On a slow Monday, a trip back

August 13, 2007
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Back to the FutureAlmost 50 years ago, before the City-County Building or Interstate 65, city leaders and planners designed a master plan for the Central Business District. The 42-page document provides some fascinating perspective on growth and development in Indianapolis. You can find it here. What do you think? (Hat tip to Urban Indy for sharing the link.) Here are some of the suggestions from 1958:
  • Build a marina along the White River between Washington and 10th streets, with terraces along the banks to view boat races.
  • Close Monument Circle to all cars to encourage more pedestrian traffic.
  • Replace the old buildings in the Wholesale District with newer buildings and more modern warehousing equipment.
  • Build a limited-access highway along West Street that would complete an inner circle of Interstate highways around the CBD.
  • Convert part of the Central Canal into a "lagoon" as part of a large park between Washington and Ohio streets.
  • Rebuild Union Station into a "centralized transporation and distribution center."




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    • Well, the city correctly anticipated that much of the new DT population would be empty nesters and the younger population seeking the amenities (Page 37). Other than that I liked the idea of a lagoon, and the marina would have been interesting as well. We really haven't done much to take advantage of the river itself...though that may change w/ less industry along it. It seems those planners did envision downtown as being busy and full of life, though that interstate would have cut of the CBD from the Zoo and IUPUI.
    • Props for the De Lorean, my friend.
    • At that time they had no clue that the zoo would ever move from Washington Park or iu and Purdue would ever merge campuses (There would have been a better chance of allowing blacks to join the KKK) or that they would move all of it to the White River. Back then that entire area was black ghettos (there terms) and swampy, mosquito areas.

      It is amazing to think they wanted to demolish what we consider historic old buildings and replace them with new modern buildings that we would consider eyesores. I am sure they had no clue people would pay mega bucks to live in converted warehouses or that restaurants and stores would occupy them. It is a wonder anything survived.

      Fascinating look at Indy 50 years ago.
    • Thank God, we do not fallow throw with some things. What an (expletive deleted) mess. Would be just lovely to have West Street as a big highway wall cutting off white river state park side of downtown. I have come to learn that MASTER PLANS are the biggest waste of money. I have yet to see the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to architects worth it.
    • Bob, Indianapolis was originally a masterplan designed by Alexander Ralston (famed apprentice to French architect, Pierre L'Enfant).

      Personally, I think it was worth every penny!
    • With all things moderation.
    • The West St. highway really stuck out at me. Why did people back then think it was a good idea to build highways through cities? They act as a big wall severing the urban environment. We still deal with the consequences of those bad decisions today.
    • Mad props to UrbanIndy for getting this. I had the opportunity to read this over the weekend and I must say that I am glad that a lot of it didn't happen. Could you imagine the Circle with no cars? Tearing-down the Wholesale District?? West Street as a limited-access highway (even though it essentially functions and looks like a highway)?

      However, I LOVE the idea of the White River being made into a marina. I have been saying this for years to anyone that would listen. So many other cities, big and small, really embrace their rivers and have made them landmarks on their own right. I know we have White River State Park, but it does little to engage the River or for people to actually enjoy the wtaer. I know that the City's sewer system has been a major obstacle for reclaiming White River, but that project is now underway and I see no reason why Indianapolis could dredge the River, remove some of the dams, and get this usuable by the people. Could you imagine the amount of decvelopment that would happen along White River Parkway on th very near west side? I see residential highrises with amazing views of the skyline just west of IUPUI, a couple of restaurants right on the water, and possibly a River Boat Casino down there to compliment the huge amount of convention visitors we get.

      BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
    • The marina and development for the whiteriver would have been fantastic, but everything else.
      The city market wouldent have been there, what we consider a beautiful masterpeice would have been demolished for a shoebox!
      Washington street, though I like the amount of pedestrian friendliness, would have just looked stupid, not to mention slow traffic on one of the busiest streets in downtown. The fact that they wanted to basically make Lockerbie parking lots, turn wholesale into fugly land, and demolish everything north except the world war memorial is just stupid.
      To demolish what makes Indy, Indy!
      Wow, compared to the plans, how the hell did all these buildings survive? 0_o
      Ah, turning a 150 year old downtown(at that time) into a total modernized shit hole full of highways, ah. dont you love the 1950s?
    • oh, and yes, highrises would rock along the river XD.
      I would love to see some of the old gems, and the historical homes in the near near westside restored, and having some good infill.
      They should make it feel canalish, except greener.
    • well said, corydubs!
    • Maybe they were trying to play keep up the neighbors and thought that gutting
      downtown was a better idea than building on it's strengths. Hey wait...maybe that exact
      same thing is going on now. Have you all read The Death and Life of Great American
      Cities? It will give you a lot of insight into the thinking of the time.
    • Love the DeLorean....made my morning.
    • Glad you liked it!
    • Jeff, it's a good thing that we had only scattered examples of the kind of urban renewal that Jane Jacobs so roundly criticized for killing neighborhoods and street life, things like the Barton and Lugar Towers, Renaissance Place, and the nasty Educational Services Center and Federal Building downtown.

      Still, some of the things in that plan (convention center, new post office, Riley Towers, moving industry out of the Regional Center) have happened. And in a very broad sense, the Warehouse District did get modernized in the regional specialization in logistics (warehousing and distribution) with automated facilities, even though it happened in Plainfield, Park 100, and Lebanon. It is striking how much of that plan actually did happen in 50 years.
    • It's useful to put the thinking of the 1950's into perspective. As a culture, we were enamored with the automobile and the highway system. Anyone remember the old footage of the World's Fair (can't recall which year) with the model of the modern city? It has us living in sleek, ultramodern domes and highrises, zipping all around on superhighways. Very Jetsons-like. Today we mostly abhor urban design that centers on the automobile. But back then, it was the coolest, most exciting thing to envision interstate highways connecting everything - and we collectively didn't yet understand the side effects of dividing established neighborhoods, etc.

      It was after Indy's interstates were designed, but not yet built, that planners around the country had begun to recognize the divisiveness of limited-access highways on the urban core. I-69 was supposed to follow the track of present-day Binford Blvd and connect with I-65 and I-70 at the north split, follow I-65 across the top side of downtown, and rejoin I-70 on the southwest corner of downtown. It would have run along the path that West St currently takes. Other cities have this small inner-loop arrangement, notably Columbus, OH, and Kansas City. The powers-that-be in Indy decided not to complete I-69 inside the 465 loop, and thus not to complete the inner loop around the west side of downtown. Interestingly, though, you can still see the mounds of dirt and the outlines of the I-69 connection just north of the North Split.

      I, for one, am relieved that much of those plans did not come to fruition. The 1950's were a period of much well-intended renewal, when people were fascinated by all things new. I think they had too little respect for the design and planning that had taken place before then. Having said that, the idea of closing Monument Circle and the four adjacent streets is a great one. There is no need to have cars run around the circle, and it's often the slowest route through the area. Having all the brick-paved sections of the circle and the four spokes around it as a pedestrian mall would be a real gem for the city - it could be our own little version of Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall.

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