The Imperial Hotel, 1904 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, 1904 glass plate negative made by the Detroit Publishing Company)
This opulent Queen Anne/Romanesque Revival building, located north of the Indiana State House, has received little attention in historic circles, yet photographs commonly draw strong reactions. People either love it or they hate it. It was built in the mid 1890s as an internationally known surgical institute, serving this purpose less than a decade before housing various hotels until its demolition in the late 1940s.
Dr. Horace R. Allen first established the National Surgical Institute in Charleston, Illinois in 1858 and removed to Indianapolis in 1869. He purchased two buildings at the southeast corner of Illinois and Georgia Streets. This progressive clinic and hospital was one of the first in the country to treat congenital deformities such as club feet, harelips, and spinal and hip issues. The facility also treated patients suffering other ailments such as tumors, sinus and nervous problems, stuttering, and feminine disorders. Allen also patented and manufactured surgical and mechanical devices to aid in physical therapy. The institute quickly expanded, and by the 1870s Allen had regional divisions in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and San Francisco, but Indianapolis remained the national headquarters. On January 21, 1892 a disastrous fire destroyed the hospital, killing nineteen patients and injuring many others. The buildings had previously been cited as a fire hazard and public outrage over the deaths resulted in safety reform and improved building codes.
Allen quickly constructed a modern, four-story facility designed by architects Hellgren & Minturn on the northwest corner of Ohio and Capitol (then Tennessee) Streets. According to the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, construction costs forced Allen to dramatically raise fees. He rapidly lost patients and ran into financial trouble. When he moved to Chicago in 1895 to start another institute, he entrusted the N. S. I. to family and friends and by November 1898 the business went bankrupt.
Fortunately, an amateur photographer named Herman List worked as a baker at the National Surgical Institute in the final years of its existence and documented the daily life of the residents and staff. List’s glass and nitrate negatives were donated to the Indiana Historical Society in 2002 and have been digitized and cataloged.
Here photographer and baker Herman List makes a self-portrait in a mirror at the National Surgical Institute, ca. 1898. List made over 180 candid photographs of the N. S. I. in about 1898 documenting the interior and exterior of the building, physicians and staff at work, and patient life. A large number of negatives depict people congregated on the roof and viewing the city. There are also rare views of houses and businesses that surrounded the Indiana State House. One wonders if List knew these were the waning days of the Institute.
View more photographs and collection guide:
Herman List Collection Guide
Herman List Digital Images of the National Surgical Institute
After a short period as the Medical College of Indiana, the old institute building became home to the Imperial Hotel from about 1900 until 1914. Being adjacent to the State House, many legislators stayed in the 200-room hotel for extended periods. Signs promote Turkish Baths and the Imperial Buffet. The Cave Saloon was a popular watering spot with the Airdome, described in newspapers as an amusement park, located behind it.
From about 1914 until 1920, the building was known as the Hotel Metropole. For six months in 1918, soliders attending motor mechanics and gunsmithing training classes sponsored by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce were housed in the building, then known as the Metropole Barracks.
For nearly half of its existence, the Hotel Roosevelt occupied the building. The domes, decorative roof ornamentation, and balconies had been removed by the time this postcard was made in the 1920s.
City directories show that the building was razed between 1945 and 1949 when the site was simply listed as the Roosevelt Car Park. Today the site sits among a sea of parking lots and garages.