When passing some hulking-whole-block consuming property like the Minton-Capehart Federal building, It’s easy to get distracted. For the brutalist architecture lovers, how much they love it; for those (like me) who are more into the really old stuff, how butt-ugly it is. For my money, a block like the Birch Bayh Federal Building and Courthouse has far greater appeal. And I’m way more impressed with Evans Woollens III’s family tree than his architecture, but I digress.
As you drive along one of the four sides of the square eaten up by Woollen’s architectural monster, it’s hard to imagine the days when streets were lined with a more pedestrian friendly scale of commercial buildings or houses.
After last week’s story on the Y. W. C. A., I came across an interesting image of the “George B. Yandes home” that stood at 122 East Michigan Street (above). After Yandes died, his family leased the property to the Y. W. C. A. for additional lodgings for employed women. Before Yandes died, this property had an interesting series of occupants.
It appears the house may have originally been built in 1874 for William Wallace, a local attorney and brother of Lew Wallace– the lawyer, general, politician and author of “Ben Hur.” William Wallace lived at this address–formerly 84 East Michigan Street–from 1874-1876. From 1876-1878, Daniel Yandes, one of the very first settlers of Indianapolis, lived here, as did his daughter and son-in-law, Joseph R. Robinson and family.
Daniel Yandes arrived in what became Indianapolis on March 20, 1821–weeks before the surveyors did. He erected a cabin near the corner of Alabama and Washington streets before the commissioners trudged into town to lay out the new capital city. In the summer of 1821, Daniel Yandes worked 82 days for the survey party, cutting down timber and setting stakes for the new city’s lots. He was the first treasurer of Marion County, a successful businessman and well known throughout the community. And he spent the last two years of his life living in this house between Delaware and Pennsylvania on Michigan street. In fact, he died in this home. Joseph R. Robinson lived in the home with his wife Elizabeth (Yandes) Robinson and daughters, Annabelle, Mary and Josephine until he died in 1896. Brother-in-law, George Bush Yandes resided in this home from 1884 until his death in 1913.
The Y. W. C. A. used this lovely home as a boarding house of sorts for young working ladies, until about 1924. For a couple of years, the once regal home was remade into a more general rooming house. Then, came the War Memorial commission.
When a number of buildings had to be cleared to make way for the World War Memorial Plaza, Bobbs-Merrill, which stood at 18 East Vermont (next to the First Baptist Church), bought the property at 122 East Michigan and the property immediately west of it, at 118 East Michigan, with the intention of erecting a new building there. However, it turned out there was not enough time to construct a new building and vacate the old one before the deadline. The company opted to rent another building on North Meridian street.
J. F. Cantwell, a local realtor and builder purchased the Bobbs-Merrill building, designed by the architecture firm of Foltz & Parker, from the war memorial commission for $3000. He then purchased (for $70,000) the site upon which Bobbs-Merrill had intended to build a new home, expressly so he could move their former building to the site. “I believe that building is too beautiful and too valuable to be torn down,” Cantwell said. The Bobbs-Merrill building was slightly stripped down and slowly moved over to 122 E. Michigan, scraped clean of the historic home and with a freshly poured foundation awaiting in February 1927. Coincidentally, it was moved almost directly across the street from the Haugh Hotel, which had just been relocated from 11 East Michigan to 121-123 East Michigan. It was reported that the former Bobbs-Merrill building was being purchased by the State Automobile Insurance Association, but instead, it became Indiana University’s Indianapolis extension.
In the early months of 1928, trustees of Indiana University were weighing their options. They would either acquire the old Bobbs-Merrill building or construct a new building. It didn’t take long for them to decide to put classrooms and offices in the former Bobbs-Merrill building; it had tons of open floor space and could be occupied without much delay. The building continued to be used by I.U. until after they merged with Purdue, becoming IUPUI. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of 1971 that the school announced they would no longer use this location, when new classrooms were going to be ready on the west side campus.
In February 1971, it was clear the former IUPUI extension building was abandoned and doomed. The same storyline the Bobbs-Merrill building endured in the 1920s appeared again: the entirety of the block it occupied was being cleared for a large scale project. This time it was not for a memorial to fallen heroes, but for a brutalist federal building. And this time, the 1910 Bobbs-Merrill building was not so lucky. The frozen water of burst pipes cascaded out the side windows of the building in a wintery sculpture, foreshadowing its impending death.
A 16.7 million dollar eyesore was constructed on top of this very storied piece of geography. 2018: No Yandes home, no beautiful Bobbs-Merrill building, just this waste of a block. Boy, do the residents of Indy deserve better than this.