The Grand Hotel, circa 1876 stereoview by Indianapolis photographer John Pendergast (The Indiana Album: Loaned by Joan Hostetler)
Shortly after the expansion of the Grand Hotel in 1875, photographer John Pendergast set up his camera and tripod near the busy intersection of Maryland and Illinois Streets and made a stereoview of the new building, then the most elegant hotel in the growing city. Since originally writing about the hotel in late 2011, I have acquired one of Pendergast’s nearly 140-year-old stereoviews and uncovered a newspaper article about the construction of the building.
The Grand Hotel, on the southeast corner of Maryland and Illinois Streets, had roots in the 1850s as the Mason Hotel. The hotel grew, eventually expanding into adjacent buildings, including the Oriental Hotel, until the construction in 1875 of the five-story and basement Second Empire structure. According to an article in the Indianapolis News on November 2, 1875, the new hotel was completed within six months for owner Thomas Baker. Baker, a genial man who grew up in Tippecanoe County, previously managed the Bramble House and Lahr House in Lafayette before moving to Indianapolis to become proprietor of the Mason Hotel. He designed and oversaw the construction of the Grand Hotel. Constructed of pressed brick and Ellettsville limestone, the hotel featured a barber shop, bar, billiard parlor, dining room, club rooms, writing rooms for businessmen, a separate entrance for ladies, and a bridal chamber “lavishly fitted up in the style for a king.” Two hundred sleeping rooms (each with a key that worked only for that room, which must have been a novel concept at the time to be mentioned) were available on the upper floors and in the old Mason Hotel, adjacent to the new structure. Forty sample rooms allowed salesmen to show their merchandise and wares. Guests could take the marble stairs to the upper floors, or ride in the steam-powered elevator. The article credits construction to Peter Routier, tiling to the Carpenter Brothers, painting and graining to Frank Fertig, furniture and upholstering by Speigel and Thoms, and picture ornaments to Mr. Lieber, but surprisingly there is no mention of the architect in that article, though an earlier one mentions “Architect Bohlen.” The estimated cost of construction was $75,000.
The hotel became a gathering spot for local and visiting Democrats after party leader, and future mayor, Thomas Taggart purchased the hotel in the early 1890s. Taggart also owned the Denison Hotel and later the French Lick Hotel. N. J. Hyde, a former employee of Taggart in the Marion County auditor’s office, opened the Grand Hotel Cafe in 1896, providing nearly all of the fruits and vegetables from his nearby Jersey farm. In 1905 a spark from the disastrous Fahnley and McCrea fire near Union Station a block south threatened the Grand Hotel and required the evacuation of the guests, but flames in the hotel’s cupola elevator shaft were discovered early and extinguished with only $2,000 damage. Through the years, various owners added their own improvements, including W. Holt’s new cafe in 1906, and a $40,000 renovation in 1914 that provided a private bathroom for each room.
By the 1940s many of the surrounding buildings had been demolished and in 1951 a new six-story concrete parking garage was constructed on the site of the Grand Hotel.
Circle Centre Mall opened on September 1995 and this corner is now an entrance to the large, urban mall. A large marquee advertising movies is above the doorway. Signage seen in the updated 2011 Google Street View reflects some changes since 2009: the mall has lost two occupants of the corner with the removal of Nordstrom in 2011 and the Alcatraz Brewing Company.
Sources Manufacturing and Mercantile Resources of Indianapolis, 1883, p. 446; Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis, 1907, p. 130; Indianapolis News, “The Grand Hotel,” November 2, 1875, p. 3; Indianapolis of To-Day, 1896, p. 144; Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industrics, the Institutions, and the People of a City of Homes, 1910, p. 287; 1956 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (IUPUI University Library); Sketches of Prominent Citizens of 1876, Nowland, 1877, p. 486-490