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BICENTENNIAL: Construction fanned out from Indianapolis’ core

December 12, 2015
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Union Station reflected the huge role railroads played in the growth of Indianapolis in the 1800s. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Public Library)

Commercial real estate in the Hoosier capital city was slow to develop in the 19th century, confined to the original Mile Square surrounding Monument Circle. Commercial office and retail establishments, mostly two- and three-story brick or stone buildings, clustered along Washington and Meridian streets.

Union Station, completed in 1888, recognized the huge role the railroads played in the growth of Indianapolis during the previous 40 years. The Romanesque station, with its 185-foot clock tower, dominated the southwest quadrant of the Mile Square. As late as 1920, Union Station was still serving more than 175 trains a day. The Warehouse District along South Illinois Street served the wholesale hardware and grocery business tied to the railroads.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument that graces the Circle has been an Indianapolis landmark for most of the 20th century. Built from 1888 to 1901 to honor Indiana veterans of the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, the stone obelisk, capped with its statue of Victory, towered over the city until completion of the city’s first skyscraper, the Merchants National Bank Building, in 1913.

By the 1880s and 1890s, Monument Circle began to take on the commercial character that would mark its passage into the 20th century. Indianapolis businessman and congressman William H. English built his home on the Circle and later erected the English Opera House on its northwest quadrant.

Another longtime commercial tenant on the Circle is IPALCO Enterprises Inc. Perhaps the most unique commercial building on the Circle is Circle Tower, on the southeast quadrant at Market Street. Built in 1928 and 1929, the 14-story tower is one of the few remaining Art Deco buildings in the city. Elevators in the building contain solid bronze doors.

Much of Indianapolis was cleaning up from the devastation—and $25 million loss—caused by the White River floods of 1913 when the Frenzel family’s Merchants National Bank opened its skyscraper. The 17-story building was at the southeast corner of Meridian and Washington streets, directly across the street from the location the bank occupied for nearly 30 years (and which was occupied for much of the rest of the century by L.S. Ayres’ flagship department store).

The Merchants building was the city’s tallest for almost half a century. Begun as a four-story structure in 1904, 13 stories were added from 1911 to 1913.

Between 1910 and 1915, the city grew as much upward as outward. The Architect and Builders Building on North Pennsylvania Street, Murat Temple on North New Jersey Street, Hume-Mansur Building on East Ohio Street (once the address of choice for Indianapolis physicians), St. Mary’s Academy on East Vermont Street, William H. Block Co. on North Illinois Street, and Circle Theatre on the Circle were completed or under construction during the period. They hastened conversion of downtown into a retail and commercial center for the rapidly expanding metropolitan area.

Commercial building all but ceased during the Great Depression and didn’t recover until late in the 1930s and into the 1940s.

Commercial real estate in the city would be heavily affected by the transportation revolution following World War II. Construction on Interstate 465, the 55-mile-long freeway circling the city, began in 1958. The first segment, on the northwest side, was completed in 1962, and the last segment by 1970.

Construction of major portions of I-465 in the late 1950s and 1960s cemented the city’s reputation as the Crossroads of America. From 1950 to 1960, truck traffic to and from Indianapolis jumped significantly. By the end of the decade, more than 42,000 residents made their living from trucking.

The transportation revolution would be accompanied by a corresponding revolution in commercial real estate, as office and industrial parks sprouted on the suburban fringe during the 1960s and 1970s. As people moved to the suburbs, new shopping malls including Glendale, Greenwood and Castleton followed. By 1972, less than 20 percent of the department-store retail dollar in Marion County was spent downtown.

Retail wasn’t the only segment of the business community to expand outward during the 1950s. Many insurance companies moved north along the Meridian Street corridor.

Commercial real estate began a downtown renaissance in the early 1960s that continues a half-century later.

The 1962 completion of the 28-story City-County Building was the first major construction project downtown in decades, and the first real skyscraper in the city.

Indianapolis’ first major urban renewal project took place on the northeast side of downtown in 1963. The Riley Center Project involved demolishing several city blocks of blighted neighborhoods and replacing them with a downtown complex of shops, offices and apartments. Twin 30-story Riley Towers anchored the site in 1963.

An urban renewal project that began mid-decade created the foundation for what is now the IUPUI campus.

On the south side of downtown, urban renewal was corporate-driven. Eli Lilly and Co. grew dramatically through the 1950s, and almost exponentially during the 1960s.

Indiana National Bank capped the 1960s in 1969 when it created a holding company, Indiana National Corp., and immediately announced plans to build a corporate headquarters downtown for the state’s first billion-dollar bank. The 37-story Indiana National Bank Tower at Ohio and Pennsylvania streets opened in 1970 as the state’s tallest building and laid groundwork for an explosion of high-rise office construction in the 1970s.

Sports and tourism dominated urban-renewal efforts in the early 1970s. The Amateur Athletic Union moved its national headquarters to Indianapolis in 1970. By the end of the decade, Indianapolis government and business leaders had formed the Indiana Sports Corp. to promote the Circle City as a venue for amateur sports.

Renewed interest in downtown created momentum for commercial development in the Mile Square. In 1971, Blue Cross and Blue Shield built its 17-story Indiana headquarters at Market and Illinois streets on the site of the old Traction-Terminal Building. That year, the Jefferson Plaza Building on Virginia Avenue underwent an extensive renovation.

Another spate of building came in 1975 when Indiana Bell Telephone Co. completed a major addition to its headquarters on Meridian Street just north of the Circle. Market Square Center, a high-rise office tower at Delaware and Ohio Streets later known as the Gold Building, also opened in 1975.

Commercial real estate in the 1980s and 1990s downtown was concentrated around the Hoosier Dome, completed in 1984, and Conseco Fieldhouse, which opened in 1999. Circle Centre mall, completed in 1995, attempted to redevelop blighted areas south of Washington Street, and the public-private partnership that made it feasible continues to work with the groundbreaking retail and commercial experiment. Lucas Oil Stadium, which replaced what by then was known as the RCA Dome in 2008, underscored the city’s commitment to big-time professional sports.

Commercial development downtown accelerated in the 21st century with redevelopment of Massachusetts Avenue and Fountain Square, completion of several four-star hotels, and redevelopment of the old Market Square Arena site with construction of a new headquarters for the global distribution business of Columbus-based Cummins Inc. Commercial real estate redevelopment has also occurred in such historic neighborhoods as Broad Ripple, SoBro, Irvington, Beech Grove and Speedway.

Spearheaded by visionary community developers in Hamilton County, new commercial real estate developments made the north quadrant of the metropolitan area a thriving business hub in the 21st century, with development blanketing Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville.

Completion of the new Indianapolis International Airport terminal, coupled with a transformation of Internet-based logistics system, created a 21st century warehouse district in the west and northwest suburbs. Befitting the city’s longtime reputation as Crossroads of America, the huge distribution facilities along I-70 and I-74 west of Indianapolis and I-65 in Boone County created strong demand for commercial real estate in the north and northwest suburbs.•
 

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