Sometimes it’s hard to see how a business doesn’t make it. When a location is in a high traffic area next to a major employer and is an attraction for visitors, a person might assume something like a hotel would help create demand. Such is the case for a long lost building that held down the southeast corner of Capitol Avenue and West 16th Street, directly across from the massive Methodist Hospital complex.
Looking across the acres of parking and weed strewn vacant lots south of 16th Street along Illinois and Capitol, it’s hard to imagine that this was once a bustling area filled with industries, such as the Stutz Fire Engine Company and apartment homes. One business that sprang up in 1937 was the Riley Hotel. Located at 155 West 16th street, the seven-floor Riley was one of the tallest structures in the area. The building featured 150 “fireproof” rooms, a restaurant, coffee shop and a cocktail lounge. Although it looked like a rather simple brick box, the Riley did feature some classy looking art deco limestone touches, giving a much sleeker appearance than simpler hotels of the time.
Little has been written about the hotel, since nothing notorious or of particular note ever occurred there, and it seems they did very little advertising. Perhaps this is a reason the business didn’t exist longer than twenty years, despite being across the street from the largest medical facility in the state.
In 1957, the Methodist School of Nursing purchased the building, transforming it into a residence for students and renaming it Wesley Hall. It served the school until its demise in 1969. The building then remained an annex for the hospital for about ten more years.
According to aerial photographs, the former hotel was demolished circa 1979. The lot didn’t remain empty for long. In 1983, the Indianapolis Fire Department constructed Station Number 5 on the site. Echoing the hotel’s story, this station location lasted only about twenty years before moving to new digs further north in 2008. Today the site is a weed-infested lot awaiting a productive use.
What memories do you have of this former hotel or the area around it?
Polk’s City Directory: 1937, 1958, 1977
Indiana Methodist School of Nursing Materials, Indiana Historical Society, 2012
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