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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11 responses to “Indianapolis Then & Now: The Barge Fish ‘n Chips, 3902 E. Washington Street”

  1. Ricky Berkey says:

    Steak and Shake sold them by the sack in the early days as well. “Take Home a Sack” got shortened to “Takhomasak” and was used as a slogan for years.

  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    Remember something similar to this one on East Washington between Sherman and Emerson, but can’t “put my arms around it”…something from the late 1950s or early 1960s…

  3. Evan Finch says:

    My dad tells me that, in the early 1930s, there used to be an A&W root beer stand shaped like a barrel at (or near) the intersection of Layman Avenue and Washington Street, in Irvington. I’m guessing it looked like this:

  4. Evan Finch says:

    Also, I still have my booklet from that “Diners, Ducks and Drive-Ins” exhibit!

  5. Joan Hostetler says:

    Evan: I’ve never seen a photo of Indianapolis root beer barrel stands, but A & W and others had them all over the state so it would make sense. I used the South Bend A & W stand photo (from your link above) in the roadside architecture exhibit and a fellow came in to the library and identified himself as the boy in the striped shirt. He said that his brother worked there and would give his friends free root beer foam.

  6. David Brewer says:

    Not in Indianapolis per se, but on US 40 east of Indianapolis I remember seeing a restaurant shaped like a giant coffee pot. Was there until at least the early 1990s.

  7. basil berchekas jr says:

    Not sure exactly where that was, but I think it was near Gem or Philadelphia…maybe it was in between Post Road and Cumberland, but don’t think so…think it was east of Cumberland in Hancock County near those two aforementioned communities.

  8. Joan Hostetler says:

    David, The Coffee Pot Restaurant was in Pennville, Ind. It burned in 1991 and was demolished. Here are a couple of photographs of it:

  9. basil berchekas jr says:

    Appreciate this, Joan! Thanks!

  10. David Brewer says:

    Very, very cool. Thought I’d never see this again. Thanks, Joan!

  11. Phil Brooks says:

    Here’s another coffee pot, Bremen, Indiana:

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