Indianapolis Then and Now: Elwarner Flats / City Baking Company / Omar Bakeries / Omar Bakery Industrial Complex, 901-903 E. 16th Street

Written by on January 10, 2013 in Then & Now - 22 Comments
124 Flares Twitter 5 Facebook 116 Google+ 3 LinkedIn 0 Email -- 124 Flares ×

Does anyone remember the Omar Man delivering fresh bread and cookies to your door? Indianapolis was one of several cities throughout the country with an Omar Baking Company factory. A large crew of driver/salesmen peddled fresh-baked goods door-to-door from the 1920s through the 1960s. The bread, cakes, cookies and other goodies were prepared at the Omar Baking Company on the  southeast corner of E. 16th and Bellefontaine Streets.

Top: Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company Collection; Bottom: Google Street View, July 2009

Before Omar Baking Company opened a branch in Indianapolis, the City Baking Company occupied the structure. Baker William Elwarner, who had earlier owned a grocery on the site, constructed the 16th Street building in 1915. He had previously co-owned the Grocers Baking Company, a prosperous wholesale bakery, on W. New York Street. According to the July 2, 1915 issue of the Indianapolis Star,  Elwarner hired architects Graham and Hill to design an apartment building with three storefronts on the corner of E. 16th and Bellefontaine Streets. The rustic Oriental brick and Bedford stone-trimmed building was fireproof and featured a laundry in the basement. It included space for three stores on the ground floor (originally rented to a grocer) and four upper-level apartments each with four rooms and a bath, hardwood floors, oak woodwork, and “in-a-door beds” (also known as Murphy beds). Just as Elwarner Flats was nearing completion in November 1915, his Grocers Baking Company building on W. New York Street suffered a large fire, which might have altered his plans for this building. By 1918 Elwarner had started a new bakery from this site known as City Baking Company. He expanded and added several additions and garages, but within about a decade he closed and sold the building to Omar Baking Company. Notice in the photo above (taken in July 1927) that each apartment featured a small balcony facing Bellefontaine Street.

 

Courtesy of the Indiana Album, www.heritagephotoresearch.com

Via eBay we recently bought a series of photographs taken of the City Baking Company in 1922. Women are seen with baked goods such a cupcakes, triple-layer cakes, large cookies, and buns. Through today’s lens, we notice that the space looks less than sanitary and that the employees are not wearing gloves or hairnets.

Courtesy of the Indiana Album, www.heritagephotoresearch.com

 

Courtesy of the Indiana Album, www.heritagephotoresearch.com

The electric delivery trucks were charged at a bank of batteries inside a garage. They prominently displayed the slogan: “Direct From Our Ovens to Your Home.”

Top: Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, Guedelhoefer Wagon Company Collection; Bottom: Google Street View, July 2009

Elwarner continued as company president, working with his son-in-law Russell L. White as secretary-treasurer, until the mid-1920s. Although White later owned the White Baking Company in Indianapolis (and was president of the board of Indiana National Bank), this building was sold to the Omar Baking Company by 1927.

Courtesy of www.tvhistory.tv

Founder William J. Coad of Nebraska named the company after the Medieval Persian mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam,  who authored a poem with the line “Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou.”  That explains the early logo with a politically-incorrect boy in a turban, seen on this 1940s wax bread wrapper.

1954 Omar Baking Company calendar

Many folks on online nostalgia boards remember the delivery men of the past with fondness. Along with Fuller Brushes, Charles Chips, Roberts Milk, and Jewel Tea, people of a certain age from ten states remember the Omar Man and his wares such as pimento cheese bread, Dutch cream-filled coffee cake, sweet rolls, and wheat bread. The jingle must have been memorable, but I have yet to find an online recording.

“I’m the Omar man, (tap,tap,tap)
knocking at your door (rappa tap tap).
When you taste my bread (mmmm boy!),
you’re gonna want more (rappa tap tap).
Yes, everyone loves those cookies and cakes
and the wonderful bread the Omar bakes!
Get it from your Omar man!”

At one point the eighth-largest baker in the nation, Omar Bakeries (later Hall-Omar Bakeries) owned two flour mills as well as baking plants in Omaha, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Peoria, and Columbus and Hamilton, Ohio. In 1966 the business failed; some say due to labor strikes, the death of the owner, the ease of transportation and buying groceries at new supermarkets, and working women not being home to answer the door. The old Indianapolis baking plant was empty for several years but is currently undergoing restoration as the Omar Bakery Building and Industrial Arts Complex.

So what do you remember about the Omar Bakery?

124 Flares Twitter 5 Facebook 116 Google+ 3 LinkedIn 0 Email -- 124 Flares ×

Valuing = Supporting

Publishing HI every day is more than just a ’labor of love‘ (though we do love it), but takes hundreds of hours each month to create. If you are entertained, inspired, better informed, feel more connected with Indy or just value what you discover here, please consider becoming a supporting member with a recurring monthly donation.

Or, become a one-time supporter with a single donation in any amount you choose.

More old-fashioned? Checks or money orders may be sent to:
Historicindianapolis.com at P.O. Box 2999, Indianapolis, IN 46206

Thank you and HI-5! Love, The HI Team

About the Author

Joan Hostetler and John Harris own Heritage Photo & Research Services. The company specializes in house and building research and historic photograph preservation, interpretation, archiving, and digitization. Since they see so many cool photographs tucked away in attics and basements, they recently created "The Indiana Album" to borrow, scan, and share hidden Indiana images with the public. Like them on facebook or send them an email to share your photographs.

22 Comments on "Indianapolis Then and Now: Elwarner Flats / City Baking Company / Omar Bakeries / Omar Bakery Industrial Complex, 901-903 E. 16th Street"

  1. Joan Hostetler January 10, 2013 at 9:43 am · Reply

    Many 1940s photographs of employees taken by Omar Bakery foreman Virgil Atkerson have been posted on the Facebook page of the Omar Bakery and Industrial Arts Complex. Thanks to his daughter Judith Jo Atkerson Norman for sharing! https://www.facebook.com/omarbakery/photos

  2. Marilyn Jacobs January 10, 2013 at 10:17 am · Reply

    Seeing the picture of the truck brought it back. We had bread delivered from them and milk from another company that I cannot remember the name. Also remember them because we attended church at 17th & Broadway and drove by their every Sunday morning and remember the smell of bread. Thanks again for bringing back a memory.

  3. Norm Morford January 10, 2013 at 11:46 am · Reply

    Omar Bakery made excellent products and delivery to the home was valuable to folks in the country. For some years there was an Omar bakery building south of Greencastle. Since I haven’t traveled that way lately, I don’t know if it is still standing.

  4. basil berchekas jr January 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm · Reply

    Remember it…also remember the busy Nickel Plate and Monon railroads that supplied these formerly prosperous establishments from downtown, across 16th, and on up to 38th Street past the Nickel Plate Sutherland yards at 38th…

  5. Dennis E. Horvath January 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm · Reply

    Hi Joan:
    Didn’t they have a TV jingle saying something like “Hey Mom here comes the Omar Man?” I also remember the Omar Man and the Robert’s Milk Man visiting our neighborhood. We also had a produce vendor who had a large step-van. He would ring a bell when he was behind your house and everyone would say “Mr. Klepper is here!” Those were the days of simple family living.
    Thank you for the memories.
    Dennis

  6. Marilyn Jacobs January 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm · Reply

    We also had Roberts Milk delivered – I could not remember the name before. We also had man drive through on a horse drawn wagon selling fruit. I just remember him singing out strawberries.

  7. Joan Hostetler January 11, 2013 at 3:04 am · Reply

    Yes, Dennis, I’ve read that there was a jingle with the line “Hey Mom here comes the Omar Man,” but I can’t find a recording of it. I actually don’t remember the Omar Man and had never heard of Omar bread before researching this building. I wonder if they delivered in northern Indiana where I grew up.

  8. Joan Hostetler January 11, 2013 at 3:06 am · Reply

    As one who hates grocery shopping, I wish the delivery practice would start again. Actually, in Indianapolis we can order groceries through Peapod, Green Bean Indiana, or local CSA (community supported agriculture)…but I find it a little expensive.

  9. Wanda Jacobs January 12, 2013 at 9:16 am · Reply

    Just reading your page brings back the wonderful smells of bread as I walked past he open windows….too, I recal the field trips and how they gave the students a miniture loaf …yum!!

  10. Tom Davis January 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm · Reply

    I just talked to my dad. Probably in the early 40s my grandparents had a little grocery store around 12th and Bellefontaine and lived nearby. He remembers the bakery well because my aunt had a boyfriend who worked there and they went and watched him work at least once. He even remembered that there were apartments in the building without my asking him about it.

  11. Joan Hostetler January 17, 2013 at 12:13 am · Reply

    Can you imagine living above this place and smelling fresh bread and pastries all day? Tom: Does your dad have any snapshots of his family grocery store, home, or the neighborhood? I’d love to get scans of them.

  12. Jeff January 17, 2013 at 7:35 am · Reply

    My paternal grandparents met while working at the bakery. My grandfather had just returned from the Pacific after serving as a Marine in WW2 and my grandmother walked to work every day from 12th and Central.

  13. Tom Davis January 17, 2013 at 10:11 am · Reply

    Joan, I looked through the old pictures my mom and dad gave me and couldn’t really find any that included a picture with the house in it. My dad’s family moved a lot in the 30s, mostly in the old West Indianapolis neighborhood. His best memories are of a house on Sunshine, but they were also evicted from it. I sometimes get the impression that though my grandfather had fairly steady work driving city buses, they were kind of one step ahead of the landlord for awhile. A great aunt and great uncle also owned grocery stores, but everybody left town in the 40s. There were some pictures of my mom and some of her high school friends visiting Monument Circle sometime in the 40s (she grew up in Greencastle.) I think you could make out the English Hotel in one or two of them.

  14. Joan Hostetler January 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm · Reply

    Thanks for checking, Tom.

  15. Raymond Giehll January 23, 2013 at 9:56 pm · Reply

    Hello my wife and I was going though stuff and William Elwarner is her great great grandfather and Russell White was he great grandfather. And it is amazing that she can still find a lot about her family online. Thanks for posting those pictures.

  16. Joan Hostetler February 9, 2013 at 8:58 pm · Reply

    Raymond, Glad you made a connection! Does your wife’s family have photographs of any of Elwarner or White’s businesses or houses? I would love to get copies of them. Please email me at heritagephotoservices@gmail.com if you are interested.

  17. Sandra Jarvis April 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm · Reply

    Wonderful research Joan. The photos you found are priceless!!!

  18. Randy Wade July 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm · Reply

    What a great site. My Grandfather, Ralph Wade, was the Master Baker for Omar at the Indianapolis locatrion for many years. He worked there just about until they closed and then he went to work reluctantly at Roslynn bakeries till he passed away. My Mother and her twin sister Ruth and Irma Baker both worked there through the early 40′s as cake bakers and decorators. That’s were my mom met my dad, Ralph’s son Richard Wade, who had just returned from the Army in Europe at the end of the WWII. They were married in 1945. I believe I have several photos from the 40′s of the workers and office staff, some meetings etc…. if someone would like to see them. Thanks again for the memories. glad I could share too! Randy Wade, Greenwood IN

  19. David July 23, 2013 at 6:06 pm · Reply

    I remember the Omar man coming by the house in Terre Haute in the 50′s. Borden, and Model milk men, Fuller Brush man, Avon lady, and a lady with a Tupperware catalog. In summer there was the old man who walked behind a cart of frozen goodies with bells tinkling.

  20. Randy Wade July 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm · Reply

    I reviewed the Omar photos from the website mentioned above with my mother Ruth Baker Wade. She worked at Omar with her twin sister Irma for a few years during and after WWII, https://www.facebook.com/omarbakery/photos

    Regarding the photo taken at the picnic of the tall gentleman and the lady in white dress and white sandals along with another unknown man to the right, ….the couple are my Grandfather and Grandmother, Ralph and Marjorie Wade. He was the head baker at Omar for several years. In the photo directly below, the man standing at the big kettle of bread dough is a gentleman named Homer. My mother remembers him as a very nice person. Although she remembers a lot of the employees in the photos, he is the only one in all the photos that she remembers their name.

  21. mark young June 1, 2014 at 10:12 pm · Reply

    Both my grandfathers were truck drivers for Omar. One would run to Evansville and the other had a run to Richmond Indiana. My father worked at the bakery for 13 years before going to the Post Office.

Leave a Comment