The Tinker Flats, located at 1101 E. 16th Street, are currently on the market. Local development plans recommend the warehouse be converted into residential housing.
Empty and intriguing, the Tinker Flats cast a shadow on the corner of Lewis and 16th streets. They evoke curiosity from users of the just-to-the-west Monon Trail, which is paved atop what was once several lanes of railroad tracks. There are numerous rusty spikes still buried in the earth, and I kick at them with my boot, looking at the Flats. “So much for industrial grandeur,” I say to no one in particular.
Built in the 1910s, the Tinker Flats were purchased by the Tinker Development Corporation in 2003. They are located at 1101 E. 16th Street, which was formerly named 7th Street and, before that, Tinker Street, after the Tinker family. (The Tinkers were landowners in this area during the mid-1800s, and famed Hoosier artist T.C. Steele resided at their homestead for some years.) Currently, the 30,172-square foot warehouse is for sale, listed by IndySQUARED.
Though the Flats are vacant, they’ve been used for various means in the past. The 1915 Sanborn map reveals that the Flats were a paper and rag recycling company, complete with freight elevator and automatic sprinklers. The first floor yielded a wood floor, which is still present. The building was topped with a 14,000-gallon “wood gravity tank,” long gone. However, I stumbled across a 1913 Indianapolis publication titled “How to Organize and Equip a Modern Bank,” which contains a U.S. Bank Furniture Company advertisement illustrating the water tank, as well as the now-absent railroad.
U.S. Bank Furniture Company was later renamed the Wiegel Cabinet Corporation. Interestingly, in the 1935 city directory, Wiegel Cabinet is listed at 1101 E. 16th Street. It appears the Tinker Flats were home to a furniture company and said company’s reincarnation in two different decades.
Later, the Tinker Flats hosted other recycling companies, which most likely encouraged the painted letters on the north side of the building. Sadly and unsurprisingly, the paint has faded and chipped. The tall, blue letters are just visible, and I myself stood a few feet from the wall, squinting at the letters for several moments before shouting a jubilant, “SCRAP YARD!”
As I scoured the outside of the building for architectural features, I noticed that the third-floor east windows were no longer protected by iron bars, as indicated on the Sanborn. I also attempted to judge, from behind the walls of the old scrap yard, how far back the south building, built in 1950, stretched. And I stared. Stared not at bold, painted advertisements, but at graffiti. The maiming of beautiful brickwork.
In more recent times, the Flats have been used as the backdrop for photo shoots, music videos, and a documentary. Its original architecture and “open concept” encourage both creativity and rehabilitation. Indeed, the Tinker Flats would make for excellent lofts for artists.
The 2011 16th Street Strategic Development Plan lists the Tinker Flats’ priority as “high,” and suggests converting the warehouse into a multi-family residence, given its proximity to the Monon Trail and the Frank and Judy O’Bannon Soccer Park. But whether the Flats are made into lofts, family dwellings–or even a commercial-residential blend–I’d be pleased. That way, when I’m browsing for artifacts along the old rail line, I wouldn’t be glancing dejectedly at the Flats. Instead, I”d see gleaming windows. The red glow of bricks. The entering and exiting of people on their way to the Trail, the Park, their next creative adventure. Now that’s grandeur.