Favorite subjects: Broad Ripple Village

What is now the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis started as two rival towns far north of the city limits and along the White River. It was 1836 and construction of the Indiana Central Canal had been approved. The two towns were platted that year to bracket it, Broad Ripple to the north and Wellington to the south.

Broad Ripple, bisected by the Indiana Central Canal. Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

The Mammoth Internal Improvement Act that funded the Canal and other infrastructure improvements would quickly cause a financial panic that brought Indiana to the brink of bankruptcy. Many of the Act’s improvements were aborted, including the Canal. Of the hundreds of miles the Canal was intended to span, just eight miles were completed, all within Indianapolis.

But the Canal’s construction brought people to the area, and the two towns grew. But by the 1880s Wellington had become a thriving community while Broad Ripple foundered, dwindling to about 35 residents. Yet when a new post office was located in Wellington but given the name Broad Ripple, the less-prosperous town won out and the entire area soon had the name all of Indianapolis knows today.

At first, just the canal and a single dirt road (now Westfield Boulevard) connected Broad Ripple to Indianapolis. In 1883, a railway came to Broad Ripple that connected to Chicago; it would later become the Monon Railroad. In 1894, electric street cars were extended into Broad Ripple; in 1904, the same tracks were used to carry interurban trains. The advent of the automobile led Indiana to form its first highway system in 1917; Westfield Boulevard became part of State Road 1 and, later, the first alignment of US 31. Broad Ripple had become very well connected.

On the Central Canal. Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Broad Ripple
Walking path on the Canal. Canon Canonet QL 17 G-III, Fuji Neopan 100 Acros, 2010
Rainbow bridge
The 1906 Guilford Avenue bridge over the Canal. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Monon bridge
Monon Railroad bridge over the Canal. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

With so many ways to reach Broad Ripple from all over, the town increasingly became a place to go for fun. The well-to-do built cottages along the river; an amusement park went up on the eastern outskirts of town. Businesses filled the town’s main street.

And then in 1924 Broad Ripple was annexed into Indianapolis, and more and more houses were built in the area. It started to become a neighborhood, and the former town’s identity as an amusement destination began to wane. The amusement park was transformed into a city park. The village started to become a commercial center for residents.

In time, buses replaced the streetcars and interurban and the tracks were paved over. US 31 was routed several block west onto Meridian Street, newly built north of the canal. Even the fabled Monon Railroad went defunct. And as happened in every American city, the suburbs kept pushing farther and farther away from the city center. By the 1960s, Broad Ripple was in decline. Residents were leaving and businesses were failing. But the falling rents created opportunity. Quirky shops went into the storefronts and even into some of the homes. A vibrant night life formed, with bars opening along the main street and the former movie theater, the Vogue, becoming a concert venue. Broad Ripple was, once again, a destination for fun.

The Vogue at night. iPhone 5, 2015
The Vogue
The Vogue by day. Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (exp. 1996), 2013
The Monkey's Tale
The Monkey’s Tale bar, Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Big Hat Books
Bookstore in a big old house, Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Kayaks for sale, Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Ripple Bagel Deli, Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

My first visit to Broad Ripple was in this era. It was about 1992, and the Terre Haute radio station where I worked gave me tickets to see a concert at the Vogue. And then when I moved to Indianapolis a couple years later I ended up in a neighborhood that’s a quick drive from Broad Ripple. I’ve been there most of the last 23 years. Broad Ripple remains a common destination for me.

Broad Ripple’s main street, today called Broad Ripple Avenue and known as “the strip,” was a fun mix when I moved here: by day, popular shops and art galleries; by night, bars and late-night food joints for a younger crowd. I found the night life to be great fun then.

Now that I’m pushing 50, that kind of nightlife isn’t fun for me anymore. But I still enjoy Broad Ripple’s offbeat shops. My favorite coffee shop in town is there; I’ve written a few blog posts at one of its tables. And the Village remains a great place to go for some photography. I’ve visited it dozens of times for just that purpose.

Broad Ripple Kroger
Tiny Kroger. Olympus XA, Kodak T-Max 400, 2016
Shoe repair
Shoe repair. Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017
Corner Wine Bar
Corner Wine Bar. Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Colorful clothes
Clothing shop on Westfield Boulevard. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Today's specials
Good food at Petite Chou. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
196x Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
Karmann Ghia parked in front of the natural food store. Palm Pre, 2012.
Street seating awaiting customers. Pentax ME, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, Kodak T-Max 400, 2012

Some things haven’t changed over these years. The strip remains lively and young; the streets just off the strip appeal more to those who’ve graduated from their 20s. The tiny Broad Ripple Kroger remains open somehow. Many of the former residences off the main business district still contain small businesses and restaurants. And when you drive through you can still imagine a time when Broad Ripple was a small town.

But much has changed in Broad Ripple. Businesses have come and gone, of course. Art galleries that used to dot the strip have mostly closed, replaced by more bars and late-night food joints. The Monon rail bed has become a very popular running and biking trail. Bazbeaux Pizza, which started in a garage, moved into a very nice facility down the street. And a giant polka-dotted chair was painted onto the side of a building.

Ice cream station
Former Monon station, now an ice-cream shop. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Carter Bldg
Winter in Broad Ripple. Canon Dial 35-2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Brugge Jeep
Former Internet cafe, now a brewpub. Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (exp. 1996), 2013
Brown Rolls, brown brick
I don’t know what this business was, but it’s long gone now. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Bazbeaux Pizza, a Broad Ripple institution, moved down the street from its original location. Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016
Monon Coffee Co.
My favorite coffee shop in Indy opened since I moved here but is 20 years old now. Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016
Brick Chair
The Bungalow. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011.

For more than 40 years, Broad Ripple has had a quirky, offbeat, hippie vibe. But that is beginning to change as yet another major transition comes to the area: urban densification. The neighborhoods around Broad Ripple have been very popular over the last quarter century or so, which has driven home prices and rents up. Developers have taken notice. They’ve sought and won zoning changes and are building multi-story apartments and parking garages with first-story retail. The buildings crowd the street. Broad Ripple had formerly felt open and airy, but it increasingly feels closed-in and tight.

Pedestrian Bridge
Monon bridge. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011
The new Broad Ripple
Behind the pedestrian bridge now. Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017
Blue mural
Mural on a building recently torn down, Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Electric cars for hire taking up prime parking, Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017

I love old bridges and I have a preservationist’s heart. So I was sad to see that the railing on the 1906 bridge over the Canal was altered, I’m sure to make it safer. The railing was about knee height before, making it easy to fall off.

Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow bridge railing before. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011
Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow bridge railing after. Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

Taking the long view, change has been constant in Broad Ripple. But many places of quirky charm from Broad Ripple’s most recent era remain. I never lack for photographic subjects there. I can always photograph the Monon bridge or the polka-dotted chair one more time. Or I can walk down a side street I haven’t visited in a while and see what’s new.

Monon bridge 1
Monon bridge. Pentax ME, Kodak T-Max 400, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, 2012
Polka-dotted chair
Polka-dotted chair. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Blue picket fence. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Dilapidated building (restored since I took this photo). Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Vintage clothes. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011
Brugge. Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

Broad Ripple has survived many transitions before and forged a new identity. I expect it will survive this one just the same.

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32 responses to “Favorite subjects: Broad Ripple Village”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    It’s funny, I lived nearby (61st & Indianola) for 5 years in the late 80s-early 90s and never really went exploring in the Village itself. I patronized businesses there when I wanted to buy something, but never just wandered.
    At the time I was stuck on how it was losing its flavor as a small town within a city and becoming just a collection of restaurants and bars. I should have been more open to what was to be found there instead of lamenting what wasn’t.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s tough to lament something’s passing and welcome its future at the same time. Very tough.

  2. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    Is this a German license plate on the Karmann Ghia?
    GAP stands for Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar



    Wonderful, just wonderful.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  4. Ron Avatar

    Karmann-Ghia looks like my first car, a ’66 1300. I’m really impressed with the Starmatic’s results! I have one with a working meter, haven’t gone to the trouble of adapting film for it yet. Fun post!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Starmatic is fun to shoot. I’ve shot it a few times and so far got the best results with that color film, which was Portra 160. My source for that doesn’t stock it anymore and so I switched to Efke b/w, which has since gone out of production. No loss to me, I didn’t like the stuff much. I should try the Rera Pan that is available now in 127.

  5. conspicari Avatar

    Great post Jim, the results from the little Kodak VR35 K40 are really good.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is a surprisingly decent p&s! I still have it. I should shoot it again.

  6. brickthomas Avatar

    Thanks for the history and update on Broad Ripple. My wife and I lived in rural Indiana for years and Broad Ripple was where we escaped to for our urban fix. It was the closest thing to a Pacific NW vibe we could find. India Garden is still our benchmark for great Indian food. Loved the photos too. Brick

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh cool, you know the place! It’s been great to live a short drive away.

  7. SilverFox Avatar

    That looks like an interesting town and if I am ever over there I will try to visit. Great set of shots Jim and a very good history to go with them.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If you come, I’ll buy you a pint!

      1. SilverFox Avatar

        And I will gladly accept and probably reciprocate as one pint is never enough! :)

  8. Kevin Thomas Avatar
    Kevin Thomas

    Great post. We see the same kind of thing happening here in Austin, the cool, hip, funky parts of town are being invaded by these large buildings full of hipster condos, running out the cool, hip, funky shops and restaurants that attracted people in the first place. If I wanted to live in New York or San Francisco I would move there, instead it feels like they are moving here and then recreating that environment.

    That’s the problem with living in the same place for almost 50 years. Most people I work with have no idea how different things used to be.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Things do change. They just do. Broad Ripple is a perfect example.

      One challenge with the hipster condos is that the developers can only sell to the well heeled and rent first-floor retail to the well heeled to make their profit margin. That elevates rents everywhere and soon everything is well heeled.

      But the cool, hip, funky people just move on to some other depressed neighborhood and the cycle begins anew.

  9. peggy Avatar

    Nice history lesson with good images. Documenting the changing landscape of cities and towns and remembering their histories is important. Keep up the good work!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! More “Favorite Subjects” posts to come.

  10. daisymae2017 Avatar

    Very Nice Post and Pictures. Good Job.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

      1. daisymae2017 Avatar

        You’re Welcome

  11. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    I have a soft spot for Broad Ripple. I lived there in 2008 with my two best friends. I’m glad Fishers is a short drive. Brewpub, Sangrita Saloon, La Piedad and the Deli are some of my favorites.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I commute from Fishers via Broad Ripple to my Northwestside home every day (or will through late Sept, when I move to Zionsville) — and at rush hour, Broad Ripple is not a short drive!! But otherwise it is.

      You know what I miss in BR? Mezzaluna. It was where Noodles & Co is now. I loved that restaurant.

      BR needs a bar with a good whiskey selection.

      1. Joshua Fast Avatar
        Joshua Fast

        Wasn’t Mezzaluna an Italian place? i vaguely remember it, but that noodles & co. was there when i lived down there.

        I try to avoid 69/Binford at all costs during rush hour, thankfully i work in westfield where i can avoid the interstate just to get caught in construction.

        There used to be a small pub next to Bleecker Street (Is that even still there?) I remember you had to go downstairs to get into it. It had rows of bourbon and scotch above the bar and a nice selection of beer on tap.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yeah, Italian. So good.

          I remember that pub. I was in there once maybe a decade ago. I should try to find it again.

  12. Stormi Hunt Avatar

    I moved north, away from Indy, a few years ago. I get homesick for certain places, and Broad Ripple is one of them. Thank you for this; I’ve enjoyed it very much!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Happy to be of service!

  13. sdaven5191 Avatar

    Wonder if you know that many – or maybe just “quite a few” – of those cool, pleasant, front-porched bungalows that help make BR the cool, pleasant place it used to be, have been authoritatively identified as Sears (and other companies, too) mail order kit homes? Sears is always the one that everyone seems to resort to when naming their sources, but there were several others, some larger and longer lasting, such as Aladdin, of Bay City Michigan. There was also Wardway (Montgomery Ward), of Chicago, Illinois, Gordon van Tine, of Davenport, Iowa, who actually produced all the Wardway homes for M.W., as M.W. wanted in on that market share to compete directly with Sears of course, but didn’t have the first lumber mill or production/distribution facility of their own, so they contracted with G.V.T. to do all that for them. The G.V.T/M.W. designs were identical, but named by and sold under the M.W. name out of their own specialty catalogs, in competition with Sears, their biggest (EVERYBODY’S biggest) mail order competitor. Sears did better in the marketplace, about equal to their regular mail order business level, but Wards gave them a run for their money, and kept them on their toes! Orders were sent to Wards through their own catalog, but we’re forwarded to the G.V.T. Mills for fulfilment. Every one was labeled with the Wardway name and logo, but came straight out of G.V.T. facilities.
    There were several others, such as the aforementioned Aladdin Homes of Bay City, Michigan; Bennett Homes, North Tonawanda, New York;
    Lewis Liberty Kit Homes, of Bay City, Michigan; Sterling Kit Homes Bay City, Michigan;
    Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Los Angeles, California; Harris Brothers, Chicago, Illinois; and
    Ready Built House Co., Portland, Oregon. The West Coast companies stayed fairly local, since Rail shipping too far east was not economical with so many other companies located in the Midwest, such as Bay City, Michigan, and a few were local to the East Coast, including Aladdin, which established distribution Mills in the south and southeast in addition to their location in Bay City, and Bennett in upper New York State.
    Sorry for rambling, but these homes have generated lots of attention lately, and several full time researchers, some who do it as full time contractors, and others who devote every waking moment outside of their jobs, and a few who are retired. The identification process can be laborious and time consuming, but it’s done out of what you yourself have called, “a preservationists heart.” The bungalows in BR were researched and identified by one of those full time researchers, who did it at the behest of probably a local Historical Society. She also covered Irvington, another neighborhood who came along at just the right time, and Garfield Park. The “new” streetcar suburbs of many cities became home to the biggest portion of all that were built, because the land was cheap, the explosion of the “new middle class” at that time, and they and the average working man could actually afford these. Before the Depression of 1929 a few of the bigger companies offered credit, on a “buy like rent” scheme, making it even easier for many to afford them. But the Crash of 1929 found many of them going into bankruptcy and foreclosure if they had been purchased that way and weren’t completely paid for yet.
    Location near railroad tracks was very important, as everything for almost all but the tiniest, and the very largest (7-9 room small mansions!) were sent in around 30,000 pieces or more, depending on house size, inside a sealed boxcar! The biggest took up two, and the smallest wouldn’t fill up the car, but we’re packed carefully, as all were, to avoid any damage during shipment. The car would be set aside at the delivery station, and usually five days were allowed for unloading and inspection for any damage or shortages, which there practically never were any of either. Then, in the earliest parts of the 20th century, it all had to be packed into a horse drawn wagon in many more smaller loads, and moved to the building site! Moving that much material more than a mile or two away wasn’t practical within that time frame, so building sites were usually within that distance. Trucks had to gain quite a lot in load size and horsepower, but were rarely privately owned, so horse and wagon was the most popular choice.
    Ok! That’s more than ample history I’m sure! I do a bit of research in my own time, which I’ve had ample amounts of over the last several years, as I have been totally disabled at home. Lots of time for reading and research!
    So, maybe the next time you go poking around Broad Ripple, take a look in those Bungalow laden side streets, and see if you can imagine some of them being built pre-cut piece by pre-cut piece by the man, or even the family who would first live in them!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a great history lesson! I was aware of the Sears houses, and had heard that M-W was in the game too, but did not realize how prevalent they could be in the “streetcar suburbs.” Makes sense, really.

      Have you come upon any of Indianapolis’s Lustron houses? They were also prefab houses, delivered by truck — but the exteriors and interiors are porcelained steel. There’s one on Kessler and one on Broad Ripple Ave., both between College and Keystone.

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