Historic photograph courtesy of the Indiana Album: loaned by Evan Finch. / Modern photograph courtesy of MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar

For every Ayres or Vonnegut or Lilly, there were hundreds of business owners in Indianapolis who set up shop but just did not have the longevity to be remembered today. Some failed due to poor business sense or economic downturns, some moved on to other occupations, while others remained small by choice and made enough money to own a small house and support a family. Fred F. Criswell is one of Indianapolis’s business owners who is likely remembered today only by family members.

Shown above is the Criswell Mercantile Company located at 337-339 Massachusetts Avenue in about 1908-1909. The store, owned by Fred F. Criswell, specialized in wholesale tin and galvanized ware, hardware specialties, wire goods, and other metal products, many available for less than ten cents. Criswell, previously from Terre Haute, first opened his store at 108 S. Meridian Street in about 1907 before moving into the Baker Apartments building by March 1908. The building, a brick L-shaped structure, had facades facing both Massachusetts Avenue and Alabama Street. By 1941 it had been renamed the Massala Building. Criswell, possibly the man posing in the doorway, soon gave up the hardware business and became manager of the Vaudette Theatre in about 1910-1912. He appears to have lived in Indianapolis for only a short time as his name does not appear in later city directories.

Before Criswell moved to 337-339 Massachusetts Avenue, the store housed Isaac Beitman’s men’s clothing store (at least in 1905 and 1906). Beitman boasted that all garments wore the union label. Advertisements included the line “Heart of the Low Rent District.” After Criswell left, the space housed home product businesses for several decades including American Household Supply (a furniture store that went bankrupt in 1912, Fletcher Savings and Loan auctioned off remaining inventory in November 1912 through January 1913); S & M Clune Wallpaper in 1914 (managed by Sarah and Margaret Clune); Indianapolis Outfitting Company in 1915; Central Wall Paper and Paint Company in the 1910s and 1920s; Lindstaedt Furniture Company, 1931;  and Acme Wallpapers, Inc., 1940s through 1960s. The store was vacant for a while in the 1970s and after the Massala’s restoration in the early 1980s, Brother Juniper’s Restaurant (known for their mouth-watering Happy Hermit sandwiches) operated in the space from about 1984 until 2003. As of 2014, the storefront is occupied by MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar, MacNivens, a Scottish-American restaurant and bar.

Today the building is best known for the two-story mural of a standing Kurt Vonnegut painted in 2011 by Pamela Bliss and titled “My Affair with Kurt Vonnegut.”

Did your ancestors own or manage  a business or store in Indianapolis? We’d like to hear about it. Take a minute to comment below with the business name, owners, era, and location. 

[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.]

Chatham Arch-Massachusetts Avenue Preservation Plan (Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, 2006)
Indianapolis City Directories
Indianapolis Sun, 8 December 1905, p. 6, advertisement for Beitman’s Big Store
Indianapolis News, 23 November 1906, p. 17, advertisement for Beitman’s (men’s clothing)
Indianapolis Sun, 25 March 1908, p. 6, advertisement for Criswell Mercantile Company
Indianapolis Star, 8 November 1912, p. 11 auction advertisement for American Household Supply
Indianapolis News, 5 June 1918, p. 5, advertisement for the Central Wallpaper Company
Men’s Wear, v. 22, 1906


10 responses to “Then & Now: Criswell Mercantile Company/MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar, 337-339 Massachusetts Avenue”

  1. Mary Ann WALLACE says:

    My Dad, C. S. Ober, started Business Furnifure Co. in 1922 in Indpls. There have been two main locations. One on Maryland and one at corner of Maryland & Pennsylvania. He Started Stationers in a corner of BFC. In @1932. Then @1942-46 (I’d have to look up the date) he bought the building at 38 N. Penn called the When Bldg and renamed it the Ober Bldg. It was a home for Stationers. I still have some pictures. However we’ve given much of the Ober business history to IHS. If you want to talk about any of this email or call me 317-816-0836.

  2. Joan Hostetler says:

    So glad you commented, Mary Ann, since I plan to write about the When/Ober’s building in the next couple of weeks. I just got a great 1870s stereograph of the building showing it soon after construction in 1874. I’ll give you a call this evening.

  3. Kerry Williams says:

    My maternal grandfather, Perry Cullom, was a salesman for a grocery wholesaler named J.P. Michael Company. According to my grandfather’s WWI Draft Registration (1917), J.P. Michael Company was located at 441 S. Illinois St. My grandfather died in 1931 from appendicitis, leaving a wife and five children ages 14 yrs to 4 mos. I don’t know any other details about this company, or its owner, but apparently he generously provided groceries to my mother’s family during the Depression. For a long time, I have been curious about what became of this company and the man who helped my mother’s family during very hard times.

  4. David Brewer says:

    Mary Ann – I had the great pleasure of meeting your father in the mid-1980s. At the time, I worked in a small advertising agency in the nearby Majestic Building, and had a long-time interest in the building. He and Farilyn Stone took me on a tour of the Ober (When) building, from basement to attic, and I took several pictures of it. He also gave me quite a bit of history on the building. A very kind, interesting man. I recall that he said that when he remodeled the building, he took one of the old cage elevators as a playhouse for his children. I hope I can dig out those photos at some point. I have moved around so much over the past thirty years that I’m not quite sure where they are at the moment.

    Thanks again,

    David Brewer

  5. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    We would LOVE to see those photos, also! I’m sure Joan, especially!

  6. Joan Hostetler says:

    You’re lucky to have this story about your grandfather. Through a quick Google search I’ve learned that this grocery was owned by Julius P. Michael, a Jewish man who was born in Germany in 1852. He lived in Rochester, IN until coming to Indianapolis in 1902. In 1913 he built his grocery warehouse at 441 S. Illinois just south of the current day Red Garter building. He died in 1937, but his business continued at that location until the early 1950s. Here is his obituary: Would love to find a photo of his grocery (the building is now gone) for a Then & Now article.

  7. Joan Hostetler says:

    Hope you can find the photos of the When/Ober Building, David. We’d be happy to scan them, plus any other interesting Indianapolis photos.

  8. Chyrie Thompson says:

    My parents Carl and Mary Jett owned a small restaurant called The Lunch Box . I think it was around 1949. I was told it was on Mass Ave. I would love to know more and see a picture

  9. Joan Hostetler says:

    We’d love to find a photo of it, too. I found Carl Jett, 226 Massachusetts Avenue, listed under restaurants in Polk’s 1947 Indianapolis City Directory. The restaurant was located in a storefront in the Lindsay Apartment building. This was a three-story brick building adjacent (northeast) of the Knights of Pythias Building (later the site of the INB/One Indiana Square Tower). It’s hard to locate photographs of businesses from this era since most have not made their way into an archive. I usually recommend to track down the owners’ families. Make sure you have checked with siblings and cousins who might have a snapshot. Otherwise, the best bet is to search for pictures of the Knights of Pythias and maybe the exterior facade of their restaurant might show. Good luck! (And if you find one, please share a scan with the Indiana Album–

  10. Deborah Brenner says:

    Mr. Brewer, I recently read your comments to Mary Ann, the daughter of C. S. Ober. I am acquainted with the granddaughters of Farilyn Stone, and I would be interested in speaking with you. Your comments indicated you toured a building in the 1980’s, and Mr. Ober and Farilyn Stone were your tour guides. I would like it if you could contact me by email ( or phone(765-563-3624).
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *