Courtesy Indiana Historical Society, William H. Bass Photo Company #24090

Since we can’t get away from politics these days, why not review some former political sites in Indianapolis? In 1901, 82 prominent Democrats incorporated the Indiana Democratic Club to “foster a spirit of harmony and fraternity among all Democrats.” In the early years the club, led by John Worth Kern, had offices above the Western Union Building on Monument Circle, but quickly made plans to expand as membership grew.

In 1911 the club paid $60,000 for a large brick house located at 22 E. Vermont Street. The house, built in the early 1880s, was the former home of Willis C. Vajen and his wife Anna Claypool (daughter of Edward F. Claypool of the Claypool Hotel). Vajen had a varied career, following in his father’s footsteps as a hardware store owner, later becoming a realtor, pension attorney, publisher, and inventor (best known for his patented fireman’s ventilator helmet). As members of the Indianapolis elite, the Vajens lived in the most desirable part of town with a view overlooking University Park. After Vajen’s death in 1900, his widow remarried merchant Henry Wetzel. By 1911, when Anna sold her old home to the Indiana Democratic Club, the commercial district was rapidly expanding north ruining the residential charm of the area (as seen by the adjacent wall of brick which housed the Bobbs-Merrill Company, book publishers). One wonders if Mr. Vajen, a life-long Republican, rolled over in his grave due to his widow’s sale to Democrats.


Courtesy Indiana Historical Society, William H. Bass Photo Company #33157

In 1912 the Indiana Democratic Club expanded their clubhouse by adding a one-story sun parlor in front and a large one-story brick addition extending to the alley north. The addition allowed room for bowling alleys, a swimming pool, billiard rooms, and a gymnasium.  The interior was rearranged to allow for an assembly room, library, board room, and sleeping apartments for out-of-town guests on the upper floors. Along with promoting the Democratic party throughout Indiana, the club hosted many social events such as card parties, monthly dances, family outings, and educational lectures.


Indianapolis Star, 29 November 1921

By 1920 club members saw the writing on the wall when the five-block area between Meridian, St. Clair, Pennsylvania, and New York Streets was chosen for the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza, a City Beautiful Movement project. After some back-and-forth, members accepted the appraised price and their club house was one of dozens razed by 1926 to make way for the War Memorial, American Legion Headquarters, and Cenotaph Square.

IUPUI University Library/Indiana State Library, 1913 Sanborn Map

The light gray, shaded area shows the current location of the Indiana War Memorial. The red box outlines the site of the Indiana Democratic Club. Note that the First Baptist Church, Second Presbyterian Church, and the brick house at 32 E. Vermont Street were allowed to remain and were not demolished until about 1960.

Google Street View, July 2009

The old club once stood just west of the southern steps to the Indiana War Memorial, constructed between 1926 and 1933. Today the Indiana Democratic Club survives as one of the oldest social Democratic clubs in the country. [Gotta mention that I love that the Google street view vehicle captured this image just as the worker raised his arms mimicking the bronze Pro Patria sculpture on the steps. Check out these other interesting Google Street Views.]


8 responses to “Then & Now: Indiana Democratic Club/Indiana War Memorial, 22 E. Vermont Street”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Let us follow this post!

  2. Louis Mahern says:

    You’ll notice that 2nd Pres and 1st Baptist were not required to move until they were good and ready in the late 1950′ or early 60’s.

  3. Evan Finch says:

    Some of my favorite footage in the old Harry Coburn newsreels was the Haugh building being moved from its old location to its present location. Looked like quite an operation!

  4. Evan Finch says:

    Also, that Google Street View shot is hilarious.

  5. basil berchekas jr says:

    Love the early-mid-late historic treastise “blending” from one period to another. Similar to the “Encyclopedia of Chicago” description of the “rise and fall” of the Prairie Avenue historic district on Chicago’s near South Side (near what became RR Donnelly and Sons publishing house facility…)

  6. Joan Hostetler says:

    Louis: I’ve read the histories of these churches and it sounds like some old members were very bitter about finally moving north.
    Evan: Yes! I hope to get a copy of moving the Haugh Hotel. Where did you find the Coburn films? I’d love to have a Coburn film festival, but can not find a copy of the video that can be checked out. Did you see that his studio was on Meridian and had to be moved?

  7. Nancy Showalter says:

    Do you have a color layout of the plaza block from Michigan to North Streets (like the one shown here of the War Memorial) showing the location of the monument and the buildings that were razed? I’m interested in the Propylaeum in particular. Recently toured the War Memorial and the museum it houses. A wonderful structure but so very sad all those structures had to be scraficed.

  8. Anonymous says:


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