On Wabash Avenue
28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M
I love the Chicago streets where the El runs overhead. This is Wabash Ave. at Monroe St. looking north. The Carson Pirie Scott building is on the left.
On Wabash Avenue
28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M
I love the Chicago streets where the El runs overhead. This is Wabash Ave. at Monroe St. looking north. The Carson Pirie Scott building is on the left.
The land on which my home stands was farmland not 20 years ago. It’s typical: thanks to sprawl, many American neighborhoods occupy land that produced crops sometime within the last hundred years. In my town, a suburb of Indianapolis, neighboring subdivisions and shopping centers are brand new. I remember well the farmland that was there before.
But at some point the last farm will become another vinyl village or strip mall. Children born here then will have no memory of this area’s bucolic origin.
I was such a kid once, born into a busy and thriving South Bend, Indiana, neighborhood where the last new house had been built 20 years before. It was a typical 20th-century city neighborhood bordered by shops, businesses, and schools. You could almost get away with not owning a car.
My mom managed it: she walked to her job as a teacher’s aide at James Monroe School a block away. I visited her at her job one day when I was about 13. While snooping through some cabinets, I came upon this photograph, and it blew my mind.
This is that school’s front lawn on the occasion of a May Day celebration. I found the image online recently with a comment that the photo was taken in 1939. That’s eight years after the school was built, but twelve years before my childhood home was built. It and many others would soon be be built on that distant grove of trees in the photo’s upper-right corner. It is fascinating to not see the houses there that have always been a part of my memory!
To me as a kid, our 1951 house might as well have been built in 1851 or even 1751 — it was a time I could not imagine. From my limited childhood perspective, my neighborhood had always existed.
I knew intellectually that this couldn’t be true, of course. But I had no way of imagining the neighborhood before it was completed. The 1939 photograph made that time more imaginable!
At right is an excerpt from a 1922 map of South Bend. It shows the location of my childhood home and of the school, neither of which had been built yet. I lived on Erskine Boulevard, the curved street, which would eventually curve back and end at Donmoyer Avenue, the street at the bottom of the map.
I’ve written about my elementary school here many times, and occasionally other former students find my posts and leave comments full of memories. One fellow who attended Monroe School in the 1950s commented on this post how his father never stopped calling my neighborhood “the new extension.” He clearly remembered when this land was that grove of trees.
This is the same delusion in reverse, and it illustrates how sticky our sense of place can be. Because this man remembered the grove of trees, he likely considered it to be this land’s true use and purpose.
Similarly, I have childhood memories of neighborhoods being built well south of James Monroe School. I still recall what was there before, and forty years on those neighborhoods still feel new, in a way, to me. And on my first visits to Indianapolis as a child, US 31 in the county just north of Indianapolis passed through nothing but farmland. A building boom that started in the 1980s brought tall office buildings to that corridor, plus a long string of stoplights. Recently US 31 has been converted into a limited-access highway there. But even after all these years I still marvel at how it’s all changed.
Even the existing built environment changes. If you’re a young student of James Monroe School – or, should I say, Monroe Primary Center, which is its name today – you might not know a time before the school was renovated and expanded (read about it here and here). My memories of this building do not include its current dropped ceilings, and include rooms that no longer exist. And my mind’s eye will forever remember the school’s front yard looking as it did in this photo, which I took in 1984.
Visiting my hometown in 2013, after the school’s renovation was complete, I happened to take this photograph one gray morning from about the same place. Little of the landscaping survived the addition of the driveway — except the pine trees at right, which are almost certainly the same little pine trees in the lower corner of the 1939 photo.
The years to come will surely bring more changes, and they’ll surprise both current students and aging alumni like me. Because place imprints on all of us.
I first shared these thoughts and photographs in 2014, but rewrote the article for today.
How well do we actually see the places where we live? Truly notice the details that give it identity and make it a place?
For me, the answer is: Better now than when I was young. I’ve lived long enough now that the stomping grounds of my youth have changed a lot. But back then my inner historian, preservationist, and photographer had not yet awakened. I had not yet learned to see.
In the early 1990s I lived in the Terre Haute, Indiana, neighborhood known as Twelve Points. The area got its name from the awkward intersection of Lafayette Ave., Maple Ave., and 13th St., which created twelve corners.
Twelve Points was once a hot spot, at a time when Lafayette Road was still US 41, when passenger-train and streetcar service still delivered hundreds of people each day to shop here, and before the big shopping mall was built on the south side of town.
When I moved there, Twelve Points’ best days were already well in its past. Many of the buildings were empty and in poor repair.
A handful of businesses remained. I used to walk over to Hook’s drug store to fill prescriptions, and I’d sometimes stop at the little IGA grocery store on the way home from work. I could have done my banking, gone out for pizza, gotten my hair cut, and visited the dentist in Twelve Points, too, but I never did. Today I’d do it on principle, but that’s the kind of man I’ve become only lately.
A few years ago I visited an exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society that made me deeply regret not getting to know Twelve Points better. Part of the IHS’s “You Are There” series, the exhibit recreated Citizens Grocery, owned and run by Ernest Zwerner on Lafayette Road in Twelve Points, as it had been in 1945.
It was a painstaking recreation based on 1940s photos of Zwerner’s store (one is here), with period equipment and goods both real and carefully reproduced. Actors portrayed the shopkeeper and customers, all dressed in period clothes. Visitors to the exhibit could go inside the store and talk with the characters, who responded as if it were really 1945 and they were going about their daily business. It put visitors in touch with a time few of us knew.
Remarkably, I knew a couple who would have shopped at Zwerner’s: My landlords, Steve and Henrietta, who had lived since the 1930s in their home a few blocks away and rented its attached apartment to people like me. Inside the recreated grocery, I imagined young Henrietta there doing her marketing. Or, more likely she phoned in her order and waited for delivery.
I became a little misty eyed as I experienced my connection to this store and this time. I wanted to play along with the actors, tell them I lived a few blocks away on 8th Street (which I had, 45 years later), lament rationing, and ask them how much longer they thought we’d have to fight in this war. But I lacked the guts. I walked around the store in silence, slightly dizzy in delight, the corners of my lips curled up in a slight grin that I tried to suppress lest it let the mist in my eyes get out of hand.
(You will learn more about Zwerner the man and his business in this Google Books excerpt of An American Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana, 1927, here.)
When I last visited Terre Haute, I made a point of returning to Twelve Points with my camera. The building that held Zwerner’s store was demolished decades ago, so I photographed the buildings I remembered from my time living nearby in the early 1990s.
The Twelve Points State Bank building held a branch of the Merchants National Bank when I lived there. It looks pretty good yet, despite the boarded-up storefront there on its south side.
Thirty years ago this building was in such poor condition as to be derelict. While it still shows some rough edges, it’s in much better condition today and on the day I took this photo was significantly occupied by Tilford’s Variety Store. Unfortunately, Tilford’s struggled to make its way and closed shortly after I visited.
This was the Garfield Theater, which I’m sure was a focus of the local night life. Many Twelve Points businesses and buildings have Garfield in their name because of the former Garfield High School, which once stood around the corner on Maple Ave. The Banks of the Wabash Chorus, a barbershop harmony group, has been in the building for at least a quarter century.
I can’t believe that in the five years I lived nearby, I never ordered a pizza from A Ring Brings Pizza. The now-me shakes his head at the then-me. And now nobody can call C-5951 for pizza anymore, not because C became 232 when seven-digit dialing arrived, but because the restaurant is closed. At least its great sign remains.
The Garfield Barber Shop and Coiffure Salon is also defunct. I swear that the sign and the lettering painted on the window look just as they did 25 years ago.
Since I moved away, a new gas station was built on the southwest corner of Maple Ave. and Lafayette Ave., and it was hopping while I visited Twelve Points that day. A CVS Pharmacy replaced the little grocery store on the northeast corner of 13th St. and Maple Ave., and it showed every sign of doing well. These kinds of businesses aren’t enough to reinvigorate Twelve Points on their own, but they at least show that there is some life left in the neighborhood. Here’s hoping it finds revitalization one day.
I first shared these thoughts in early 2013. In the 4½ years since, according to Google Street View, a few things have changed: the defunct Garfield Barber Shop has finally been replaced with a new tenant, and the A Ring Brings Pizza sign has been taken down. Tilford’s is still closed, but the men still sing at The Banks Of The Wabash Chorus.
If you’d like to see my apartment near Twelve Points and hear my story of getting started as an adult, it’s here.
What is now the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis started as two rival towns far north of the city limits and along the White River. It was 1836 and construction of the Indiana Central Canal had been approved. The two towns were platted that year to bracket it, Broad Ripple to the north and Wellington to the south.
The Mammoth Internal Improvement Act that funded the Canal and other infrastructure improvements would quickly cause a financial panic that brought Indiana to the brink of bankruptcy. Many of the Act’s improvements were aborted, including the Canal. Of the hundreds of miles the Canal was intended to span, just eight miles were completed, all within Indianapolis.
But the Canal’s construction brought people to the area, and the two towns grew. But by the 1880s Wellington had become a thriving community while Broad Ripple foundered, dwindling to about 35 residents. Yet when a new post office was located in Wellington but given the name Broad Ripple, the less-prosperous town won out and the entire area soon had the name all of Indianapolis knows today.
At first, just the canal and a single dirt road (now Westfield Boulevard) connected Broad Ripple to Indianapolis. In 1883, a railway came to Broad Ripple that connected to Chicago; it would later become the Monon Railroad. In 1894, electric street cars were extended into Broad Ripple; in 1904, the same tracks were used to carry interurban trains. The advent of the automobile led Indiana to form its first highway system in 1917; Westfield Boulevard became part of State Road 1 and, later, the first alignment of US 31. Broad Ripple had become very well connected.
With so many ways to reach Broad Ripple from all over, the town increasingly became a place to go for fun. The well-to-do built cottages along the river; an amusement park went up on the eastern outskirts of town. Businesses filled the town’s main street.
And then in 1924 Broad Ripple was annexed into Indianapolis, and more and more houses were built in the area. It started to become a neighborhood, and the former town’s identity as an amusement destination began to wane. The amusement park was transformed into a city park. The village started to become a commercial center for residents.
In time, buses replaced the streetcars and interurban and the tracks were paved over. US 31 was routed several block west onto Meridian Street, newly built north of the canal. Even the fabled Monon Railroad went defunct. And as happened in every American city, the suburbs kept pushing farther and farther away from the city center. By the 1960s, Broad Ripple was in decline. Residents were leaving and businesses were failing. But the falling rents created opportunity. Quirky shops went into the storefronts and even into some of the homes. A vibrant night life formed, with bars opening along the main street and the former movie theater, the Vogue, becoming a concert venue. Broad Ripple was, once again, a destination for fun.
My first visit to Broad Ripple was in this era. It was about 1992, and the Terre Haute radio station where I worked gave me tickets to see a concert at the Vogue. And then when I moved to Indianapolis a couple years later I ended up in a neighborhood that’s a quick drive from Broad Ripple. I’ve been there most of the last 23 years. Broad Ripple remains a common destination for me.
Broad Ripple’s main street, today called Broad Ripple Avenue and known as “the strip,” was a fun mix when I moved here: by day, popular shops and art galleries; by night, bars and late-night food joints for a younger crowd. I found the night life to be great fun then.
Now that I’m pushing 50, that kind of nightlife isn’t fun for me anymore. But I still enjoy Broad Ripple’s offbeat shops. My favorite coffee shop in town is there; I’ve written a few blog posts at one of its tables. And the Village remains a great place to go for some photography. I’ve visited it dozens of times for just that purpose.
Some things haven’t changed over these years. The strip remains lively and young; the streets just off the strip appeal more to those who’ve graduated from their 20s. The tiny Broad Ripple Kroger remains open somehow. Many of the former residences off the main business district still contain small businesses and restaurants. And when you drive through you can still imagine a time when Broad Ripple was a small town.
But much has changed in Broad Ripple. Businesses have come and gone, of course. Art galleries that used to dot the strip have mostly closed, replaced by more bars and late-night food joints. The Monon rail bed has become a very popular running and biking trail. Bazbeaux Pizza, which started in a garage, moved into a very nice facility down the street. And a giant polka-dotted chair was painted onto the side of a building.
For more than 40 years, Broad Ripple has had a quirky, offbeat, hippie vibe. But that is beginning to change as yet another major transition comes to the area: urban densification. The neighborhoods around Broad Ripple have been very popular over the last quarter century or so, which has driven home prices and rents up. Developers have taken notice. They’ve sought and won zoning changes and are building multi-story apartments and parking garages with first-story retail. The buildings crowd the street. Broad Ripple had formerly felt open and airy, but it increasingly feels closed-in and tight.
I love old bridges and I have a preservationist’s heart. So I was sad to see that the railing on the 1906 bridge over the Canal was altered, I’m sure to make it safer. The railing was about knee height before, making it easy to fall off.
Taking the long view, change has been constant in Broad Ripple. But many places of quirky charm from Broad Ripple’s most recent era remain. I never lack for photographic subjects there. I can always photograph the Monon bridge or the polka-dotted chair one more time. Or I can walk down a side street I haven’t visited in a while and see what’s new.
Broad Ripple has survived many transitions before and forged a new identity. I expect it will survive this one just the same.
The Broad Ripple neighborhood has been a nighttime destination the whole time I’ve lived in Indianapolis, going on 23 years now. But in those days “the strip” still featured many small businesses that served the neighborhood by day. Today it’s even more a bar-and-nightclub spot, with only a couple of the old neighborhood businesses hanging on.
For most of the time I’ve lived here, Broad Ripple was characterized by low buildings and open skies. I made this photo several years ago of a pedestrian bridge over the Central Canal. If you look through the truss, you can make out a little apartment house and the trees that have characteristically lined the village’s streets.
But density is the name of the modern city game. As millennials flock to walkable neighborhoods like Broad Ripple, developers are there to meet the need. This tall apartment building was recently completed. It and others create dramatic change in Broad Ripple’s look and feel.
Longtime Broad Ripple residents are generally and unsurprisingly not happy with these changes. And arguments are being made that while millennials are being targeted to live in these apartments, they can afford it only if they’re upper-middle-class or wealthy.
It’s always been a little more expensive to live in popular Broad Ripple, but it wasn’t necessarily out of reach for a middle-class young adult, especially one willing to take a roommate. But do middle-class young adults exist in any significant number anymore? I see working-class and well-heeled so-called “creative-class” twentysomethings and little in between.
Every time Margaret and I walk through the neighborhoods surrounding Broad Ripple Village, we are drawn in: single-family dwellings on small lots with mature trees, sidewalks connecting these neighborhoods not only to little parks where our eventual grandkids can play, but also to the Village and its burgeoning shops. Fresh Thyme is a delightful little grocery. We’d love to have one within walking distance. I wonder if other empty nesters and near-empty-nesters are charmed by Broad Ripple as well.
I can’t make sense of all the trends. But here’s what I do know: societal change brings economic opportunity, and someone is always smart enough to capitalize on it. Let the Broad Ripple Villagers cry and protest, but greater density is coming to places like Broad Ripple because money is to be made.