Like a smile with a broken tooth, the former site of Claypool remained a vacant lot for over a decade (Courtesy Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Like a smile with a missing tooth, the former site of the Claypool remained a vacant lot for over a decade. (Image: Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

It would be unusual for a hotel to advertise that “*fill in the blank famous person* died here.” However, when tragedies occur, the general public tends to have a long memory, perhaps sharing in whispered tones what infamous activity happened within its walls. If the event were grave enough, it could send a place into ruin. Perhaps distressing events of the past contributed to the decline and eventual downfall of the Claypool Hotel? You be the judge. Beginning in 1943, a series of high-profile crimes and a large fire occurred in the hotel, casting a dark shadow over the famed property.

The first incident took place on August 28, 1943, during the height of World War II. Maoma L. Ridings, a 33-year-old woman from Warm Springs, Georgia, was serving in the Women’s Army Corps at Camp Atterbury, when she headed to Indianapolis for a date. The evening came to an horrific end. Around 8 p.m., a hotel maid discovered Ridings’ body in Room 729, evidently murdered, with a broken bottle of whiskey. Police searched for an elusive woman dressed in black, the last person spotted with Ridings earlier in the evening.  Although many leads were pursued, the crime remains a cold case to this day.

Just over a decade later, tragedy struck again. In July 1954, Dorothy Poore, an eighteen-year-old woman from Clinton, Indiana, came to Indianapolis seeking employment in civil services. Though not a registered guest of the hotel, she spent her last night there. Her body was found in a sixth floor room, stuffed into a dresser drawer. The room was registered to a man named Jack O’Shea. Using finger prints and handwriting samples, police discovered this was an alias of Victor Lively, registered at another area hotel under that name. He was not to be found in Indianapolis. Police arrested him near St. Louis, Missouri, on July 23.  He was found guilty of murder on December 2, 1954, giving Poore’s family the closure that the Ridings family never received.

A large gala was held in 1969 the eve of the impending Claypool demolition. The Zebrowski sign refers to Ed Zebrowski who's comany was responsible for the destruction of many an Indianapolis landmark including the Marion County Courthouse, Maennerchor Hall, and Pythian Building (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

A large gala was held in 1969 on the eve of the impending Claypool demolition. The Zebrowski sign refers to Ed Zebrowski, whose company was responsible for the destruction of many Indianapolis landmarks including the Marion County Courthouse, Maennerchor Hall, and Knights of Pythias Building. (Image: Indiana State Library)

In January 1963, a local newspaper noted the incumbent completion of a number of recent renovations over the prior three years. An “overhaul and remodeling,” of the lobby was noted. In 1967, another $200,000 had been spent renovating rooms, and the exterior was sandblasted to brighten the facade. The effort was in vain. In the early morning hours of June 23, fire broke out in a utility closet on the fourth floor. The conflagration, most likely caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette, smoldered for hours before being discovered. Over 300 guests were evacuated, including the Tacoma Cubs AAA baseball team and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, hosting their convention in town. Although the fire was confined to the utility area between the fourth and fifth floors, heavy water damage from the firefighting efforts flooded the lobby and rendered more than 80 rooms unusable.

On July 1, Walter A. Evans, a 63-year old janitor from Bakersfield, California was charged with first-degree arson for the fire, noting there had been two other downtown hotel fires caused by the same man. At the time, the hotel was expected to be closed until September 1 for repairs.

Representatives of the National Hotel Company of Galveston, Texas acquired the hotel in 1943 and in February of 1969, they dangled the possibility that the hotel might survive, with a news headline touting “Claypool Hotel Remodeling Seen as Probable.” This, despite the concurrent fire sale on hotel furnishings.

The hotel continued to function as the Republican Party headquarters. Making it even more odd that Democrat Eugene McCarthy briefly took over most of the mezzanine and main floors as his campaign headquarters in April 1968, while vying against Robert F. Kennedy for the primary. Kennedy took over three floors of the Indiana Theater building, with additional rooms at the Marott Hotel, and the 11th floor of the Sheraton. The Riley Room, unused for 10 months was transformed into a babysitting hub for mothers volunteering for the McCarthy campaign.

Rather than restore the famed 65-year old hotel, the owners opted to close the building in hopes of developing a new hotel on the site. Legal problems caused by first-floor retail tenants delayed demolition for another two years. An attempt to redevelop the site in the late 1970s included a Radisson Hotel, but nothing came of it. Finally, anticipating a downtown revival, Simon Property Group constructed Claypool Court on the historic site. The project included restaurants and retail outlets on the lower floors and a high-rise Embassy Suites Hotel.

What memories do you have of The Claypool Hotel?

The modern Embassy Suites hotel sits on the former site of The Claypool (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

The modern Embassy Suites hotel sits on the former site of The Claypool. (Image: Indiana State Library)

Printed Sources

Indianapolis Times, June 14, 1950

Indianapolis Times, December 12, 1953

Indianapolis News, June 23, 1967

Indianapolis Star, November 7, 1971

18 responses to “At Your Leisure: The Downfall of a Landmark”

  1. Steve Koepper says:

    Tomlinson Hall. Dad’s office, J.S. Cruse Realty Co., was at 128 N. Delaware Street, and he had to go down to protect important records.

  2. Mick Williams says:

    What’s the history of Grant’s department store, or dime store, which was situated on the south side of the first block of E. Washington Street and destroyed by fire? The building was in the middle of the block, demolished eventually, and the site became a parking lot afterward. It’s lunch counter, in the early 1950s, was the first place I ever learned of a “submarine” sandwich.

  3. Mary Edwards says:

    Thanks for sharing! To answer your question about other fires in Indy, not that I remember these based on my age, but there are at least two I know of. One was in the location of the Rock Bottom Brewery. I believe that firefighters were killed in this fire in the basement. There is a plaque commemorating this tragedy on the outside of the building. The other one I am aware of was on Washington street I believe in the 70’s, across from the old Roselyn Bakery / Dunkin Donuts. I know it was office space and was considered a 5-alarm fire, and the firefighters had to take shifts trying to put it out.

  4. Scott Goodwine says:

    All of these articles about the Claypool are making me sad.

  5. David Brewer says:

    That was originally known as the New York Store, which was one of the major department stores downtown until it went out of business in 1930-31.

  6. David Brewer says:

    That one across from Dunkin Donuts was the WT Grant fire. It got so bad that it caught the Hotel Washington across the street on fire. My mom was working in the City/County building at the time, and I remember how worried we were until we knew she was ok.

  7. Jack Rhodes says:

    The fire on the Rock Bottom site was the 1890 Bowen-Merrill bookstore fire. The adjacent H.P. Wasson dry goods store was also damaged. Wasson eventually claimed most of the northwest corner of Washington and Meridian for the mid 1937 construction of its 2 West Washington flagship store. Rock Bottom takes part of the first floor of that 2 West Washington site, along with the building just to its west.

    Speaking of Wasson’s, another historic downtown fire claimed the Wasson Monument Circle annex store in 1969. The annex was on the southwest quadrant of the Circle. The Emmis Communications building now sits on that site.

  8. Sigur Whitaker says:

    There are three fires that come to mind.

    The most recent was a fire at a meatpacking facility on White River southwest of downtown. It was several stories tall (some were underground). The fire, with more than 100 years of animal fat, burned for days. I think the railroad trestle over White River was destroyed in the fire.

    One of the most famous fires in Indianapolis was the Surgical Institute fire in 1892. Despite the heroic efforts of firemen, it killed 19 people, most of whom were invalids.

    There was also the “South Meridian Street fire which destroyed much of the wholesale business area in 1888.

  9. D MIKELS SHEA says:

    The Claypool was my “beat” as a mid-40’s to late 50’s Times reporter, columnist, police and court beats and major crimes. The WAC murder was before my time but was still being regurgitated as late as 40’s, mostly by local reporters who freelanced for national who-done-it magazines, which proliferated in that era. Reporter named John Bowen by that time exiled to copy desk at the Times made extra money rewriting endlessly as stringer for these publications. But the Poore-Lively crime is another matter. I think I was on leave, but my connections with Claypool were by then as strong as family–GM Bryan Karr and wife Paulie and especially their daughter Paula were our closest friends (even later, until their deaths). So I got the first and inside information by phone at home and reported new leads by phone to the Times—and somehow (my memory is foggy) I got a “tip” from a top police source about the Jack O’Shea clue–phoned it to another closest friend, Top Cop Bob O’Neal (another close friend)—and the rest is history. Incidentally, when the Karrs left management at the declining Claypool, collector Pauline was permitted to take many artifacts and among them the actual Dresser Drawer and Room number…as well as all furnishings from the suite Carol Lombard occupied on the last night of her life. As recently as about l5 years ago, daughter Paula, then living in Denver and San Allende but returning here as our house guest yearly, decided to clear out storage rooms with these and many other items. Almost all of the Lombard furniture is presently in the Propylaeum, which it purchased at auction…many of the prized artifacts like the medieval shield from Louis Ball room, marble table from New Orleans Court, actual brass elevator indicator which I had mounted on a stair newel post to become a cocktail table, plus endless other items like service plates, hotel silver etc. –all are in mine and my daughter’s home, along with similar decorative items from other hotels, Atkinson Riley, Severin,, Warren, Harrison, —fun to remember these lost hotels by. I also have–want to sell–6 ornate French dining chairs from the original LaTour’s–and the (huge) maybe 6 ft in diameter from the original Hinkle Fieldhouse. Any collectors out there? I am clearing out my home of 62 years and no, the wooden telephone booth from the Claypool with original pay phone is NOT for sale!

  10. AnnettE Laughman says:

    Hello Mr Shea ! Your comments about the Claypool Hotel are interesting! I have 2 prints of the Claypool hotel of early day and modern probably 50s. Annette Laughman

  11. MWBROWN says:

    These articles are hilarious! Look at the “gala atmosphere” to tear down a beautiful building only to replace it with architectural dreck that’s truly uninspired.

    Americans are a joke. The Germans had their cities bombed by the Americans and the British, and in many instances, they rebuilt what was there before. We have a fire, and the entire building comes down.

    Ever wonder why our ciites are the ugliest in the world? Are our cities a reflection of who we are?

  12. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    I’d probably use the word “sad” vs. “hilarious” but agree with your sentiments completely. It’s why this site exists. Trying to shine the light on the truth. Cheers.

  13. Christy says:

    Hello Mr Shea, i am very glad that I came across your letter. Very interesting. Well, it turns out that Dorothy Poore was my grand mother’s first cousin. We still live here in Clinton. My grandmother just turned 92 a few months ago, and doing wonderfully I might add! Lol, she has provided with me many stories and clippings of the dresser drawer murder, as well has her brothers, and other family members. So I left with the task of possibly putting this all together in some form to pass on into the future. I was wondering if by chance you had any items that involved that murder? Like anything from the room 665. I’ve been trying to get my hands on any old keys, or room numbers or anything related to that time. Thank you for your time.

  14. Ejs says:

    The Claypool hotel is where the love of George Gipp’s life told him in 1920 that she had married another man.

  15. Dan Funkhouser says:

    I remember a stain glass window was found in the attic of the Claypool before demolition. I wonder what happened to it? Also, didn’t Abraham Lincoln stayed in a hotel in Indianapolis? Possibly the Claypool?

  16. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    It was on the site of the Claypool where Lincoln stayed- The Bates House Hotel.

  17. Stephen Long says:

    Does anyone know or have listed the names of people that have committed sucide by jumping from the Claypool during the depression? I’ve been told that my Grandmother was one of them.. thank you for ANY information.

  18. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Have to say I have never heard that! I’m not sure what kind of entity would have kept track of such specific data. I’m sorry to hear that.

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