History, Photography

Favorite subjects: Broad Ripple Village

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.

BRV
Broad Ripple, bisected by the Indiana Central Canal. Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

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.

Canal
On the Central Canal. Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Broad Ripple
Walking path on the Canal. Canon Canonet QL 17 G-III, Fuji Neopan 100 Acros, 2010
Rainbow bridge
The 1906 Guilford Avenue bridge over the Canal. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Monon bridge
Monon Railroad bridge over the Canal. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011

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.

IMG_3724
The Vogue at night. iPhone 5, 2015
The Vogue
The Vogue by day. Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (exp. 1996), 2013
The Monkey's Tale
The Monkey’s Tale bar, Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Big Hat Books
Bookstore in a big old house, Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Kayaks
Kayaks for sale, Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Ripple
Ripple Bagel Deli, Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

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.

Broad Ripple Kroger
Tiny Kroger. Olympus XA, Kodak T-Max 400, 2016
Shoe repair
Shoe repair. Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017
Corner Wine Bar
Corner Wine Bar. Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014
Colorful clothes
Clothing shop on Westfield Boulevard. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Today's specials
Good food at Petite Chou. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
196x Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
Karmann Ghia parked in front of the natural food store. Palm Pre, 2012.
Awning
Street seating awaiting customers. Pentax ME, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, Kodak T-Max 400, 2012

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.

Ice cream station
Former Monon station, now an ice-cream shop. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Carter Bldg
Winter in Broad Ripple. Canon Dial 35-2, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Brugge Jeep
Former Internet cafe, now a brewpub. Rollei A110, Fujicolor Superia 200 (exp. 1996), 2013
Brown Rolls, brown brick
I don’t know what this business was, but it’s long gone now. Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Bazbeaux
Bazbeaux Pizza, a Broad Ripple institution, moved down the street from its original location. Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016
Monon Coffee Co.
My favorite coffee shop in Indy opened since I moved here but is 20 years old now. Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016
Brick Chair
The Bungalow. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011.

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.

Pedestrian Bridge
Monon bridge. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011
The new Broad Ripple
Behind the pedestrian bridge now. Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017
Blue mural
Mural on a building recently torn down, Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
BlueIndy
Electric cars for hire taking up prime parking, Polaroid Colorpack II, Fujifilm FP-100C, 2017

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.

Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow bridge railing before. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011
Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow bridge railing after. Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax, Kodak Gold 400, 2017

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.

Monon bridge 1
Monon bridge. Pentax ME, Kodak T-Max 400, SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8, 2012
Polka-dotted chair
Polka-dotted chair. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Fence
Blue picket fence. Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012
Dilapidated
Dilapidated building (restored since I took this photo). Kodak VR35 K40, Fujicolor 200, 2011
Vintage
Vintage clothes. Canon AF35ML (Super Sure Shot), Fujicolor 200, 2011
Brugge
Brugge. Nikon F2AS, 35-70mm Zoom-Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2014

Broad Ripple has survived many transitions before and forged a new identity. I expect it will survive this one just the same.

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Photography, Preservation

As society changes there’s always someone there to make a buck off it

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.

Pedestrian Bridge

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.

The new Broad Ripple

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.

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Watching over Indianapolis

Watching over Indianapolis
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Foma Fomapan 200
2016

Film Photography
Image

The Bean

What a beautiful spring weekend my son and I had been spending in Chicago — sunny but not too warm. We did all the touristy stuff, from visiting the museums to looking at the city from the top of the John Hancock building to eating deep-dish pizza and drinking Old Style beer. (My son skipped the beer, having just turned 13.) We slept in an ornate grand hotel.

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast, backpacks carrying all of our gear, and emerged onto streets surprisingly sparse of people. Fog had fallen, cloaking the skyscraper tops. In Millennium Park we came upon Cloud Gate, the giant chrome bean. It reflected the fog as a blank canvas, waiting for the city to reemerge.

The Bean in the fog • Canon PowerShot S80 • May, 2010

Photography

Favorite Photos Week: The Bean in the fog

Image

MB SUV before the Columbia Club

SUV at the Columbia Club
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

Photography
Image
History, Preservation

Remembering South Bend’s River Bend Plaza

Last month my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My brother, my sons, and I drove to South Bend, our hometown, to celebrate. We chose downtown as our destination, where we enjoyed a first-rate dinner at a fine restaurant. Then we drove a few blocks west to take photographs on the steps of the church where they were wed. Finally, we drove to a cafe on Michigan Street, South Bend’s main street, where we had coffee and dessert. It was great to spend our evening in downtown South Bend.

Michigan Street has always been the heart of South Bend’s downtown. It was a major thoroughfare for more than 140 years. From the 1830s, it carried Indiana’s first highway, the historic Michigan Road. It later carried US 31, which you could drive north to the tip of Michigan and south to the Gulf of Mexico. This big road was important to South Bend’s economy, which was very prosperous for much of the 20th century thanks to manufacturing. Studebaker led the way, followed closely by Oliver, Singer, Bendix, and many other smaller companies.

Boom years bring big changes to any city. Check out how much downtown South Bend changed between about 1910 and about 1950 in these two postcards. Both show Michigan Street northbound from Jefferson Boulevard. I see just one building in the 1950 photo that looks like it was also there in 1910.

Studebaker’s closing in 1963 was the beginning of the end of South Bend’s most prosperous years. Similar loss of manufacturing happened all over the country. Meanwhile, many residents were moving away from downtowns, and shopping and amenities followed them. South Bend’s first enclosed shopping mall, Scottsdale Mall, opened on the south edge of town in 1971. It was instantly enormously popular, and it hastened downtown’s decline. Something had to be done.

And so South Bend tried something that other cities were trying, too: turning downtown into an outdoor mall. First, US 31 was rebuilt one block to the east, bypassing five blocks of Michigan Street. Those five blocks were then permanently closed to vehicles. These photos from the Center for History show Michigan Street being torn up to make way for the new outdoor mall.

It was called River Bend Plaza when it opened in about 1975. In its two central blocks, Michigan Street was replaced with a brick walkway dotted with trees and partially covered in freestanding pavilions. In the blocks immediately to the north and south, Michigan Street was resurfaced and painted in bright colors. In the northmost block, on which the grand Morris Civic Auditorium (the former Palace Theater) stood, Michigan Street became a small park. These photos show the transformation. The first three photos are from 1st Source Bank, which was then known as First Bank and Trust Co. (I got these photos from this page.) The last two photos, of the brightly painted street surface, are from the Center for History.

It didn’t work. Downtown declined further. And nobody liked that River Bend Plaza removed so many nearby parking spaces, making it harder to reach the shops along Michigan Street. But River Bend Plaza wasn’t entirely to blame for its own failure. The die was cast: suburban living had taken hold, and suburbanites wanted shopping and amenities nearby.

South Bend finally threw in the towel on River Bend Plaza. In the early 1990s, the city tore it all out (save the little park in front of the Morris) and restored Michigan Street to vehicular traffic. Through traffic still follows the bypass, and you need to make a couple quick turns off that bypass to reach Michigan Street’s downtown span. These photos are from a visit I made in 2007.

It was a good move – plenty of people make those turns. Michigan Street has regained its city feel and city experience, and I think people like it. It helps that in recent years there’s been a nationwide trend of renewed interest in city life, especially among people in their 20s.

That Friday night of my parents’ golden anniversary celebration, few parking spaces were available along Michigan Street. Our restaurant and the little cafe were both very busy. It’s much like this every time I visit downtown South Bend now. It’s a shadow of South Bend’s best years, but it’s a refreshing improvement over the dead downtown of 30 years ago.

Downtown South Bend once had many grand theaters. See them here.

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