Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company #74372
The yard sign for the Indianapolis Athletic Club hints at the fate of the Hasselman-Fahnley house at the southwest corner of Meridian and Vermont Streets. This limestone Italian Renaissance house was constructed for the Hasselman family in the early 1860s. It stood among the mansions on prestigious North Meridian Street just three blocks north of Circle Street, now Monument Circle. Across the street stood University Park, making it a prized residential location. The William H. Bass Company documented the home in 1921 just prior to its demolition.
Lewis W. Hasselman made his fortune with the Washington Foundry (later Eagle Machine Works), fabricators of steam engines, grist and sawmill equipment, and agricultural implements. Hasselman hired Francis Costigan, Indiana’s most prominent architect, to design the home and fortunately an original architectural drawing of the facade is preserved at the Indiana Historical Society. Costigan is known for buildings such as the Lanier and Shrewsbury houses in Madison, the Institute for the Education of the Blind, and the Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Indianapolis. Oolitic limestone for the exterior was cut from the Big Creek Quarry in Stinesville, Indiana, and skilled Italian workers finished the interior. Photographer William H. Potter made this stereoview of the home in about 1875.
The Hasselman family last lived in the house in the late 1870s. German immigrant Frederick Fahnley, founder of Fahnley-McCrea Millinery Company (the city’s first wholesale millinery), purchased the property in about 1880. Beautiful photographs made of the interior in 1897 are not yet digitized, but can be viewed at the Indiana Historical Society by asking for the Lucille Winkler Voigt Collection. Fahnley was a member of and served on a number of boards including Merchants National Bank, Indiana Trust Company, the Columbia Club, and the Indianapolis Athletic Club (IAC). In the early 1920s he sold his home to the IAC to be razed for their new nine-story clubhouse.
The Indianapolis Athletic Club laid the corner stone in May 1922 and opened in 1924, a time when Indianapolis saw a large number of new high-rise structures replacing the old mansions close to the heart of the city. Traditionally a Democratic organization, when new the Indianapolis Athletic Club featured three floors with 160 sleeping rooms for members, an apartment for women, a swimming pool, billiard and smoking lounges, and dining rooms. Architect Robert Daggett modeled the bronze doorway and carved limestone surround after the Venice Palace in Rome.
Swimming and athletics obviously played a large role in the club’s programming and IAC members participated in many Olympic games. Classes included diving, water ballet, and life saving. In addition, for over thirty years the Downtown Indianapolis Rotary Club offices were located in the IAC.
Tragically, on February 5, 1992 a fire caused by faulty refrigerator wiring killed one overnight guest and two firemen. As a tribute, every year during the St. Patrick’s Day parade a battalion of city firemen pause in front of the building, turn in formation, and salute before continuing.
The club closed in September 2004 after eighty years of operation. Today the building houses the Indianapolis Athletic Club Condominiums. The space was renovated into eighty-two units ranging in size from 752 to 4,200 square feet. Although the swimming pool is gone, amenities include a gymnasium, racquetball and squash courts, virtual golf, conference room, fitness center, and a rooftop deck.