Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, 1990.0430

In the early decades of automobile traffic, it was common for restaurants, gas stations, and other roadside attractions to construct buildings that mimicked the product or service sold. Known now as Mimetic Architecture, these whimsical buildings served as signs to attract attention from travelers. One such example was The Barge Fish & Chips on the National Road.

The Barge, located on the northeast corner of E. Washington and Denny Streets, was constructed to look like a boat. In 1990 I was completing work on an Indiana Historical Society exhibit titled “Diners, Ducks and Drive-Ins: A Look at Indiana’s Roadside Architecture” when I received a call from an elderly gentleman named Elmer Hofstetter. After reading  a press release for the display he called and excitedly insisted that we must include a photograph of his former business. He donated this wonderful 1935 photograph by Kirkpatrick of his short-lived restaurant. Hofstetter recalled that for $50 he bought and moved an old wooden railroad car that had served as a diner on West 16th Street. He and his friends painted and modified the car by building the gangplank and deck complete with rope railings and homemade life preservers. He proclaimed that this was the first fish ‘n chips restaurant in Indianapolis and it was a franchised from the east coast. The slogan on the sign reads “Buy Them by the Sack” (hmmm…I wonder when White Castle first used this slogan).  Neighbors objected when he wanted to sell beer, so that never came to fruition.


Google Street View, 2009

Unfortunately the funky restaurant only lasted a short period and by 1941 the site was an empty lot. Today the corner is home to Kimbley Auto Sales.

Indianapolis also had Mimetic Architecture in the form of milk bottles, ice castles, and teepees. Do you know of others?

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