The transition to younger families in Royal Pines is the natural evolution of a neighborhood. It is that turnover, the Panarchy, that keeps our neighborhood vital. But, as there are fewer and fewer original owners, the story of the neighborhood is told less frequently. Knowing the history of the Royal Pine Estates gives context to our unique surroundings. Unique is a word sometimes used when something is exceedingly rare, but in the case of our neighborhood, unique means unique. There is no other neighborhood like Royal Pines. Anywhere.
The history of Royal Pines (legal name “Royal Pine Estates”) is the story of two people and their respective dreams. One of them achieved theirs and the other did not, but the story is not complete without both for one is the foundation for the other. Sometime in the early 1950s, a person started a pine tree nursery that was to become our neighborhood. The uniform spacing of the trees in orderly rows we see now are vestiges of his or her use of a tree seeding machine. The nursery was not a success. A decade later, another person, a developer, saw the possibilities of the then defunct nursery. But this was no ordinary developer, his name was John Kleinops. Without his particular skills and vision, Royal Pines would not be what it is today.
Who was John Kleinops?
John was born in Riga, Latvia in 1923. His father was a master carpenter and John learned first-hand the science of building solid homes and the art of crafting fine furniture. He also developed complementary skills by studying landscape design and graduating from Bulduri Horticultural School in Jumalla, Latvia. Before those skills could be applied, WWII intervened, and John found himself taken by the Nazis to a work camp in Germany. Eventually, John and his young family were sponsored by the Lutheran Church for immigration to the United States, and at the age of 26, speaking no English, and having $10 in his pocket, he stepped off the ship in Boston with his family.
As he stayed with his wife’s family in Indianapolis, he made contact with other Latvians who also brought old-world craftsmanship and building skills with them. This community was to form the core of John’s home-building business. John joined forces with his brother-in-law, Raymond Bundza to create their own construction company that employed mostly these Latvian craftsmen. Their business started small, building garages and outbuildings, but other builders in the area soon recognized the quality of their work and they started building home for them.
The two started with small ranch homes that grew into larger homes, and then subdivisions. Eventually, Raymond moved to California and John continued developing his construction business. As word of the quality and design of his homes spread, John narrowed his efforts on custom homes built with old-world skills and began building homes in some of Indianapolis’ most exclusive neighborhoods. Back then saying a home was “Built by Kleinops” carried a prestige that is hard to replicate in today’s fast-paced world of home construction that is demo, build, move on, repeat. It’s unfortunate that time has dulled the impact of saying “Built by Kleinops,” because the design and quality that was the basis of that prestige endures today.
Earlier in his career, John developed the Pleasant Run neighborhood at 71st and Dean. He must have driven by the faltering pine tree nursery many times and seen its potential for a unique neighborhood. He purchased the 35 acres and development began shortly thereafter. But his approach to development was decidedly not ordinary. Maybe it was his time studying landscape design or his appreciation that he would never see another assembly of pine trees like he saw then. A pine forest like the one forming the foundation of our neighborhood simply doesn’t exist in nature and has no capacity for regeneration. It’s a fluke. Recognizing this, John went to great lengths to preserve as many trees as possible. Many developers would have made short work of preparing the land with bulldozers. But John took a different approach. He recruited the North Central High School football team to clear the undergrowth by hand. When a tree needed to be felled for a road or lot, it was cut by hand. Every tree was left standing for a reason. He must have had such an appreciation for what the neighborhood could be. He respected the environment in a way that is refreshing but scarce today. “Time is money” drives developers today, but back then, at least with Royal Pines, it was “Quality first.”
Every home in Royal Pines is a unique design but is built to the same demanding standards. The design elements were all built by hand by Latvian craftsmen. The hardwood fireplace mantles were built by master carpenters and the copper cupolas were built by skilled coppersmiths.
It’s sad to think that every time a home is remodeled, some of these treasures are forever lost. To reproduce them today, if possible, would come with an exorbitant cost. The same is true for the pine trees. They are a monoculture and are essentially irreplaceable.
We look at the pines surrounding us and think they’ll be there forever. But they won’t. They were planted sometime before 1956 which means they may have 30 years left in their natural lifespan. There’s no escaping that they all will die and sooner than we’d like. That’s why it is so sad every time a tree dies its natural death, but it’s unavoidable. What’s even harder to watch is when healthy trees are cut down in the name of wanting more light, or the unfounded fear that a tree near a house will fall on it. The physics of the latter seems straightforward. A tree 50 feet from a house will generate more momentum as it falls than one falling that’s five feet away from a house. Are trees falling on houses really a problem that needs to be addressed? There have been 70 or so houses in the pines for 56 years. That’s 4,400 “tree-years” and to my knowledge, trees falling on houses really hasn’t been an issue. As for cutting down irreplaceable trees for more sunlight, it seems obvious that the nature of living in a forest is to live in shade. If a sunny lawn is a priority, those lawns abound in many other neighborhoods. For me, I’ll gladly take the cool shade the pines provide in the summer over a few additional square feet of sunlight. I like living in a pine forest. Is there any other neighborhood in the state that has what we have? I think not. It is truly unique, and we should do everything to preserve that uniqueness until nature inevitably takes it away.
About those trees.
Agriculturalists say the monoculture that is our pines is, by its nature, characteristically unstable and has no chance to replenish itself. Panarchy provides a natural forest resistance to extinction and builds resistance. If a pine disease were to infect one tree, its spread to others would be inevitable and fast. Because it is not a natural forest, Royal Pines has no Panarchy capability and therefore lacks the resiliency to rebuild itself. As the trees die out and space becomes available for new trees, the recommendation is to plant a different type of tree. As will be seen in one of the articles below, one recommendation is to plant larches or Canadian hemlocks in the shadiest areas and Norway spruces where there is sunlight. As you plant, do what Kleinops did in 1963 and plan for what the neighborhood will look like in 30 years.
The preceding serves as a brief introduction to the story detailed by the clippings that follow. Hopefully, they will help keep the history of Royal Pine Estates alive a little longer.
The neighborhood and its homes: The newspaper clippings give some hint of the reputation Kleinops had for developing unique homes in a unique neighborhood.
Kleinops articles: The first set of four images is a Sunday feature that was written in 1962. The ensuing articles are in chronological order. The last article in the series is John Kleinops’ obituary.
Royal Pine Estate pine tree articles: This set of images relate to the trees, their origin, current state, and projected state.
The Royal Pines community: Articles about the Royal Pines neighborhood.
The story begins
The first homes make an impression in the city
The story of John Kleinops
Growth of the pine trees