The Heier Hotel, located at 12-18 South New Jersey Street, is named after original owner Fred Heier. Heier had multiple business ventures, including Heier & Shea and Heier & Son. Heier & Shea, with partner John D. Shea, operated a saloon at 25-27 West Pearl Street. Heier & Son was an imported and domestic wine, liquor, and cigar business with a sample room at 12-14 South New Jersey Street which he operated since 1889. He also dabbled in the real estate business. Around the same time, Heier and his brother, August, began running the European Hotel – a two story structure owned by the family in the same location – with the European Café in one of the storefronts of their building, as well as a saloon and Rathskeller.
The area was already congested in 1887: there was a two-story building running from 18-24 South New Jersey, with a saloon taking up about half of the main floor. This was Heier’s first building in the location. Due to being on Washington Street, also known as the National Road and U.S.-40, the area was quite popular for businesses. This particular intersection was also very popular with the German community. There was a Maennerchor Hall on the northwest side of the block, as well as many businesses with German owners. By 1898, stores were typically built up to three or four floors along Washington Street. Addresses had slightly changed at this time, turning Heier’s location to 12-18 South New Jersey Street. The saloon wasn’t listed in that year’s map, but a carpenter shop was. A large group of shops on Washington Street was referred to as “Karle’s Block,” 341-349. The old Marion County Jail was nearby on Alabama Street. The structure of the European Hotel remained the same by 1914 – however, much had changed in the surrounding area. A large complex for Merchant’s Heat & Light Company was constructed to the south; there was a furniture store, a sausage factory, and a meat market on the block. There were many hotels – Palace Hotel, Smith’s Hotel, and Craig Hotel – on the north side of Washington Street that have been demolished since. Of note was the Sun Tavern, located where the LaQuinta Inn stands now: it was founded in 1822, back when hotels were unusual (“Plan 100 Unit Motel for Old Hotel Site,” IndyTimes, 1/11/1959). There were also a few theaters, including the Paramount Theater, which attracted guests, especially those related to vaudeville. By 1950, the area was already falling victim to the parking lot sprawl, including the large Merchant’s Heat & Light Company complex.
Fred Heier attracted an interesting group of people. Legal problems surrounding the family and business started in 1905, if not earlier: Fred Heier Jr. was arrested for receiving stolen goods, a barrel of liquor either misplaced, unaccounted for, or truly stolen (“Drayman Talks At Last,” IndyStar, 2/10/1905). Two years later, Heier’s saloon was raided for selling alcohol during illegal hours (“Low Voices Attract Police,” IndyStar 2/4/1907). That year, Heier was also accused of robbing and assaulting a St. Louis salesman as well as keeping a game house and grand larceny (“Heier Case is Continued,” IndyStar, 4/21/1907). In 1909, his son died at the age of twenty-four from tuberculosis in the hotel; he was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery (“Fred Heier Jr. Is Dead,” IndyStar 9/3/1909). Raids continued as police were able to locate a blind partition and “buzzer” through a dark stairway to locate a secret gaming room (“Police Raid Secret Den,” IndyStar, 11/29/1909). Statements made in court the following year shed some light on the former city administration’s constant focus on the Heier business: he believed that the administration targeted him to promptly close each night and remain closed on Sunday due to his bar selling a brand of beer made in Chicago instead of locally made beers (“Fail Second Time in ‘Lid’ Tip Probe,” IndyStar, 10/5/1910).
In 1912, Heier decided it was time to demolish or remodel his current two-story structure on South New Jersey Street. His original plan was for Charles H. Byfield, a local architect, to build a five-story fireproof structure for around $75,000 (“May Build Hotel on $40,000 Site,” IndyStar, 2/29/1912). Byfield (1873-1935) worked for the firm of Rubush & Hunter 1900-1907 before starting his own practice; he produced work for a gamut of building types – commercial, residential, industrial, and institutional (NRHP Nomination Form, Gadski, 1985). The description states that: “the front of the building will present an attractive appearance, buff brick with glazed terra cotta trimmings being used. The ground floor space will be utilized for a lobby and four storerooms and bar, fronting on New Jersey Street… Italian marble wainscoting and tile floors are planned, and a wide stairway leading to the second floor will be finished in marble. Plastic relief work will be used in the ceiling and wall decorations of the lobby.” (IndyStar, 2/29/1912) The five-story building was supposed to be divided into seventy sleeping rooms, twenty-five of which would have private baths. Heier had dreamed on expanding the structure as well, planning on having the support system constructed as to hold eight-stories total eventually. It is stated that the former structure was to be demolished, but floor plans are so incredibly similar it’s hard to say if Byfield ordered a complete demolition of the former structure or left some structural supports – Byfield did some interesting construction work retaining older components of buildings, like in the Woessner, for example. Possibly due to his financial struggles with his numerous police raids and court hearings, he was only able to afford to construct a three-story building. The Jungclaus Construction Company gave Heier estimates – $31,326 for three stories, $43,291 for four stories – perhaps this also played into why he decided to cut the building down (Jungclaus Estimate Ledgers, provided by owner). This building cost would equate to about $400,000 by today’s standards.
The next year August Heier, Fred’s brother, committed suicide in the hotel by drinking poison (“August Heier Ends Life,” IndyStar, 2/8/1913). The thirty-five year old saloon keeper had worked with his brother most of his life. The following month brought about more gambling raids, this time the police arrested fourteen men for playing poker in Heier’s suites on the second floor (“Catch Fifteen in Poker Raid,” IndyStar, 3/2/1913). Heier’s wife, Mrs. Pauline Heier, celebrated her fiftieth birthday at 18 South New Jersey Street with her “German friends.” (“City News,” IndyStar, 1/1/1915) The article states that she had lived at that address for the last forty-two years. By 1915, construction had begun on the new Heier’s Hotel. The site was purchased from Heier for $20,000 by the New Jersey Street Realty Company; the three-story fireproof hotel was constructed with thirty-one rooms, and significantly less bathrooms than originally planned (“Modern Hotel Will Replace Old Building,” IndyStar, 6/21/1915). The New Jersey Realty Company also planned on building a twelve-story hotel on the corner of Washington and New Jersey streets, just north of Heier’s Hotel. The intent was to connect them, so Heier’s Hotel was built with a strong foundation to accommodate for up to nine more stories eventually.
The new hotel was finished in 1916. Fireproof construction, with a steel frame and tile and concrete flooring, the building now stood three stories high. The hotel had seven rooms on each side of the second and third floors as well as a room on the end of the corridor on both sides of the third floor and one side of the second floor. There were twenty-four guest rooms total, and the family suite included four bedrooms, a parlor, a kitchen, a dining room, and a bathroom. There were three shared bathrooms on each floor for hotel guests to use. This layout conveys the standards for a “mid-class” hotel in the city in the early 20th century. Heier ran the hotel as well as the café and saloon in the building; his family also had a collection of suites in the building on the north end of the second floor looking over the city skyline. The northernmost storefront (10 South New Jersey Street) was Heier’s saloon but later was renamed the Dennes & Leiper Restaurant. The next entry (12 South New Jersey Street) was the entrance to the hotel: it included a registration table, telephone booth, cigar case, and writing desks as well as the marble stairway (NRHP, 1985). The middle store had two doors, 12 ½ leading down to the Rathskeller. 14 South New Jersey Street was typically a café or dining room, which Heier operated when it was the European Café. It was a vacant storefront again by 1924. 16 South New Jersey Street was originally a physician’s office but later functioned as an auto supply store. 18 South New Jersey Street storefront was the office for the transfer company, and was noted as retaining more “original character than any of the other storefronts, both spatially and in terms of its surviving materials, such as maple floors and quarter-swan oak woodwork.” (NRHP, 1985). The realty company moved about in the building, less than ten years later it was in #12 and #18 was occupied by a Trolley Shoe Wheel Company. The basement Rathskeller has retained the most historic features besides the exteriors: “…modeled on an Old World Concept, comprised an L-shaped, open-plan room in the southern three bays of the building. The beams and upright members of the steel frame were encased in yellow pine paneling stained to resemble walnut or mahogany… within panels, sayings or proverbs were hand-painted on the walls within floral borders.” (NRHP, 1985). The building is also significant due to the fact that it may be the last hotel standing downtown that accommodated the “middle-class clientele of vaudeville theater.” (NRHP, 1985) Twelve years later, the Eastgate Hotel was built in 1928, connecting the smaller hotel to the large building by extending the hallway through rooms on the north end. It went by the name “Kirkwood Hotel” from 1940-1968, and then became the Student Inn later – named such to accommodate mostly housing for students attending the young IUPUI.
Trouble persisted in the new Heier’s Hotel. Dr. Henry L. Berger, a physician who rented the 16 South New Jersey Street storefront, was accused of selling illegal narcotics. The Federal Grand Jury was involved, stating that multiple times Dr. Berger had sold sulphate and morphine, which was against the Indiana statutes for his specific profession (“Physician is Accused of Selling Drugs Illegally,” IndyStar, 12/23/1917). Heier, as well as the New Jersey Street Realty Company, were accused in 1919 of selling liquor by the Indiana Dry Federation; Heier was fined twice (a total of $250) but received no jail time (“Property Owners Sued in Dry Federation Fight,” IndyStar, 1/4/1919). He was arrested again two months later for violating the prohibition law, a police officer found Heier near an abandoned car in Irvington, just east of Audubon Road, full of whiskey (“Fred Heier Again in Toils on Liquor Charge,” IndyStar, 3/13/1919). He was fined $500 and sentenced to 180 days in jail for the arrest the month before, due to the large amount of alcohol discovered – ninety-six quarts and nine pints of whiskey (“$500, 6 Months, Heier Penalty,” IndyStar, 4/2/1919). The next month, Heier was fined $50 and sentenced to thirty days in jail for selling liquor in his bar and directly in the rooms of hotel guests on a Sunday (“Supreme Court Affirms Verdict in Liquor Case,” IndyStar, 5/30/1919). Fred Heier died in 1934. From 1955-1963, the Indiana Democratic Club used the building as its headquarters (NRHP, 1985).
In 1968, a family member of the current owner, Kunz Restoration Company, purchased the building. A plan to convert Washington Street into a one-way and build a connector at New Jersey Street threatened the Heier Hotel and the Student Inn in the late 1980’s – thankfully Heier’s Hotel had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The final decision to slightly reroute the connector street and demolish the larger, younger hotel building and let the Heier Hotel stay was made in 1988 (“Plan to Take Downtown Washington Street in New Direction,” Dorothy Petroskey, IndyStar, 1/21/1988). In 1992, the city awarded a contract to allow a demolition crew to tear down the Student Inn at 359 East Washington Street and also renovate the Heier Hotel as well as restore the common wall between the two structures (“Tearing Down the Walls – Almost: Historic Building to Survive City’s Transportation Plan,” Patrick Morrison, IndyStar, 7/4/1992). Since the Student Inn was demolished, the Heier Hotel no longer serves as a hotel and now functions as office suites. There are currently four spacious offices per floor, twelve total. One window was added to the north wall, but all other exterior elements have remained unchanged.
The steel structure has the same orange pressed brick as the Woessner, with more detailed terra cotta on the exterior. It has a frontage of seventy-four feet on the South New Jersey Street side and forty-five feet on Pearl Street. One interesting element of the building is that it is one of the only combined hotel/commercial buildings left standing in the city. The five-bay wide structure is decorated with beautiful terra cotta ornamentation created by the Indianapolis Terra Cotta Company (NRHP, 1985). The terra cotta detailings grace the stringcourse, roofline, and around the top floor windows. Geometric stylizing of the terra cotta is similar to that of the Emelie. A stylized capital “H” accenting the second floor stands for Heier.
A great job of research on an important surviving building in Downtown Indianapolis. Well done, Jordan. I enjoyed reading it. Some photos of the old rathskeller would be nice. I’d certainly drink one or two there.
Another very well done article Jordan! I worked at the Majestic Building in the eighties while attending Herron and used to pass by the Student Inn on my way to work. Was sorry to see it go but curious about the three story building in the back. At that time, there was a screen printer or lithographer that had space there. There is another old hotel in the neighborhood–the Atlas–which is still around. It was the Kaiserhoff between 1914-1918, the Dobbins in 1920, the Central Hotel in 1930 and the Atlas by 1960. Joseph Foppiano was the proprietor in 1914 and later secretary and treasurer. There were also saloons there–James Gordon’s saloon at 433-435 East Washington in 1916 and Jesse Corrello’s in 1918. I’m sure the Kaiserhoff changed to the Dobbins during WWI due to anti-German sentiment. I took a photo of the Atlas back in the mid-late 1980s. Since then the easternmost bay has been demolished and it has been painted (brown). I am surprised (and glad) that it was never demolished.
Thanks for the wonderful story. Frederick Heier was my great grandfather.
I have information from when my family owned part of the hotel. This would explain the Democrat party using the building. J. J. Cooper was a Treasurer of State of Indiana and the Cooper family owned the part of the land from 1941 to 1965. I have copies of the leases and modifications if you would be interested.