The rooms and lobby appear to be very well appointed for 1960s standards. (Image: eBay)

When enjoying a spring day on the War Memorial Mall, it is easy to become mesmerized by the vast island of green space in the middle of the city. Stretching for five blocks, this oasis is surrounded by various high and mid-rise buildings that create what appears to be a miniature Central Park, when observed from a high vantage point. Unfortunately there are some missing teeth in what should be a continuous wall of buildings surrounding the park. One of the more bothersome gaps occurs at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Vermont Streets, in an area where numerous buildings have been restored as upper end apartments and condominiums. When looking at the history of this site, it’s easy to get more irritated, as this was home to high-rise luxurious accommodations for visitors and even played a role in “Beatlemania” in 1964.

This matchbook seems to incorporate University Park as the main selling point for the property (Courtesy eBay)

This matchbook seems to incorporate University Park as the main selling point for the property. (Image: eBay)

The Essex House Hotel was not what many would consider a beautiful building. Rising 14 stories in an H shape of buff colored brick and square-paned windows, the building closely resembled a college dorm or public housing project. That does not mean that it was not considered the height of luxury upon its opening in 1952. When originally completed, the property was of mixed use, offering not only hotel rooms, but also apartments, a restaurant, cocktail lounge, and banquet space.

The hotel was prominent enough to be rumored as the home of The Beatles during their 1964 visit, causing fans to mob the downtown hotel as the Fab Four rested quietly at the Speedway Motel. Looking for an updated look, The Essex House was renovated in 1971, adding Arabic inspired arches around the ground floor, eventually making the building appear even stranger. By the 1980s, the aging structure was converted exclusively to apartments that catered to a transient clientele.

By 1970 the hotel was part of the Downtowner Motor Inn chain. At over 500 rooms this would be the largest hotel in the city (courtesy Indiana State Library)

By 1971 the hotel was part of the Downtowner Motor Inn chain. At over 500 rooms this would be the largest hotel in the city. (Image: Indiana State Library)

The Essex House holds the dubious distinction of being the newest high-rise building ever to be demolished in Indianapolis. An affiliate of Cincinnati-based Parking Company of America purchased the building in 1994, clearly with no intention of operating apartments. They demolished the building in October of that same year to construct a parking lot. The agreement with the city gave the company a five-year window to operate this lot on this prominent corner. Unfortunately through extensions, the parking lot remains. A denied extension in 2007 resulted in a lawsuit in which a Marion County Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the out-of-state owners, citing a “chronic shortage of parking in the area.” Maybe if the Essex House could have held on a few more years, we would be looking at a restored high-rise today full of new residents.

As another parking agreement expires, what would you like to see on this prominent corner?

It's difficult to find an exterior picture of the Essex House perhaps for good reason. Here you can see the building in all its college dorm greatness in the foreground of Reilly Towers (Courtesy Amazon)

It’s difficult to find an exterior picture of the Essex House, perhaps for good reason. Here you can see the building in all its college dorm greatness in the foreground of Reilly Towers. (Image: Amazon)

Printed Sources:

Indiana Economic Digest, April 27, 2011

Indianapolis Star, September 3, 2013

Indianapolis Business Journal, October 2007


4 responses to “At Your Leisure: Why is that a Parking Lot?”

  1. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    In 1971 and 1972, the Downtowner Motor Inn was the location of the Matthew E. Welsh for Governor campaign office. I was a member of Matt’s staff, so 421 N. Pennsylvania Street became my home away from home. Politicians, celebrities, news media, and everyday citizens frequented the building during those interesting times.

  2. Kenneth Rippy says:

    I was stationed at Ft Ben from August 1968 until July 1971. This was enough time to get to know Indy – both people and places. I have fond recollections from those years (except for the cold winter of 69 -70.) I recently found HistoricIndianapolis; and, I am really enjoying the articles. Keep up the good work.
    Was the George Wallace for Pres campaign headquarters in the Essex in 1968? A man there told me that I probably should not walk too far north of there for safety reasons. Again, thanks for bringing back some fond memories. Kenneth

  3. Barbara Haunton says:

    At almost 82, I have so many memories of the area. One summer I worked at Spencer Supporrts, greeting young polio patients, injured Indians ballplayers, and people with painful back conditions, etc. The Spencer owner lived in The Essex House and invited me to her apartment and a dinner there honoring young Eli Lilly international executives. Such beautiful people–all multi-lingual; it was quite a thrill.

    Another Summer I worked for a woman photographer and enjoyed the sweeping view during an overnight with her. The building’s interior was nicer than its plain facade.

    It’s hard to believe that only a few years before there was a modest apartment building just a block off the Mall where my aunt (a retired nurse) and my grandmother (later an L. S. Ayres employee) lived for several years. I often stayed overnight and enjoyed the night sirens and a drugstore and athe Sears Department Store just down the block. It was easy to walk the Mall and visit the Indpls. Public Library.

    The National Spelling Bee was held in the Memorial Bldg. maybe it still is. I answered too quickly at the county bee and didn’t make it there, but I attended and found it quite exciting. I still watch it on TV nearly every year. So much has changed in the downtown area, and I’ve never stopped missing the excitement of it all.

    I enjoy watching the dramatic new downtown Indy in photos on the Internet. It’s bittersweet to view the impressive changes. Indianapolis is known for how its citizens work together for so many major events. Officials from a city where I live now travel there to study how these events are coordinated so successfully.

  4. Jim Zeunik says:

    The image of the Essex Hotel brings back 2 memories. First, the huge roof mounted sign on the hotel usually proclaimed this as the ESSEX Hotel. Then one summer around 1961 part of the sign would not light up at night. Aso the sign read in bright large letters that this was now the “SEX HOTEL”. That created a bit of a stir back in the 1960ies.
    The other memory of note is that the famous movies actress and blond bombshell Jayne Mansfield stayed there when she appeared in the Indy 500 parade that year.

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