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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What's the Reason for the Season?

What’s the reason for the season?
Canon PowerShot S80
2010

I remember well making this photograph ten years ago. A little church within walking distance of my home planted a row of pine trees on the edge of their property, I imagine to block the sights and sounds of the busy main road. For many years at Christmastime, they strung lights around them all. It was lovely, especially at night.

It was just ten degrees out that mid-December night I decided to walk over there and photograph the scene. I brought a tripod — I would need to make long exposures with my Canon PowerShot S80, which was my primary camera then. I made a couple dozen photos here that night. I would have made more, but neither the camera nor my hands could abide the cold.

Back at home I sorted through these photos and selected two that turned out well, including this one. I then wrote a post about Christmas that used them both.

That post was about coming to terms with Christmas. Most of my time as a Christian had been in a church that did not celebrate the birth of Christ. The Bible did not expressly authorize it, the logic went, and therefore we should not do it. This is a niche position in Christendom.

I left that church over its legalism and landed in a more mainstream branch of this faith. The churches I’ve belonged to since all celebrate Christmas. I struggled with it for a long time. Writing that post helped me come to terms with it. I’ll re-share that post here tomorrow.

Last year at church it fell to me to give the Christmas Eve sermon. (You can read it here.) How far I’ve come in my journey!

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Photography

single frame: What’s the reason for the season?

A lit cross at night.

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Hinkle Hamburgers

Hinkle’s Hamburgers
Canon PowerShot S80
2009

There’s a lot to like about Madison, a small Indiana city on the Ohio River and at the beginning of the historic Michigan Road. One of those things is Hinkle’s. They make a mean hamburger — grilled crispy on the edges, with pickle and grilled onions on a soft bun.

As you can see, this sign is a little weatherworn. Fortunately, it’s been restored since I made this photograph. But in the process it changed color. When you visit Madison, look for the dark green Hinkle’s sign! It’s right on Main Street.

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Photography

single frame: Hinkle’s Hamburgers

Hinkle’s Hamburgers, a Madison, Indiana institution.

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US 50 in Brownstown

Brock’s Restaurant
Canon PowerShot S80
2010

As I put together this series I was struck by how many neon signs I photographed lit during the day. I’ve always figured places turned their signs on at dusk.

Brock’s is in Brownstown, a small southeastern Indiana town on US 50. I love to visit little towns like this in my travels and find gems like this sign in them.

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Photography

single frame: Brock’s Restaurant

The neon sign for Brock’s, a restaurant in Brownstown, IN.

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Moon-Lite Motel

Moon-Lite Motel
Canon PowerShot S80
2009

You’ll find the Moon-Lite Motel in Versailles (ver-SALES), Indiana, on US 421. That’s also the Auto Trail alignment of the Michigan Road. I’ve seen other photos with the neon fully working — the MOTEL letters light up in pink.

You never know what you’re going to get when you choose to stay at an old motel like this. Thank heavens for Google and its reviews, which say that this is one of the good ones.

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Photography

single frame: Moon-Lite Motel

A neon motel sign in Versailles, IN.

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Felke Florist

Felke Florist
Canon PowerShot S80
2009

If you’ve never been to Plymouth, put it on your list; it is a charming small Indiana city. I came to appreciate it on my many passes through as I explored the Michigan Road in 2008. Its intact old downtown is filled with viable local shops; well-cared-for homes dating to the mid-1800s line the Michigan Road leading in and out. Terre Haute, Muncie, Goshen – they all wish they had a main drag like Plymouth’s.

Once I drove through Plymouth at twilight and Felke Florist’s sign was lit with beautiful bright red neon. I so regretted that I didn’t have my camera with me. And then on many subsequent trips through town, the sign wasn’t lit. But then on this particular afternoon it was — inexplicably, as it was four o’clock in the afternoon. Fortunately, my camera was sitting on the passenger seat. You’d better believe I stopped for this photo!

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Photography

single frame: Felke Florist

A neon sign for a florist in Plymouth, Indiana.

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