Indiana preservationists to focus on animals in architecture

Downtown Indianapolis can be a wild place sometimes.

Lions roar along sidewalks. Turtles peek out at passersby. Bison and bears keep watch along Monument Circle.

A whole menagerie can be found on the buildings, fountains, sculptures and lampposts around the city. People just have to know where to look.

The curious and adventurous are invited on a safari through downtown Indianapolis, searching out bears, bison, frogs and fish in architectural features around the city. Indiana Landmarks, a statewide preservation group, and the Indiana War Memorials Commission is hosting the Indy Downtown Safari on July 31.

The 45-minute, family-friendly tours include activities and stories about the symbolism behind the featured carvings and adornments. Organizers hope to inspire wonder and appreciation for Indy’s unique structures.

“If you don’t live there or if you’re not there very often, these things are very easy to walk right past,” said Kasey Zronek, director of volunteers and heritage experiences for Indiana Landmarks. “One of the things we love to do on our tours is introduce people to some of those things that they might not see every day. And we can tell them the story behind it, so the next time they’re downtown, they can share it too.”

Indiana Landmarks is a nonprofit which helps people rescue and revitalize historic structures throughout the state. Notable projects of the organization include the restored Morris-Butler House in Indianapolis, redoing the Ayres Clock in downtown and hoping to revitalize Beth-El Temple.

The idea for the downtown safari was born from tours that Indiana Landmarks hosts for school groups. Part of the tours involve pointing out historic and interesting architectural features, and organizers realized that many times, those features were animals.

So they decided to put together a new event focused specifically on the hidden wildlife depicted around Indianapolis.

“We knew we wanted to be downtown, because we love to get people into downtown Indianapolis. We thought about the monuments there and the surrounding buildings, and also University Park, which has some interesting sculptures in it,” Zronek said.

With that in mind, organizers from Indiana Landmarks put together a list of animal-themed features in areas centered around Monument Circle.

Some are quite obvious and well-known. DePew Fountain in University Park, a serene greenspace south of the Indiana War Memorial, features sculptures of fish carved on the fountain itself. In the fountain’s basin, other fish sculptures shoot water.

Visitors to the Soldier and Sailors Monument are sure to have seen the bison heads featured around a fountain — meant to symbolize early Indiana history, Zronek said — and the bears on lampposts situated at the monument.
“We also have horses, panthers, fish and wolves,” Zronek said. “There are actually a lot of animals there.”

But others likely go unnoticed unless you spend much time downtown, Zronek said.

At the Columbia Club, frogs carved into the building’s facade hide in plain site. Hieroglyphic animals dot Circle Tower, keeping with its ancient Egyptian theme. Eagles in flight have been formed on the decorative lampposts at the Birch Bayh Federal Building.

“We’re always looking for ways to encourage people — especially kids — to look around them, to look at details on buildings and other things,” Zronek said.

Tours will run every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. July 31. People will meet at University Park, then head out on their excursion. Groups of about 15 people will be paired with a guide, who will lead them through the different attractions

As part of the event, the Indiana War Memorials Commission will also feature activities and have self-guided tours of its monuments.

Each tour lasts about 45 minutes and will be held regardless of weather. The event is accessible to all.

“There will be stories and activities along the way. Then when they get back to University Park, there will be tents set up where people can do some creative activities,” Zronek said.

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