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Herron targets historic armory on White River for new high school

October 7, 2015
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The Naval Reserve Armory was built in 1938 by the WPA to help provide jobs during the Depression. (Photo: Hadley Fruits)

Herron High School hopes to raise enough money to turn an abandoned historic armory in Indianapolis into a new high school, according to preservation group Indiana Landmarks, which is trying to save the property.

The Indianapolis Department of Public Works on Wednesday voted to put the Heslar Naval Armory under the control of Indiana Landmarks, so the group can find a new user.

Located on the White River at 30th Street, the building has been vacant since the departure of Navy and Marine Corps reserve units a year ago. The city inherited the site after the state found no interest in the property from its agencies.

Completed in 1938 by Works Progress Administration at a cost of $550,000, the building originally was called the Indianapolis Naval Reserve Armory. It was renamed in 1965 for Captain O.F. Heslar, the armory’s first commanding officer.

“The Naval Armory is an important landmark, both historically and architecturally,” Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis said in a written statement. “We want to preserve the building, and Herron High School’s plan to open a second campus on the site seems like a perfect new use, and one that will help revitalize the Riverside neighborhood.”

Herron officials said redeveloping the building into a high school will cost several million dollars. The plan is to welcome students to the new campus for the 2017-18 or 2018-19 school year.

“Herron High School is working to secure financial support in order to transform the armory into an exceptional environment where students can thrive," said Janet H. McNeal, head of Herron High School. "We are grateful to Indiana Landmarks for securing and maintaining the building while our board explores the possibility of establishing another campus there.”

Herron High School, a college preparatory charter school at 110 E. 16th St., has an enrollment of about 700, plus another 400 students on a waiting list. It received approval from the mayor's office earlier this year to open a second location.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Heslar Naval Armory served as national training center from 1940 to 1945, turning out more than 1,000 radio operators.

During World War II, the armory served as a top-secret site for developing the U.S. Navy’s war strategy in the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns. Some believe elements of the D-Day invasion and the war-ending bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were charted at the armory.

The building features Art Moderne architecture with curved corners, smooth surfaces, and parallel lines to create a streamlined look that suggests speed and movement. The four-story armory is constructed of reinforced concrete with steel trusses and fluted pilasters

The armory was designed by Indianapolis architects Ben H. Bacon and John P. Parrish, who also designed the historic armory in Michigan City.
 
 

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