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.

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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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Life, Stories told

Happy life in a modest neighborhood

It’s a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Isn’t the aspiration supposed to be for more, for a fresh build in a tony suburb? But I’ve been happy here, surprisingly so. It has been a good place to rebuild my life after my first marriage crashed and burned.

My humble home

The homes here are ranches, usually faced in brick, largely built in the 1950s and 1960s as people moved out of the city proper. But a couple lots remained vacant until almost 1990, which is about when the golf course was built behind us, putting an end to flooded back yards on each heavy rain. And the cornfield across the main road finally succumbed to suburban sprawl in about 2010 when the megachurch went up. Thanks to the city’s MapIndy site and its historic aerial imagery, you can watch my little neighborhood go from farmland 80 years ago to what it is now.

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I’ve been here ten years now. I probably shouldn’t have bought this house; my divorce left me broke. But I’d moved three times in three years and I craved permanence. And this house was less than a mile from where my sons lived with their mom. And my credit was very good. So I got an ill-advised 100% mortgage and moved in.

I couldn’t see the looming housing bubble about to burst. I couldn’t see my ex-wife soon remarrying and getting that fresh build, that tony suburb, 20 miles away. I wanted to move to live closer to my sons, but my house was suddenly worth less than what I owed on it. And so I remained.

It’s worked out; my sons and I have been happy here. But now my sons are grown and all but gone. And the housing market has recovered. And I’ve remarried; my new wife and I would like to share a roof. This one is too small and would take her youngest son out of his school, so now I’m preparing to put my house on the market.

I’m thrilled to move into the next part of my life, but sad to leave this home behind. I’ve been so content here. Preparing to leave has me in a reflective mood, which drove me to look through my photographs. I was surprised by how many I’ve made around the neighborhood. Could this be the most-photographed neighborhood in Indianapolis? Let me share it with you.

The homes are spaced wide and set back deeply on broad streets. Lots are about a third of an acre.

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In the late autumn and early spring, when the trees are bare, the neighborhood looks dingy and tired. That’s in part because so many houses here have become rentals and receive minimum care. Strangely, all corner houses here are duplexes and have always been rentals. And during the worst of the housing crisis a good number of these modest homes went abandoned into foreclosure.

My front yard

1967 Ford F250

In my neighborhood

But the neighborhood wakes up in the spring, thanks to so many flowering trees the original owners planted.

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

And a few owners have taken great care in their landscaping, which looks best during the summer. And even now, after so many dead ash trees have been removed here, the neighborhood remains heavily wooded and deeply shaded all summer.

Neighbor

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Because of the tree cover, autumns here can be spectacular.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

Neighborhood trees

Autumn leaves

Autumn Street

Even the wintertime has its charm as the snow hangs in the tree branches. However, the city has plowed our streets but one time that I can remember, making it challenging to get in and out. One snowstorm a few years ago stranded me at home for a week — the snow was simply too deep for my car to cut through.

Snowy day

Mild winter in old suburbia

Snowy day

Snowy neighborhood scene

Down the street

It’s quiet here. Neighbors mostly keep to themselves; I know few of them. But I guess that’s the age. It’s also safe here — crime is very low. About once a year I drive to work and forget to close the garage door. Never once have I found anything missing or even disturbed upon return.

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I won’t miss a few things. The houses that need upkeep but never get it. The one fellow who parks his giant trailer on the street; it’s so hard to see it at night. The neighbors who forget to keep their storm-sewer grates clear, leading to flooded streets under heavy rain. I certainly won’t miss going out in my raincoat and waterproof shoes to rake the drains clear in front of their houses. But I’ll miss a lot of the rest.

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On Illinois Street

56th and Illinois
Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak Gold 400
2017

Margaret and I keep walking Indianapolis neighborhoods, considering where we might like to settle after we’re empty nested in a few years. The neighborhood around 56th and Illinois appeals deeply to me.

Photography

Photo: Street scene, 56th and Illinois, Indianapolis

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Stories told

Summer’s denouement

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. I’ve run this one many times; it’s one of my favorites.

During my 1970s kidhood when schools started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry all that had been green, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.

The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes and we all began to squeeze in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Armsalways organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, land on my back, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”) hoping to squeeze out another laugh. And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.

SummertimeChildrenLancasterDrive

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive

On the day after school started, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew). But we didn’t, hardly. We lost our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. My kids are back in school (since two days before my birthday, what nonsense). The grass hasn’t grown much in weeks because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ considerable deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.

Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

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Stories told

On Rabbit Hill

It’s high time I retold this story that I first told in 2010.

My childhood neighborhood was packed tightly along steep, narrow streets with tiny, thinly built lookalike two- and three-bedroom houses. These weren’t anybody’s dream homes; it was optimistic to call them modest. But they were attractive to working families getting their start.

I was on the way in 1966, and Mom and Dad’s apartment wouldn’t accommodate three. Dad’s wages didn’t stretch far, making it challenging to afford even one of these homes. But a seller needed out badly, and he signed his mortgage over to my parents. With that, they had their first house, in this neighborhood on South Bend’s south side.

A whopping 31 other children were born along our street within a few years of me. With a wink and a smile, the neighbors all came to call our street Rabbit Hill.

SummertimeChildrenLancasterDrive

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive: Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, and two others partially hidden. Summer, 1976.

Kellie lived next door; when her family moved out, Jimmy’s family moved in. Robyn and Sally lived two doors down. Robyn was only a couple years older than me, but she always seemed so mature — except on the many occasions when she stuck her tongue out at me. Sally was my brother’s age, a flirty girly girl with lots of thick blonde hair. My dad always called her Sweet Sarah Ellen, usually in his deepest voice, just to make her blush. Their sister Mary came much later; to her mom’s embarrassment, she occasionally came to our front door in her birthday suit. Tomboy Angie lived a couple doors down with her dad, and Brian and David lived right across the street from her. Their dad was a cop, a man’s man, but Brian liked to direct neighborhood musical productions.

A few doors up from there, right across the street from us, lived Denise, Sherry, Michelle, and David. The girls liked to come over and color with me on the front stoop, at least until their mother shrieked at them to come home. Danny and Michael lived next door to them. Danny was a lot older and didn’t have much to do with us little kids. Michael was older too, but not by so much that he didn’t come around sometimes. He was cool, and we all looked up to him.

Lancaster72

Walking and Big-Wheeling it up Rabbit Hill, which was freshly slurry sealed: Me, Jimmy, and Sally. Summer 1972.

Darin, Craig, and Dawn lived just up the hill. Darin was about my age and liked to sing slightly naughty rhymes. (“In 1944 / My uncle went to the war / He stepped on the gas / And blew off his ass / In 1944!”) Tammy, Mike, and Dawn lived across the street and a few doors up. Tammy liked to be in charge. So did I, and so we didn’t get along. I regretted it in high school because she turned out to be traffic-stopping gorgeous. Mike and my brother were both four years old when his family moved in. Something clicked between them and they are still best friends more than 40 years later.

Christy lived a few doors down, right next to the Secret Sidewalk, a concrete shortcut through the neighborhood. She organized endless games of Red Rover. Next door were willowy, honey-haired Shannon and her younger sister, Rachel. Skinny, anxious Eric was next door. Once I shut Eric’s family’s garage door on my brother’s hand, shredding the skin to the bone. Between Eric’s house and ours lived Angie, Colleen, and Muffy. Colleen liked to eat dirt with a spoon, but I think she did it just to get a rise out of the rest of us. Ornery Jay lived in the house behind us, which we accessed through a hole in the bushes. He got on my last nerve one day when we were playing ball and so I clobbered him with my plastic Wiffle bat. My dad made me apologize in front of his parents, but Jay didn’t get out of line around me again.

With so many children around, there was almost always something to do and someone to play with. Our yard was popular, especially in the summer. Mom would set up the Slip ‘n Slide and half the neighborhood’s kids would come over. She made gallons of Kool-Aid and popped gobs of popcorn for us all. We also had a lot of old Army gear and some plastic M16 rifles, and we’d play war across several neighbors’ back yards. But our default activity was riding our Big Wheels up and down the hill over and over. The noise used to get to my dad, and he’d take us all out to Dairy Queen for ice cream cones just to have a little quiet.

The adults often gathered to socialize. Robyn’s dad often hosted, as he had built a large family room and bar onto the back of his house. I remember lying in my bed and hearing his big stereo thumping late into the night. Michael’s mom and my mom became best friends. We used to all pile into her big ’68 Chevy and run up to Kroger. My parents grew close to Kellie’s parents, and our families spent lots of time together even after they moved off the Hill. My parents and Kellie’s played Canasta most Saturday nights for 48 years, until my parents retired and moved to Indianapolis.

All was not idyll on Rabbit Hill. I understand that there were factions in the neighborhood, drawn mostly along Catholic and Protestant lines; the two sides barely spoke. The parties sometimes got a little out of hand — for example, there’s a famous story of several of the men injuring themselves as they made a drunken ride down the hill on their kids’ Big Wheels. (My parents, who were extremely straight laced, always left the moment any party looked like it might get raucous.) Alcohol abuse led to marital problems for some couples; there were a few divorces. And a woman at the top of the street made dates with truckers on an illegally boosted CB radio. You could hear her loud and clear if you tuned your TV to channel 3. Her neglected kids ran around in filthy clothes; the youngest was so ignored that he was eight years old before he could speak coherently.

We left in 1976 for a larger home in a quieter neighborhood. We didn’t see our old friends except around school, and in time we drifted apart from most of them. We heard that Robyn and Sally’s parents divorced, and later that their father was found dead unexpectedly in his home, and that much later their mother passed after a long illness. We were saddened by all of this news, but didn’t know how to reach out. Then Michael’s mother died after a long fight with cancer. My mother had remained close to her right up to the end, and we all went to the funeral. Her death was hard on my mother, but of course it was harder on Michael and Danny and their dad. And then bit by bit many of the Rabbit Hill families moved away, sometimes propelled by divorce, sometimes in search of more room for a growing family, and sometimes because fortunes afforded better.

Facebook has reconnected me to several of my old Rabbit Hill friends, including Robyn, Sally, Shannon, Sherrie, Denise, and Michael. It’s been fun catching up.

Robyn’s dad took endless Super 8 home movies, which she had converted to digital files. A few Christmases ago, she mailed me a wonderful DVD full of those movies. When my parents and my brother came for the holiday, we watched together in wonder over how much life was lived in that little spray of houses. It’s hard to imagine any neighborhood could have been more fun for young children than Rabbit Hill.


Summers on Rabbit Hill were the best. Read that story.

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