Before we bid adieu to the topic of Indianapolis hotels for awhile, let’s take a peek at how one of the most beloved of our long-gone hotels marketed their establishment to we of the “fairer” sex.
Picture yourself in late 1890s America, visiting Indianapolis–how would you select your accommodations for your stay in Indianapolis? What factors would persuade you to stay here versus another hotel? Or: were you someone living in Indiana’s capitol city–on what occasions might you find yourself passing time in the Hotel English? Calling on a friend who is in town for a fortnight? Meeting with other like-minded individuals for a luncheon? Attending an event at the on-site theater? Let your mind wander and see if you don’t have an answer after reading the following descriptions.
When the newly renovated and expanded Hotel English opened in 1898, it was clear that appealing to women was a key part of the marketing strategy. The famed hotel had originally been built on the northern part of the northwestern quadrant of the circle in 1881 by William H. English. The new hotel was partly the remodeled preexisting section and the newly constructed married with the old.
Hotel English, circa 1882, prior to the expansion- photo: Bass Photo Co. Collection, Indiana Historical Society
An article from 1898 sells first, to all, upon the merits of location: “…being near the business streets and street cars, and but four blocks from the Union Station, and yet as quiet as though it were in some remote quarter of the city. The entire frontage of five hundred feet faces the beautiful Monument, the play of water in whose great fountains gives a refreshing breeze and a delicious sense of coolness on the hottest days.” Next upon its sturdy construction: “It is built of Bedford sandstone, with handsome facade and graceful balconies. A historic interest attaches to the facade from its adornment with members of the English family back to colonial times carved in the solid stone.”
The post 1898 postal card featuring the English Hotel and Opera House. Personal Collection.
Moving into the evident domain of ladies of the era, lush descriptions of the hotel’s decor painted a picture any woman would like to partake of: “In decoration, the color harmony of green, ivory and gold are carried throughout as in the other buildings. The main entrance, through the rotunda, is very impressive…. ”
Above, Bronze Elevator, Hotel English, circa 1898, The Indiana Woman
“…At the east side is the handsome modern bronze elevator, the side door of which opens into the corridor from the ladies’ entrance; the front door, to the rotunda.”
The most antiquated of notions is betrayed in the existence of a separate “Ladies’ Entrance,” through which famed females of Victorian Indianapolis passed countless times. “The fine art glass door of the ladies’ entrance opens into a pretty reception room whose walls are panelled in green and ivory, with frieze in raised work from which a woman’s head looks forth at intervals. In this room the green is of the most delicate hue, and the two huge pier glasses which reach from the floor to the frieze and have the effect of doors, are set in white and gold framework. A rich rug and tables and chairs of mahogany complete the furnishings of this room.” How odd it seems from the perspective of today to be separated from the opposite sex in such a manner.
Above, the cafe of Hotel English, circa 1898, The Indiana Woman
The cafe was reportedly one of the attractions of the hotel, offered in addition to the regular dining room and was designed with a secondary purpose in mind: to serve as a ladies’ tea room. “The walls are elaborately frescoed in ivory and gold with much raised work. An exquisite frieze crowns the whole, the designs being in sprays of flowers in their natural colors, while a panelled ceiling tinted ciel blue and likewise painted with floral designs, adds the finishing touch to a perfect room…The furnishings in this room are entirely of mahogany, the handsome tables and chairs of dark rich wood contrasting with the delicate colors of the walls.”
An Open Parlor of the Hotel English, circa 1898, The Indiana Woman
Each room of the hotel is described in painstaking detail, yet still does not capture all the richness to be explored in these grainy and rare photos of the hotel’s interior. This room matches the following description: “One of the most charming features of this floor is the open parlor which fills the space about the large open court, surrounded by an open work railing of bronze. The marble mosaic floors are spread with oriental rugs; potted plants give a homelike air; huge chairs upholstered in leather, or fashioned from rattan, tables and a piano, all make a charming open parlor which in effect is almost equal to a furnished porch. The chief ornament of this parlor is a great fireplace of African marble and whate tiling which reaches to the ceiling…”
Ladies Writing Room, Above –“Another pretty little room, designed for a ladies’ writing room, is in oak.”
To save for another day: English’s Opera House and other entertainments of this locale.
And if you missed it, check out Joan Hostetler’s Then & Now feature with more photos of the Hotel’s exterior and a deeper look at the evolution of that part of Monument Circle.