Preservation

The statues from the demolished Marion County Courthouse

It’s been gone since about 1963, but there used to be a grand Marion County Courthouse in Downtown Indianapolis. It was razed after the current City-County Building was built right behind it. This 1963 photo shows the courthouse, its cupola already removed, in front of the skyscraper that replaced it.

Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission photo

A group of eight statues used to stand high on the building, overlooking the city. They represented commerce, law, justice, agriculture, the north, the south, the east, and the west. Someone photographed six of them after they had been removed.

Courtesy The Indiana Album; source page here

Remarkably, several of them still exist. Two are at Holliday Park in Indianapolis, flanking The Ruins near the front center of the park. The first I’ve photographed over and over; it’s one of my favorite subjects. She lost her head somewhere along the way. She’s second from the left in the photo above.

Headless

Here’s the other one, which I seem to have only ever photographed in black and white. She’s the fifth statue from the left in the photo above.

At The Ruins

I found two more at Crown Hill Cemetery, although I’ve heard there are three there. This one is third from the left in the photo above. You’ll find her near the bridge that carries 38th Street over a lane in the cemetery.

Statue

I found the fourth on the way up the hill to the James Whitcomb Riley gravesite. Riley is buried at the highest elevation in the city, and signs point the way. She’s the leftmost statue in the photo above.

Statue

If you’d like to know more about the Marion County Courthouse and the City-County Building, check out Ted Shideler’s fantastic articles about them on his Courthousery site here and here.

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21 thoughts on “The statues from the demolished Marion County Courthouse

  1. It’s kind of remarkable. From such heights and prominence to a sort of open obscurity. I find it interesting that statues of the same time period display such a variety of condition. Some seem pristine. Others appear like Roman relics abused by the passage of millennia. If the building (and the statues) came down circa 1963, any idea when they all went up?

    • The ones in Holliday Park probably suffered some vandalism while the ones in Crown Hill didn’t. The old courthouse was built in 1876!

  2. I don’t think I ever talked to an old lawyer who’s attitude was anything other than “Good riddance!” when the new building replaced the old one. Such was the esteem in which progress was held at the time. It is only those of us who came later who wish the old building could have been saved.

    • There really was a sense in the 60s and 70s that new was better. It led my hometown of South Bend to tear down a whole bunch of buildings.

      • I think a lot of that was due to prestige and commerce. Everyone wanted to look “progressive” in the space age, and mid-sized American cities that weren’t obvious choices like NY, LA, Chicago and then Detroit were competing for business. They wanted to attract corporations and the way they thought would do that and beat out whatever the next city over is was by tearing down as much old stuff possible and replacing it with new shiny “modernistic” things.

        And we forget how much progress happened in cities from the 1800s to the mid 20th century. Every two to three decades cities looked radically different than before, so many people just thought that was “the way” and we should keep going with it. This has definitely slowed down over the last half-century, especially after the post-war waves of suburbanization, urban renewal, and freeway building. The Indianapolis of 1971 probably doesn’t look that different than the Indianapolis of today. Sure, there’s more new buildings, but the fabric probably hasn’t been that altered since then. But the 1971 city would look a lot different than the 1941 or even 1951 city.

        When researching the first big urban renewal project in Portland, the “South Auditorium” area that leveled an old Italian/Jewish neighborhood in the 1960’s, I came across a brochure put out by the urban renewal agency. It highlighted “slum” conditions in the area. And while it acknowledged that not all buildings were as bad as some of the shacks shown, it made sure to mention that even the best ones were “at least 50 years old or so.” That was of course a sin in many people’s eyes. How are we going to compete with Seattle if we have old buildings around? So down they went. Imagine if we went through cities and towns nowadays with that attitude? I guess I’d be living in a tent instead of my circa 1948 house!

        • This is a solid perspective.

          I remember my mom wringing her hands over every old building that got demolished in my hometown. She used to say, “Everybody thinks they’re just old buildings.” That summarizes your perspective in one sentence.

        • 1948? That is nothing. I live in a 1925 house that is largely authentic (except for the “new” bathroom, which dates to 1949). We can tell that some McMansion-type people who visit us look around with some horror. How could you live in something this old-fashioned?

  3. Sigh. It makes me sad to see this beautiful old courthouse in the shadows of its replacement. Such a shame but I am glad they repurposed the statues. It’s like a treasure hunt!

    • I knew of the two statues in Holliday Park for years before knowing what they were and where they came from! They’re just random statues if you don’t know the backstory.

  4. Andy Umbo says:

    There really hasn’t been a city I’ve lived in, and I’ve lived in more than a few, where the 1960’s haven’t been an era of “crimes” against art and architecture! It’s never been problem with understanding that people needed increased space and more modern facilities that couldn’t be retro fitted to the old buildings; but it’s weird that people seemed to want the old places ripped down with “prejudice”, instead of utilized for different purposes (and many times put up the most bland and artless of replacements). It’s like the city fathers of the 1800’s understood more about impact of an edifice on the public, and the city fathers of the 1960’s were artless and couldn’t be bothered!

  5. Nancy Stewart says:

    I’m so happy that the Fulton County courthouse is still so beautiful with it’s many impressive lions surrounding it. Each lion has it’s name, altho i don’t remember them without looking it up. So many old photos of family way back and current, with the lions. The newer Indy city-county building in the photo above is so bland !!

    • Many county courthouses remain, thank goodness. The City-County Building isn’t much to look at, to be sure. I don’t even enjoy it inside. But it’s big enough for this large county’s government. At least it has that much going for it.

  6. I am fascinated by the American style of courthouses. The huge steps and columns. They seem so imposing and majestic. Maybe I’ll take it as an inspiration and shoot some pictures from the local court house. I do live almost next door.

    Btw…did you receive your copy of my photo magazine?

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