At Your Leisure: Why is that a Parking Lot?

Written by on March 27, 2015 in At Your Leisure - 3 Comments
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Well, at least it looks pleasant enough on the inside! (Courtesy eBay)

The rooms and lobby appear to be very well appointed for 1960s standards (Courtesy eBay)

When enjoying a spring day on the War Memorial Mall, it is easy to become mesmerized by the vast island of green space in the middle of the city. Stretching for five blocks, this oasis is surrounded by various high and mid-rise buildings that create what appears to be a miniature Central Park, when observed from a high vantage point. Unfortunately there are some missing teeth in what should be a continuous wall of buildings surrounding the park. One of the more bothersome gaps occurs at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Vermont Streets, in an area where numerous buildings have been restored as upper end apartments and condominiums. When looking at the history of this site, it’s easy to get more irritated, as this was home to high-rise luxurious accommodations for visitors and even played a role in “Beatlemania” in 1964.

This matchbook seems to incorporate University Park as the main selling point for the property (Courtesy eBay)

This matchbook seems to incorporate University Park as the main selling point for the property (Courtesy eBay)

The Essex House Hotel was not what many would consider a beautiful building. Rising 14 stories in an H shape of buff colored brick and square-paned windows, the building closely resembled a college dorm or public housing project. That does not mean that it was not considered the height of luxury upon its opening in 1952. When originally completed, the property was of mixed use, offering not only hotel rooms, but also apartments, a restaurant, cocktail lounge, and banquet space. The hotel was rumored to be where The Beatles were staying during their 1964 visit; however, this was not the case. While fans mobbed the downtown hotel, the group quietly rested quietly at the Speedway Motel. The Essex House was renovated in 1971, adding Arabic inspired arches around the ground floor and making the building appear even stranger. By the 1980s, the aging structure was converted exclusively to apartments that catered to a transient clientele.

By 1970 the hotel was part of the Downtowner Motor Inn chain. At over 500 rooms this would be the largest hotel in the city (courtesy Indiana State Library)

By 1971 the hotel was part of the Downtowner Motor Inn chain. At over 500 rooms this would be the largest hotel in the city (courtesy Indiana State Library)

The Essex House holds the dubious distinction of being the newest high-rise building ever to be demolished in Indianapolis. An affiliate of Cincinnati based Parking Company of America purchased the building in 1994, clearly with no intention of operating apartments. They demolished the building in October of that same year to construct a parking lot. The agreement with the city gave the company a five-year window to operate this lot on this prominent corner. Unfortunately through extensions, the parking lot remains. A denied extension in 2007 resulted in a lawsuit in which a Marion County Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the out-of-state owners, siting a “chronic shortage of parking in the area.” Maybe if the Essex House could have held on a few more years, we would be looking at a restored high-rise today full of new residents.

As another parking agreement expires, what would you like to see on this prominent corner?

It's difficult to find an exterior picture of the Essex House perhaps for good reason. Here you can see the building in all its college dorm greatness in the foreground of Reilly Towers (Courtesy Amazon)

It’s difficult to find an exterior picture of the Essex House perhaps for good reason. Here you can see the building in all its college dorm greatness in the foreground of Reilly Towers (Courtesy Amazon)

Printed Sources:

Indiana Economic Digest, April 27, 2011

Indianapolis Star, September 3, 2013

Indianapolis Business Journal, October 2007

 

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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: Why is that a Parking Lot?"

  1. Sharon Butsch Freeland March 27, 2015 at 7:29 am · Reply

    In 1971 and 1972, the Downtowner Motor Inn was the location of the Matthew E. Welsh for Governor campaign office. I was a member of Matt’s staff, so 421 N. Pennsylvania Street became my home away from home. Politicians, celebrities, news media, and everyday citizens frequented the building during those interesting times.

  2. Kenneth Rippy August 3, 2015 at 6:54 pm · Reply

    I was stationed at Ft Ben from August 1968 until July 1971. This was enough time to get to know Indy – both people and places. I have fond recollections from those years (except for the cold winter of 69 -70.) I recently found HistoricIndianapolis; and, I am really enjoying the articles. Keep up the good work.
    Was the George Wallace for Pres campaign headquarters in the Essex in 1968? A man there told me that I probably should not walk too far north of there for safety reasons. Again, thanks for bringing back some fond memories. Kenneth

  3. Barbara Haunton September 25, 2016 at 8:31 am · Reply

    At almost 82, I have so many memories of the area. One summer I worked at Spencer Supporrts, greeting young polio patients, injured Indians ballplayers, and people with painful back conditions, etc. The Spencer owner lived in The Essex House and invited me to her apartment and a dinner there honoring young Eli Lilly international executives. Such beautiful people–all multi-lingual; it was quite a thrill.

    Another Summer I worked for a woman photographer and enjoyed the sweeping view during an overnight with her. The building’s interior was nicer than its plain facade.

    It’s hard to believe that only a few years before there was a modest apartment building just a block off the Mall where my aunt (a retired nurse) and my grandmother (later an L. S. Ayres employee) lived for several years. I often stayed overnight and enjoyed the night sirens and a drugstore and athe Sears Department Store just down the block. It was easy to walk the Mall and visit the Indpls. Public Library.

    The National Spelling Bee was held in the Memorial Bldg. maybe it still is. I answered too quickly at the county bee and didn’t make it there, but I attended and found it quite exciting. I still watch it on TV nearly every year. So much has changed in the downtown area, and I’ve never stopped missing the excitement of it all.

    I enjoy watching the dramatic new downtown Indy in photos on the Internet. It’s bittersweet to view the impressive changes. Indianapolis is known for how its citizens work together for so many major events. Officials from a city where I live now travel there to study how these events are coordinated so successfully.

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