The Michigan Road sucks. At least it does where it passes near my northwest Indianapolis home.
It’s still the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan, opening the entire northern part of Indiana to settlement. I will always love it.
But a long section of the road has been a part of my daily life for more than 20 years, and frankly, I try to avoid driving on it.
As a major artery, Michigan Road’s speed limit is 45 MPH. Especially since the late 1990s when the last portion of the road was widened to four lanes, traffic really flows fast. The road is designed to swiftly move lots of cars. Yet lots of businesses and even entrances to residential neighborhoods line the road. People turn left all the time, and there is no central left-turn lane. Rear-end accidents are common. It has happened to me twice.
These photos are from the first accident, which happened a half block south of the 1852 Aston Inn house. Can I admit to still feeling satisfied, even five years later, that the other guy’s car sustained so much more damage than mine and was probably totaled? I was stopped behind a car turning left when I noticed this guy coming up fast. The crash was unavoidable, so I pressed hard on my brake to avoid hitting the waiting car before me. It’s amazing the crash didn’t do more damage to my car. And yes, someone’s head smacked the other car’s windshield in the accident. That fellow disappeared the minute I called the cops. Arrest warrant? Here illegally? Hope the concussion was worth it.
Lesson learned: drive in the right lane, even if left-lane traffic is moving faster. The frequent left turns just create too much risk.
Meanwhile, this 2½-mile section of Michigan Road, from Kessler Boulevard north just beyond 71st Street to the former town of Augusta, has seen happier days. It’s a sad sight to drive through.
This strip’s heyday was probably the 1960s and 1970s when this road was still US 421. A building boom brought strip malls, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and motels.
Today, those strip malls are aging. You won’t find a Kroger or a Target here — it’s all second- and third-tier retailers and service providers. The motels, gas stations, and restaurants that remain have been repurposed for other uses. Many of these buildings have received minimal maintenance and show their age.
This mishmash of shabby businesses provides a poor introduction to the area, which is filled with middle-class neighborhoods.
This used to be a shoe-repair shop, but has been vacant for a while.
I applaud the creative reuse of this former motel as a day care, but I wish it could be made more attractive.
This aging strip of shops is at least kept tidy. The barber shop owner gave his overhead sign a fresh coat of paint in the last couple years; it had faded to near illegibility.
The pedestrian trail built a few years ago robbed this little strip of some of its parking. I can’t imagine that these tenants were happy about it. Here’s a 2008 photo that shows cars parked at these doors.
Mr. Dan’s is a small local burger chain. I photographed it in 2015:
I don’t know what happened that the joint is called Mr. Dee’s now, but their reuse of the existing signs has all the grace and style of a knuckle sandwich.
Ace Lock and Key has been on this corner for longer than I’ve lived in Indianapolis. This building looks like its first use was as a gas station. It’s an attractive little building.
When I mentioned the kinds of retailers you won’t find along this stretch of Michigan Road, I mentioned Kroger and Target specifically because this strip once contained both. Kroger was on the left, and Target was on the right. They moved out just before I moved to the area, and the buildings were vacant for years. Now it’s a grading facility for school standardized tests.
The strip mall on the southwest corner with 71st Street/Westlane Road has changed a lot since I moved here. This was once a full-line Marsh grocery store, but for most of the time I lived here it was a dim, dirty store with only basic grocery items. They chained up the carts. Someone at the service desk had to come unlock one so you could use it. Such class. Then Marsh closed it and discount chain Save-A-Lot moved in. Unfortunately, they also tore out Marsh’s attractive facade and rebuilt it with this windowless wonder. At least it didn’t go vacant.
Across the street is the dry cleaner I’ve used all the years I’ve lived here. It was once a drive-in restaurant.
By all accounts, the food at this Vietnamese restaurant is delicious. The former fast-food building could use some love, however.
Here’s another tidy, aging strip. The clock-repair shop has been there longer than I’ve lived here. I had them repair a watch once, and they did a nice job.
It sure seems to me that this solidly middle class part of town would be able to attract higher-line businesses and improved facades.
Houses are sometimes sandwiched between the various commercial buildings along this section of Michigan Road. Many of them have seen happier days.
A few houses have been well cared for, but it’s far easier to find ones that could use some TLC.
Over the years some buildings have seen great improvement. This building was vacant for years, and was clearly in sorry condition a couple years ago when this funeral center bought it and renovated it.
St. Monica’s Catholic church and school has always been well cared for. A couple years ago, fire destroyed the section of the building at about the center of the photo. The church immediately rebuilt it.
When I moved here, this U-Haul location was dingy and depressing. Some years ago it was renovated inside and out, and looks great.
This lot was vacant for a long time until this church was built.
A bowling alley once stood on this lot, but it went out of business five years ago or so. This storage place opened only in the last year or so, and its graceless design says “industrial park” more than “shopping district.” Its setback from the road is also considerably shallower than anything else nearby, which makes it an imposing presence. It’s wrong for this section of the road.
A few auto-parts places were built along this corridor in the last 10 years or so, and they’re well kept. This is the one I visit most often.
I do understand this much about retail: the shiny, new shops always go where the money has moved to. If you drive just four miles north of here on Michigan Road, into Carmel, you’ll find solid retailers like Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and The Home Depot, plus shiny chain restaurants and coffee shops. Perhaps that’s why this section of Michigan Road is left to molder. It only takes ten extra minutes to get to the nice shops from here.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.
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Last updated on 8 April 2020 by Jim Grey