When you imagine Indianapolis of the 1920’s, what images come up? Flappers, pearls, speak-easies, opulence? For some, the 20’s will always evoke images of romance, possibility and (all that) jazz. One thing that proliferated during that dazzling decade in Indianapolis was apartment buildings. Many apartment buildings in Indy’s beloved historic neighborhoods are representative of that decade more than any other. Industries and the population needed to make, buy, sell and move those industries were booming. The city pushed ever farther from its bustling center and meager beginnings. The life cycle of so many city lots started with humble lodgings, later traded for extravagant lodgings, and finally for commercial enterprises.
Expansive private homes of early illustrious families that once lined the North Meridian, Pennsylvania and Delaware corridors, were (in many cases) bulldozed for new apartment buildings, while the well-to-do moved to new homes farther afield and away from the common masses. Each square foot of Center Township was in demand, maximized and accounted for while Indianapolis businesses and life continued to expand and grow.
Compare 1906–when there were approximately 40 apartment buildings in the city (and three hotels claiming residents)– with 20 years later: the number of apartment buildings and flats increased more than ten-fold.
In the summer of 1927, it was announced that another old extravagant family home (on the northwest corner of 16th & Pennsylvania Streets) would be traded in for a large apartment house. The former manse of one-time Indiana Attorney General, Alonzo Greene Smith would be razed. The Smith family had taken up residence at 1606 (formerly 800) North Pennsylvania Street in the mid-1890’s. A. G. Smith died in 1907 and 20 years later, his son, attorney David Turpie Smith, seized the opportunity to invest in the apartment building wave of Indianapolis real estate development, financing the building through Meyer-Kiser Bank.
One wonders if the announcement of Turpie Smith’s forthcoming project was overshadowed by the buzz and building applications for a development just over three miles northwest of his soon-to-be apartment building. Construction of a “Field House,” and other buildings up in Fairview Park were happening at the same time the city prepared for relocating Butler College from Irvington. Turpie Smith’s new apartment building would climb eight stories into the sky and hold a total of 56 apartments. Designed by architect William Earl Russ, The Piccadilly Court or just Piccadilly Apartments, would be composed primarily of brick and concrete, making it “fire proof.”
The general contractor was Ralph Sollitt & Son of South Bend; Indianapolis firm Strong Brothers handled plumbing; and nearby business neighbor Frank Stewart contracted the heating job–his company was less than two blocks east on 16th Street. Henry Richard Behrens, with offices in the Illinois Building was the Interior Decorator for the Piccadilly.
As with most commercial rental space, first floor offerings changed almost as frequently as residents through the years. Beauty shops, barber shops, dentists, doctors, cleaners and restaurants were common themes–businesses that served the residents and nearby neighbors.
The “unique feature in the 7 room bungalow that has been built on the roof,” was atypical of apartment houses in Indianapolis, making it all the more special. The Smiths’ rooftop ‘bungalow,’ was soon after listed in city directories as the “Penthouse.” This word, too, evokes specific imagery, conjuring visions of chauffeurs, ladies swathed in fur stoles and clinking champagne glasses. But Turpie and Orrin Woolen Smith didn’t live the high life there for long. Mrs. Smith died three years after the building was completed and he moved elsewhere soon after, leaving this stunning space available.
Other prominent Indianapolis citizens tried on penthouse life for size, among them: Kenneth Kunkel, head of the state conservation commission in the mid 1930’s. Well- to-do Wilfred Borinstein moved on up to the “deluxe apartment in the sky” circa 1950 and was there through 1963. Borinstein had long been involved in his family business, started by his father in 1870’s Indianapolis; occupation: “junk.” Today, we would call this a “salvage” business. It turns out that the Borinstein family company had one of the most prosperous wholesale salvage businesses in the country at one time, lasting until just a few years ago. They bid on large federal scrap jobs and established themselves as national industry leaders. Subsequently, salesman Sol Davidson and a Senior Biologist with Eli Lilly, Paul Glaskas resided here. In more recent years, a female gladiator from the tv series “American Gladiator,” lived in this space. Living in the penthouse had one definite prerequisite: financial success.
In 2013, you can feel like a huge success for a night (or more), securing the space for yourself. The Piccadilly Penthouse has been transformed into a luxury rental and event space. The opulence of Indy’s prosperous 1920’s has been honored and updated. Girlfriend getaways, weekend retreats, wedding receptions, private parties, or just a special occasion and unforgettable night or two–the large, yet intimate space is available to be the canvas upon which you may paint a story of your life.
In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words, but don’t miss how faithfully the historic character and feel of the building’s era has been honored, while catering to the expectations of a worldly visitor of the 21st century. The Piccadilly Penthouse would be equally at home in the Hollywood Hills, but the Circle City is lucky to have such an amenity.
You’d be hard-pressed not to feel on top of the world visiting here. This is one of those breathtaking spaces like you might find in a famous person’s home museum–except you are free to sit on the furniture, have a cocktail and enjoy the sunset like you own the place. Every effort was made to preserve the remaining original historic fabric–the tiles in the master bathroom, the hardwood floors, small chandeliers, door knobs–small details that could be saved and restored have been. It’s been loaded with an array of modern amenities, while feeling like Mr. Smith just stepped out. If you are looking for a place to have an historic occasion in a timeless setting, this could be that under-the-radar gem you never thought you’d find.
Long-time resident (and treasure) Roy, who’s been in the building since 1985 recalls attending opulent holiday and other parties in the penthouse, noting that Lucy Arnaz (as in Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz’ daughter) once attended a party here and that the building has consistently hosted a cast of colorful characters.
Other interesting highlights relating to The Piccadilly:
- The building’s architect, William Earl Russ went on to form half of the architecture firm Russ & Harrison. That firm designed Lockefield Gardens off Indiana Avenue. Russ is also credited with designing Sunnyside Tuberculosis Sanitarium.
- When the Piccadilly opened in April 1928, it was noted for its “generous number of wall sockets for electric lights and other accessories.”
- Among the building’s restaurant’s: The Piccadilly Inn Restaurant and Hill’s Snappy Service Restaurant in the 1950’s.
- The Home Elevator Company of Indianapolis provided the building’s elevators and the original brand plate remains right inside the elevator door. The company is still around almost 100 years later!
And if you’d like to check out some 1920’s speak while we’re at it, “know your onions” by checking this little extra out.