Of the “8 million stories” in our naked city, a 90+ year old building originally designed with 80 apartments has seen its fair share. The same can probably be said for most large apartment buildings. But what about the part of the building used as frequently by visitors as residents? It too, has stories to share and more to be created.
More often than not, you’ll find the present echoes the past when you start delving into the history of a place; that is no exception with the Penn Arts building on the southeast corner of 16th and Pennsylvania Streets.
“Spink To Build $500,000 Hotel,” proclaimed the Indianapolis Star on May 19, 1922, alongside pages touting the eagerly anticipated upcoming “500-Mile Race.” Though unconfirmed, it is likely that local architect, William K. Eldridge designed the building on the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and 16th Streets, since most Spink construction of that era was. In September 1922, it was announced that a “drug store, beauty parlor, cafe and lounge” would be first floor tenants of the new building. By mid-May of 1923, the company reported that 68 of the 80 (“Pullman type” two and three room) apartments had been rented.
A few things have changed since then. Reverie Estates offers more spacious accommodation than as originally designed (to target the bachelor and bachelorette of the early 1920‘s); there are now 40 commodious apartments on the second to sixth floors. The marble lobby is still there, now housing more bicycle parking than the tables and chairs of yesteryear. Where the Reverie Estates Leasing office is now situated, once hosted the building’s nosh. The “O’Mahoney Restaurant” and “Light Cafeteria” were two incarnations, mere steps from where you can now visit for snacks and drinks in The Thirsty Scholar.
The Thirsty Scholar space in the Penn Arts building (only open since July 2013) spent most of its previous life as a pharmacy: originally the Penn Arts Pharmacy; a couple years later, Charles O. Heitkam Drugs; by 1938, Haag Drugs; by 1959, Gilliard Pharmacy. Seems the pharmaceutical marketplace was as volatile in the last century as this one. The days of romantic soda fountain counters were over; and long gone are the days of loitering on this piece of geography–dollar bill in hand–debating between a pack of Black Jack gum or a hot water bottle while waiting for your drugs to be dispensed. Loitering, with cash in hand is still acceptable, albeit with a computer in tow, in today’s version, you’re more likely to be playing online blackjack, and debating between a nerve soothing cup of hot tea or today’s drug of choice: wine, beer or caffeine.
One wonders how one of those early “druggists” would react to the look of the space today as the Thirsty Scholar, versus “back in the day,” as a purveyor of drugs and sundries. Sadly, we have not found an interior photo of this space. In it’s new life, it oozes a hard-to-place European feel, while being completely local-focused. From the grey and white harlequin-patterned floor, to the merlot colored walls; the white-silver-grey marble table tops to the neat row of mini-crystal chandeliers (salvaged from the Piccadilly Apartments across the street); from the vintage radiators to the cozy window benches; and from the petite table-top lamps to the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows–the place has a cozy warmth unlike any other in the city.
The wood used in the construction of the ceiling-tall custom bar and elsewhere in the space was repurposed from another of Reverie’s properties: Butler Place in Irvington. Rather than retrieving books, the tall rolling ladder rescued from the Indy Indie Artist Colony, allows access to wine and snacks for visiting ‘thirsty scholars.’ Salvaged iron fencing creates a dividing line inside between the bar and rest of the space and right outside the big picture windows, separating pedestrians from sidewalk tables. The east wall features a series of prints by Indianapolis artist, Shannon Stamey–again, evoking a ‘can’t put your finger on it’ timeless European feel.
Invigorating and inspiring by ample daylight; sultry and sensual by the soft glow of late night light. Thirsty Scholar welcomes morning commuters buzzing down Pennsylvania (daytime parking is available immediately behind the building), as well as night owls who crave a cozy spot (parking in front on 16th or on Penn). Take your pick of sipping one of the many locally crafted beers or international wines on offer while catching up on some after hours work, or catching up with old friends. Thirsty Scholar is open 6am-1am, Tuesday-Saturday; 7am-12am Sunday.
What other businesses have served the residents of the building and bustling thoroughfare of 16th Street? The space has lead a most colorful existence, often echoing the past in the present. Cafeterias offered edibles here decades ago, upgraded to Thirsty Scholar and 111 Cakery today. Almost 100 years ago, a doctor’s office, today, an accupuncturist; The Penn Beauty Salon in the last century and Bang A Salon in this century. One of the earliest building tenants was a florist/ landscape architect. Throughout the years, there has also been: a laundry; the McHenry’s Model School; a tool shop; an engineering company; overflow for art students attending the John Herron Art Institute.
One person suggested this may have been the place some students visited after Herron in Dan Wakefield’s book, “Going All the Way.” Dan shared that there was no soda counter in the pharmacy across from Herron at that time and this was not, in fact, where his characters visited.
Ever wonder what series of events leads up to a particular moment, experience or creation? Here are a smattering of the connecting dots that eventually allowed for the creation of this building: in the early 1870‘s, when city limits were only a short distance north of 16th Street and street car lines ended there, Major William J. Richards erected a stately home at 1531 N. Pennsylvania Street. Major Richards (business manager) had co-owned the Indianapolis News with John H. Holliday (editor-in-chief) and co-founded the Indianapolis Press with Holliday and the same managerial arrangement. As the well to do are wont to do, Major Richards held a charity benefit in his home about five years after construction. A young George J. Marott managed to purchase entrance to this event, while earning a mere $10 weekly salary. Ice cream was being sold for 25 cents a plate at said event and Mr. Marott found he could not also afford the small delicacy (in addition to the cost of entry). It was this experience, years prior to his success and prominence, Mr. Marott explained, that lead to his decision to buy the home. Having purchased the property on a whim, it is doubtful he felt any compunction in selling it to Mr. Spink, in turn, who decided to build one of his largest apartment housing endeavors on this corner–allowing us to enjoy this beauty today. Subsequently–and not long after–Spink went on to help George Marott construct the Marott Hotel. And it comes full circle.