It seems that everywhere you look, there are new, high-end condos and apartments springing up in and around downtown Indianapolis. As transportation costs rise, the time for a resurgence in downtown living has come. However, for those in the market for something a bit more modest with more character than crisp sheetrock and granite countertops have to offer, the search is a bit more challenging. One such option is a building that has seen its own recent resurgence: the Indy Indie Artist Colony at the corner of Pennsylvania and 14th Streets.
Indy Indie, which opened in 1929 as the St. Regis Apartments, shares its origins with many an Indianapolis landmark, having been designed by local architectural firm Rubush & Hunter, designers of the Circle Theater, Columbia Club, old City Hall and Madam C. J. Walker building, to list a few. One publication made sure to “note change in architect,” with no other mention of the change. Also strange that pouring over all Rubush and Hunter related items from the Indiana Historical Society’s archives, there was not one photo or mention of this building.
Whether its original name can be attributed to its close proximity to St. Peter & Paul Cathedral (St. John Francis Regis is the patron saint of lacemakers, medical social workers and illegitimate children incidentally) or if it was inspired by John Jacob Astor’s grand St. Regis Hotel in New York City is unclear. The latter is perhaps more likely since the original owner was Jewish. What is clear is that a single-family residence (below left in 1914) was razed to make way for the St. Regis’ groundbreaking in 1928.
While its design was more modest than its aforementioned architectural cousins, it made up for lack of ostentation with practicality and affordability. Throughout its six stories, the St. Regis offered 71 apartments, studios through two bedrooms, for $40 (approximately $545 in today’s dollars) to $87.50 (about $1200 in today’s dollars) a month which included utilities. Built by the E. W. Hauser Construction Company, its sturdy walls were advertised as both sound and fire proof while each unit featured an electric refrigerator, carpeting, and cabinetry outfitted by Vonnegut Hardware.
One unique design feature of the St. Regis was its recessed store front, creating an arcade, or covered walkway, that ran along the building’s Pennsylvania Street side (see below). However, this feature has long since been removed, windows enclosing the former outdoor space, maybe in an effort to increase rentable storefront square-footage. Though in 1930, just one year after its opening, the St. Regis was still looking for its first commercial tenant, its storefronts vacant, likely due to a little economic blip called the Great Depression. As time moved on, a variety of businesses set up shop on the ground floor of the St. Regis: a “Refugees Handicraft Exchange” in 1940, a beauty salon that changed hands over the years, a stereo shop in the ’50 and the long-time home office of photographer Max W. Galloway, who took high school yearbook photos around Indianapolis until his passing in 1999. Still, beyond a few survivors, the store fronts were rarely fully occupied for long.
Unfortunately, as parts of downtown Indianapolis got less savory in the 80s and 90s, so did the St. Regis. A quick search of newspaper articles about the building turned up one odd story reporting the theft of a box from the truck of a woman moving into St. Regis, a box that amongst other things, contained the ashes of two of her relatives. Said relatives were returned later that day. It is fair to say that St. Regis had endured some tough times and was in pretty rough shape when Reverie Estates stepped in with an innovative reuse for the property.
In 2010, the St. Regis was purchased by Reverie Estates, who had acquired and renovated the Penn Arts apartment building at 16th and Pennsylvania Street two years before. Unlike the Penn Arts building, in which the vacant 80 unit building was renovated into high-end luxury apartments, Reverie Estates had a different vision in mind for the St. Regis.
Renamed the Indy Indie Artist Colony, the building first received a well needed scrub and remodel. Reverie seized the opportunity to create a community within a community, recognizing there were few affordable artist spaces in Indianapolis. Their approach to renovation was also artistic: dyed concrete floors were employed and vintage bathroom fixtures retained. Residents were encouraged to paint their walls and make their spaces their own. In a world that seems to become increasingly suspicious and closed off from our neighbors, the sense of community and camaraderie in Indy Indie is strong. “I’m going to say that (living here), it’s an aligning of the stars, where everybody genuinely cares about each other,” says painter Sean Sturgis.
Reverie Estates’ vision for the St. Regis ended the parade of changing retail shops filing in and out of the storefronts. The shops to the west of the front door now house the building’s gym and bicycle room. More importantly though, the storefront along Pennsylvania features the building’s gallery, showcasing the work of artists from both within and outside the building. Make your way down Pennsylvania Street on any First Friday, and you’ll see the place buzzing with activity.
While being lavished with high praise from the artists interviewed, Gallery Director Bobbie Zaphiriou plans and oversees a different art show each month, the First Friday events, poetry readings, band performances and all kinds of combinations thereof. Future shows, events and information about the buildings as a whole can be found here.
This article and a portion of this website is generously sponsored by Reverie Estates
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