Evansville’s Gold Coast

A Riverside Historic District apartment building breathes history and romance

It’s not difficult to overlook Sunset Avenue as you drive on Veterans Memorial Parkway or stroll along the Ohio Riverfront. But this shady, quiet street contains some of the city’s most alluring, historic homes.

Into the early 20th century, Sunset Avenue was referred to as the Gold Coast for its European-influenced manors and who’s who of prominent residents, including furniture maven Edwin Karges, General Foods executive Austin Igleheart, and wholesale drugs and sundries business owner Charles Leich. Near the end of the block is a three-story brick Italianate apartment home with a leaded glass entrance framed by young trees. A comparable age to its next-door neighbors, it sits apart as an apartment complex on a street of private residences. But the story behind it is tied to one of Evansville’s best-known families.

The Riviera, as it’s called, began as the first marital home of Gilmore Mauntel Haynie and Emma Smith Haynie. Gilmore was the son of drug store owner and public servant George Washington Haynie and Emma Mauntel Haynie. Upon marrying, Gilmore and his new bride embarked on a yearlong honeymoon while prominent architect and next-door neighbor J. Manson Gilbert constructed the three-story building with genuine Florentine brick. The first two floors contained two apartments each, and the Haynies would occupy the entire third floor. While on vacation, the newlyweds sent back pieces and decorations that would factor into their new home. Featuring limestone trim around the ground-floor entrance and top-floor archways, it’s said to be one of Evansville’s first apartment buildings.

Gilmore Haynie had only a short walk to work at his namesake drug store at Southeast Second Street and Adams Avenue, now known as Haynie’s Corner. George Haynie operated the pharmacy until retiring in 1928, selling to druggist H. A. Woods.

Through the years, the Riviera changed owners and names several times. In late 2020, Brent and Tresa Miller stepped in.

Previously, the Millers lived in the Bellemeade Avenue home of legendary University of Evansville basketball coach Arad McCutchan and his wife Virginia. They then moved into the former home of Evansville visionary and businessman William Akin on Akin Park, a two-story yellow Dutch Colonial Revival built in 1923 at Parkside Drive and Taylor Avenue. After raising two children in the South Side neighborhood, they downsized to one of two top-floor apartments in the Haynies’ building in the Riverside Historic District — but not without a little convincing on Tresa’s part.

“Brent was sad to miss the view of Akin Park and the gazebo. He said, ‘We’re never going to have a view this beautiful again.’”

But she had an ace up her sleeve. Tresa rented the Sunset Avenue apartment without Brent visiting, then toured it with him once the deal was done.

“We walked in the front door, and Brent saw the view across Sunset Avenue and whispered, ‘I was wrong,’” she recalls.

The Millers had lived on Sunset Avenue as tenants for three years prior to purchasing the building. They bought the six-unit complex and accompanying carriage house in late 2020. One of the first changes made was to return the property to its original name, The Riviera. Next up were structural renovations and installing a new roof, plus new paint and flooring in the carriage house. Alpha Organics reseeded the entire front lawn.

Then, the couple went door to door, asking each of their tenants what they needed done to their individual 1,400-square-foot units. Most apartments required only cosmetic updates.

“Our goal when we bought the building was, we’re going to do everything once, do everything right, and not do it again,” Tresa says.

Brent — employed by the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility — and Tresa also are the owners of Grateful Threads Fabric on Carpenter Street. They saved the renovations on their top-floor apartment for last. Work started in January 2021 with the removal of the wall between the kitchen and living room, and a complete kitchen renovation. The home offers two spacious bedrooms plus what was thought to be a sleeping porch, which became Tresa’s dressing room.

The Haynies were responsible for the fireplace mantel, a stunning work carved out of marble, which they brought back with them to Evansville from Italy, making it at least 100 years old. Hanging over the mantel are the building’s original blueprints, a gift from the Haynies’ grandson, Bob Haynie, owner of Haynie Travel.

As the owner of Grateful Threads, Tresa has a natural eye for mixing patterns and materials, a talent that translates into her home decor. Coastal influences are evident in the frequent inflection of blues and greens throughout the apartment, which are grounded by hand-scraped hardwood floors the Millers installed.

The kitchen is a particular gem, a mix of clean whites and soft blues accented by the original paneled wainscoting with egg and dart-style crown molding. The Millers scored the oven hood’s wood carving from Karges Furniture when it was acquired by Kindel Furniture in 2014. Brent also illuminated the Amish-built glass door cabinets with interior lighting.

Across from the rolling butcher block is a Jacobean buffet painted Oyster Bay and topped with quartz that was acquired at a Saint Louis, Missouri, antique sale. The twin light fixtures hanging overhead were made in Italy and found at a flea market. A wall of apothecary cabinets — a nod to Haynie’s profession as a pharmacist — anchors a dining room lit by a Chippendale chandelier bought for $4 at the Vanderburgh County 4-H antique show 30 years before.

“Our home is full of roadkill and Goodwill amongst other well-loved pieces,” Tresa says. “From the Italian tile installed on the balconies to the design of the flooring in the hallway, we’ve worked hard to honor the Italianate style of the building.”

Wallpaper filled with sketches of Parisian scenes is draped with racks of Tresa’s colorful jewelry collection in the dressing room. The attached bathroom mixes the whimsical wallpaper with quartz counters, Mamie Eisenhower pink tile and a princess tub. Around the corner, light in the narrow “dog trot” hallway, as Tresa calls it, bounces off crystal chandeliers and decorative mirrors. Stark white walls contrast with a ceiling painted black, and both colors melt into the tiled floor leading to the butler’s pantry — the only apartment in the complex that retains this original feature. The hall also contains a sweet testament to the Millers’ previous home on Akin Park: a large portrait of the home by Nikki Pritchett is surrounded by small watercolors by Rita Wannemuehler showing the park’s gazebo in each of the four seasons.

The apartment’s elegance is kept casual with a balance of heirlooms and reclaimed materials. The antique clocks on the fireplace mantel have been passed down from family members. So have the pocket watches, once owned by Brent and Tresa’s grandfathers who worked for the railroads. A couple of chairs in the living room came from a Lake Cumberland, Kentucky, boating trip with friends. Tresa added beveled glass to the top of a steel casket trolley from a Henderson, Kentucky, funeral home, turning it into a stand for the living room TV.

“At Grateful Threads, our motto is, ‘Don’t buy new. Redo.’ We live that every day at home, too,” she says.

With so much personality, there’s no one room in the Millers’ apartment that bests another. But Tresa confesses the balcony is their favorite spot in the Sunset Avenue building she and Brent have invested in. What makes it shine? Let the street name clue you in.

“God is such a show-off,” she says. “He sends us something beautiful every day.”

Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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