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This postcard shows how the Pennsylvania Hotel would have looked shortly after opening. (Image: eBay)

Why would anyone want to surround a beautiful historic building with a brick wall separating the occupants from the rest of the outside world? You may have wondered this while walking along Pennsylvania Street just north of downtown. Searching for the answer uncovers a long forgotten hotel and night spot that existed for over forty years.

Sanborn 1916

This Sanborn map from 1916 shows the scale of the development around 947 North Pennsylvania prior to the construction of the Pennsylvania Hotel. (Image: IUPUI)

The area along north Pennsylvania Street looked much different at the turn of the twentieth century. Instead of the mid-rise buildings and walk-up apartments we’re accustomed to seeing today, single-family residences lined the streets north of the Circle. The house at 947 North Pennsylvania housed Dr. Eugene Mumford, a well known family physician who later would serve as Chief Inspector for the city Board of Health. By the 1920s Dr. Mumford had moved on, and the neighborhood had literally grown up. In 1925, The Pennsylvania Hotel rose six stories, taking a commanding presence over its neighbors. The “fireproof” structure boasted over 150 rooms and private baths, a rare luxury of the time.

Although Indianapolis is not known for having any substantial ethnic neighborhoods, someone speeding down Pennsylvania Street in the 1960’s may have gotten the feeling he had landed across the pond. In 1963, The Pennsylvania Hotel had shed its green monogrammed awnings and had become Nottingham Court. Keeping with the theme, the hotel’s lounge was dubbed the “Sherwood Lounge” and featured nightly entertainment. Perhaps this was to attract the attention of unsuspecting tourists from the more established Sheffield Inn across the street.

Today

The Pennsylvania Hotel as it looks today. Due to the brick privacy walls you can easily miss it if you don’t look up.

By the close of the decade, visitors to Indy were more likely to be drawn to the newer motels and inns on the outskirts of town. The Methodist Church purchased the building, creating the Lucille Raines Residence. The initial purpose of the building was to house young women who came to Indy to pursue a career or an education. As social needs changed over time, so has the organization’s mission. Today the building houses adults who have been hospitalized for drug addiction, thus the reason for the tall secluding walls.

Printed Sources:
The Indianapolis News, April 18, 1931
The Indianapolis News, April 19, 1970
1916 Indianapolis Blue Book

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