In my work I love finding historic photographs of off-the-beaten-path Indianapolis locations. While the Bass Photo Company collection at the Indiana Historical Society wonderfully documents the city, particularly new construction near downtown and in wealthier north-side neighborhoods, Bass photographers seldom worked in older neighborhoods. Their “greatest hits” photographs are used over and over again so it is fun to discover new old sections of town in other collections. Documentary photographs from insurance and utility companies show neighborhoods not usually photographed by commercial studios. These images of 231 N. College Avenue reveal the progression of the building that houses the Milano Inn, a beloved south-side Italian eatery.

Huge thanks to Deedee Davis, a like-minded history photo fanatic, who allowed me to use her photographs. She owns an album of Indianapolis Power and Light photographs from 1927, 1935, and 1936 documenting the consolidation of power lines, which by the 1920s visually cluttered the streets. Before 1935 IPL reduced the number of lines and eliminated or cut off the wood poles on one side of the street. By zooming in, many wonderful details are revealed about architecture, signage, and public improvements such as sidewalks, streets, and bridges. I hope to include many of them in future “Then and Now” columns.

College Avenue looking north, 1927 and 1935 (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

College Avenue looking north, 1927 and 1935 (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

Indianapolis Power & Light photographs looking north on S. Noble Street (now College Avenue) from near Louisiana Street. To the south of the building is Bates Street. This area is known as Irish Hill neighborhood (bounded by College Avenue, E. Washington Street, State Street, and the railroad tracks. (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

Google Street View and fire insurance maps (courtesy of IUPUI University Library)

2009 Google Street View and fire insurance maps (Courtesy of IUPUI University Library)

Sanborn and Baist Fire Insurance Maps and aerial views show the changing neighborhood.

See a larger view of the maps.


Detail, 1927 (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

Detail, 1927 (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

In 1927 this late 19th-century brick Italianate building housed the South Side Pool Hall. Signs advertise lunch, candy, and cigars, but no alcohol because this was during the Prohibition era. Renters quickly came and went from the upstairs apartments.

Detail, 1935 (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

Detail, 1935 (Courtesy of Deedee Davis)

Italian immigrant Joe Modaffari and his wife Mary opened the Milano Inn in 1934, specializing in traditional Italian meals. Barely a year after the end of Prohibition, Falls City Beer and 5 cent beer signs are displayed prominently in this 1935 view. The brick building to the north housed the Wild Irish Rose Café.

Milano Inn ca2009

Northeast corner of the Milana Inn, ca. 2009

After several successful decades, and the death of the Modaffaris in the late 1970s, this building nearly saw the wrecking ball. Leo LaGrotte, owner of an adjacent salvage business, purchased the building in 1980 with plans to raze it for extra parking. Luckily, devoted diners convinced him to give it a go. His family still operates the Milano Inn, shown here looking south in about 2009.

Milano Inn small

West and south elevations of the Milano Inn, ca. 2008.

Google Street View, 2009

Google Street View, 2009

The Milano Inn after renovation, 2010. Read more about the history of the Milano Inn at


2 responses to “Then and Now: The Milano Inn, 231 S. College Avenue”

  1. Mary Masengale Lovell says:

    Love the pictures!

    Do you by chance have any pictures, or the IPL pictures of “Thoman’s Shoe Store” at Fountain Square? It was a 2 story red brick building on the SW corner of Virginia Ave and Prospect St. The business moved to the NW corner in the 1960’s. This building now is a Mexican restaurant.

    The original shoe store was operated by my great-granfather Peter P. Thoman who purchased the business from Anna Feherbacher after her husband’s death about 1922. When Pete Thoman retired Thoman’s Shoes was operated by his don, my grandfather Harold W. Thoman till his retirement in August 1970.

    I have vivid memories of both buildings but have not yet located any pictures.

    Thank you!

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