Circa 1940s advertising blotter for Darko & Sons Cleaners (top) and photograph from May 2014. (Courtesy of the Indiana Album)

Every building, no matter how forlorn, has a story. Known only to me by this 1940s ink blotter advertising Darko & Sons Cleaners, I can imagine that the building at 2659-61 Shelby Street must have fulfilled a dream for its owner, who clearly had pride in the building as he lined up his 17 uniformed delivery men in front with their vehicles for this business portrait.

Company founder Sandor “Alex” Darko and his wife Rosa were Hungarians who immigrated to the United States in about 1911 from Transylvania with their two children, Laslo and Margaret. Within a decade of leaving, their homeland became Romania. They settled in Indianapolis where the family grew with the addition of four more children, Ethel, Sam, Louis, and Charles (I was really hoping to find a Donnie Darko). Alex worked as a tailor and started Darko and Sons Cleaners and Tailors in the 1930s. This Art Moderne block building was constructed in about 1940 at the corner of Shelby and Nelson Streets, just a few blocks south of Garfield Park. Most of the family worked for the business (including the daughters who were left out of the business name) and the company grew, advertising “a truck in your neighborhood twice daily.” By 1956 a large addition to the rear expanded the dry cleaner’s services, including the care of fur garments. By the 1960s, Darko and Sons had branch locations at 2659 Shelby Street,  4915 and 6501 N. College Avenue, 2851 Madison Avenue, 4670 W. Washington Street, 3709 E. 10th Street, 3609 W. 30th Street, and 2010 E. 46th Street. During the cleaner’s heyday, 26 truck routes ran daily in central Indiana.

The business was no longer listed in the 1972 city directory and Concannon Cleaners then occupied the store at 2659-61 Shelby Street. Most recently the Hook Up (auto repair services) occupied the building, but a marker pen note scribbled on the block wall indicates that they moved up the street and the building is currently for sale or rent.

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