Corner facade, 2013, (c) photo by Kurt Lee Nettleton
The Woessner Building, located at 902-910 Virginia Avenue and 843-849½ Grove Street, was built in 1915. The building is named after Jacob Woessner, a prominent Southside resident who operated a successful meat market, on the site of the structure as early as 1877. Born in Germany, he settled in Ohio in 1866 (IHPC Fountain Square Plan, 1984). The Democrat was a member of the Board of Public Works, Board of School Commissioners, and was sheriff for two stints (1908-1912) (“Civic League Issues Its Report,” IndyStar, 10/21/1908.) He was often discussed in the paper, offending the Central Labor Union with reports that he was unfair to the labor cause, employing nonunion men to do work to his many properties to save money (“To Fight Woessner,” IndyStar, 10/22/1908). His son, William L. Woessner took up the family sausage factory and butcher shop, which had moved from the Grove Street side to 902 Virginia Avenue (IndyStar, 1/31/1910). The area on Virginia Avenue was mostly one story shops serving the neighborhood at this time. In 1887, the area off of Virginia Avenue – Hosbrook, Elm, Grove – was mostly single-family homes. The further off of the main thoroughfares, there were still some empty lots. The area previous to construction of the Woessner was three two-story & one and a half-story shops. By 1898, the two shops on the corner were combined. Most lots in the neighborhood were built upon. The intersection had a bicycle shop, hardware store, oil & paints store, a warehouse, and a cigar factory. In 1911, 906 Virginia Avenue was a barber shop owned by George A. Ware. The shop was in the papers a great deal during March of this year after being busted for gambling; the group called themselves the Independent Pleasure Club (IndyStar, 3/24/1911). In 1914, the son William died at City Hospital, he was 68 years old (IndyStar, 7/4/1914).
By 1914, the two combined shops on Virginia Avenue were separated once again. The area on Grove Street was once again Woessner’s sausage factory and meat market. In 1915, the new building was featured in the paper along with detailed floor plans. The addition of the structure to the southeast corner of Virginia Avenue and Grove Street was much welcomed. The building incorporated an 1876 frame storefront and residence on the east side (IHPC Fountain Square Plan, 1984). Opposite of the C. Koehring & Brothers hardware store, the brick building was designed by architect Charles Byfield and built by Brandt Brothers (“New Business Block is South Side Asset,” IndyStar, 9/26/1915). All of the brick work was completed by general brick contractor, John G. Karstedt. According to the floor plans, there were five storerooms on the ground floor, three larger, two smaller. There were also thirteen office rooms on the second floor. Being two blocks away from the heart of Fountain Square as well as being a stop on the Virginia Avenue car line made the Woessner Building a desirable location for businesses.
One of Jacob’s sons, Henry, expanded the business to the Indiana Market Company, specializing in retail meats, with an additional shop on South Illinois Street (IndyStar, 11/18/1919). The Woessner family celebrated quite a rare occasion for the times – the 50th anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Woessner – in 1921. Their five living children, seven grandchildren, and one great grandchild, helped them celebrate the golden anniversary at their home, 1448 Prospect Street (“Observe Golden Wedding,” IndyStar, 1/24/1921). The house has since been demolished. Married in Richmond, Ohio, in 1871, they moved to the city later that year. The Woessner family legacy continued for quite some time – the family eventually moved into the meat packing and transportation businesses as well. They also donated large amounts of meat to local families in need during holiday seasons. The Woessner’s sold the company to the Green-McClure Company, which moved in to 841 Grove Street in 1922; they specialized in meats, butter, and cheese (IndyStar, 6/21/1922). By 1935, a restaurant, barbershop, tavern, grocery store, and meat market (now in the hands of Jesse Robbins) occupied the storefronts of the Woessner. Two men each rented out three rooms upstairs, and a physician and a dentist also each rented out a room.
Storefronts in the building had a very high turnover rate by this time. In the mid-1940’s, a beauty shop, barber, drug store, and grocery store resided in the building. The upstairs rooms were rented by people, two to three a person. This stayed true throughout the 1950’s as well. By then, a physician by the name of Joseph Tuchman was using the Grove Street side space as his practice; the Virginia Avenue side shops were all rented to Treuchet Pharmacy. By the mid-1960’s, all apartment rooms were empty except for two. The Grove Street shops were vacant, and one storefront on Virginia Avenue was used by Gus’ Trading Post general store. The vacancies continued through the 1970’s as well – only two apartment rooms were rented out and two of the five stores were antique shops. By the 1980’s the apartments were no longer rented out; a general insurance company used the space at 902 Virginia Avenue.
The two-story brick structure was made of Hitex South Park Cherry Red brick provided by the Hydraulic Pressed Brick Company (“New Business Block is South Side Asset,” IndyStar, 9/26/1915). The building was outfitted with hardwood floors and large plate glass store fronts (“New Business Block is South Side Asset,” IndyStar, 9/26/1915). The odd shape and spacing of the building has not impeded on its beauty. However, some mysteries remain. The most eastern part of the building is actually not connected to the rest of the building, although from the façade it appears to be all one building. This strange construction has garnered a great deal of speculation – why would the façade be carried along with a frame building behind it? Even the lowered roofline on the sides is apparent in the original floor plan. One theory is that it cut construction costs to keep that structure intact. Although the building was boarded up in the 1980’s, the exterior has remained intact. The second floor was originally divided into offices according to the newspaper blueprint – at some point became utilized as flats with no amenities. However, in the city directories when apartments begun to be listed separately from public buildings, the Woessner building shows up as early as 1926 as apartments as well. This would lead one to believe that they weren’t full apartments, but rooms for rent with shared bathrooms. The façades are asymmetrical, with three storefronts along Virginia Avenue and two on Grove Street. The orange-hued pressed brick has a great deal of terra cotta detailing in the cornice, stringcourse, window lintels, and foundation (IHPC Fountain Square Plan, 1984). The raised parapet at the corner of the building says “The Woessner.”
Currently, the building is used by the city as a community court and environmental court. There is a small court room on the bottom floor and offices upstairs and downstairs. Amazingly, 98 years later the entire second floor of the building remains intact; walls, transom doors, and flooring are original to the structure. The only change to the second floor is the arrangement of the bathroom. The corner office upstairs was removed to make a larger open room on the first floor, which the courts have utilized as the court room. The first floor has the same general footprint of five store fronts but a few have been divided up into more individual rooms to accommodate offices.