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Indianapolis history is not just made up of buildings, historic homes, and age-old events. After all, it IS people who make history happen, so what better way to know Indianapolis history than to hear from life-long Indy residents? HI will be featuring some of Indianapolis’ oldest residents to unlock the personal memories and nearly forgotten stories of this great city.

Alice Ashby Roettger has been a Broad Rippler since learning to walk and talk, and is still an active member of her beloved neighborhood. A self-taught historian and a writer, Alice could tell you anything and everything about dozens of Broad Ripple bungalows, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, or even Bacon Swamp (named after Hiram Bacon) that once graced old Indianapolis with its soggy stench.

Alice Roettger in her Broad Ripple home.

Alice Roettger in her Broad Ripple-area home of 50 years.

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Alice’s Broad Ripple of the  1930s and 40s was much different from the lively and eccentric Broad Ripple of today. Nearly everything north of Broad Ripple Avenue was prairie and cornfields, and most of the homes weren’t built until after WWII because of the inability to conquer the swampy underground with pre-war technology.

“The joke had been that, if you built your house in the Bacon Swamp area, it would be gone by the weekend because of the swampy ground,” said Alice.

But life in the Broad Ripple area was peaceful and safe, and Alice’s every memory of the place is lined with fondness. Her first home was a double at 6040 College Avenue, with Broadway Park as her backyard. Alice’s family briefly lived at 5401 Winthrop, but Alice most remembers her family’s beautiful home of 18 years, 6045 Primrose Avenue.

Little Alice in her front yard at 5401 Winthrop. Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

Little Alice in her front yard at 5401 Winthrop. Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

6045 Primrose Ave. circa 1945.

6045 Primrose Avenue circa 1945.

6045 Primrose today. 2013 Google Street View.

6045 Primrose Avenue today. 2013 Google Street View.

Alice sledding with her friends, looking out from 6045 Primrose Ave.

Alice sledding with her friends, looking out from 6045 Primrose Avenue. Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

“Growing up in Broad Ripple was like getting back into the pages of the First Grade Reader,” remembered Alice. “It was a self-contained community, where the kids could wander. We had the ‘Dick and Jane’ firehouse, grade school, high school, and movie theatre. But yet, we could hop on a streetcar and have all the big-city things downtown. It was a wonderful place to grow up because we just wandered.”

Although Broad Ripple was a self-sufficient town, Alice would often make the bus trip downtown to shop with her mother or visit her father, who worked in the Security Trust Co. building as a payroll auditor for insurance company Bituminous Casualty, located at 130 East Washington Street. The first word that came to Alice’s mind when describing old downtown Indy was “dirty.” The combination of heavy exhaust fumes and heat provided by Indiana Coal created a filthy and gray downtown, something Alice definitely doesn’t miss about downtown.

Security Trust Company Building, 1946. HISTORICAL SOCIETYYYY.

Security Trust Company Building, 1946. 130 E. Washington St.  (Bass Photo Co Collection. Indiana Historical Society.)

Far right building: 130 E. Washington St. today. The previous location of the Security Trust Co. Building is now the Disciples Center.

Far right building: 130 E. Washington St. today. The previous location of the Security Trust Co. Building is now the Disciples Center. Google Maps 2013.

Alice walked nearly a mile to School #80 at 62nd Street and Guilford Avenue, then walked home for lunch with a gang of neighborhood kids. Once a week, her class lined up in twos and marched to the City Library in Mustard Hall. School #80 brought an interesting socio-economic cross-section at the time: the wealthy kids from Forest Hills, the Broad Ripplers, and the blue collar farmer kids from north of the canal. Like any child, Alice didn’t recognize these differences until she was older, but the dynamic created problems every once in a while.

School #80 at 62nd and Guilford Ave. has been converted into an apartment building.

School #80 at 62nd and Guilford Avenue has been converted into an apartment building. Google Street View 2013.

Alice's middle school orchestra at School 80. (Alice: front, 2nd from left).

Alice’s middle school orchestra at School #80. (Alice: front, 2nd from left). Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

Alice grew up a child of the Second World War, believing that rationing and scrap piles were simply the way things worked. Her family was active in the war effort — her parents were involved in the American Legion on 64th and College Avenue, and her brother was wounded as a glider pilot. Alice helped her mother in war relief by selling Veteran’s poppies made of paper for two cents each at the corner of 56th and Illinois Streets. Another popular war effort was paper stations put on by the schools.

“People all through the school district would open up their garages, and the kids would collect newspapers and magazines,” explained Alice. “There was a contest to see who sold the heaviest weight, and then the money would go to the school PTA. We’d sit on top of the piles of paper and hang out, hoping someone would bring in something dirty so we could read it,” she laughed.

8-year-old Alice's war ration book.

8-year-old Alice’s war ration book. Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

American Legion's Poppy Sales, 1942, Indiana. HISTORICAL SOCIETYYY.

American Legion’s Poppy Sales, 1942, Indiana Historical Society.

Being a tomboy, Alice loved to play army in the empty lots by their Primrose house, crawling on her belly in a dress because her mother would rarely let her wear pants.

“They had begun building houses in those empty lots and had dug holes for the basements, but the War stopped the process, so they just left the dirt piles. So we’d play in those holes, slide down them on our sleds, have mudball fights. Those were wonderful places to play.”

Alice in her most comfortable attire - pants and an army helmet.

Alice in her most comfortable attire – pants and an army helmet. Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

Alice and her friends went to The Vogue Theatre at least once a week to watch war movies like “The Immortal Sargent,” paying 25 cents for a ticket and popcorn.

The Vogue today. Google Street View 2013.

The Vogue today. Google Street View 2013.

Alice’s freshman year of high school, Broad Ripple High won the state football championship in front of 10,000 fans at the first lighted football field in the city. The lights had been donated by the Hornbeck family, owners of Little America, in honor of their son who had been killed in the War.

Broad Ripple High School, 1936. HISTORICAL SOCIETYYYYY.

Broad Ripple High School, 1936. (Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.)

Sub-deb clubs (the 1950s high school version of college Greek life) were highly popular at Broad Ripple high school, complete with rush parties and matching outfits. In fact, Broad Ripple’s own Joan Geisendorff was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in an article about Indiana sub-debs. But Alice never cared to get involved in them. Instead, she kept busy playing violin in the orchestra and acting in BRHS theatre productions – including playing Pitti-Sing in Broad Ripple’s production of Mikado.

LIFE magazine featured Broad Ripple's own Joan Geisendorff in an article about Indiana sub-deb clubs, April 1945.

LIFE magazine featured Broad Ripple’s own Joan Geisendorff in an article about Indiana sub-deb clubs, April 1945.

Alice (far right) featured in the Indianapolis News about her performance in Broad Ripple High School's Mikado.

Alice (far right) featured in The Indianapolis News about her performance in Broad Ripple High School’s The Mikado.

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Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

Like most 50s teens, Alice hung out at the drive-in restaurants, including Knobby’s on 38th then 52nd and Keystone, the North Pole at Westfield and Illinois, and Northwood, which were both known for serving their hamburgers on toast.

Knobby's Drive-In. Courtesy of Evan Finch.

Knobby’s Drive-In. Courtesy of Evan Finch.

Alice lost both parents at a fairly young age, which left high school and college to be a difficult time in her life. She went to Butler University and graduated with a degree in English. After college, she met, dated, and married her husband, Dick, despite having run through the same halls of School #80. Alice and Dick’s dating relationship coincided with the passing of Alice’s mother, which made for a bittersweet time in their lives. They were blessed with four daughters, despite Alice’s initial desire to have all boys.

“I wanted baby boys – their names are Anne, Ruthie, Sally and Susan!” she chuckled.

They moved into a home in the Broad Ripple area the day before President Kennedy’s assassination and have been there ever since. Dick was an architect for Wright, Portis, and Lowe (originally downtown at 15th and Central), then Odle McGuire Shook (currently located at 429 N. Pennsylvania) and was involved in building the City County Building and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

While the girls were still at home, Alice mainly did volunteer work, but also worked at Indy Book Nook, a used paperback bookstore on 65th and Keystone and at Murder & Mayhem, a mystery bookstore in old Broad Ripple. She sang in the St. Paul’s choir for 25 years, and published a book about the history of St. Paul’s Church.

Alice's book, year. Courtesy of Alice Roettger.

Alice’s book, 2000. Photo courtesy of Alice Roettger.

Today, Broad Ripple is infamous for its bar scene, but Alice believes they’re doing well with working to create a balance.

“You have the daytime Broad Ripple, and then you have the nighttime Broad Ripple,” she explained. “I don’t mind bars, but I think it’s a little heavy. But I love it. It’s lively, it’s quirky, it’s saved all of the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Overall, Alice believes today’s Indianapolis is better than old Indianapolis.

“Downtown is vibrant and the buildings are clean,” she said. “Perhaps there’s an overemphasis on sports, and we tend to neglect our arts, but it’s a wonderful city.”

Today, Alice keeps plenty busy with seven grandchildren and with freelance writing and editing for various local publications.

8 responses to “Flashback Fridays: Alice Ashby Roettger”

  1. Norm Morford says:

    Excellent account of Alice’s life!

    The front of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is different, so it is good to see what it used to look like before the pews were turned 180 degrees. So, who will do for the oldler grads of Shortridge what was done here with Alice?

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    AN EXCELLENT article! Personal stories do add to a neighborhood’s “atmosphere”…when I was about 1 through 4, we lived in a double at 1410 North Emerson Avenue…the first Indiana Home Show house was located in the 1300 block a block south, and the land east of Emerson out to Ritter Avenue (was graveled then north of 10th), across Ritter, and on to Arlington was plowed ground…owned by the Rupp family whose farm house was located on the east side of Emerson on a little knoll; this home was unfortunately torn down several years ago (a big elevated water tank for Irvington was located at the northeast corner of 10th and Arlington with an airplane light lit at night on top). The Rupps had a general store at the southeast corner of Emerson and 16th, and later Walt’s Supermarket was built there. There was a farm at 16th and Ritter with a roadside stand where Community Hospital is now, and Ellenburger Creek started in a wetland just east of Ritter, and flowed south, unsewered, under 10th along Ellenburger Parkway. The land east of Emerson south of 16th to Ritter owned by the Rupps was later developed as Justus’ East Side Addition. Just trivia!

  3. basil berchekas jr says:

    Oops, the water tank was located on the northwest corner of 10th and Arlington… a block east of then new Arlington Movie theater was a u-pick orchard our family used to use. More junk trivia!

  4. Bill Mullenholz says:

    Luckily for Alice, Broad Ripple has remained a stable community since day one. About how many other Indianapolis neighborhoods can that be said. That being said most of the neighborhoods in decline have a few souls that stay put and it would be interesting to hear their stories.

    It’s kind of off the subject, but Basil’s reference to eastside locals triggered my recollection of the Hilton U. Brown home. Until 1959, it was located on a hill at the southwest corner of East Washington Street and South Emerson Avenue. When the Indianapolis News executive and Butler University trustee died in 1958, Standard Oil, or a developer, acquired the property, demo’d the old stone mansion and leveled to hill to the grade of the streets. They then built a Standard Oil station on the lot. Sad.

  5. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Both my grandfather and my father worked at The Indianapolis News with Hilton U. Brown. One of my fondest memories of childhood in the late 1940s and early 1950s is going to sled on the hill of the Browns’ property. The hill seemed gigantic compared to our house’s dinky little flat yard. I can also remember the Browns’ home, which was especially charming at night, when lights were glowing inside the stone home. I used to imagine what it would be like to live there, where I could just walk out my own back door to go sledding whenever I wanted.

  6. Jim Walsh says:

    I think the Security Trust Building became the Goodman Building, in which was located radio station WIBC for many years, is this right?

  7. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    The Goodman Building is at 30 West Washington Street.

  8. Carol Elrod says:

    When I was a child, in the 1940s, Keystone Avenue was gravel north of 62nd Street, and what was paved south of 62nd was only two-lane. Hedlund’s hardware store on the southwest corner of 62nd and Keystone replaced a little frame grocery store owned and run by the Hedlund family. Across the street was a hole-in-the-wall fried chicken restaurant. I used to pick blackberries where Glendale Shopping Center now stands. Where I lived, 6102 North Olney Street, was not in the city at that time. I attended John Strange School, where the principal was Chester Quear. This odd juxtaposition made Ripley’s “Believe it or Not.”

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