3470 N. Meridian, the Frontenac Apartments (photo by Dawn Olsen)“Is that a jail?”
The query came from a curious youngster, a boy out for a walk with relatives. With one foot on the ground and one on his scooter, he balanced himself. He pointed to 3470 N. Meridian and again called to his family.
“Is that a jail?”
A dismissive “no” was the answer.
And soon, the boy was propelling himself down the sidewalk once more, the rest of his troupe in tow. Just passerby on the street, they were. Much like the traffic on Meridian, they were present long enough to throw a casual glance before moving on. But unlike the speeding cars and pedestrian passerby, the boy’s question lingered. Is that a jail? His simple curiosity easily summarized the atmosphere.
A topped-with-barbed-wire fence encompasses the property, which is plastered with “NO TRESPASSING” and “NO LOITERING” signs. An old security camera has managed to cling to the south side of the building. There are broken windows. There is trash in the yard. It’s imposing. It’s dreary. It’s nine stories of he’s-right-this-does-look-like-a-jail.
… only jails aren’t usually this empty.
Constructed in1951 as the Frontenac Apartments, the building housed several dozen units. Its design (which mimics the shape of a cross) and its year of construction bear similarities to the Shoreland Towers apartments. The Towers, which are just up at the street at 3710 N. Meridian, were designed by architect Paul Cripe and constructed by H.D. Tousley Construction Corp. Like the Frontenac, they were built in 1951. Even the Towers’ shape—two adjacent, cross-shaped buildings—resembles the Frontenac. The Shoreland Towers, however, are twice the size of the Frontenac, and have 238 units.
It can be assumed that both apartment buildings had sustainable communities for some time. In the 1960 city directory, for instance, there were 101 units listed at the Frontenac. The units were numbered 101 to 904, with an additional unit in the basement. At the time, the number of vacant rooms could be counted on one hand. Ten years later, however, the number of vacancies had tripled, with most of the empty rooms located on the fourth and fifth floors. By 1980, the vacancies had spread to the sixth and eighth floors, and left twenty units unoccupied. Since the basement apartment was also un-rented and Apt. 101 had been turned into the building’s office, more than a fifth of the Frontenac was left tenant-less.
Today, the building is empty and forlorn. The adjacent parking lot is subject to large cracks, and the chain-link fence that surrounds the entirety property has become a jungle of milkweed. The brick, no longer new, is drab, and the only reminders that this place was once inhabited are faded tokens in two upper-floor windows: an American flag and a tribute to the Colts.
If only this place could be more like a home again, more like a community, and less like a jail.