Courtesy of the Indiana Album: Elizabeth Laslie Collection

Courtesy of the Indiana Album: Joan Hostetler Collection

Courtesy of the Indiana Album: Joan Hostetler Collection

Uniformed members of Greenfield Knights Templar Commandery No. 39 pose on E. North Street in Indianapolis, looking north toward the Indiana Institute for the Education of the Blind. This undated photograph dates to ca. 1910-1920. The building was demolished in about 1930, when the school moved north to its current location at 7725 N. College Avenue and was renamed Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired.  Surprisingly, the Greenfield Commandery, chartered in 1897, is still active. (The Indiana Album: Loaned by Joan Hostetler)

About thirty years later at the same location, four sturdy horses pull an Indianapolis Brewing Company wagon full of wooden kegs. The wagon–probably used more for promotion than transportation–advertises war bonds and stamps, so the photograph must date from the World War II era. The beer wagon is parked on E. North Street with the American Legion Mall and Cenotaph Square (constructed in 1931) in the background. From the left is the Antlers Hotel (currently the site of a parking lot), the spires of the Meridian Street Methodist Episcopal Church (longtime home of the Indiana Business College and later converted into Meridian Arch condominiums), the National Headquarters of the American Legion (constructed in 1924; later the headquarters of the American Legion’s Department of Indiana and currently unoccupied), and the Indianapolis Public Library in the distance. In 1950, the National Headquarters of the American Legion moved into new headquarters on the east side of the mall. (The Indiana Album: Loaned by Elizabeth Laslie)

Google Street View, 2014

View looking north at the American Legion Mall from E. North Street, Google Street View, 2014

The American Legion Mall  extends two blocks between North, Meridian, St. Clair, and Pennsylvania Streets. The slightly sunken grass mall was designed to provide a perfect sight line from the Indianapolis Central Library (seen in the distance) to the north side of the Indiana War Memorial.  At the north end of Legion Mall is Cenotaph Square, built in 1931 to honor Indiana’s war dead. Four black columns surround a black granite cenotaph (an empty tomb), originally designed to honor Evansville resident Corporal James B. Gresham, the first American killed in action during World War I. (Learn more about Gresham in this video produced by students at the F.J. Reitz High School in Evansville.) Originally the space was designed to hold Gresham’s remains adjacent to the cenotaph, but the family decided  not to move his body from an Evansville cemetery. Today the mall serves as a location for concerts, picnics, events ranging from Gay Pride to the Mayor’s Veteran Appreciation Day, and speakers, including candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

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5 responses to “Then & Now: American Legion Mall, East North Street”

  1. Rebecca Bandy says:

    Like many cities/towns around the US, do they have a problem of keeping the homeless out of the parks especially at night? It has been a genuine problem in the south for many years. Officials have had to enact laws to prevent the homeless from gathering in large numbers in the parks that have facilities.
    It was a fantastic story…I enjoy the history.

  2. william l. selm says:

    NB: Corporal Gresham was not to be entombed in the Cenotaph, but rather at the base of the Cenotaph on the north edge of Cenotaph. Since his family did not disinter the body and have it entombed at the foot of the Cenotaph, that burial cavity remains empty. This void was discovered in the late 1990s during restoration. Thus it is a case of a double Cenotaph. If he had been interred IN the Cenotaph, then it would not be a Cenotaph, it would be a tomb. wls

  3. Joan Hostetler says:

    Thanks for the clarification and additional information, Bill. Do you know why his family opted not to move his body there?

  4. Joan Hostetler says:

    Homeless people certainly do enjoy our parks, but I have never felt that it was a problem as I walked through the Mall area. Indianapolis has over 7,500 homeless people and the city has grappled with it during the past few years. An anti-panhandling proposal failed and recently the City-County Council debated a Homeless Bill of Rights.

  5. Marshall says:

    The north end of the American Legion Mall and the area around the steps of the Central Library has become a magnet for homeless people (mostly men) who are often drunk, verbally abusive and downright scary. The area is littered with trash including cigarette butts, left-over food and empty liquor bottles. Add to that the fact that large groups of drunks and/or homeless people like also to congregate on that section of the Cultural Trail immediately to the East and this general vicinity is entirely unwelcoming. It’s a shame.

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