This was the scene in 2008 where the Michigan Road and the National Road intersect on Indianapolis’s Eastside. Ew.
Since then, this block and the block to the east have been extensively renovated. Here are the same buildings today.
The city has Angie’s List to thank, as the company chose this derelict area for its headquarters. You might know Angie’s List and its crowdsourced reviews of local businesses, but you might not know that the company has headquartered in Indianapolis for most of its 20-year history.
The company has renovated nearly 30 buildings here, creating a campus on which most of its employees work. It’s transformed this near-Eastside neighborhood from dumpy and dangerous to hip and cool.
One of Indianapolis’s oldest fire stations is now Angie’s List’s front door, the place where visitors go when they need to meet with employees. I gather that this was the first building they rented in this block, back in 1999 when they just needed cheap space. Nobody else wanted anything to do with this part of town then.
There’s even a fire truck inside, next to the reception desk. I know this because as I was looking for a new job this summer, Angie’s List considered me for a position. I entered the reception area more than once while I waited to meet people during the interview process.
The brick sidewalk is a wonderful touch. I’m betting it was laid as part of the renovation project, but it is rustic and a little uneven as though it’s been there for a hundred years.
Some of the bricks are marked by their makers; most of those come from the town of Brazil, about 70 miles west of here on the National Road. Brazil and surrounding Clay County were rich in, well, clay, which made it a great place to make bricks. Despite this natural resource, the county was named after Henry Clay.
Anyway, Angie’s List just kept buying and renovating property here. Their campus now fills more than two city blocks. But I say “renovating” rather than “restoring,” because these buildings have all been reworked to some extent for their new purposes. I saw it firsthand during my interviews. While the firehouse retains much of its historic interior charm, a large former factory building where software developers now work was gutted and is thoroughly modern inside.
Some preservationists might not be happy about that, but I think it’s a more than fair trade given how badly blighted this neighborhood was. This reuse is far, far better than no use! Angie’s List’s presence has dramatically lifted the surrounding neighborhood, too, raising property values and making it safe for residents.
It was hard for me to turn down Angie’s List’s employment offer when it came. How perfect would it have been for me to work where the National Road and the Michigan Road intersect? They’re my two very favorite old roads! And because Angie’s List has become a leading employer of Indy-area software-development and IT people, many of my former colleagues have wound up here — especially a woman of whom I think the world, a technology Vice President there. She’s simply the best at what she does. I would have loved to work with her and my other colleagues again. But another company offered me a position at about the same time, a role that’s a better match for my skills and career goals, for about the same money. It’s just too bad that their headquarters are in a charmless suburban office park, well away from any historic roads.
You can’t have it all, I suppose. But perhaps my VP friend and I can meet for lunch sometimes at the campus’s motorcycle-themed Moto Cafe. Heck, I can even come on my own; it’s open to the public. Reviewers on Yelp like it.