What can you tell us about the New Telephone Company and the role the building at 152 E. 22nd Street played in Indianapolis telephone history? ~ Jeff Congdon
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, although it was Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the carbon transmitter later in the same year that made the telephone practical for widespread use. After seeing a demonstration of telephones at the 1877 Indiana State Fair, forward-thinking Hoosiers were eager to bring the telephone to Indianapolis.
By 1879, telephone service did come to Indianapolis, under the auspices of Western Union Telegraph Company. In 1883, three recent startup companies — Central, Midland, and Western — were consolidated and became the Central Union Telephone Company. For fifteen years, Central Union was the only phone company in town.
In 1898, the independent New Telephone Company was organized as a competitor of the established Central Union Telephone Company. The general offices of NTCO occupied a 3-story building at 230 North Meridian Street. Within a few years, the company had built four substations: North Indianapolis, Broad Ripple, Irvington, and New Augusta. The company employed 250 people and serviced 5,500 telephones in the first few years of the 20th century. The North Indianapolis substation was located on East 22nd Street between Talbott and Delaware Streets. It was surrounded by single-family residences. In its early years, its street address was known as 146 E. 22nd Street. In the 1920s, the address was changed to 152 E. 22nd Street, which is the address by which it is still known today.
In 1904, the New Telephone Company changed the name of its local service to Indianapolis Telephone Company. However, its long distance service retained the name New Telephone Long Distance Company.
In 1920, Indiana Bell was founded to function as the primary telephone company in the state. Indiana Bell purchased the operations of both the Central Union Telephone Company and the Indianapolis Telephone Company. The East 22nd Street substation continued to house phone company operations for the next two decades. It would appear from Baist and Sanborn maps and city directories that there was also an apartment somewhere on the premises, as a second listing for that address often named a resident whose occupation was “wire chief.”
In 1942, Indiana Bell “decommissioned” the North Indianapolis substation as a facility that housed phone company equipment. Interior walls were removed from the building, and it became a training facility for phone company employees. In 1949, Indiana Bell sold the building to Good Housekeeper Supplies, Inc. In subsequent years, the building was occupied by the Indianapolis School of Photography, Service Home Supply Household Furnishings, a trophy store, and the United House of Prayer for All People Church.
In many city directories of the 1960s and 1970s, either the address was listed as vacant or it wasn’t even listed at all! By the 1980s, the area around 22nd and Talbott Streets gained the nickname “Dodge City,” a reference to the Wild West town in Kansas, where differences between residents were often settled by shootouts in the streets.
When Stephen Goldsmith was elected Mayor of Indianapolis in 1991, one of his pledges was to address the problems of neglected neighborhoods in the core of the city. It would be a decade before the renaissance would actually begin to occur, but from that commitment eventually came the creation of Fall Creek Place, a wonderful collaboration of many committed individuals and groups. The result was a revitalized neighborhood of both renovated older properties and brand new ones.
The former phone company building is on the southern boundary of Fall Creek Place. In an initial survey of abandoned properties in the late 1990s, 152 E. 22nd Street was deemed to be irreparable and was slated for demolition. Fortunately, Indiana Landmarks (known as Historic Landmarks of Indiana at that time) saw the historic importance of this building, as well as its potential for restoration. The organization stepped in to prevent the demolition of the former New Telephone Company building. During its brief period of ownership, Indiana Landmarks addressed some of the building’s problems, as best it could.
On November 1, 2000, Woodland Realty Company, LLC, took ownership of the erstwhile New Telephone Company building. The new owners had a daunting task before them. Besides the deteriorating structure itself, the property was full of the remnants of its past lives. There was considerable old wiring left over from its telephone substation years. There were old refrigerators from its days as an appliance store. There was a makeshift sanctuary with a podium made out of an old television cabinet from its time as a church.
A wide variety of issues needed to be addressed, from the roof to the basement. Upon review of the building, the owners made the decision to gut the interior completely. After reinforcing the structure, they created new spaces more suitable for modern offices. Care was taken to replace doors and windows with materials that emulated the original building’s features.
All’s well that ends well. The building is now a handsome reincarnation of its original self and is home to Axia Urban. A bonus for the father and son team who invested in the property is the fact that Fall Creek Place is now a thriving urban neighborhood. At the time of the owners’ purchase of the property, they were not aware that the area was about to have an extreme makeover. In addition to renovating the historic phone company building, the owners have also built a new building immediately west of the subject property, which blends nicely with its next-door-neighbor.
Nice article. One small point–I believe that article gives a wrong impression about the redevelopment of Fall Creek Place. Julia Carson and Bart Peterson had a lot more to do with the redevelopment of Fall Creek Place than Stephen Goldsmith.
Sharon, thank you so much for this article. One of my passions is telephone and computer history.
When driving south on Rural Street to Tech High School’s Alumni Day on Saturday, June 8th, it appeared to me that we had finally lost the Central Union Telephone Company exchange building at 1721 N. Rural Street. http://historicindianapolis.com/indianapolis-then-and-now-woodruff-telephone-exchange-webster-telephone-exchange-1721-n-rural-street/
Kevin, despite the wishes of many east side residents and the building’s owner, the sturdy telephone company building on Rural was demolished by the city’s “Rebuilding Indy” program. What an utter waste and disappointment. This was a historic, salvageable building with great adaptive reuse potential, despite a few boarded-up windows and weeds. Shame on city staff for their lack of vision.
Isn’t that next door to Tea’s Me?
Yes, Tea’s Me Café is in the building immediately west of the former New Telephone Company building. The more recent structure at 140 E. 22nd Street was built in 2003 by the same owners who restored 152 E. 22nd Street.
A similar telephone exchange building still stands on Belmont Avenue just north of West Washington Street. Years ago, the mother of a friend of mine told me she worked there as an operator.
Sharon — Thanks for this item. Also, I think there was a telelphone building at 40th and Central that was the headquarters of Girls Inc. for a while, after it was no longer needed.
Perhaps the building built latest for telephone service and abandoned the earliest would be the building on the northeast corner of 44th and Central — now a counseling practice.
Finally, would you care to trace the career of Goldsmith after he left Indiana — it seemed he left his work for Mayor Bloomberg in NYC rather early after taking a position there.
I noticed we had lost the Cherry central office this winter. My Mother worked there in the 40’s as an operator. Another old central office building is at the corner of 40th and Central.
Tricia, where was the Cherry central office located?
What a good save!
Very interesting piece. We own the old telephone building at West Washington, on Belmont. Besides it being a switching station, we’re told that at one time the 1st floor, which has 16 foot ceilings, was the training area for the pole-climbers. Do you have any other history about the telephone buildings. I know that there is a twin building of ours at 40th and Central. We think that Kurt Vonnegut’s father was the architect. Thank you.