Indianapolis history is not just made up of buildings, historic homes, and age-old events. After all, it IS people who make history happen, so what better way to know Indianapolis history than to hear from life-long Indy residents? HI is featuring some of Indianapolis’ oldest residents to unlock the personal memories and nearly forgotten stories of this great city.
I never thought I’d be meeting a 94-year-old man in his work office during a scheduled time slot. But P.E. MacAllister is not just any 94-year-old man. P.E. is a true Renaissance man, and his involvement in all-things Indianapolis is almost exhausting. He’s done everything from running MacAllister Machinery Co. to founding the MacAllister Awards for Opera; from serving as a deacon on the Presbyterian General Assembly to helping build every major sports building downtown.
P.E. was born and raised in Wisconsin, so he doesn’t share the same memories as some of our other interviewed residents. Yet, having just begun his 69th year in Indianapolis, P.E. knows the ins and outs of the city, having contributed to it in countless ways. A life-long philanthropist and political enthusiast, P.E. has always had a passion for improving the city, and brings an insider’s perspective on the political and economic world of old and new Indianapolis.
After serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII, P.E. moved to Indianapolis and soon took over his father’s business, MacAllister Machinery Co., a Midwest Caterpillar dealer, when his father died. P.E. ran MacAllister Machinery Co. for 41 years, and still has an office in their corporate building on East 30th Street. His son runs the business now. MacAllister Machinery Co. was originally located in Brightwood at 21st and Sherman Drive.
P.E. moved to Indy one week after marrying his first wife, Becky, into a condo at 3510 N. Pennsylvania, just north of Shortridge High School, and quickly discovered the warmth of the Hoosier state.
“[Hoosiers] are the most affable, gregarious people in the country,” said P.E. “In the 6 years I lived in Milwaukee, I was never inside my neighbor’s house. But the second week I moved here, I got invited inside my neighbor’s house, and their door was never locked. And that’s still what Hoosiers are.”
Yet, although the Indy folk were kind, P.E. found the city to be in absolute distress when he first moved here. He called old Indianapolis “an oval in a cornfield, India-NO-place.”
“I’m from Wisconsin, see, and those states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota – came from northern Europe. They had different concepts of education, opera, and the arts. But Indiana was settled from across the river – Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. These are just ‘good ol’ folks’ down here, and it took them a long time to be interested in culture. No one wanted change.”
“No one went downtown at night,” he said. “There wasn’t much to do down there though. All three of the big department stores – Wasson’s, Strauss’, and Ayres – all pulled out one by one. The city was so tacky!”
Even the little things seemed inefficient and disorderly.
“I couldn’t believe it, going down Meridian Street when I first came here. I said, ‘What the hell are all these garbage cans doing out here?’ You build all these gorgeous homes and then put the garbage out front. You should pick up the garbage in the alley, not out front! Well, they didn’t have alleys.”
P.E. became heavily active in Indy’s political world, raising money for different politicians and serving on multiple committees. The city was in a deplorable state, according to P.E., and he says Dick Lugar’s election as mayor ultimately turned the city around in the late 60s. Lugar, who created UniGov, got the ball rolling on making Indianapolis into a unified, vibrant city.
P.E. served on the Capitol Improvement Boards for years. Although many of us may have never heard of the Capital Improvements Board, it is the backbone to Indianapolis’ sports fame, having built many major downtown buildings, including the Hoosier Dome, the Convention Center, and the Lucas Oil Stadium. (Fun fact: although the Convention Center now attracts Trekkies and firefighters nationwide, it started out hosting Boy Scout conventions and 70s rock concerts).
“Has anyone stopped to think about the impact that CIB has had on the city?” P.E. asked. “You think the Circle City Mall and all those restaurants would be there? Probably not. Now I don’t have wings on my shoulders but I think this city’s well-being goes back to the leadership of this city.”
P.E. was also involved in the Indianapolis Opera Company since 1975. He started the MacAllister Awards, an opera competition which brought opera singers and judges from all over the country. The Awards were discontinued in 2002.
Although P.E. was a busy man, he and Becky managed to raise 4 children on the far North side of town, sending their kids primarily to Eastwood Middle School and North Central High School, when both schools were still fairly new.
P.E. fondly remembers taking his kids to the movies and to baseball games at Bush Stadium on West 16th Streer.
P.E. also loved watching basketball in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“Every holiday season, Purdue, Indiana, Butler, and Notre Dame would have a round robin. And guess who would win nearly every year?” he whispered with a sly smile, “Butler did!”
“I’ve always loved Hollyhock Hill, and my wife still hates it,” he laughed. “I went every Sunday after church for probably 10 years and would pick up a chicken.”
P.E.’s first wife, Becky, passed away in 2001, and P.E. married his wife, Fran, in 2003, who he knew from Northminster Presbyterian Church on Kessler Boulevard.
P.E. is just six years short of having lived a century, but that hasn’t stopped him from working. In fact, you can find him on his TV talk show, On Site, or perhaps playing golf with his good friends Mitch Daniels and Jim Morris. On Site, an interview-style talk show, began airing in 1982; its purpose was to awaken people to the arts and culture of Indianapolis.
P.E. still complains about the traffic, and he wishes to see improvement in the school system, but he loves the way Indianapolis has taken shape.
“I like the city a lot better today,” he said. “We feel different about the city today. We used to be apologetic, but now we’re proud of it! It took a lot of work, a lot of political work, and I think politics here have always been more stronger than in other cities. Oh, and my wife thinks the Monon Trail is a trip to Paradise,” he chuckled.