On our city’s recent history

I overheard this on this bus today:

“Indianapolis used to be a beautiful city. Then for the last 40 years, they tore down anything old and put up a parking garage or something.”

It’s a statement that hit home with me. I really wanted to quibble, but I could not. Recently at my work I have been reviewing Sanborn Fire Maps from 1956. The shear volume of good urban structures that have been lost in the past 50 years is staggering. Even worse, at least 9 out of 10 times they were replaced by something less attractive: a parking lot, a widened roadway, a gas station, a strip mall. Sure, we now have a semblance of a skyline, but outside of downtown, it’s almost a challenge to think of a fine new urban structure. Here are a few places that come to mind:

The Libraries at 42nd and College, and Michigan and Belmont.
The live-work units at 25th and Delaware.
The Boner Center on East 10th Street.
Big Hat Books in Broad Ripple.
Beilouny on Mass Ave and 707 East North (I’ll consider these outside of downtown for this discussion).

All of these have been constructed within the past 10 years. The good news is that there is some positive momentum out there. Is it possible that the College Avenue Library (circa 2000) is actually the most important structure for Indianapolis neighborhoods in this city? I believe that it deserves some credit for proving that something new doesn’t have to be worse than what it replaced. I haven’t been in Indy for long enough to remember the structure that was at this corner previously, but at least the library is much nicer than the one that was on Broadway and 42nd. With proposals like this and this, it seems that we are at least starting to “get it.”

Comments 13

  • I would vote for the expansion of the Boner Center as by far the best. We can quibble on details, but it's a modern building that looks "of its time" but also doesn't clash with older buildings and addresses the street in a pre-WWII fashion. I would consider the Beilouny and 707 part of greater downtown (along with some nice residential construction in the old northside). The library branch on College is an attractive building, but it would be perfectly in place in a suburban strip mall, and the lot is still more parking lot than building. The Boner Center is so obviously an urban building in an urban placement that every time I drive by I'm surprised that it was built in Indianapolis. Sad, huh? I don't mean to rip the city, because I do think we are starting to get it. But you are correct that such buildings are few and far between.

  • Actually, my biggest problem with the College Avenue library is the rarely-used parking lot on the southeast corner that it operates.

    I know this is weird, but I don't have a huge issue with the parking lot on the back side of the library. It can always be filled in with some other structure at a later date if the neighborhood density calls for it. At least they got the scale and the orientation of the building correct, which is huge.

    The Boner Center is nice. I haven't been inside, however.

  • The Boner Center absolutely overwhelms 10th St. with its outward-sloping massive window elements. While the design is nicely modern and urban, the MASS is too much for the site.

    Most of the "urban" construction in Indianapolis recently has been downtown, and almost all of it has been townhome/condo in the northeast quadrant. One outlying exception is the row of townhomes at 21st and Penn.

    Take a look at the new CVS at 16th & Meridian also. Anti-big-box folks will quibble with the amount of parking, but the mass and placement of the building is much like the 42nd & College library…right up at the corner.

  • I've seen that CVS, but only from the rear. The height surprised me. Will have to check it out when it's finished.

    Stilll…a CVS and a Walgreens on the same corner…awesome! Well, at least they didn't tear down any historic structures, as their standard agenda dictates. And no, I don't count the IHOP as historic.

    Man, I really miss Hamaker's Pharmacy….

  • You should come inside the Boner Center. It is inviting and inspiring for a neighborhood that needs both. Instead of driving just on 10th street, take a jog and come up Jefferson Avenue from Michigan for a different view of the building. I think they meant this to be a statement of the hope they have for their neighborhood. Bold, artful and meaningful. It looks like they are also working across the street too on an apartment building. I am excited to see what this development adds to this corridor.

  • Between this post and the Infrastructurist's post on demolished train stations, I'm starting to get a little depressed.

    But, we have some good opportunities to save threatened buildings. Notably, the Bush Stadium is on the HLFI Most Endangered list, now would be a good time for the city to come up with a plan to save it.

  • Ya, sorry about the bummer post. I'll try to have something more positive next time.

    I almost thought about including the Starbucks in Irvington in my list. If it was multi-use, I would have given it the nod.

  • Kevin, the Starbucks development is multi-use…the Huntington bank shares entrances and parking lots. I believe that kind of midtown urban development is a good compromise between auto and pedestrian accessibility.

    Jennifer, the Boner Center is better inside than outside, though circulation on the second floor is a bit confusing. I have been inside many times for events and meetings.

    My criticism of the building's mass has absolutely nothing to do with the Near East Side, the Center's mission or its aspirational nature. It's all about form.

  • Actually I wasn't aware that it was a shared structure. Thanks for that.

  • Starbucks/Huntington Bank is not a shared structure. The two buildings are separate, but there is a common parking lot between them. It could be better, but the initial proposal was to plop two generic strip mall buildings on the site, so some headway was made.

  • For all its faux-ness, that CVS is turning out pretty nice. Then again, I'm a sucker for vertical signs and they've got not one, but two vertical signs. Nice touch.

  • I think the Boner Center is fine. It's two stories. If it seems to overwhelm 10th St. today, that's because 10th still needs some infill in that area. The Boner Center site plans for expansion don't thrill me from a design perspective.

    I don't know if you would call it an urban structure, but the Indianapolis Arts Center is a decent building.

    There are also some decent residential structures like the Highland-Stacks condos in Holy Cross, the Frank House and the "Straight Outta Dwell" houses in the Martindale on the Monon area, plus a decent new residential house in Cottage Home that has a modern flourish despite being the first home approved after the conservation district was put in place. And then there's the Craig McCormick designed Ragsdale House on Pleasant St. in Fountain Square.

    The quantity of more forward looking private residential structure in Indy has taken a huge leap forward (admittedly from nearly zero) in the last couple of years.

    And again, while not strictly urban, I like the Irwin Mortgage building at 106th and I-69, which is the only Indianapolis building in the Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary Architecture.

  • I probably should add the Art Center. It's a nice place.

    I like the Highland Stacks quite a bit, and the new 3 story across the street isn't bad either.

    I am not familiar with the Ragsdale House. Craig McCormick follows this blog though. Score!

    Thanks for the other suggestions.

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