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Reflection of the historic City Market in the glass front of the west wing.

I was guilty of ignoring the City Market.
With all the foot and other traffic, and it being across the street from the City County Building, and the sometimes battle with parking, I carved a wide swath, avoiding the City Market for at least the first five years living in Indianapolis. My loss.
If you find a touch of magic in historic places, Indianapolis City Market will undoubtedly move you.
Our City Market is a living dichotomy of past and present, existing in harmony. Clearly, all the vendors, goods and people are right here, right now. However, the building quietly reflects its 125+ years, evoking a hint of ‘east coast.’ You could easily imagine finding this building’s doppelganger in Boston or elsewhere along the east coast.

The current City Market was constructed in 1886– the same year as Tomlinson Hall, which was built 50 feet to the west of City Market “on the same ‘square.’” At least one of them lives on. Indianapolis City Market is purportedly the longest running retail establishment in Indiana—think about that next time you’re there.

D. A. Bohlen designed the Gothic Chapel, Tomlinson Hall, City Market and Roberts Park Church

The present market building was designed by architect, Dietrich A. Bohlen who also designed Tomlinson Hall, Robert’s Park Methodist Church and Gothic Chapel at Crown Hill Cemetery. Bohlen is also buried at Crown Hill.

Lunchtime in City Market

The Market has gone through many alterations, permutations, transitions and renovations—but it has continued to serve the public. In 1903, the 50-foot wide space between Tomlinson Hall and the City Market was enclosed, becoming the designated “Flower House,” while a much larger building was constructed—immediately east of and adjoining the building—stretching to Alabama Street, and designated as the “Vegetable House.” This left the central part of City Market to the meat vendors and fish salesmen.
Until the early 1890’s, the east plaza was designated as the “Hay Market,” providing fuel for the four legged transportation available at the time. How cool that the space is now devoted to the YMCA Indy Bike Hub, another more environmentally friendly form of transportation.
On the west plaza, how many people give a second thought to the freestanding archway and lonely remnant of Tomlinson Hall? This was once THE place for major events in the city of Indianapolis. It was a place where you could gather—no matter your gender, race or religion. If there was a major event happening in the city, it was usually held at Tomlinson Hall. Too bad about the 1958 fire; though arguments ensued, in the end, the decision was to tear it down rather than repair and reconstruct.
In the early 1900’s the Market was only open one or two days a week, and on the market days, the bell would ring in the morning to signal that they were open for business and again when negotiations had concluded for the day. Today, the market bell rings only to signal the opening. One article from the 1940s noted that there had come a time when the real bell was no longer used, and had been replaced with an electronic one. Some years later, when someone thought to look in on the bell, or the belfry, they found the bell was no longer in its perch. They never did solve that mystery, but the bell was eventually replaced.

Today, the City Market is a favorite lunch choice of City County Building employees and other downtowners looking to spice up their lives with the taste of variety. It’s fantastic for those of you who enjoy ‘people watching,’ especially since the mezzanine level was added in the 1970’s renovation. Next time you’re there, if you don’t already, look for all the fascinating little details the Market humbly displays. It’s trusses, iron columns, bricks, rounded windows. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. But what fun to carry on a tradition of community interaction over food in the heart of our city. And starting some new traditions, like the addition of Tomlinson Tap up on the second level. Indianapolis of the early 1900’s boasted award-winning beer empires, and it looks like that could happen again… Whaddya say, Sun King Brewing?

One response to “Friday Favorite: City Market”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    The City Market has reinvented itself over the decades; remember my Mother and I taking the East 16th Street (number 11) bus or the number 21 (East 21st Street) bus to shop downtown at the City Market. When my Dad wanted Greek food ingredients we’d take the bus downtown to the City Market to get them from Greek, Italian, and Lebanese vendors my Dad knew there.

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