Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis Power & Light Distribution System Photographs (collection owned by Deedee Davis)

Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis Power & Light Distribution System Photographs (collection owned by Deedee Davis)

1927 view looking west on 52nd Street from College Avenue. Zoom in here for more details.

Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis Power & Light Distribution System Photographs (collection owned by Deedee Davis)

Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis Power & Light Distribution System Photographs (collection owned by Deedee Davis)

Identical photograph taken in 1936. Zoom in here to see more details.

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.


Today this corner is a thriving commercial area in the SoBro (short for South Broad Ripple) neighborhood. Although many businesses have come and gone through the decades, the intersection is best known as the long-time site of the Red Key Tavern, known for former owner Russ Settle’s strict rules of decorum and its role in Dan Wakefield’s 1970 novel “Going All the Way.”


20 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: 52nd and College”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Excellent article on an active commercial corner! (As in STILL active!)

  2. George Starkey says:

    Please, as a resident of the area, we prefer it be called “The SoBro section of Meridian-Kessler”. 🙂

  3. Norm Morford says:

    Joan — thanks for what you provided, but there needs to be a more comprehensive set of “looks” at all of the major intersections of MKNA — 38th & College, to College/Kessler, and 38th/Central to Central/Kessler etc.

    There should also be contact with the MKNA board and their coordinator.

    As one who had an office for a number of years at 49th and College, I would be glad to share with someone who wants the input of a resident of MKNA since 1967.

    Norm Morford
    P. O. Box 55085
    Indpls., IN 46205-0085


  4. Joan Hostetler says:

    Hi, Norm

    I’m not sure what you mean. As you’re aware, my weekly “Indianapolis Then and Now” column looks at just one historic photograph and compares it to other photographs of that same exact spot through time. Although at times I would like to vary this, this is the format I agreed to produce for Historic Indianapolis.

    However, I am seeking to scan any and all historic photographs of Indianapolis houses, businesses, churches, school, etc. for a project that I’m tentatively calling the Indiana Album (I might narrow this down to just the city and rename it the Indianapolis Album). Do you know if Meridian Kessler has an archive or an active collector who has gathered the images of your neighborhood?

    Bass Photo and Bretzman heavily documented downtown streets and corners, but images of corner stores in business blocks away from the heart of the city are harder to locate. If you have any suggestions for how to locate such images, I would be glad to learn about new sources. I’ve done some spot checking with longtime realtors and appraisers, but unfortunately many folks have thrown old photographs away.

    Thanks for writing, Joan Hostetler,

  5. Ellen Gonis Luckow says:

    I cannot be sure if the views show in the early photographs are facing east or west from the intersection of College and 52nd, but the 2011 Google Street view is facing west. The Red Key Tavern is on the southwest corner. I grew up a few blocks south of this intersection in the 1960’s.

  6. Joan Hostetler says:

    Ellen: the early views look definitely look west on 52nd from College.

  7. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I don’t understand why some people who own homes or businesses that are located many, many blocks south of Broad Ripple try to act as if they are in Broad Ripple. Either they coyly use the nickname “SoBro,” which is not really an entity, or they unashamedly use the description “Broad Ripple” outright. Neighborhood boundaries throughout Indianapolis are well-documented. Properties that are south of Kessler Boulevard (5900) are within Meridian-Kessler, which is an outstanding neighborhood itself. Can you imagine people who own homes in the Old Northside saying they live in SoHerrMort? Or people who own businesses in the Cole-Noble neighborhood saying they work in SoLockSquare? Or the people who live in Rocky Ripple saying they live in SoCroNest? Or the people who reside in the Town of Meridian Hills saying they live in SoWmsCreek? A resident or a business owner should embrace the actual neighborhood in which he or she is located. Why pretend to be something else?

  8. Mike says:

    All views are looking west on 52nd from College, imho.

    It’s a little difficult to tell, but it appears to me the original facade on the SW corner building at 52nd and College (Red Key etc) matches the facade of the building on the SE corner of 54th and College? (Yats, Jazz Kitchen).

  9. Mike says:

    I think it is a clever take/rip from the New York City neighborhood of SoHo. I lived in SoBro before there was a “SoBro”, I like to tell my friends. I think it reflects a witty Hoosier nod to hipsterism. Did you know the precinct around 46th-49th and College was the only precinct in Indiana to vote for George McGovern in 1972? Probably constituted differently now than then, but I heard it from a precinct man, back in the day.

  10. Downtown Tim says:


    I’d be curious to know if the terra cotta detail on the cornice of the building at the southwest corner of 52 and College still exists behind the current stucco. The floor inside Taste on the southern end of this building is still terrazo, which would certainly fit with the 1920s look of the exterior shown in the “old” photos. Would be a much pretty building than what is there now!

  11. Joan Hostetler says:

    Tim, I’ve wondered about that, too. It looks like the cornice detail in the historic photographs has more depth, but I don’t think they would have bothered to chisel them off when stuccoing the exterior.

  12. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    There are two separate buildings on the southwest corner of 52nd and College. Taste is in a different building than the Red Key Tavern is in. Check this aerial view: .
    I don’t remember the further south building as well as I do the one to the north, but the building the Red Key is in WAS originally brick and DID have cornice work with some depth to it, both of which were covered over with its current treatment. I think the cornice work may still be under there. Check out this view of the northwest corner of the building on the 52nd Street side: .
    When my family lived at 4902 Park Avenue in the ’60s, the cornermost store (north of the Red Key) was a hardware store. Later, maybe in the ’70s or ’80s, it became Jack’s “Tu Your Door” Pizza.

  13. Holly says:

    I think it is also about putting it in context. For all my suburban friends and colleagues, Broad Ripple and Meridian Kessler have different connotations. Meridian Kessler is big expensive homes and Broad Ripple are more the bungalows. I know when I bought my house a few years ago I first had to respond with Broad Ripple to help people understand where in Indianapolis then give them a more accurate description. Now, eleven years later, I can get even more accurate with 54th and the Monon for context and then correct them over two blocks where I live.

  14. George Starkey says:

    For what it’s worth, I attribute Wendell Fowler for the term “SoBro”. He owned a little deli/smoothie shop there at 54th & College (next to what is now BeBop Pizza) in the early 1980s, and used that term in advertising of his location. I do recall that he said it was a direct take off on SoHo. That is the earliest reference I can find for So-Bro, so I think we can point our fingers at Chef Wendell… unless someone else knows even an earlier instance, then we can add it to our database of esoteric knowledge. 🙂

  15. John Cornwell says:

    Thank you so much for this. I grew up in the 5100 block of Park in the ’70s, so I’m quite familiar with this intersection. I can remember lots of places that were there over the years, such as Arlene’s Seek & Find, a candy store, Jack’s Pizza, a Sunoco gas station that later became a convenience store called Bread Basket, Evans Cafeteria where the Aristocrat is now, and a few others. My brother worked at the Habig store in the 80s. My ex-brother-in-law was one of the construction workers who resurfaced the building on the southwest corner, which was done around 1978 or so. And, I know Anatoli, the Russian guy who opened the framing shop not long ago. I wish I was older so I could remember how it was before the ’70s, but that’s all I got!

  16. Scott Goodwine says:

    My wife and I have owned the College Arms building on the northwest corner since 1988, and have seen lots of changes. Our property was owned by the Steck Plumbing family at 49th and College for many years and we bought it from the people that purchased it from them. They only owned it for about 3 years, and much of the interior is original, as well as the exterior. In the early 70’s my mother worked at the drug store that is now Luna and lived in one of the apartments upstairs, my brother moved in after she left. The rent was $50 a month and included heat and water. Two of the apartment on the College side were once three or four offices, converted to two apartments sometime in the late 40’s early 50’s.

    I was very excited to see the IPL photos of the intersection from the 20’s and 30’s. I have long searched for any pictures from that early period.

    The Red Key building had “Blocks Bicycle” on the 52nd street side, where the parking area is now, next to the restaurant. That portion was demolished, probably for parking. The owner was a black sheep of sorts of the Wm. H. Block family.

  17. John Cornwell says:

    A lady named Kathy Ellrich owned (or just worked in?) an antique store on the northwest corner in the 80s. I was good friends with her son LonPaul, who sadly passed away a few years ago.

  18. Scott Goodwine says:

    Yes, the shop was Recollections Antiques, owned by Paul and Molly Stewart and the passed it on to Kathi.

  19. Larry Lammers says:

    I came across plating from my parents title search. 54th st used to be 52nd street.

  20. Sophie L. says:

    I am a current resident of “SoBro” and I can tell you for a fact that this term has been used since my father and his friend started Hit City at 54th and College in 1984. I have a shirt of his with a map of the area from the time with “SoBro” in big red type. 52nd and College might technically fall in the Meridian Kessler neighborhood, but residents of these sections of College will often dispute this categorization because of a lack of shared characteristics. College Avenue south of 62nd feels more like a continuation of the commercial and social hub of BRipp proper, rather than a continuation of the mansion filled blocks to the west. I will also, when trying to describe where I live to people who aren’t familiar with the area, first mention Broad Ripple and Butler, then if they are familiar, narrow it down to Meridian Kessler and “SoBro.”
    Comparing the use of this term to the hypothetical use of a term like “SoLockSquare” seems like a reach. Although there are specifically defined neighborhood boundaries, and areas like Lockerbie Square don’t overlap as much with other historic neighborhoods because of redevelopment and physical boundaries like the interstates downtown, how someone describes where they live and spend their time can be wholly subjective and dependent on the situation they find themselves, who they’re talking to, and even the time period. A resident of a small rental house on 54th and College wouldn’t, by many people, be expected to relate to the resident of a historic mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue, even if, technically, they live in the same neighborhood. Obviously, College and parallel streets are going through continuous waves of change and revitalization, and attitudes about and relationships with the area will naturally change.

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