Walking along downtown Chicago’s Wabash Ave. at night, the Trump hotel across the Chicago River was impossible to ignore thanks to the giant letters on its face. It was an ominous presence on this misty night.
Twenty years ago my neighbors were bakers. They made breads, pastries, and cookies for a popular deli at 56th and Illinois Streets here in Indianapolis. They brought unsold products home and gave a lot of it to us. They’d call and say simply, “Meet us at the fence.” Such sweet words! They made a flat-out wonderful challah bread that never sold well. For years we hardly bought a loaf of bread, so much challah did they give us!
I never actually visited their deli. Never once drove over to that neighborhood. It’s an easy drive from where we lived, and there were and are lots of other little shops and restaurants over there. Plenty of reasons to go! Yet it wasn’t until I went looking for subjects for my old cameras that I finally visited.
I’m not always clear on where one Indianapolis neighborhood begins and another one ends. I think this area is part of the larger Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, or perhaps it only borders it to the north. Either way, it’s a neighborhood of lovely older homes that stretch for blocks in all directions.
The Indiana Central Canal flows past this neighborhood and forms its northwest border. A concrete-arch bridge carries Illinois Street over it. This bridge is noteworthy for having been designed by Daniel Luten, who patented a particular kind of arch used in bridges his various firms constructed. Today Luten-arch bridges are considered worthy of preservation, and many are on the National Register of Historic Places. This one is not on the Register, but it is considered eligible. It was probably built in the early 1920s.
But the star of the show is the business district. Looking back through my images, it looks like I’ve photographed Kincaid’s meat market more than anything else. It’s an old-fashioned butcher shop — take a number, wait, ask for what you want from the counter, wait while they wrap it up for you. They’ll custom cut anything you want. You know, like every meat counter used to.
Many of the businesses here have been there for decades. A few have closed during the years I’ve lived here. But this strip never seems to have trouble attracting tenants.
The business district provides many opportunities to move close to details.
Another shot I make over and over again is of the northeast corner of these two streets. I love the scene.
There’s plenty I’ve still not photographed here, including that deli! Of all the places I’m leaving behind as I move, this is one I feel like I’ll still come visit. There’s no butcher shop like Kincaid’s in Zionsville!
St. James’ Gate Nikon N2000, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor Kodak T-Max 400 2016
We went to the Guinness Storehouse while we were in Dublin. Meh.
You can still find many rumbly brick streets in the old parts of South Bend. This lonely block of Main Street connects Leeper Park to Memorial Hospital. It once ran south into downtown, but the hospital long ago oozed across the road. Hospitals have a way of doing that.
My brother once lived on this block. One by one, Memorial Hospital bought the houses, razed them, and paved a giant parking lot. My brother’s house was the last one to go. The fellow from whom he rented wouldn’t sell, so the hospital simply waited until he passed away.
Kodak Z730 Zoom, 2009. “Captured” is an occasional series where I show a photo and tell a short story about it. This was the first ever Captured photo, from February of 2010. I’m rerunning it today to give me more time to get ready for my wedding this Saturday!
Writing yesterday about the changes to my childhood neighborhood before I was born made me think about how much an intersection near my northwest Indianapolis home has changed in the 20 years I’ve lived near it.
The area surrounding 56th Street and Georgetown Road is filled today with shopping centers, gas stations, and modern suburban neighborhoods. But when I moved here in 1994, the area was mostly farmland with one area of concentrated shopping. In the years since, the farms sold out and everything else was built. To accommodate the extra traffic that followed, 56th Street was widened to four lanes and extra turn lanes were added on Georgetown Road. And then some of the original commercial buildings were razed and new ones were built. Three of the four corners feature different buildings from what was there when I moved here. Clearly, this intersection has got it going on. Further proof: It has become one of the most accident-prone intersections in the city.
I looked at the historic aerial images available at MapIndy to see how the area developed before I arrived. I was surprised to find that the biggest boom happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, just before I arrived. I was even more surprised to find that Georgetown Road has existed only since the 1960s! I compiled some of the aerial photos into a short video that shows the dramatic changes. Take a look:
This exercise started me thinking about doing more documentary photography of the built environment. It can change so rapidly! It struck me that I can’t remember what the buildings on the northeast and southeast corners looked like before the current ones were built. They were both gas stations; I filled up my car at both of them. I remember only that they had just a couple of pumps apiece and cars always had to wait in line to fill up.
I’ve spent some time around this intersection when looking for subjects for my vintage cameras. This Marathon station stands on the northeast corner. I shot it in late 2013 with my Olympus Stylus.
A CVS stands right next door to the Marathon station. I shot its sign in 2008 with my Argus C3.
I shot some of the fast-food joints north of the CVS on the same trip. I was really shooting the cop cars, but because I hadn’t learned to move in close to my subject yet I got a lot of the surrounding context.
I had my Argus A2B in 2011 in my hand when I shot this Wendy’s sign. You can see the Boston Market’s sign, the CVS, and the Marathon station in the background of this southbound shot.
While these aren’t strictly documentary photographs, they do help put together what Georgetown Road looks like. This strip hasn’t changed much since 2008. But it almost certainly will change, and then these could perhaps be a rare record of what the area once looked like. I wish I had been out here with my cameras before all this was built!
It’s not like anything along these roads is special – it’s just typical suburban architecture, common as pennies. But who knows what will happen here in 20 years? Will decay set in, making these photos a startling look at these buildings when they were sparkling new? Or will the area continue to prosper, driving redevelopment, making these photos a record of what used to be here? Either way, common architecture has a way of evolving. If my blog is still here in 20 years, someone might just stumble upon this page and exclaim with nostalgia, “I remember when Marathon stations all used to look like that!”
See also how the intersection of 86th St. and Michigan Road has changed. Go here.
George Kessler (1862-1923) was a pioneer city planner who believed that cities could be beautiful – lush and green, with limited pollution. Many American cities hired him to design their park and boulevard systems, including all three Indiana cities in which I have lived – South Bend, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis. Someday I need to write a series of posts about Kessler’s work in all three cities, because his work has shaped my very notion of what a city is.
Yet when I moved to Indianapolis almost 20 years ago, I didn’t know Kessler’s name or anything about him. But I was very drawn to the sprawling early-suburban neighborhoods along a wide, tree-lined road that bears his name. I’ve owned two houses within spitting distance of the beautiful boulevard he designed in 1922.
The boulevard skirted the city limits when it was built, but today it forms a west/north inner beltway. It begins on the west side, just east of the speedway at 16th Street, and heads north four miles to 56th Street. Then it heads east across town a bit more than seven miles, almost to Fort Benjamin Harrison on the Northeastside. Kessler was hired in 1923 to oversee the boulevard’s construction, but he passed away before much work was done. This is why the boulevard is named for him.
Kessler Boulevard is lovely end to end, but my favorite segment is on the Westside between 30th St. and about I-65. Homes were built along it in the 1950s, all of them ranches set well back from the road. It creates a wide-open feeling that captures that 1950s feeling of prosperity and modernity. Trees line the boulevard, and when autumn comes the colors can be spectacular. I recently filmed a drive along this stretch, northbound from 30th St.
I drive this stretch all the time and I enjoy it at all times of year. Thanks, George Kessler!
Another historic Indianapolis road is the Dandy Trail. Read about it here, here, and here.
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