Flashback Fridays: P.E. MacAllister

Written by on August 23, 2013 in Features, Flashback Fridays, People, Present - 3 Comments
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Indianapolis history is not just made up of buildings, historic homes, and age-old events. After all, it IS people who make history happen, so what better way to know Indianapolis history than to hear from life-long Indy residents? HI is featuring some of Indianapolis’ oldest residents to unlock the personal memories and nearly forgotten stories of this great city.

I never thought I’d be meeting a 94-year-old man in his work office during a scheduled time slot. But P.E. MacAllister is not just any 94-year-old man. P.E.  is a true Renaissance man, and his involvement in all-things Indianapolis is almost exhausting. He’s done everything from running MacAllister Machinery Co. to founding the MacAllister Awards for Opera; from serving as a deacon on the Presbyterian General Assembly to helping build every major sports building downtown.

PE Macallister in his office.

P.E. MacAllister in his office.

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P.E. giving a public speech. Courtesy of P.E. MacAllister.

P.E. was born and raised in Wisconsin, so he doesn’t share the same memories as some of our other interviewed residents. Yet, having just begun his 69th year in Indianapolis, P.E. knows the ins and outs of the city, having contributed to it in countless ways. A life-long philanthropist and political enthusiast, P.E. has always had a passion for improving the city, and brings an insider’s perspective on the political and economic world of old and new Indianapolis.

After serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII, P.E. moved to Indianapolis and soon took over his father’s business, MacAllister Machinery Co., a Midwest Caterpillar dealer, when his father died. P.E. ran MacAllister Machinery Co. for 41 years, and still has an office in their corporate building on East 30th Street. His son runs the business now. MacAllister Machinery Co. was originally located in Brightwood at 21st and Sherman Drive.

P.E. moved to Indy one week after marrying his first wife, Becky, into a condo at 3510 N. Pennsylvania, just north of Shortridge High School, and quickly discovered the warmth of the Hoosier state.

“[Hoosiers] are the most affable, gregarious people in the country,” said P.E. “In the 6 years I lived in Milwaukee, I was never inside my neighbor’s house. But the second week I moved here, I got invited inside my neighbor’s house, and their door was never locked. And that’s still what Hoosiers are.”

Yet, although the Indy folk were kind, P.E. found the city to be in absolute distress when he first moved here. He called old Indianapolis “an oval in a cornfield, India-NO-place.”

“I’m from Wisconsin, see, and those states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota – came from northern Europe. They had different concepts of education, opera, and the arts. But Indiana was settled from across the river – Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. These are just ‘good ol’ folks’ down here, and it took them a long time to be interested in culture. No one wanted change.”

“No one went downtown at night,” he said. “There wasn’t much to do down there though. All three of the big department stores – Wasson’s, Strauss’, and Ayres – all pulled out one by one. The city was so tacky!”

Even the little things seemed inefficient and disorderly.

“I couldn’t believe it, going down Meridian Street when I first came here. I said, ‘What the hell are all these garbage cans doing out here?’ You build all these gorgeous homes and then put the garbage out front. You should pick up the garbage in the alley, not out front! Well, they didn’t have alleys.”

P.E. became heavily active in Indy’s political world, raising money for different politicians and serving on multiple committees. The city was in a deplorable state, according to P.E., and he says Dick Lugar’s election as mayor ultimately turned the city around in the late 60s. Lugar, who created UniGov, got the ball rolling on making Indianapolis into a unified, vibrant city.

Lugar wins the Indianapolis mayoral election. Indianapolis Star,

Lugar wins the Indianapolis mayoral election. Indianapolis Star, November 8, 1967 front page.

P.E. served on the Capitol Improvement Boards for years. Although many of us may have never heard of the Capital Improvements Board, it is the backbone to Indianapolis’ sports fame, having built many major downtown buildings, including the Hoosier Dome, the Convention Center, and the Lucas Oil Stadium. (Fun fact: although the Convention Center now attracts Trekkies and firefighters nationwide, it started out hosting Boy Scout conventions and 70s rock concerts).

The original Convention Center. LOCATION. INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETYYYYYY.

The original Convention Center. Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

“Has anyone stopped to think about the impact that CIB has had on the city?” P.E. asked. “You think the Circle City Mall and all those restaurants would be there? Probably not. Now I don’t have wings on my shoulders but I think this city’s well-being goes back to the leadership of this city.”

P.E. was also involved in the Indianapolis Opera Company since 1975. He started the MacAllister Awards, an opera competition which brought opera singers and judges from all over the country. The Awards were discontinued in 2002.

Although P.E. was a busy man, he and Becky managed to raise 4 children on the far North side of town, sending their kids primarily to Eastwood Middle School and North Central High School, when both schools were still fairly new.

P.E. fondly remembers taking his kids to the movies and to baseball games at Bush Stadium on West 16th Streer.

Bush Stadium, c. 1960. INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETYYYY.

Bush Stadium, c. 1960. Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Bush Stadium is being redeveloped into an apartment complex. Drawing from Core Development website.

Bush Stadium is being redeveloped into an apartment complex. Drawing from Core Development website.

P.E. also loved watching basketball in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

“Every holiday season, Purdue, Indiana, Butler, and Notre Dame would have a round robin. And guess who would win nearly every year?” he whispered with a sly smile, “Butler did!”

Old Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University. INDIANA HISTORICAL SDFLKJSDFLKJF

Old Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, 1929. Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

“I’ve always loved Hollyhock Hill, and my wife still hates it,” he laughed. “I went every Sunday after church for probably 10 years and would pick up a chicken.”

Postcard of Hollyhock Hill Restaurant. Courtesy of Evan Finch.

Old postcard of Hollyhock Hill Restaurant. Courtesy of Evan Finch.

P.E.’s first wife, Becky, passed away in 2001, and P.E. married his wife, Fran, in 2003, who he knew from Northminster Presbyterian Church on Kessler Boulevard.

P.E. is just six years short of having lived a century, but that hasn’t stopped him from working. In fact, you can find him on his TV talk show, On Site, or perhaps playing golf with his good friends Mitch Daniels and Jim Morris. On Site, an interview-style talk show, began airing in 1982; its purpose was to awaken people to the arts and culture of Indianapolis.

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P.E. on camera for his TV show On Site. Courtesy of P.E. MacAllister.

P.E. still complains about the traffic, and he wishes to see improvement in the school system, but he loves the way Indianapolis has taken shape.

“I like the city a lot better today,” he said. “We feel different about the city today. We used to be apologetic, but now we’re proud of it! It took a lot of work, a lot of political work, and I think politics here have always been more stronger than in other cities. Oh, and my wife thinks the Monon Trail is a trip to Paradise,” he chuckled.

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About the Author

Ellen Davis is a proud Indy native and senior English major at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA. With an English teacher for a mother and a history buff for a father, she grew up with an appreciation for the beauties of both language and history, and loves that she can combine the two by writing about her favorite city.

3 Comments on "Flashback Fridays: P.E. MacAllister"

  1. Norm Morford August 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm · Reply

    Thank you, Ellen. Your first paragraph is an excellent one for all of us to remember — it’s not just the buildings — it is the people and what the people have done.

    It was also interesting to see the headline about Lugar’s win, but as interesting was the lower headline about Richard Hatcher winning in Gary. He is not an Indianapolis person, but in terms of the history of the state of Indiana, he is equally important. For years many legislators have labeled the northwest corner of the state of “da region” or “the great sate of Lake” and yet, what the rest of the state has done to the region has often occurred right here in Indy at the Statehouse.

    The second item of interest is that P.E. is involved at Northminister Presbyterian Church — Teri Thomas, current pastor, is one of the top clergy in Indpls. I wonder if P. E. was always a part of that congregation, or if he started at Tab or 2nd Presby. and then moved to Northminster.

  2. Scott Goodwine August 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm · Reply

    Interesting article, but don’t get me started on the CIB.

  3. Jamie Sallee August 30, 2013 at 3:14 pm · Reply

    Hi from someone you knew way back when you worked to elect Richard Lugar and Jim Morris was someone I talked to almost daily. Just celebrated another birthday and suddenly remembered all those we shared together. Guess you are no longer 94 as it stated here – but I already knew that since you are twelve years older than I. Have lots of memories about building the “new’ building on the ‘east side’. Remember when the squirrel died in the walls of your old office? Or, when everyone else’s carpet came and was laid and the carpet scheduled for our new office ended up in Georgia… and you insisted that we could not work under such conditions so we spent the days waiting at the bar? Have lots of pictures of the first big celebration upon opening the 30th street office . . . plaid skirts!!! (Julie, Jackie, Jerry and I behind the bar, on one of the Cats with Lucky Giddings and around the new place.
    Glad to see that you are still alive and kicking. Can’t believe I’ve lived down here for 36 years now. Texas has been good to me but Indiana will always be ‘home’.

    Jay

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