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. 

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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