Courtesy of Ball State University, University Libraries, Drawings + Documents Archive,                                         Pierre and Wright Architectural Records Collection

Indianapolis was expanding in all directions in the 1920s when the 46th and College Realty Company hired architects Pierre and Wright to design their new commercial shopping structure. In a 1927 article, an Indianapolis newspaper described the new building at 4601 N. College Avenue as “truly American” with English details. “The exterior is faced with Variegated Buff and Blue Indiana Limestone, layed in Broken Ashlar, relieved with a restricted amount of ornament and carving.”  (To zoom in on the image, check out the photograph on Ball State’s web site. )

The article stated that “our every day haunts are needlessly too ugly and commonplace” and stressed that the practical businessmen owners wanted a building that was pleasant to do business in. The owners felt that attractive surroundings helped the attitude, and therefore productivity, of employees and would draw quality merchants and customers.

As a side note, the adjacent house to the north (now a parking lot) was the home of photographer Walter J. Woodworth and family. Woodworth was  an early partner from about 1899-1905 in what is now W. H. Bass Photo Company, our city’s oldest photography studio. [Shameless plug–>I’m creating a directory of Indiana photographers and always welcome biographical and studio information about Hoosiers with ties to photography businesses.]


Detail, ca. 1928

The October 1927  grand opening article states that it was “very gratifying to the owners to have the tenants on their own initiative draw up regulations regarding signs, awnings, and painting of the fronts. One National chain store refused to paint their usual color on their shop front as they felt it would mar the beauty of the building.” The Kroger Grocery & Bakery Company was one of the early tenants, but apparently did not stay long. A spot check in city directories reveals that the main space was occupied by a variety of drug stores, and more recently, antique and junk stores.

1928: Mueller and Richart Drugs; Kroger Grocery and Bakery Company
1930: Mueller and Richart Drugs
1937: Chaplin Pharmacies
1945: Chaplin’s Drug Store, Rich’s Modern Home Service
1949: Chaplin Drug Store (Ivan C. Chaplin)
1954: Haag Drugs
1960: Colver Drugs (Robert W. Colver)
1972: Colver Drugs
1979: Colver Drugs
ca.2000:  Bluemingdeals Antiques & Jazz-E-Junque
Currently: Big Al’s Superstore

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

While several windows and doors have been filled in, and the bright green signage would likely offend the original tenants who did not want to detract from the building’s beauty, today the exterior remains largely as designed 85 years ago.

10 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: Kroger Grocery and Big Al’s Superstore, 4601 N. College Avenue”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    DO wish to follow this excellent historical article!

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    These art deco and other intersection-oriented developments can be redeveloped stylishly to promote neighborhood conservation. It’s too bad that the former Mandarin Inn building at 38th and College is now “gone”, for instance, and the buildings across the street are slowly deteriorating…there were a number of former long-standing businesses there, too…

  3. Beth Van Vorst Gray says:

    What a marvelous idea! Thank you.

  4. hutch says:

    on a side note, from approximately 1993-1997 a small cooperative music venue called “the Sitcom” was in this building. it moved between three different spaces within the building, including the basement.

  5. Joan Hostetler says:

    Hutch: Thanks for the additional information! I need more Indianapolis city directories from the 1980s and ’90s (and I think Polk stopped making them for awhile).

  6. George Starkey says:

    BIG NEWS! Scarlet Lane Brewing (Fortville, IN) to open tap room in former Big Al’s at 46th and College. Work has begun on fixing up the building for occupancy by them, and other possible tenants. Next Door has opened in the old “Double 8” building across the street. Exciting times in Uptown! 🙂

  7. Bill BROWNE says:

    The building is now fenced and appears to be headed towards a renovation. I have not seen any plans for the reuse, but hope whomever is involved does a good job on the façade and storefront restoration. We don’t have a plethora of Pierre & Wright buildings remaining.

  8. Tom F. in Colorado. says:

    Mandarin Inn: now that was great oriental food restaurant. I remember another one a little closer to my old neighborhood (i.e. 77th. & Dean Road area) called the Lotus Garden. I believe it was in a small strip mall at the intersections of Allisonville Rd., Keystone Ave. and Fall Creek Blvd. called the Town & Country mall?? Also loved the TeePee drive in restaurant down on Fall Creek Blvd., whose back parking lot bordered the Indiana State Fairgrounds. And who could forget the classic Frisches Big Boy near 62nd. & Keystone where the outdoor waitresses came up to take your order on roller skates? Can anyone say American Grafitti? I’m pulling on old memory synapsis here since although I was born & raised in in Indy for 22 years (1953, Methodist Hospital) I left in 1975 thanks to an old “Uncle” named Sam whom I’d previously never met but eventually got to know VERY well!!

    Haven’t lived there since; I’ve lived in a few states west of the Mississippi River…the past 36 years in Colorado. But have very fond memories of Indy from the 50’s thru mid 70’s with that very solid midwest upbringing.

  9. Philip says:

    Seafood and steak restaurant going in

  10. William "BILL" thoms says:

    As a child in the 1940’s, I knew the corner occupant of the building as Chaplin’s Drug Store. Chaplin’s had a fountain and had a side door on 46th. The building extended along 46th back to the alley, housing as best I can recall a barber shop and a dentist’s office.

    Embedded in the front step of Chaplin’s main entrance were a number of ancient symbols, one of which came to be known during the Nazi era as a swastika. During WW II, Mr. Chaplin was the unfortunate target of a lot of totally undeserved abuse because of it. I wonder what happened to that step.

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