It’s funny how circular life on this planet appears over a series of years; Indianapolis, is no exception to coming full circle.

As a note of possible interest to the those munching popcorn in the back row, there is a local movement afoot to spur and support a local fashion scene and movement–see: Fashion Arts Society at the IMA and Pattern, a local organization involved in all things Indy fashion related.

What’s so “circular” here, you ask? For the uninitiated- Indianapolis of yesteryear was a hotbed of burgeoning fashion and industry.

Rink’s Cloak House when on NW corner Illinois & Market, courtesy Dennin Family

As one who celebrates, lives and loves vintage fashion, the thought of hopping in a time machine to check out Indy’s fashion scene of decades past holds infinite allure.  Set aside the usual suspects (William H. Block Co. and L.S. Ayres) for a moment, and consider a little known and long-forgotten purveyor of women’s cloaks and clothing–purportedly the first in the country dedicated exclusively to women’s outerwear–Rink’s.

How ’bout that?

In 1888, Joseph Rink launched Rink’s Cloak House in a small second-story room on Washington Street. As his positive reputation and  business grew, his store occupied space next to the Cyclorama building on the northwest corner of Illinois & Market and then the first floor of the Windsor Apartment building, same intersection, southwest corner–which the William H. Block Department Store replaced in 1911.

Rink’s Store as it appeared in 1910

The store not only sold, but also, manufactured much of their product line, specializing in furs in their early years. On October 10, 1910, Rink’s Store opened in its final building at 29-37 North Illinois, having also extended offerings to other areas of women’s apparel. Each floor was dedicated to special sub categories of women’s dress. For example, the third floor was dedicated exclusively to millinery; the second to furs. Every floor was trimmed out in rich mahogany and an abundance of mirrors.

Rink’s Store was considered one of the ‘pace-setters’ of Indianapolis fashion by life-long residents, showcasing advance models of Parisian styles before the other shops. And in keeping with the whole ‘style for style’ theme, the store’s customer  service set the standard with one of the first non-horse and carriage delivery trucks– a Waverly Electric, in 1899. How better to show cutting edge style at that time? Heck, a business today would undoubtedly impress the socks off clients if their orders showed up in an earth-conscious electric delivery truck.

Rink’s Delivery man with the store’s Waverly Electric, 1899

The building’s original design is attributed to Adolf Scherrer  (1910). However, in 1936, a modern makeover was given to the building with the assistance of the architectural firm of Pierre and Wright. New elevators and air conditioning were added. They must have saved a ton in smelling salts.

With ‘modernized’ front facade designed by Pierre & Wright

What did the inside of these dens of fashion look like? Check out this 1930 snapshot of one of Rink’s sales floors:

Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The ground floor is the most glaringly different today–currently home to Italian restaurant chain, Bucca di Beppo.

That’s quite a juxtaposition, isn’t it? The most fashionable women of early Indianapolis bought their wardrobes where hungry visitors slurp up ‘meatballs as big as your head’  in what is now the kitschiest restaurant in the city. The only remaining evidence that Rink’s was ever in this space: the R medallions lining the top of the building. (Check those out in the Rink Mansion article).

Former Rink Building, October 2012.

Check out one old advert from Rink’s in the 1920’s and the mansion that served the Rink Family for over 20 years. Luckily, it still stands.

This article was underwritten by Axia Urban

Special thanks to Leah Orr for sharing her archives and expertise.