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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]