“Cheery” is a word I would use to describe a front-yard flower garden, not an abandoned building. But when it comes to the property at the corner of 10th and Dearborn, it’s hard to attach another description. The plywood boards—which stretch across some two dozen windows and doors—are slathered with sky-blue paint and a slew of airplanes. It’s certainly not something I’m used to; I’m usually tiptoeing up and down sidewalks, squinting up at uneven roofs and crooked front doors. This … this is different. This is art where you’d least expect it.
Developed by Public Art Indianapolis and funded by the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission, the “Picture Windows: Urban Interpretations” project was designed to “enliven empty windows and buildings” and “contribute to the vitality of downtown Indianapolis while exposing visitors and citizens to the diverse work of local artists.” After a few years, there was talk of expanding the project to 10th Street, a high-traffic corridor. … And also an area of the city that wanted eyes on the art, not on the abandoned.
In 2007, Indianapolis artist Brian Myers created the “Dearborn Building Mural.” He and his artwork were later featured in an audio slideshow put together by Y-Press and Second Story, two nonprofit organizations that encourage young people to develop journalism and creative writing skills. In the video, Myers said that “…the project down on 10th Street says, ‘Look, we don’t have to have a plywood façade …’”
Indeed, the area is a tad haggard. As a Feb. 2010 article by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s Institute for Comprehensive Community Development said, “…the Near East Side was devastated by the closing of two manufacturing plants in the 1980s and with it the loss of thousands of well-paying jobs. Ancillary businesses followed – two of three large shopping centers [closed]. Homes were abandoned. Crime rose, as did high school dropout rates.” The Super Bowl Legacy project, however, brought interest and funding to the area. And while some sections of 10th Street have been rehabbed, the area surrounding 10th and Dearborn awaits its revival.
Called the “Dearborn Building,” the property at the southeast corner of the intersection was constructed in the early 1900s. Parcel information states that the property was sold on Jan. 2, 1900, but the building doesn’t appear on the Sanborn Maps until 1915. Interestingly, the building sits on two separate parcels, both of which are owned by the Riley Area Development Corporation. One of the parcels is square, but the other is long and narrow. Together, the parcels form an “L” and cradle two additional plots of land that happen to be owned by the former owner of the Rivoli Theatre. (The Rivoli, located at 3155 E. 10th St., shares both an intersection and a future with the Dearborn Building. Like the Dearborn, the Rivoli is in need of renovation. Though the Theatre will not reopen for another three to five years, the future suggests that it will encourage neighborhood rejuvenation, and attract art, culture and activity.)
Historically, the Dearborn Building (whose formal address is 3201 E. 10th St.) has hosted a variety of businesses. In 1920, a bicycle repair shop. In 1930, Pearson Piano Company. A tailor. A real estate agent. A jeweler. In later years, there would be taverns, shoe repairmen, delicatessens, barber shops, and, most recently, a nightclub. There were five storefronts, which are still visible today. And behind the Dearborn were five structures, including three residential homes, a garage, and a flat. (One could enter the flat via a sixth door on the Dearborn’s street-facing side.) Though each of the “extra” buildings is visible on the 1915 and 1956 Sanborn Maps, the three homes, the garage and the flat have since disappeared. Thankfully, the East 10th Street Civic Association includes within its East Main Street Retail Market Profile a future for the Dearborn.
The rendering depicts a two-story, $7 million, mixed-use development project. When fully renovated, the Dearborn would have five townhomes and five live/work spaces. (In the past, area residents lived in one of nine apartment units located in the now-demolished flat. Sometimes, the apartment manager lived alongside the residents, who – at times – included a dentist and a quilter.) But to draw new residents in, to draw people in, to attract commerce and growth and activity, it’s going to take a lot of faith, a lot of money and a lot of work. Myers, however, is optimistic. He describes the atmosphere of East 10th Street, the rushing of traffic and rattling of grocery carts. “And even though you go one block over and everything is boarded up, [the mural] has a huge impact on the community, as far as respecting our surroundings and taking that extra step. You know, picking up some trash on the sidewalk and saying,‘OK, it’s a brighter place’ because of just two gallons of paint and, you know, a little bit of effort.”