Courtesy of the Indiana Album: Pat Ruegamer Collection

Washington Street has historically been the main commercial corridor in Indianapolis. These photographs show changes in the busy block between Illinois and Meridian Streets. In the 1890s the north side of the street housed stately three- and four-story Italianate and Second Empire structures, but by 2006 was home to the twenty-three story Conrad Hotel.

Between 1885 and 1893 this transfer car stood on W. Washington St. about fifty feet east of Illinois Street. Passengers wanting to change from one line to another had to wait in this stationary car in the center of the street. It was permanently moved in 1893 to make way for the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) encampment parade, an event that brought about 75,000 visitors to the city. Newspaper articles state that the path was cleared just in the knick of time, so I suspect that the bunting and flag decorations were for the encampment and that this photograph documented the transfer station just prior to the GAR reunion in September 1893.

The building to the left is the old Griffith Block. According to the Historic American Buildings Survey completed in the 1980s: “Built in 1872 by the heirs of Humphrey Griffith, a leading pioneer businessman, the Griffith Block has housed a variety of retail establishments during its long history. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the editorial offices of the Indianapolis News were located in the block. The third and fourth floors contained lodge meeting rooms, used by several fraternal orders and labor unions. Architecturally, the Griffith Block is one of a few surviving examples in the city of a facade designed in the Venetian Commercial Italianate style, popular in Indianapolis during the 1870s.”

Library of Congress, HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey)

The buildings west (left) of the alley were demolished to make way for Circle Centre Mall. They include the Roosevelt Building, a narrow, twelve-story terra cotta high rise designed in 1922 by Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller. Preservationists fought hard to save this structure, but it was razed in 1990. The Griffith Block (third building from the left) was also demolished in 1990, but at least the wonderfully ornate limestone facade survives. One of several “facadectomies”  performed for Circle Centre Mall, the front wall was disassembled, restored, and moved across the street where it was incorporated into a new building.

Conrad 11152012

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Since 2006 the Conrad Indianapolis has occupied the block, which sat vacant for over a decade as plans stalled for an anchor store for Circle Centre Mall. The alley, actually named Bird Street, has been vacated. The Conrad, a twenty-three story luxury hotel with eighteen residential condominiums, is one of only four in North America and is affiliated with Hilton Hotels.

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10 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: West Washington Street”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Wish to stay with these discussions on how the downtown area has evolved into the dunamic center of activity it is today (it was obvious it was “dynamic” a century ago, too!)

  2. MarketandMeridian says:


    Thank you so much for sharing! I love seeing these historic photos, especially since I live nearby!

  3. Stan Jacobs says:

    Along with the other comments, I too greatly value reading about how areas of Indianapolis have evolved.



  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    Indiana’s first US Senator was wise to get Congress to have the National Road (the first Federal domestic assistance project!) run west to Indianapolis following Washington Street through town versus following its initial alignment running west-southwest from Richmond to Tree Haute, originally planned to cross White River at about Waverly in Johnson County. He pointed out that one, it needed to run through the new designated state capital, and two, crossing at White River on the Washington Street alignment would be much cheaper to build since there were “hard” river banks on both sides (unlike down at Waverly where wetlands border White River) and the river is is narrower at Indianapolis. Luckily, Congress saw the wisdom of this change in road plan. Stagecoach drivers would blow their horn running west over Pogues Run’s covered bridge entering Indianapolis from the “east”, alerting passengers that Indianapolis was now “minutes” away. Where they did approaching from the west, I don’t know.

  5. sandra cookm says:

    i love seeing these historical places it makes me think i have been there

  6. Anonymous says:


  7. Steven Smith says:

    Waverly is (or was) in Morgan County.

  8. Ken Feckete says:

    There was an Old Masonic Well in Bridgeport with a Masonic Lodge that I bet served a similar “You’re nearing Indy” site.

  9. Carolyn Roesbery says:

    Fantastic work, historians! So proud of you. I hope we can have this history reconstructed and appreciate the changes through the eras we and others have lived.

  10. basil a berchekas jr says:

    Thanks for the correction. Appreciate it.

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