English Hotel and Opera House

The English Hotel and Opera House is often lamented as one of the biggest preservation losses in Indianapolis history. The grand Victorian building stood from 1880 until 1948 on the northwest quadrant of Monument Circle. (Library of Congress, Detroit Photographic Company, undated glass negative, circa 1905)

William E English and the family mansion

The building was constructed in three phases by the English family, who moved to Indianapolis from Lexington in Scott County. In 1864, the Honorable William H. English, a businessman, banker, historian, and politician, bought the W. S. Hubbard residence which had been built in this block in 1840. He greatly expanded the simple two-story home by adding a wing, a “queer-looking tower,” and an iron fountain in the front yard. (Indianapolis Star, July 8, 1923. The original photograph is in the English Collection at the Indiana Historical Society. The 1890s snapshot depicts William E. English, son of William H., standing in front of his old home. Zoom in to see a sign above the door for the Indianapolis Medical and Surgical Institute. William H. English moved into the new hotel in 1886 and leased the old house to various groups and businesses.)

The old English home and former Presbyterian church

The father, William H. English, purchased the rest of the block in the late 1870s, paying $83,777 total for the northwest quadrant of the Circle. His son William E. recalled in 1923: “The northwest segment of the Circle and Market street…was at the period of my first remembrance [about 1864] occupied by a large frame structure which was then the Second Presbyterian Church. The pastor of this church at the time of its erection, was the famous Henry Ward Beecher, who served this congregation as pastor from July 31, 1839 to 1847. It is said that, together with members of his congregation, he worked upon the building with his own hands. When the church removed to its present location, Pennsylvania and Vermont streets, the old building was purchased by the city and used as the City high school, until the school was removed to its present site.”

William E. continues: “At that time the entire site of the present Hotel English and opera house block extending from the corner occupied by this old church building to the northwest segment of the Circle and Meridian street, was occupied by this church and by three residences with large yards. The first of these next to the church was that of my father, next came the handsome home of James H. McKernan, and on the corner of Meridian street stood a very old one-story brick house said to have been originally built by Mr. Quarles, one of the leading lawyers of the city’s early period. Plymouth Congregational Church stood just around the corner on Meridian street, a few feet from the Circle, the old walls of which, on the alley, were later incorporated in the present Hotel English building.” He neglected to mention the old Bishop Edward R. Ames home, which by 1880 was an empty lot west of the Quarles home.

(1880s photograph looking west at the English Opera House with the newly constructed State House in the background)

Hotel English postcard

The hotel was built in two sections around the opera house. In 1884 the first section was constructed northeast to Meridian Street. The second section, completed in 1896, expanded the building south to Market Street and required the removal of the old English mansion and Circle Hall. A large balcony added in 1910 was a popular location for politicians to address large crowds on Monument Circle.

Demolition of the Hotel English

After nearly seventy years of continuous use as an opera house, and later hotel, the building was demolished in 1948. Deterioration, changing tastes, and the desire to showcase modern architecture all contributed to this decision. This July 26, 1949 photograph looks southeast toward the Monument and shows the remains of the brick foundation. (Negative made by the Indianapolis Fire Department)

Many more photographs of the English Hotel and Opera House can be seen in the online collections of the Indiana Historical Society.

Carvings rescued from the hotel

Pieces of the old English Hotel and Opera House have been reused throughout the city. These architectural remnants depict Governor Noah Noble and Governor James Whitcomb. The English family was criticized in newspapers for including bas-relief sculptures of family members alongside Indiana governors. The stone busts are about four feet tall and were available for sale at Doc Keys Architecture Salvage and Antiques as of 2010. (Photograph courtesy of Sandra Jarvis)

JC Penny

The clean limestone lines of the J. C. Penney Co. building, constructed on the site in 1950, could not have been more different than the old building. Many residents rejected the modern style, but the new building had at least one fan. During his visit in 1957, architect Frank Lloyd Wright commented: “Indianapolis, like every big city is doomed. The only good building I saw downtown is the one used by J. C. Penney’s downtown, which is a little radical. It probably was designed by some out-of-town man.” (Actually, Nathaniel Owings, one of the partners of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, was an Indianapolis native.) (Indiana Landmarks, Indiana Architecture Slide Collection)

Other views of the J. C. Penney Co. building can be seen in the Bass Photo Company Collection at the Indiana Historical Society.

Englis Hotel and Opera House 071411

Photo courtesy of Tammi Burns.

Sadly, residents never learned to appreciate the design of the J. C. Penney Co. building. Like the recently “remuddled” Zipper Building (another modern structure never appreciated for its own merits after replacing a grand Victorian building), the façade was given a bland, postmodern corporate look in the early 1990s for Anthem Insurance (now Wellpoint). (Google Street View, circa 2010)

Hmmm….will future preservationists fight to save examples of our bland postmodern buildings and chastise our generation for not appreciating them? Nah.

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]


26 responses to “Then and Now: English Hotel and Opera House, 120 Monument Circle”

  1. Linda L Knotts Harris says:

    I have heard or read somwhere that the opera house was once owned bt a Stephen Mattler, a descendant of my husband. Mr Mattler was an attorney and businessman in Indianapolis- from Alsace Lorraine. There are no longer any matttlers- sons died. The Mattlers in St louis are not related. Mr mattler lived in Indianapolis from arond 186, until his death about 1910. he had resided on N College and also at 2622 N Meridian. I was fortunate enough to find a post cars at an antique store in Marshall, Mich. Any info you might provide would be appreciated. thanks Linda Lou Knotts Harris

  2. Joan Hostetler says:

    Linda: I did a quick spot check in city directories and in 1873 and 1879 Stephen Mattler was proprietor of the Union House; in 1881 his occupation was listed as “Saloon English Opera House,” in 1887 he was proprietor of the Occidental Hotel Bar; in 1897 it simply listed “saloon” as occupation; no occupation listed in 1901. He never owned the Opera House, but likely managed the saloon for the English family.

  3. Dennis Passehl says:

    In between it being JC Penneys and WellPoint; There was a black glass exterior put on the whole building. Do you have any pictures of when it had that modernistic black glass reflective exterior. I believe it was supposed to reflect the monument.

  4. Dennis Passehl says:

    Thanks Joan. And I really liked your comment about the Darth Vader Building!

  5. Central Indiana Community Foundation says:

    You can find out more about the William E. English’s legacy in Indianapolis by reading about the English Foundation, which provides below-market-rate office and program space for non-profit social service organizations that serve Indianapolis residents.

    Currently, several local nonprofits are housed in the foundation’s English Building, including the Arthritis Foundation, Indiana Chapter; Day Nursery Association; Family Service of Central Indiana; Happy Hollow Children’s Camp, Inc.; Indianapolis Parks Foundation; Lacy Leadership Association (LLA); and YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, Inc.

  6. Doc Keys says:

    Great piece! We still have the limestone busts.

  7. Terry Taylor says:

    Hi There was a couple by the names of Doc Garrett and Emma Garrett who had something to do with the English. can you elaberate? I beleave I have in my possetion the clock that was on the mantle as you walked into the lobby.

  8. Doug says:

    Indianapolis still has the monument left over from the 1902 era, but didn’t save the historic buildings that went with it, therefore Monument Circle lost much of it’s greatness to Modernism, thus I’m in agreement with the following statement. ” The English Hotel and Opera House is often lamented as one of the biggest preservation losses in Indianapolis history.” Amen.

  9. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Doug! You may also be interested in this post, if you haven’t already seen it!

  10. Gene Phoenix says:

    I was born in 1947 so I don’t remember the English Hotel. My mom was born in 1928 so she remembered it well. She complained about them tearing it down until the day she died in 1995. It’s strange that we lived on English Ave. Was it named after the same people as the Hotel?

  11. Carl says:

    The Penney’s building is my favorite, then the English Hotel, then the Darth Vader building, then lastly the current WellPoint. I also hope future generations will not fight to save Indianapolis’s bland postmodern structures. The Chase Tower is the worst. Blah.

  12. Rebecca Willis says:

    Elisha Gale English, father to William H. English was brother to my 5 generation grandfather Joseph English born in 1790 in Green County, Kentucky. My great, great grandmother is Mary Scott English of Greensburg, IN. I am very proud of my family heritage.

  13. Linda L Knotts Harrris says:

    Thank you so very much for your response. I regret all those typos. I am not savvy with tech skills and computers. Are there any existing photos of old homes of the first block of N West Street from 1890? Also looking for photos of old mansions in the 2200-2600 blocks of N Meridian. I have learned much more about my husband’s ancestry since my previous request of 2012- even maybe a few tech skills! Stephen Mattler lived at 38 N West St. His daughter married attorney Henry Warrum, attorney from Greenfield and they lived in the area of 2200-2600 N Meridian. Another family member was J P Mullally (his wife was a Mattler). Unfortunately all those old homes are gone. I know that is in the area of the Old Children’s Museum. So wish I could find photos. Thank you.

  14. Linda L Knotts Harris says:

    Above I gave wrong email

  15. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    You might also want to look at which has many local photos oriented via map. And be patient, it takes awhile to load!

  16. John Elkins says:

    I loved Indianapolis Downtown as a kid and teenager. I live in Lancaster, California, and have been in California since coming back from Iraq in 2004. The old buildings are so interesting to me. My Grandfather Carl Most, used to have a Waterproofing Business on State Street and Deloss in the 1940’s through 1980’s. We used to go to Shipiro’s on South Median St., Clem’s, and Regan Rye for other food. Remember The old Italian Restaurant on Virginia Ave. near Fountain Square? What was the name of that place? Remember Landwurlin’s Boot and Leather business downtown near the Union Station I think. I’m 61 (62) this year, but remember those places my Grandmother used to take me to. Thank You For This Wonderful Website.

  17. John Elkins says:

    Interesting story about the street. Do you still live in the downtown area? Thank Gene.

  18. John Elkins says:

    My Grandparent’s used to work at L.S. Ayers downtown. My grandmother knew Lyman Ayres and was an Accounting Clerk there until retirement in 1976. Her husband and three brothers worked there either as truck drivers or upholstery technicians L.S. Ayers was so cool when I starting going there in 1980 or so.. There was the Tea Room, of which I never went to. They had their downstairs sales on clothing and other things. It’s Cherub Clocks are still there I think? Anyway, if there is a couple photo’s from you can you post them. Thanks for this GREAT Website!

  19. bill williams says:

    layman ayers daughter, Kathern built the house i now own and live in in 1940.

  20. Richard Oliver says:

    I worked for the Abbott’s Magic Shop located on the mezzanine floor of the English Hotel
    Worked every Fri after school (Tech) and all day Sat
    1945 to 1948 .
    Some great memories as some of the Greats of Magic would come into shop when in town at the BF Keith’s or Murat.
    Magicians such as Harry Blackstone SR,Dante,Neff,Jack Gwynn and more.
    Hogy Carmical>Red Skelton both were frequent visitors.
    Memories are precious.
    Was sad to see the English go.
    That’s a RAP

  21. christopher English walling says:

    Simply not true; we owned it from the day it was built (actually earlier, when part of it included our home) until the day it was (tragically) torn down. The funds to be derived from so doing were allotted to the William Eastin English Foundation and were shifted there after English’s Hotel and Opera house were destroyed. Christopher English Walling – a great-grand nephew of W.E.E’s…as well as the only family member to sit on the Board of Directors of the Foundation.

  22. christopher English walling says:

    it is a slight sophistry to complain about English Family member’s busts decorating the facade of English’s Hotel & Opera House – as well of those of local governors – in that…at that very time…four governors of nearby states were also close English Family RELATIVES. Happy to dig those my files if need be; my great Grandmother – Rosalind English Walling – William Eastin English’s only sibling – additionally had twelve volumes of our various family histories privately printed (with astonishing amounts of information !) and I have a complete set. I also don’t think our family should EVER be mentioned with saying or writing that William Hayden English’s grandson (my grandfather, William English Walling) name and image are on a wall of the African-American Museum in Washington and having been THE Originator and a Founder of the great…NAACP!!!!!!!!! Christopher English Walling.

  23. christopher English walling says:

    indeed, cousin – and as you should be!

    Christopher English Walling

  24. christopher English walling says:

    ALL of them..?

    I’d love photos…


  25. christopher English walling says:

    thank you – wonderful to hear!!!


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