I bought a painting at an auction that has a tag on the back of it that says “H. Lieber Co.” What is the story of that company? ~ Katherine R., formerly of Indianapolis
The H. Lieber Co. began its existence in 1854 as a bookbinding business and stationery store. The name of the establishment was derived from its proprietor, Hermann Lieber.
Friedrich Hermann Lieber was born on August 23, 1832, in Düsseldorf, Germany, to Johann Richard Lieber and Clara Carolina Melbeck Lieber. Hermann and his younger brother Peter came to the United States in June of 1853. They initially resided in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hermann Anglicized the name by which he would be known in America by dropping the second “n” in his middle name.
On a trip to Indianapolis in 1854, Herman became enamored of both the city and a young woman he met during his visit. Before the year was out, he moved to the Hoosier Capitol and set up shop. About a year after relocating to Indianapolis, Lieber married the young woman who had caught his eye, Maria Anna Metzger (1833-1904).
Herman Lieber’s first shop was in a storefront at 3 East Washington Street. That location later became the site of the Merchants National Bank Building and now houses the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg. Lieber moved from the East Washington Street location soon thereafter and operated from 21 North Pennsylvania Street. There the business’ original stationery and bookbinding activities evolved into picture frames, mirrors, looking glasses, mouldings, and artists’ materials.
Around 1860, Herman Lieber built a home for his wife Maria and their two daughters, Bertha and Emma, at 123 North Liberty Street. Liberty Street was later renamed Park Avenue, and their house was renumbered from 123 to 407. Today the former Herman Lieber residence at 407 North Park Avenue is part of the Lockerbie Square Historic District.
In 1863, Herman, his brother Peter, and their friend Charles Mayer purchased the Gack & Biser Brewing Company and renamed it the P. Lieber Brewing Company. P. Lieber beers were bottled by Jacob Metzger, who was the father of Herman’s wife, Maria. Herman eventually sold his interest in the brewery, once the company was on its feet. The company later merged with other local breweries and became the Indianapolis Brewing Company. You can read more about the Liebers’ brewing companies in a 2011 “Sunday Adverts” piece here.
During the next decade, six more children were born to Herman and Maria Lieber, including Otto, Ida, Carl, Anna, Robert, and Herman. The increase in number of family members necessitated a larger home. In the late 1860s, Herman built a 2-story brick home at 404 (now 802) North Delaware Street. In the early 1880s, he built yet another home at 250 (now 484) North Alabama Street, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Both the Delaware and Alabama Street homes were replaced by commercial structures years ago.
When the manufacture of picture frames and mouldings outgrew the space available in the store, the H. Lieber Co. built a factory for their manufacture at 800 (now 1400) Madison Avenue. The factory was constructed alongside the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & Saint Louis Railroad (P C C & S L RR) tracks for the easy delivery of lumber and glass. The buildings that Lieber erected on a pie-shaped wedge of land stood for more than a century. After their demolition in about 1998, the corner remained unimproved until recently, when a controversial mixed-use project called Madison Apartments and Shoppes was built by the Keystone Group.
In 1900, H. Lieber Co. became one of the first exhibitors of paintings by the Hoosier Group. The Hoosier Group was a loose association of Impressionist painters working in Indiana in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Members of the group included T. C. Steele, Richard Gruelle, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, Otto Stark, and Samuel Richards. They are best known for their paintings of Indiana landscapes. In 1902, H. Lieber Co. incorporated as a retailer of paintings. The gallery was called the Art Emporium.
Herman Lieber was a civic leader and involved in a wide variety of activities. He was especially interested in the German activities of the period. He was a co-founder of the German-English Independent School. He gained the nickname of “Father of the German House,” because he had been one of the strongest proponents for the construction of Das Deutsche Haus, as well as one of its greatest supporters after it was built. He was active in a number of Turnvereins and was president of the North American Gymnastic Union.
Herman Lieber died on a train near Flagstaff, Arizona, while en route to a vacation in California. His body was accompanied home to Indianapolis by his daughter, daughter-in-law, and two of his sons. It lay in state at the Athenaeum for a day before the funeral was conducted there. He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, alongside his wife, who had preceded him in death, and their two oldest daughters, who had died in childhood.
Upon his death, H. Lieber Co. was inherited by Herman’s sons, Otto, Carl, Robert, and Herman. As photography gained wider usage, the Liebers did less and less selling of picture frames and mouldings and more and more selling of photo supplies and photo finishing. The Art Emporium closed in the 1950s, and H. Lieber Co. focused on its photo-related sales and services. At its height, there were five locations around town.
In 1920, a fire gutted the H. Lieber Co., resulting in a loss of approximately $200,000. The Liebers temporarily operated from two other nearby locations, while 24 West Washington Street was rebuilt.
The H. Lieber Co. closed its doors in 1979, after a 125-year run. Its assets were acquired by Hook’s Drugs, which later sold the photo division to Hoosier Photo Supplies. The final H. Lieber Co. store was located at 440 North Capitol Avenue. That block is now the site of a new development called Block 400, which contains the 487-unit Axis Luxury Apartments, a Marsh Supermarket, and a 930-space parking garage. The building in which the H. Lieber Co. was located the longest is still standing today.
The Liebers and their extended family members were important figures in the early growth of both the City of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana. As an example, Herman’s nephew, Richard Lieber (1869-1944), is considered the father of the Indiana State Parks system. Herman’s son, Carl H. Lieber (1866-1929) was one of the founders of the Art Association of Indianapolis, which spawned the John Herron Art Institute and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
The descendants of brothers Herman, Peter, and Otto Lieber are still among us today, making their own contributions to Indianapolis, to Indiana, and to points beyond. Lieber-related families’ surnames include Adams, Bachman, Barus, Birge, Buschman, Cassell, Glossbrenner, Kothe, Metzger, Pantzer, Pfaff, Rappaport, Ryan, Shubrick, Siebert, Stempfel, Stewart, Traub, Vonnegut, and Walsh.
If you have a question about Indianapolis history, send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line. We will do our best to answer it. Sponsors and Subscribers are given preference for extensive research on specific properties or specific families featured in HI Mailbag articles. ~ Sharon
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