Due to Ralston’s original design of the city, Indianapolis has had a number of flatiron buildings. These triangular-shaped buildings were constructed where angled avenues bisect the city’s grid-patterned streets. One such flatiron block that has seen several changes is at the intersection of East Washington and Pennsylvania Streets and Virginia Avenue.

The grand Vance Block was built in 1875/76 by Mary J. (Bates) Vance, widow of merchant Lawrence Vance. Her money and entrepreneurial spirit likely came from her father, Hervey Bates, who was Marion County’s first sheriff. He was best known as a businessman and banker, and the owner of the well-known Bates House, at one time the city’s finest hotel. The Vance Block was designed in 1875 by architect William H. Brown. It featured an eighty-foot tower, the city’s first elevator, and an oolitic limestone facade carved by Gerhard Ittenback (whose descendants read Historic Indianapolis). An open atrium was lit with rooftop skylights. This view looks southeast with Washington Street on the left and Virginia Avenue on the right. Photographer John Pendergast made this rare photograph, half of a stereoview, in the late 1870s. (Heritage Photo & Research Services / Indiana Album)

By 1895 the Vance Block was remodeled and became known as the Indiana Trust Building. The tower was removed to make way for two additional floors. Through the years the building housed numerous lawyers, architects, photographers, small shops, and Indiana Trust, which merged with Merchants National Bank in 1953. By the late 1950s Merchants had purchased the adjacent Pembroke Arcade and planned to replace both buildings with a new, modern structure.  (Pre-1907 postcard from the collection of Heritage Photo & Research Services / Indiana Album)

The new Merchants National Bank and Trust Company building, built 1960-1961, was the first drive-through bank in downtown Indianapolis. With the large trapezoidal windows, it’s easy to understand why this building became known as the Zipper Building. An architect who had occupied the old building expressed this opinion: “This new building is a monkey house. It’ll look like the whale’s teeth or a set of dominoes.” The modern structure was designed by Lennox, Matthews, Simmons & Ford, the same architects who later created the Indianapolis City-County Building. (Library of Congress / HABS)

 The modern design of the Zipper Building was not appreciated until it was gone. In 2007 the distinctive black-and-white exterior was stripped off and completely remodeled. Today it is known as the Broadbent Building and it houses the Brazilian restaurant Fogo de Chao and the Broadbent Company (a realty company). The change has received mixed, and mostly unfavorable reviews, as did the Zipper Building. One thing that remains from the Vance Block is a massive basement safe. (2009 Google Street View)



6 responses to “Indianapolis Then & Now: Vance Block/Zipper Building/Broadbent Building”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    This is so excellent!

  2. joe says:

    A very good example of the historic conundrum. At what point would you have stopped the evolution of the corner? I get the feeling you would get many different aswers.

  3. Joan Hostetler says:

    Good point, Joe. Ideally, I wish the Vance and Zipper buildings had been built on different sites (and wish they both still stood!). The current building, in my opinion, is very bland and doesn’t add much to the landscape. I doubt if anyone will lament its loss, but maybe our view of it will change through time.

  4. Bill Faust says:

    Thank you for this article! My father, his father and mother, all 3 [Faust, Faust & Faust attorneys at law] had their law offices in the Indiana Trust Bldg. I have fond memories of playing there as a child, riding in the open metal work elevators (hand operated by a professional), the wonderful sun-lit internal triangle, the bank vault in the basement (where I purchased Coca Cola for one buffalo head nickle!), the geometric mosaic floors, the view of downtown Indy, the leather furniture, walls of built-in shelving for countless law books, spittoons etc. [1940s and 1950s]

  5. Brad says:

    I used to be a delivery driver, and Fogo de Chao was always my least favorite restaurant to delivery to on account of there not being a loading dock. And now I repair water softeners and Fogo is still my least favorite customer to service because their water equipment is located deep in the labyrinth like basement(the people of Fogo are great though, and it is an amazing place to eat.). My work takes me into many downtown buildings, but I have to say that this is my least favorite of them all.

  6. Daniel Ball says:

    I worked here in 1995 for the Indianapolis Vault Company. Very interesting basement.

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