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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.

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

(photo by Dawn Olsen)

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.

A small feature about Shoreland Towers--a structure that highly resembles the Fontenac Apartments--appeared in The Indianapolis News in Nov. 1951.

A small feature about Shoreland Towers–a structure that highly resembles the Fontenac Apartments–appeared in The Indianapolis News in Nov. 1951.

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.

An aerial view of the Frontenac Apartments. The Frontenac's cross-shaped layout mimics that of Shoreland Towers, located two blocks to the north. (©2013 Google Maps)

An aerial view of the Frontenac Apartments. The Frontenac’s cross-shaped layout mimics that of Shoreland Towers, located two blocks to the north. (©2013 Google Maps)

An aerial image of Shoreland Towers, also constructed in 1951. The apartments were designed by architect Paul Cripe and constructed by H.D. Tousley Construction Corp. (©2013 Google Maps)

An aerial image of Shoreland Towers, also constructed in 1951. The apartments were designed by architect Paul Cripe and constructed by H.D. Tousley Construction Corp. (©2013 Google Maps)

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.

6 responses to “Sunday Prayers: 3470 N. Meridian (Frontenac Apartments)”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    If Indianapolis had a truly vibrant economy, both the Shoreland Towers and the Frontenac would have been rehabilitated and almost all occupied. As another example, the former hotel built on the International Typographers Union site would have been purchased by another hotel chain instead of having been used as a “home” for truant kids, which it was for a number of years. North Meridian would still be home to vibrant corporation headquarters or regional offices, like North Peachtree Street in Atlanta is. Also, inner neighborhoods would be revitalized “across the board” like in Atlanta, instead of still struggling…

  2. Jeff Downer says:

    My dad lived in penthouse of the Frontenac from 1970-71. It was the hey dey of the Meridian corridor boom and a cool place to come visit as a kid. It offered quite the view with a telescope too..

    It is sad to see it this way now.

  3. Helen Faught says:

    In the late 60’s, I had a friend who lived at the Frontenac. I thought, “Wow, what a place!”. At the time, it seemed to be downtown living at it’s finest.
    In the 90’s, trying to recapture that sense of urban life, I lived at Howland Manor, just up the street. I worked at 18th and Meridian, then and it was great to be able to walk to and from work, leaving my car at home.
    Alas, I headed for the burbs, like everyone else, after being repeatedly accosted by bums, who wouldn’t leave me alone, and seeing the continuing downfall of the entire Meridian corridor.

  4. Katelin says:

    This building has baffled me for sometime. I have to admit, whenever I drive past it I get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    What caused these residents to leave? Is something haunting the building? I looked in public records and the building was sold back in 09 or 08 for an undisclosed amount of money. I find that odd. As well as the cross shaped structure. It must be going on five years that it has sat empty. Why? They could destroy it like the Keystone Towers but alas. It has a scary look about it and that makes me wonder if something happened?

    Do you know any additional information? Have you been inside? Today I drove past it on my way to work and the door that lets out onto the roof is wide open.

  5. Dawn Olsen says:

    I am simultaneously creeped out and fascinating by empty buildings. When it comes to this one in particular, the fascination is more fleeting. I’m stunned by the height of the building and its emptiness. I don’t necessarily believe that something haunts this building, but someone on Facebook left a comment saying that, just a decade or so ago, it was a very unsafe area to visit. (The commentor was a cable installer, I believe.) Unfortunately, I have not been inside. There are a plethora of “No Trespassing” signs, and I’m not one to disobey those. I don’t know how much it was sold for, but I do know that it is owned by an LLC. (Which may have been formed to purchase the property.)

  6. Skip Free says:

    In 1973 and early 1974 I lived on the third floor of Frontenac. It was my very first apartment, a tiny studio in a building that had seen better days. I did have a nice view of N. Meridian, but that was both a blessing and a curse due to the sirens running the street throughout the night.

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