FAENZI: Let's reclaim City Market's legacy

Carol Faenzi
February 12, 2011
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FaenziI recently spent some evening hours at City Market. Living downtown, there are many choices for where to spend an evening—City Market is usually not in anyone’s Top Ten.

But up on the mezzanine level, you will now find a bar, the Tomlinson Tap Room, named after Tomlinson Hall (built in 1885, destroyed by fire in the 1950s). One can still visit what remains, The Catacombs, an architectural gem beneath the market’s west plaza. The Tomlinson Tap Room offers 16 Indiana craft beers, as well as wine and food from vendors in the market. I’m happy to say there was quite a crowd.

This enterprise has been created as a profit center, a joint venture between the market and the Brewers of Indiana Guild, intended to decrease some of the taxpayer liability of the government-owned structure.

There is a sense that the bar belongs there. For one thing, the bar itself is an authentic piece, carefully restored, that dates to the 1920s. The tops of the tables and other materials used in the décor likewise have a history.

Sitting in this bar feels right because, not only does it integrate well with the history of the place that it inhabits, there is also a rich story attached to it. Neglecting this aspect is, to a great degree, what has caused the City Market to lose its appeal, to struggle with its identity and modern relevance.

I don’t know why the renovation that was announced last summer has been delayed. But in viewing the past renovation, which is an abomination of what a City Market should feel like, look like and how it should serve the community, instills in me the fear that we still may not get it.

The original City Market building was and is a beautiful structure. In its day, it was the place to go to fill the pantry and nurture spirits. I remember going with my Italian grandmother to buy olive oil and pasta. The market was a place of magic, of diversity, of satisfying smells and a feast for the eyes. Every stand was unique, yet it all blended together in such a way that we still talk about how great it was.

It hasn’t been great for a long time. And that is a tragedy, because it could be again. The emotions that are stirred when one is in a great space are timeless. How much time has been spent, I wonder, over how to create a sense of connection with people compared with product offering and a space plan? Is anyone thinking about how we incorporate story, memory and experience?

City Market’s main building is a grand and voluminous space. Part of the experience should include a first impression that inspires. Today, the space is cut horizontally in half by an unsightly electrical grid, courtesy of the last renovation. It’s as frustrating as looking into a low-hanging mirror that cuts your head off. The old photos of the market remind me of the Registry Hall at Ellis Island. When I enter that space, I am able to imagine what happened there, imagine the experiences of those who sat there 100 years ago. This is what I want for City Market. I want City Market to feed both our stomachs and our souls.

City Market deserves to be a part of the legacy we pass on to the next generation. Unfortunately, it hardly appears on the radar for the current generation because we have failed to keep its meaning alive. We have lost the stories. We have let its potential and relevance be overshadowed by political agendas and ego.

It looks like we might have one last opportunity to get it right, to reclaim what has been lost, to create something authentic. I hope it won’t turn out to be, once again, a costly endeavor that does not satisfy or succeed.

Experiencing the scene at the bar gives me hope, and seeing the new vendors coming in gives me hope. But please, can we take down that grid?•


Faenzi is a consultant, public speaker and author of “The Stonecutter’s Aria.” She can be reached at cfaenzi@aol.com.


  • Save the Market!
    I loved this article. I too remember going to City Market--when I was a young girl, and later, as an adult--and loved every minute of it! I introduced it to several of my friends who also loved it. It would be so great to see it the way it was back then. One huge bazaar of treasures! The smells! The tastes! Oh how I would love to return to that feast of the senses that was once City Market!
  • principal
    I enjoyed the Opinion article by Carol Faenzi on the City Market. She is right on, that the Market has been underserved in prior attempts to reenergise and to protect her. The potential is significant, and it is time we take stock of it being once again the emporium it was intended to be, with the intelegence, vision to make it Relevant. Do not let this story, nor the cause, gather dus; keep it out in front!
  • Agree!
    What a sensitively written article! I hope that planners with that kind of sensitivity can work on the Market this next time. Maybe we need to have John Herbst from the Indiana Historical Society advise on how to bring the history of The City Market back to life.
    Thank you IBJ and not to be ungrateful for running another great CFaenzi column--but a question:

    Why don't you do it more often? I always want more when I read her columns--but especially would like a followup --especially the City Market subject because what she writes is fascinating, the way she writes it is compelling--and there is so much more for her to write based on much much more--and judging from her photo she is younger --much younger--than old grey heads among us who recall:

    1. How--over many decades past--whatever politco group was in power tried to "steal" that valuable space occupied by City Market and then-Tomlinson Hall. Repetitively, in 40's,50's, even until Tomlinson Hall accommodated by burning down, those in power wanted to wrest City Market and replace it--

    But--and I don't recall exact detail--the great long ago benefactor who willed to city wrote it iron-clad--politician-proof! IT survived. But recently only barely.

    Then, in the 60's for many years an inspired group of volunteer women came up with the themed TO MARKET TO MARKET yearly black-tie,ballgown fund raiser--a gala never since equalled. WHY NOT RE-Start that? It brought people who never had been in the market to dine, dance in Market St. under the stars, smooch in the catacombs. Today the artwork Posters (different each year) are valuable collector items. Why not a revival to display them--an event IBJ could get an inspired lawfirm (maybe Bryce Bennett Jr, a City Market fan) to underwrite--and Carol Faenzi to write about it? The sponsoring group was Cathedral Arts Guild--sadly, it was the un-cooperative vendors in the Market who doomed the event--not the community which embraced it.

    But finally, CF is right on target re the market as it is today. I travel--the markets in Barcelona Spain, Bath, England are absolutely magic with the kind of vendors who used to grace City Market with fresh wares and rare items. I stood for an hour watching a vendor in Bath's market dispense strange and exotic teas--hundreds of different kinds--some priced in hundreds of dollars per ounce. I marvelled at the artistry of the presentation of everything from fruits, to color-matched sewing thread in Barcelona. These are just two--our trips to Turkey,Greece,France,Ireland,Scotland,Cornwall,Channel Isles and over UK ALWAYS make the local market one of our stops--and return visits. Likewise in US, markets in Seattle, San Francisco, many other cities are what our own City Market used to be, ought to be again--and COULD be again if writers like Ms. Faenzi could weave some word magic to motivate not must better marketing of the Market--but making the Market a local icon and visitor destination.

    It is never too late to become what you might have been--but soon it will be too late if the community doesn't read--and heed--columns like this.

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