Photography, Preservation

Beautiful old buildings in downtown South Bend

In the 1970s and early 1980s, my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, gleefully tore down as many of its old downtown buildings as it could. That’s how it seemed, at least. During most of my childhood, downtown was full of holes where old buildings used to be.

I didn’t much care in those days. My inner preservationist wouldn’t awaken for a few decades yet. But now I recognize how staggering a loss South Bend suffered.

One April day in 2010 I was in town on personal business. I’d needed a will for some time, as I wanted my estate (as modest as it was) to go into a trust for my children in the event of my death. My mom was a clerk in the probate court in St. Joseph County, and one of the attorneys she knew agreed to write my will for a nominal fee as a favor to her. It was a real kindness to me — even though I made good money, the majority of it went to child support and paying off the attorney fees from my divorce. Money was always tight then.

The attorney’s office was in the J.M.S. Building, on the northeast corner of Main and Washington Streets. (In South Bend, Main Street isn’t the main street; Michigan Street, one block to the east, is.) Completed in 1910, it is named for John Mohler Studebaker, at the time Vice President of Studebaker Corporation. It was the tallest building in the city then. The marble first-floor facade is not original; it was added in a renovation some decades ago. The interior underwent a renovation in the mid-2010s.

JMS Building

As you can see, I brought a camera with me this cool spring day. A friend had given me his old Canon PowerShot S80 as a gift and it had become my everyday camera. I slipped it into my coat pocket before I made the trip north that day. I had this blog then; I have no idea now why I didn’t share these photos with you when they were new! Better late than never.

The St. Joseph County Courthouse is on the opposite corner from the J.M.S. Building. Completed in 1898, it has been in use as a courthouse except from 1969 to 1971. The terrific Courthousery blog has the full story; read it here.

St. Joseph County Courthouse

This courthouse replaced one built in 1855 on the same site. The old courthouse still exists — it was moved to a lot behind this site! It was turned around to face Lafayette Blvd., which runs parallel to Main Street one block to the west. For whatever reason, I didn’t photograph the older courthouse this day — except for its cupola. If you’d like to see the rest of it, check out this entry on the Courthousery site.

Courthouse Cupola

I did photograph this 1889 church building, across the street from the older courthouse. It was originally the First Presbyterian Church, but today it houses a congregation called Ambassadors for Christ. This building also has a Studebaker connection, in that Studebaker Corporation co-founder John M. Studebaker contributed funds so it could be built.

Ambassadors for Christ church

Back on Main Street, I walked to the end of the block the courthouse is on to photograph the First Bank Building. That’s what I’ve always known it as, at any rate, as until the 1980s it was the headquarters of the First Bank and Trust Company. But as I researched it for this post, I learned it began its life as the Farmers Security Bank building upon its 1915 completion. I don’t know what became of Farmers Security Bank, but I do know what became of First Bank. They renamed themselves to First Source Bank around the same time they built a modern steel-and-glass headquarters on Michigan Street where one of the holes had been. The old headquarters remains, however, as an office building. It’s one of the most distinctive older buildings in town.

First Bank building

To wrap up my photo walk, I headed east to Michigan Street and then north to Washington Street to photograph the grand Palace Theater, which was built in 1922. In its day it was one of South Bend’s grand movie houses. I wrote about those movie houses here. Today, after a wonderful renovation, it’s known as the Morris Performing Arts Center. In 1987 — before that renovation, the interior not in great condition — I got to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen here. I told that story here. The last time I was inside the Palace was in 2006, when I saw the rock band Heart perform here. I got to meet the band that day, a story I told here.

Palace Theater

I was pleased to find these photos and remember this very nice day.

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14 thoughts on “Beautiful old buildings in downtown South Bend

  1. Thanks very much for the shout-outs. Before I went to South Bend a second time for updated photos, I re-read some of your older posts that filled in some mental gaps about the buildings that still stand between the physical gaps. Gave me more of an appreciation for the historic structures South Bend still has. Some are stunners.

  2. T R says:

    Home to the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway, via Washington and Main streets in this part of town.

  3. tbm3fan says:

    What interests me is that the Midwest was pretty much settled by Europeans in the 1800s. Would it be Germans in the region here? The interesting part is that in their home country they place a lot of value on keeping their old buildings, at least those that survived WWII, and avoid the tear down syndrome that affects us here. Such a dichotomy.

    • South Bend had a German contingent, but much larger Polish and Hungarian contingents. South Bend in the 70s and 80s struggled with most rust-belt cities to find a path forward as manufacturing declined. South Bend in particular tried to lean into financial services in the 70s. The Associates used to be headquartered there, and they were going to build “the Superblock” downtown to be their new HQ. This is one cause of so many buildings being demolished. The Superblock never happened as The Associates had challenges and ultimately left South Bend.

    • If you liked this, then hang on: I’ve got several more posts in the queue from photos I found in my archive that I’ve never shared before.

  4. Darts and Letters says:

    That was a pretty cool story about Heart. Comments haven’t worked for me for a long time outside of my WP reader otherwise I’d say something directly in that post, sorry. Did you know the Heart sisters were from Seattle? I don’t know if either one of them lives here anymore, though. Sometime the past year I read an article about how one of them recently moved to Florida, a big life change for her. Apparently she found it a little disorienting at first but overall refreshing being out of the liberal bubble of Seattle.

    • Hunh. What a pain that you can’t comment normally. I did know the Heart sisters are from Seattle! Ann lives in Florida now, I’m not sure where Nancy is.

      I’ve been to Seattle on business a couple times and I’ve always found it to be an energizing place to visit.

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