Then and Now: English Hotel and Opera House, 120 Monument Circle

Written by on July 14, 2011 in Then & Now - 13 Comments
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English Hotel and Opera House

The English Hotel and Opera House is often lamented as one of the biggest preservation losses in Indianapolis history. The grand Victorian building stood from 1880 until 1948 on the northwest quadrant of Monument Circle. (Library of Congress, Detroit Photographic Company, undated glass negative, circa 1905)

William E English and the family mansion

The building was constructed in three phases by the English family, who moved to Indianapolis from Lexington in Scott County. In 1864, the Honorable William H. English, a businessman, banker, historian, and politician, bought the W. S. Hubbard residence which had been built in this block in 1840. He greatly expanded the simple two-story home by adding a wing, a “queer-looking tower,” and an iron fountain in the front yard. (Indianapolis Star, July 8, 1923. The original photograph is in the English Collection at the Indiana Historical Society. The 1890s snapshot depicts William E. English, son of William H., standing in front of his old home. Zoom in to see a sign above the door for the Indianapolis Medical and Surgical Institute. William H. English moved into the new hotel in 1886 and leased the old house to various groups and businesses.)

The old English home and former Presbyterian church

The father, William H. English, purchased the rest of the block in the late 1870s, paying $83,777 total for the northwest quadrant of the Circle. His son William E. recalled in 1923: “The northwest segment of the Circle and Market street…was at the period of my first remembrance [about 1864] occupied by a large frame structure which was then the Second Presbyterian Church. The pastor of this church at the time of its erection, was the famous Henry Ward Beecher, who served this congregation as pastor from July 31, 1839 to 1847. It is said that, together with members of his congregation, he worked upon the building with his own hands. When the church removed to its present location, Pennsylvania and Vermont streets, the old building was purchased by the city and used as the City high school, until the school was removed to its present site.”

William E. continues: “At that time the entire site of the present Hotel English and opera house block extending from the corner occupied by this old church building to the northwest segment of the Circle and Meridian street, was occupied by this church and by three residences with large yards. The first of these next to the church was that of my father, next came the handsome home of James H. McKernan, and on the corner of Meridian street stood a very old one-story brick house said to have been originally built by Mr. Quarles, one of the leading lawyers of the city’s early period. Plymouth Congregational Church stood just around the corner on Meridian street, a few feet from the Circle, the old walls of which, on the alley, were later incorporated in the present Hotel English building.” He neglected to mention the old Bishop Edward R. Ames home, which by 1880 was an empty lot west of the Quarles home.

(1880s photograph looking west at the English Opera House with the newly constructed State House in the background)

Hotel English postcard

The hotel was built in two sections around the opera house. In 1884 the first section was constructed northeast to Meridian Street. The second section, completed in 1896, expanded the building south to Market Street and required the removal of the old English mansion and Circle Hall. A large balcony added in 1910 was a popular location for politicians to address large crowds on Monument Circle.

Demolition of the Hotel English

After nearly seventy years of continuous use as an opera house, and later hotel, the building was demolished in 1948. Deterioration, changing tastes, and the desire to showcase modern architecture all contributed to this decision. This July 26, 1949 photograph looks southeast toward the Monument and shows the remains of the brick foundation. (Negative made by the Indianapolis Fire Department)

Many more photographs of the English Hotel and Opera House can be seen in the online collections of the Indiana Historical Society.

Carvings rescued from the hotel

Pieces of the old English Hotel and Opera House have been reused throughout the city. These architectural remnants depict Governor Noah Noble and Governor James Whitcomb. The English family was criticized in newspapers for including bas-relief sculptures of family members alongside Indiana governors. The stone busts are about four feet tall and were available for sale at Doc Keys Architecture Salvage and Antiques as of 2010. (Photograph courtesy of Sandra Jarvis)

JC Penny

The clean limestone lines of the J. C. Penney Co. building, constructed on the site in 1950, could not have been more different than the old building. Many residents rejected the modern style, but the new building had at least one fan. During his visit in 1957, architect Frank Lloyd Wright commented: “Indianapolis, like every big city is doomed. The only good building I saw downtown is the one used by J. C. Penney’s downtown, which is a little radical. It probably was designed by some out-of-town man.” (Actually, Nathaniel Owings, one of the partners of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, was an Indianapolis native.) (Indiana Landmarks, Indiana Architecture Slide Collection)

Other views of the J. C. Penney Co. building can be seen in the Bass Photo Company Collection at the Indiana Historical Society.

Englis Hotel and Opera House 071411

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Sadly, residents never learned to appreciate the design of the J. C. Penney Co. building. Like the recently “remuddled” Zipper Building (another modern structure never appreciated for its own merits after replacing a grand Victorian building), the façade was given a bland, postmodern corporate look in the early 1990s for Anthem Insurance (now Wellpoint). (Google Street View, circa 2010)

Hmmm….will future preservationists fight to save examples of our bland postmodern buildings and chastise our generation for not appreciating them? Nah.


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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.

13 Comments on "Then and Now: English Hotel and Opera House, 120 Monument Circle"

  1. Linda L Knotts Harris April 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm · Reply

    I have heard or read somwhere that the opera house was once owned bt a Stephen Mattler, a descendant of my husband. Mr Mattler was an attorney and businessman in Indianapolis- from Alsace Lorraine. There are no longer any matttlers- sons died. The Mattlers in St louis are not related. Mr mattler lived in Indianapolis from arond 186, until his death about 1910. he had resided on N College and also at 2622 N Meridian. I was fortunate enough to find a post cars at an antique store in Marshall, Mich. Any info you might provide would be appreciated. thanks Linda Lou Knotts Harris

  2. Joan Hostetler April 19, 2012 at 6:58 am · Reply

    Linda: I did a quick spot check in city directories and in 1873 and 1879 Stephen Mattler was proprietor of the Union House; in 1881 his occupation was listed as “Saloon English Opera House,” in 1887 he was proprietor of the Occidental Hotel Bar; in 1897 it simply listed “saloon” as occupation; no occupation listed in 1901. He never owned the Opera House, but likely managed the saloon for the English family.

  3. Dennis Passehl August 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm · Reply

    In between it being JC Penneys and WellPoint; There was a black glass exterior put on the whole building. Do you have any pictures of when it had that modernistic black glass reflective exterior. I believe it was supposed to reflect the monument.

  4. Dennis Passehl August 12, 2012 at 10:36 am · Reply

    Thanks Joan. And I really liked your comment about the Darth Vader Building!

  5. Central Indiana Community Foundation October 22, 2012 at 11:19 am · Reply

    You can find out more about the William E. English’s legacy in Indianapolis by reading about the English Foundation, which provides below-market-rate office and program space for non-profit social service organizations that serve Indianapolis residents.

    Currently, several local nonprofits are housed in the foundation’s English Building, including the Arthritis Foundation, Indiana Chapter; Day Nursery Association; Family Service of Central Indiana; Happy Hollow Children’s Camp, Inc.; Indianapolis Parks Foundation; Lacy Leadership Association (LLA); and YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, Inc.

  6. Doc Keys February 5, 2013 at 10:54 am · Reply

    Great piece! We still have the limestone busts.

  7. Terry Taylor August 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm · Reply

    Hi There was a couple by the names of Doc Garrett and Emma Garrett who had something to do with the English. can you elaberate? I beleave I have in my possetion the clock that was on the mantle as you walked into the lobby.

  8. Doug August 29, 2013 at 9:31 am · Reply

    Indianapolis still has the monument left over from the 1902 era, but didn’t save the historic buildings that went with it, therefore Monument Circle lost much of it’s greatness to Modernism, thus I’m in agreement with the following statement. ” The English Hotel and Opera House is often lamented as one of the biggest preservation losses in Indianapolis history.” Amen.

  9. Gene Phoenix January 14, 2014 at 4:16 pm · Reply

    I was born in 1947 so I don’t remember the English Hotel. My mom was born in 1928 so she remembered it well. She complained about them tearing it down until the day she died in 1995. It’s strange that we lived on English Ave. Was it named after the same people as the Hotel?

  10. Carl June 8, 2014 at 12:39 pm · Reply

    The Penney’s building is my favorite, then the English Hotel, then the Darth Vader building, then lastly the current WellPoint. I also hope future generations will not fight to save Indianapolis’s bland postmodern structures. The Chase Tower is the worst. Blah.

  11. Rebecca Willis December 31, 2016 at 1:57 pm · Reply

    Elisha Gale English, father to William H. English was brother to my 5 generation grandfather Joseph English born in 1790 in Green County, Kentucky. My great, great grandmother is Mary Scott English of Greensburg, IN. I am very proud of my family heritage.

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