snapper. All told, more than 200 historic landmarks are scattered throughout the region.

Among the more flamboyant: the 103-year-old Beiger Mansion, a lifelong obsession of Mishawaka’s Ron Montandon. Some interior design is about accent pillows and matching end tables. The Beiger’s is about mythical beasts the size of halfbacks and pipe organs that wouldn’t look out of place in Winchester Cathedral. At 55, Montandon has devoted his life to the 22,000-square-foot neoclassical home, which he now runs as a bed-and-breakfast. “As a kid, I’d make my mother drive by whenever she had errands just so I could stare at the place,” he recalls. “I knew before I was ten that it would be my life. I was obsessed.”

J. D. Oliver, whose father invented a plow that dirt didn’t stick to, and Martin V. Beiger, who manufactured woolen boots, were hardly the only South Bend multimillionaires with a penchant for houses large enough to accommodate both first and second strings of the visiting team.

Long before the Studebakers designed the iconic bullet-nosed sedan, they made millions selling covered wagons to pioneers and military rigs to the Union army during the Civil War. The vehicles are on display in the Studebaker National Museum, but for a vivid peek at the staggeringly opulent lifestyle they funded, go to Tippecanoe Place. Clem Studebaker built the mansion for $250,000—in 1889. Today, it’s a four-story restaurant, the original 20 rooms carved into dining areas. The prime rib is fine, but the real reason to visit is to prowl around the former ballrooms where the Studebaker family once cavorted.

Tippecanoe’s 20 fireplaces, the Beiger’s gargoyles, the Copshaholm’s leaded glass windows, the grand terrazzo staircase of the Palais Royale dancehall downtown, the intricate floral bas-relief on the gables of the turreted Oliver Inn—the list goes on and on. South Bend’s distinctive history is embedded in its architecture as much as in its athletic stats.

So take a long look at Touchdown Jesus’s sculptural neighbor, First Down Moses. In 1962, the artist Joseph Turkalj crafted the biblical patriarch with an index finger pointed heavenward in the universal we’re-number-one gesture. Conventional campus wisdom says FDM is touting the school’s superlative gridiron record and team spirit. We like to think he’s commenting on the spirit of a city rich with architectural wonders.
 

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

The Museums at Washington and Chapin comprise a two-museum campus: the Studebaker National Museum (201 S. Chapin St.; 574-235-9714, studebakermuseum.org) and the Center for History (808 W. Washington St.; 574-235-9664, centerforhistory.org), which includes the Copshaholm Mansion. To see the University of Notre Dame, start at the Eck Visitors Center (Notre Dame Ave.; 574-631-5726, tour.nd.edu), where tours are offered on weekdays. Campus attractions include the Grotto, a one-seventh-size replica of the shrine at Lourdes, France. The College Football Hall of Fame (111 S. St. Joseph St.; 800-440-3263, collegefootball.org) is 55,000 square feet of football artifacts.

WHERE TO STAY The Oliver Inn (630 W. Washington St.; 888-697-4466, oliverinn.com) is a Victorian mansion that was once the home of a farm equipment heiress; $135 to $200 per night. Mishawaka’s Beiger Inn (317 Lincolnway East; 800-437-0131, beigermansion.com) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; $140 to $225 per night. On Notre Dame’s campus, the Morris Inn (1 Notre Dame Ave.; 574-631-2000, morrisinn.nd.edu) offers quiet, stately accommodations; $132 to $182 per night.

WHERE TO EAT For a white-tablecloth dinner, try the LaSalle Grill (115 W. Colfax Ave.; 574-288-1155, lasallegrill.com). For brunch in an opulent setting, head for Tippecanoe Place (620 W. Washington St.; 574-234-9077, tippe.com). The South Bend Chocolate Company (3300 W. Sample St.; 800-301-4961, sbchocolate.com) offers free samples and daily tours.

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Photography: Joe Wigdahl

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