Meridian-Kessler church building revived as arts haven

REW Trinity church opera 440px

The former Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood has found new life as a haven for arts organizations.

Holy Trinity left its longtime home at 4011 N. Pennsylvania St. in early 2009 for a new gold-domed church that it built in Carmel to be closer to its growing membership.

The Indianapolis Opera later moved into the building—now known as the Frank and Katrina Basile Opera Center—using it for rehearsal space, classes and small performances.  

The opera’s decision to move there in 2013 paved the way for other arts groups to do the same. Three tenants have followed in the past nine months, with another set to join them in the summer, bringing the 25,000-square-foot space to near capacity.

They are: Motus Dance (August), Encore Vocal Arts (September) and Indy Film Fest (February). In addition, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra will join them in July.

“What this space has become is a Midtown arts and community collaborative,” said Kevin Patterson, general director of the opera.

The Indianapolis Opera occupies about 8,000 square feet of office space and serves as  anchor tenant and facilities manager. It holds practices and recitals at the church building but conducts performances at Butler University’s Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts.

Patterson came to the opera from the Anchorage Opera in February 2015—a tumultuous time for the local not-for-profit. Artistic director James Caraher and executive director John Pickett had resigned, and the opera was in such poor financial shape that it skipped the 2014-15 season.

Patterson since has righted the ship while turning the church building into a neighborhood asset.

“You can feel the pulse and the forward movement,” said Caroline Farrar, executive director of the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association. “It really helps balance out the more southerly part of Meridian Kessler. That’s a nice strong buffer to have at that juncture.”

Former Angie’s List Inc. CEO Bill Oesterle, who lives in the neighborhood, bought the building in 2008 for $1.5 million. He made it available to the opera under favorable terms.

“Bill has been the largest driver behind it, though silent,” Patterson said of Oesterle. “He’s a great patron for the arts.”

The opera has managed to reduce its building expenses by subleasing additional space to the other four arts organizations, which are exploring ways to share services with the opera and cut their costs.

At the Penrod Arts Fair on the Indianapolis Museum of Art grounds in September, the groups plan to share booths instead of having separate ones. They operate a box office together and might collaborate on marketing.

“We’re like our own version of Ticketmaster, but much more cost-effective,” Patterson said.

The former church building has become a community gathering place of sorts. It’s hosted the St. Margaret's Hospital Guild Decorators' Show House, the Midtown Community Flea Market and even weddings. Also, Indy Film Fest is exploring an outdoor film festival on the property.

“We want to grow the pie for everybody, and this building sits in the middle of it,” Patterson said.

The church was built in 1961 and expanded in 1981. Its predecessors, the Franklin
Vonnegut home (4011 Pennsylvania) and the Morris Ross home (4014 Washington Blvd.) were demolished to make way for the Holy Trinity church and grounds.

Franklin Vonnegut was a president of the Vonnegut Hardware Co. Morris Ross was a managing editor of The Indianapolis News.


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