It’s unclear what made this the “Most Streamlined Restaurant in the Middle-West” but it was clearly a point of pride. (Image: Evan Finch)
When your travels lead you to the intersection of Lafayette Road and Sixteenth Street, you may notice the odd little building with a faded sign, promising “packaged liquor, cold beer, and carry-out.” The high-pitched roof gables and covered porte cochere are not indicative of a seedy liquor store, dive bar, or whatever occupied this space in it’s final incarnation, but if you look closer you can see large picture windows long since covered by siding and a painted over brick facade. Clearly this was once a much more prominent destination.
The structure dates back to at least 1935 and appears to be an early example of a “supper club.” These venues were intended to be a one-stop destination for an entire evening’s entertainment. A typical night started with cocktails, followed by an elegant dinner and professional entertainment. This seems to have been the focus of Red Gables for the first two decades of existence, but during the 1950’s the establishment suffered from what some might consider a branding crisis. The club was owned by the Brodey brothers and went through no less than four name changes in the same decade. The owners eventually settled on “Club 52,” possibly in homage to the highway that emptied traffic into the Circle City from Chicago, precisely at the intersection where the club sat. That vehicle-snarled location may have eventually proven to be a deterrent to attracting couples in suits and evening gowns as North Meridian Street became the preferred entertainment destination of the day.
An article published in 1978 paints an entirely different picture of what the establishment had to offer. The bar was sold to Ray White and George Weber in the late fifties and renamed the “Two by Four.” From this point onward it seems the bar would operate as a friendly neighborhood tavern where businessmen and factory workers would unwind after a day’s work. By the time the 1989 city directory was published, no such business was listed at this address. Today the building still stands, but in poor condition. It is not listed for sale and appears to be utilized for storage by an auto repair business located immediately to the north. Too bad these walls can’t talk, or even hum us a tune from its booming dinner club days.
The land both north and south of West 16th Street and alongside the east and west banks of the White River was for many, many years owned by the Emrich family. The German-born immigrants settled in Wayne Township in the 1850s. Besides farming the area, the extended family established a grocery, blacksmith shop, saloon, and other such enterprises. So important were the Emrichs to the area, the settlement was unofficially called “Emrichsville.”
The former 16th Street bridge over White River was named the “Emrichsville Bridge” and is mentioned in several Historic Indianapolis articles, including “Preservation Denied: Emrichsville Bridge”: http://historicindianapolis.com/preservation-denied-emrichsville-bridge/ .
Also, an HI Mailbag article, “The Lohrmann Residence,” discussed the property on the southeast corner of 16th and Lafayette Road (i.e., catty-corner from the subject property), which was built by one of the Emrich daughters and her husband” http://historicindianapolis.com/hi-mailbag-the-lohrmann-residence-and-emrichsville/ .
I believe the building at 1610 Lafayette Road actually dates to about 1928. There was no listing in the 1927 city directory for that address nor was there a structure on that lot on the 1927 Baist map, but there WAS a listing for the property in the 1928 city directory and a structure appearing on the 1929 Baist map #14. In the 1928 Indianapolis City Directory, 1610 Lafayette Road was described as a roadhouse. It was operated by Earl D. Hoff, who also lived on the premises. Here’s a link to that city directory listing: http://archive.org/stream/polksindianapoli1928unse#page/794/mode/2up . The property continued to be referred to as a restaurant in subsequent city directories, for a decade. It was first listed as a tavern in the 1939 Indianapolis City Directory.
The Don Albert Orchestra, an African-American Territory Band from San Antonio, Texas, played a one-week stand at the Red Gables Oct. 24-31, 1938. This is noted by Christopher Wilkinson in his biography on Don Albert, Jazz on the Road. There was another similar nightclub called the Horizon Room, just across the river on 16th Street. The building is presently the Ralph’s Mufflers with the giant Mr. Bendo out front. A good friend of mine remembered playing in an integrated band there in 1937.