Improvements on “MLK,” aka the Michigan Road, in northwest Indianapolis

There’s an unfortunate saying: if you’re on a street named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you’re in a rough neighborhood.

This may be only a stereotype, but sadly it’s been true of any city I’ve ever been in. Indianapolis, the city I call home, is no exception. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd., is the Michigan Road between 10th and 38th Streets. “MLK,” as we all call it, is in an economically challenged part of town. It figures frequently in the police blotter. When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, I felt very out of place there and didn’t linger for many photos. Most things were in dilapidated condition. This house is representative.

Dilapidated house

Bar-B-Q Heaven was one of the bright spots on MLK. Its great neon sign is lit night and day.

Bar-B-Q Heaven

Holy Angels Catholic Church anchors this neighborhood, but sadly, this building has been torn down since I shot this photo.

Holy Angels Catholic Church

Here, the road goes under I-65 just before it passes Crown Hill Cemetery and reaches 38th St. Much of MLK had this “nowhere” feeling.

Michigan Road at I-65

15 or 20 years ago now, a group of civic leaders pressed to have the MLK name extended all the way up Michigan Road to the city limits at 96th St. Their argument was that this would honor Dr. King in all kinds of Indianapolis neighborhoods, from depressed to properous, from inner city to suburban. I was sympathetic to their cause, but I wasn’t in favor of renaming more of this historic road. It would have wiped the Michigan Road name off Indianapolis’s map. I hoped the group would find another road for this purpose, but then the effort quietly faded away.

Since 2008, the city has completed a number of infrastructure beautification improvements in several challenged neighborhoods. MLK was one of them. The road had previously been four lanes wide, a remnant from the days when this road was US 421 and needed to move cars swiftly through town. But since MLK is used much more as a local road today, the first step was to remove two of the driving lanes and add parking.

MLK southbound

Colorful crosswalks went in at every intersection. Notice the stylized “MLK” logo.


That logo appears in wayfinding signs posted all along the corridor, giving this area its own branding. I love how the signs link people to the great resources nearby.

MLK signage

The grass is all green and young trees line the road. The entire area is much more cheerful.


I love what the city has done here, but please don’t confuse it for improved prosperity. There are still dilapidated houses and the police still visit this area a lot. Improving the socioeconomic situation along MLK will take much more than a city infrastructure program.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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2 responses to “Improvements on “MLK,” aka the Michigan Road, in northwest Indianapolis”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    A very nice walking tour of an area most of your readers will never see up close.

    Holy Angels Church is a bittersweet subject. The old church building dated to 1903 and was the sole remaining wood frame Catholic church building in Indianapolis. Sadly, an engineering report done before a roof replacement showed multiple structural failures wich could not be repaired, and the building had to come down. The small but vibrant Catholic community was heartbroken. Masses have since been celebrated at Marian University and at the Parish school.

    The school is the bright spot, having been built new in 1999. It was the first newly constructed inner city Catholic school in the entire country since 1960. Also, in January, the Archdiocese approved the start of fundraising for a new church building which is expected to cost $1 million.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Jim, thank you for the backstory on Holy Angels. It’s really too bad the building was in such bad shape and had to be razed. I look forward to new construction.

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