Road Trips

Old US 31, the Dixie Highway, and the Michigan Road in downtown South Bend, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

Signs

In downtown South Bend, US 31 passed through town along Michigan Street with traffic flowing northbound and southbound. In the late 1960s, Michigan Street was made one-way northbound from downtown to deep into South Bend’s south side. At the same time, the same section of Main Street, one block to the west, was made one-way southbound, and southbound US 31 was routed onto it — except for five blocks of downtown, where US 31 was rerouted one block east onto St. Joseph St. In those five blocks, Michigan Street was closed to traffic and a disastrous pedestrian mall was built, which I wrote about here.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

All of this helped traffic flow through South Bend a lot more efficiently, but was no good for downtown’s businesses. And then in 1982 a new US 31 was completed to bypass South Bend to the west, well into Michigan. Original US 31 became Business US 31 in South Bend. Parts of the road are also signed as State Road 933, parts that used to also carry US 33 until 1998 when that road was truncated to end in neighboring Elkhart County.

Sometime during the 1990s, the pedestrian mall was removed from four of those five blocks, which were restored to two-way traffic. Then in 2018, all of Michigan/St. Joseph and Main Streets were restored to two-way traffic. This article shows Michigan Street downtown after it was reopened to two-way traffic, but while Main Street was still one way south and the rest of Michigan Street was still one way north.

In the last post in this series, my friend Brian and I had traveled south on former US 31 to where the southbound route split from Michigan Street to follow Main Street. We made a left as soon as we could to return to Michigan Street. This northbound photo is at the north end of the isolated Michigan St. alignment where St. Joseph St. curves to become Michigan St. again. This is where Old US 31 meets the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Lake Michigan and enable white settlement of northern Indiana. The Michigan Road followed what is now Lincolnway West to LaSalle Street, where it turned right onto Michigan Street.

Northbound

The 1921 Morris Performing Arts Center stands at Colfax Avenue and Michigan Street, gorgeous in the early daylight.

The Morris Performing Arts Center

The Morris was first the Palace Theater, a burlesque house and later a movie theater. During the downtown’s malaise years of the 1970s and 1980s, the theater, renamed the Morris Civic Auditorium, had fallen into disrepair. I watched It’s a Wonderful Life there at Christmastime in 1987 and the building was in a sorry state. But when I saw Heart play there in 2006, it was clear that great pride had been taken in the old theater’s restoration. (South Bend is my hometown.)

Morris Performing Arts Center

South of the Morris and across Michigan Street stand the modern twins, the 1st Source Bank headquarters and the Marriott Hotel. These buildings went up in the 1980s in the ongoing fight to fill the holes left by the aborted Associates Superblock. Their design was somewhat controversial at the time, but have become a point of pride for the city. These buildings fill the block; the Marriott borders St. Joseph Street.

First Source Bank and Marriott Hotel

When the city tore out the unloved pedestrian mall in the 1980s, it rebuilt Michigan St. as two lanes with pull-in parking. The revival has had reasonable success, but there’s still some work to do to bring businesses back to this strip. In the photo below, which is northbound from Michigan St. at Jefferson Ave., the street is blocked for a foot race.

Northbound

It was always hoped that the State Theater, south of Jefferson on the east side of Michigan Street, would be returned to full use in some way, but none of the attempts ever caught on. At least the facade remains solid and strong.

State Theater

My mother took my brother and I to see Bambi and, later, Fantasia,here when they toured in the 1970s. We took the city bus downtown and walked to the theater and its huge auditorium. I was very young, so I’m glad I have some memories of those trips.

State Theater

The photo below looks northbound from south of Wayne St. The second building on the left is the former Robertson’s Department Store, now an apartment building. I remember that Robertson’s advertised its annual clearance sale on TV with the jingle, “Save a fourth, save a third, save a half, on every department, on every floor!” Here, have a listen:

Northbound

One block later, at Western Ave., the downtown strip of Michigan St. ends. This photo is from Michigan Street just south of Western, where it curves to become St. Joseph Street. You can see the bypassed section of Michigan Street on the left in this photo.

Bypassing Michigan St.

Next: A jaunt down Main Street, the onetime southbound lanes of US 31.

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2 thoughts on “Old US 31, the Dixie Highway, and the Michigan Road in downtown South Bend, Indiana

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    I recognize that north view from old pictures of the South Shore. The station building was on the nw corner along with the 2 hotel buildings that are still standing.

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