The location of what we now know as The Athenaeum was chosen for its proximity to a main transportation line, in one of the most densely populated sections of the city and near “Germantown,” which was bounded by New York Street and Market Streets and East and Noble (now College) Streets.

Gymnastics played a major role in the life of Germans in Indianapolis, who appreciated Jahn’s idea of restoring the spirits of his countrymen by developing their physical and moral powers through the practice of gymnastics. Jahn and many German-Americans were part of the Turnverein (gymnastics association) movement and believed in “a sound mind in a sound body.”

Outside the Athenaeum on the eastern end of the building is the German inscription “Frisch und Frei, Stark und Treu” which translates to “Vibrant and free, strong and loyal,” attributed to Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.

The prevailing philosophy of Indianapolis Germans: enjoy life through hard work, intellectual pursuits, music, theatre and sports.

Many of the mid-to late 1800 arrivals from Germany were staunchly opposed to slavery, and even ran The Free Press, known as an abolitionist publication.

The first official social/ gymnastic German group in Indianapolis- the Turngemeinde started in 1851.

There was once an Athenaeum at the Northwest corner of Meridian and Maryland years before the current Athenaeum, which was also used for German entertainments.

Das Deutsche Haus changed its name to Athenaeum in February 1918 as an affirmation to the non-German Americans of their patriotism–all the more so, as it was announced at a George Washington birthday celebration at the clubhouse. This was due to a strong anti-German sentiment because of World War I.

Both sides of the building were paid for by stock certificates sold to members.

The buildings were designed by the architectural firm of Vonnegut & Bohn.

Within the Athenaeum is the oldest theatre in the city.

The  Athenaeum Theatre  was the first home of the Indiana Repertory Theatre .

The Rathskeller is the oldest continually operating restaurant in Indianapolis.

If you work out at the Athenaeum YMCA, you’re participating in the longest-running tradition in the buildings–using it to improve physical strength.The hallway between the YMCA and the lobby for the Athenaeum Theatre is called the “Neutral Hallway.” “…That’s our nonpartisan ground. Every educated person, no matter where he hails from, is welcome here. Be he Jewish or Christian, Democrat or Republican, progressive or conservative, Turner or singer–if he supports the conservation of the German language, if he loves music and singing, if he prefers cheerfulness and the German love of life to hypocrisy and gloominess, then he will find a home here in our building…” said Hermann Lieber

You can catch a few glimpses of the Athenaeum in the movie Eight Men Out

 Come see all of this in person at The International I-Spy Game or at other Athenaeum events–it’s one of our historic treasures.

8 responses to “The Least You Should Know About the Athenaeum”

  1. Norm Morford says:

    Interesting. Is it time for electronic info bulletin boards that are marked with something simpler and less expensive on site? Maybe with the 10% cut in taxes by the Pence administration, there will be fewer dollars to save Indiana’s history?

  2. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Not sure I understand your meaning, Norm? Info bulletin boards for what?

  3. Norm Morford says:

    Merely suggesting that more information can provided in some way other than the traditional “bronze” sign boards that give history — in other words, a new, less expensive system that is accessible from computers, smart phones, etc.

  4. Matt Belsaas says:

    I think what Norm is getting at is some sort of link to posts like these and popular historic sites around the city. While I agree, it’s hard to get digital signage funded. Something simple like QR Code signs that point to HI posts reflecting the historical significance of a site is easy to do but still requires funding.

  5. Bill Mullenholz says:

    Indianapolis was also home to several German singing societies. There was the Männerchor on West New York Street where the IU-Indianapolis Law School was located before it was demolished in the 1970’s. There was another on the Old Northside in an old mansion until I-70 destroyed it and much of the neighborhood around East 13th Street and North Park Avenue. One “Sangerchor” still exists on East Washington Street. It is the Indianapolis Liederkrantz a society to which my family once belonged. It is difficult to comprehend how important singing was/is to the German people.

  6. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Actually, I believe the Sangerchor you are referring to still stands on the SW corner of Park & 13th, though it has been converted into a private home…which it had been originally.

  7. Jim McBride says:

    Thank you for this article on the Athenaeum. Love eating there and “touring” the building on my frequent visits to Indy. When I was at P S 76 in the late 40’s and early 50’s two of my classmates, the Anderson twins, Joyce and Joanne practiced gymnastics at the Athenaeum. I will be going there in May when I come back foe a week. Jim

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