At Your Leisure: A Lost Hotel

Written by on November 20, 2015 in At Your Leisure - 3 Comments
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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.

This 1941 Baist Atlas Image shows the built environment at 16th Street and Capitol at the time (Courtesy IUPUI)

This 1941 Baist Atlas Image shows the built environment at 16th Street and Capitol at the time (Courtesy IUPUI)

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.

A postcard showing the large presence of the former Hotel Riley (Courtesy eBay)

A postcard showing the large presence of the former Hotel Riley (Courtesy eBay)

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?

IFD Station 5 occupied the former hotel site from 1983- 2008. Today the concrete drive leads to a vacant lot (Courtesy Indiana Firetrucks)

IFD Station 5 occupied the former Hotel Riley site from 1983 to 2008. Today the concrete drive leads to a vacant lot (Courtesy Indiana Firetrucks)

Printed Sources:
Polk’s City Directory: 1937, 1958, 1977
Indiana Methodist School of Nursing Materials, Indiana Historical Society, 2012

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About the Author

An avid runner who enjoys daily jaunts throughout Indy's historic neighborhoods, Jeff deeply appreciates the detail and workmanship of old architecture. So much so, that he lives downtown in a restored historic building. He also works downtown as a manager of a not-for-profit that promotes globalization throughout Central Indiana. In a past life, Jeff worked in the hospitality industry and may one day pen a book about the ridiculous things people do while staying in hotels. Stay tuned.

3 Comments on "At Your Leisure: A Lost Hotel"

  1. D MIKELS SHEA November 20, 2015 at 2:04 pm · Reply

    Many of the downtown news reporters and fun-loving State House politicians gathered for the good life of Riley, and although I was among them, I really cannot remember why the Riley. The other watering hole of choice was the Harrison — logical, since it was only a few steps from the State House, and there were many 3-Martini luncheon goers who could barely navigate back to their State House offices. So why the same group alternately chose the Riley 16 blocks away eludes me, but I spent many 3 hr. lunches at both. For reasons equally unknown to me, when the Riley closed, someone gifted me the framed liquor license from behind the bar. I think I still have it. There was a secret “password,” which I thought I would never forget, but momentarily can’t remember — if it comes back, I will post to see if any of the clique is still out here

  2. Jessica Nunemaker November 20, 2015 at 5:09 pm · Reply

    Oh, how sad. I know that even our small town once had a downtown hotel. Now the space is either occupied by a parking lot (BORING) or a chain pharmacy (equally BORING). I hate to see real character disappear!

  3. Barbara Taylor May 11, 2017 at 11:45 am · Reply

    My mother recently passed away. Going through items I found a book of matches from the Riley Hotel.
    Inside my dad had written “Sunday morning,Aug. 23 1942 Mr. and Mrs. Warren Goad” They were married the previous day Aug, 22, 1942. It made me happy to see the picture where they were at their most joyful moment.

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