Claypool Hotel, courtesy Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society
The Claypool Hotel served as both a famous and an infamous landmark in Indianapolis history, from its construction in 1903 until it faced the wrecking ball in 1969. In the coming weeks, we will look at the development of the hotel, some of the businesses that called it home, and the ultimate demise of a structure so legendary that the name remains in the everyday vernacular of the citizens of Indianapolis.
The northwest corner of Washington and Illinois Streets has been welcoming visitors since the early days of the city. The first large-scale hotel, Bates House, opened there in 1853. One of the best known days in the hotel’s history was a visit from President-Elect Abraham Lincoln in February of 1861. Despite being able to boast that “Lincoln slept here,” the hotel could not meet the needs of a city that had grown twenty-fold in a mere 50 years. The hotel was acquired by Edward Fay Claypool and Henry Lawrence. The Bates House’s days were numbered.
The developers were very ambitious. The eight-story Claypool dwarfed surrounding structures. Featuring 450 guestrooms, the hotel was bigger than any of its predecessors. As a comparison, it had a similar room count as the modern Hyatt Regency, located across the street from the former Claypool site. At the time of construction, the hotel boasted more space dedicated to the public than any other hotel in Indianapolis. The lobby was rumored to be the largest in the country, and its extravagant ballrooms were named Florentine and Riley. Due to the hotel’s location, one block from the Indiana Statehouse, the Indiana General Assembly often made the Claypool its home away from home. Nightly rates in 1908 ranged from $8.25 to $11.00. In 1911, the hotel played host to guests of the first International 500 Mile Sweepstakes. An overflow crowd of 900 signed the registration, and weary travelers without accommodations were rented chairs for one dollar apiece for a few hours.
Many doubted the Claypool would be a success, but under the stewardship of Henry Lawrence, the hotel prospered and became one of Indianapolis’ best known. Lawrence, originally from New York, brought 44 years of experience in hotel management from operating properties in New York and Chicago.
Lawrence led a small army of over 400 employees who provided service to the hotel rooms, two restaurants, and banquets that often fed over 1,000 people at a time. Keeping the customer experience in mind, Lawrence often showed up at unexpected times and locations to gauge the quality of service. This attention to detail paid off, and the building was expanded immediately to the west in 1915, and the total capacity grew to 600 guestrooms. By that time, the hotel was advertising “the modern telephone invention” in each room.
The hotel served the city well for the next 50 years, hosting many conventions of state agencies and social clubs. Throughout the years, many businesses kept shop in the street-front retail outlets that lined the ground floor. Stay tuned for next week, when the focus will be on the retail establishments of The Claypool Hotel.
Ever visited a grand hotel of yesteryear? Where?
The Indianapolis Star, March 28th 1915
Lost Indianapolis, 2002, Arcadia Publishing
Annual Report of the Officers of the State, 1908, State of Indiana
Indianapolis Motor Speedway 100 Years of Racing, Krause Publications, 2009