When I was in grade school, my older sisters always raved about the Tee Pee. By the time I was a teenager, though, it was gone. Can you give me a little history of the establishment? ~ Donna K.
You didn’t indicate the time frame in which you grew up, or the part of town in which you lived, so I don’t know which Tee Pee your sisters might have frequented. I will therefore provide a little information on all of the Tee Pee Restaurants. There were three Tee Pee Restaurant locations over its years of operation, which spanned more than half-a-century.
The Tee Pee was the brainchild of Albert Ray McComb (1892-1964), a Terre Haute native who moved to Indianapolis when he was in his late Thirties. According to some sources, the first Tee Pee Restaurant opened in 1928 at 3820 Fall Creek Boulevard (now Parkway), but this date may not be accurate. McComb first appeared in Indianapolis on a census enumeration in 1930, and his occupation at that time was listed as cigar salesman. McComb first appeared in an Indianapolis city directory in 1931, which also listed him as a salesman. In addition, nothing whatsoever appeared in an Indianapolis city directory at the address of 3820 Fall Creek Boulevard until the 1933 publication. In 1933, the entry merely read “restr” and listed no name for it.
A July 1932 newspaper clipping reported that the business was incorporated in July of that year, which would seem to support an opening in 1932 or later. The incorporators of Tee Pee, Inc. were McComb and his wife Dorothy and a third partner named Ethel Hughes.
Although it was during the depths of the Depression, McComb was confident he could attract customers. He envisioned an automobile-friendly restaurant at which diners could get the same meals delivered to them in their cars as they could if they went inside and sat at a table. A customer could also get everything on the menu as a carry-out order.
The Tee Pee was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. The restaurant prided itself on using only choice meats, as well as fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. Besides its well-known “Big Chief” and “Big Teep” hamburgers, the Tee Pee’s seafood, special salad dressing, and freshly baked pies were legendary.
After World War II, the drive-in restaurant craze really caught on among high school students. It became a destination, a place teenagers could go with their friends after school and on weekends. The original Tee Pee was especially popular with Shortridge, Broad Ripple, Arlington, Tudor Hall, Park, Cathedral, and St. Agnes students. It was the place to “see and be seen.”
After the success of the first Tee Pee on the north side of Indianapolis, McComb sought a location for a second Tee Pee on the south side of town. In 1954, he opened another Tee Pee at 2830 Madison Avenue. It was a mile south of Emmerich Manual High School and a couple of miles north of Southport High School.
The third location of the Tee Pee was at 1365 East 86th Street in Nora. The Nora Tee Pee only operated from 1964 to 1968. Its relatively short run may have been related to the death of Albert McComb in June of 1964, just as it was opening. The building had housed the Nora Cafe prior to the Tee Pee and became Curt’s Restaurant after the Tee Pee left that spot.
By the 1970s, the drive-in craze with carhops providing curbside service was on its way out. Many new dining options were opening in Indianapolis, and teenagers had more spending money than earlier generations had. The days of piling a bunch of young people in a car to “buzz the Teep” or get a hamburger, onion rings, and a vanilla or cherry flavored Coke curbside were no longer in vogue.
In 1978, the widowed Dorothy McComb sold the Madison Avenue Tee Pee to McDonald’s. Within days, the Tee Pee was demolished, and within weeks, a golden arch beckoned its first customers.
Dorothy McComb passed away shortly after selling the Madison Avenue restaurant. In 1979, here heirs then sold the remaining Tee Pee to Richard P. Turner. Turner had planned to pump new life into the landmark, but his hopes were dashed when the Indiana State Fair Board revoked his 5-year lease. On February 12, 1982, the board voted to tear down the Tee Pee and create more parking for the fairgrounds. Preservationists, including the highly respected Historic Landmarks of Indiana (now known as Indiana Landmarks) fought to save the building for six years, but it was razed nonetheless in June of 1988.
In May of 2007, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported that Richard Turner was hoping to revive the Tee Pee. He had kept all of the items he’d acquired when he bought rights to the Tee Pee trademark back in 1979. One of the locations discussed for a reinvented Tee Pee was on Madison Avenue, as part of the revitalization of the Miracle Mile. It never got off the ground.
Today, the location of the original Tee Pee (1932-1988) is inside a brick wall surrounding the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Today, the second location of the Tee Pee (1954-1978) is a McDonald’s Restaurant.
Today, the third location of the Tee Pee (1964-1967) is a parking lot adjacent to the Nora Kroger.
The Tee Pee is mentioned in other Historic Indianapolis articles that you may wish to read. They are Indianapolis Collected: The Secret in the Old Diary, At Your Leisure: Summertime Cruisin’, Flashback Fridays: Marge Faulconer, and Indianapolis Then and Now: Northwood Drive-In, 9075 N. Meridian Street. Click on the titles to access them.
If readers have memories of any of the three Tee Pee Restaurants, please share them with other HI readers in the comments section below.