Marion County courthouse being pillaged and razed in the shadow of the ‘new’ City County Building, 1963 (photo: IHPC)

WTH? Normally we ask: Will this hurt? Will this help? This happened 50 years ago, so the more appropriate question would be Did this hurt or did this help? And by “this” we mean the destruction of the beautiful Marion County Courthouse in trade for the City County Building?

We’re switching it up In honor of the presence of the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference happening in Indianapolis this week.

Remove economic motivations, remove excuses, and ask yourself–fom an aesthetic point of view: is this compatible or incompatible, good or bad, worthy or unworthy  of the fine capital city of Indianapolis? Please bear in mind: the only purpose of this series is to stand for the appropriate renovation and redevelopment of the built environment of Indianapolis. No malice, no hostility, just observation and inquiry. 

Marion County Courthouse

1876 Marion County Courthouse, designed by Irishman Isaac Hodgson, Tomlinson Hall, also since razed, in background


14 responses to “WTH: Marion County Courthouse vs. CC Building”

  1. Julie Bush says:

    As a Mid Century Modern fan, I love the City County building; however, it is a shame the leadership of the city at the time, did not have the vision to preserve and protect the former City-County building.

    History has a way of repeating itself though as now Mid Century Modern architecture is constantly being razed, unprotected, and demolised for newer “Contemporary” buildings and design.

  2. Judy Groce says:

    I am all for preservation. I think the old buildings should be saved and perhaps used for other purposes. The city county building as it stands now was no doubt built for the sake of updating and more room. But I hate to see the old structures being torn down. I find it very sad.

  3. Janet Matson Fox says:

    In my opinion, the loss of the original City County Building is a TERRIBLE SHAME. I like mid-century modern as well as the next person, but the current City County Building isn’t an especially meritorious example of anything but ugly industrial urbanization. I have been in that building recently digging up genealogy records and it’s the WORST. Stephen King could use it as a setting for one of his novels. Boo on short-sighted circa 1960 city planners.

  4. Michael Kobrowski says:

    I think to demolish a huge gorgeous ornate building like this court house or the one in Anderson, IN and too many other Indiana counties was a crime. These buildings can be used for so many wonderful things, as long as they are well maintained. Wouldn’t it be an amazing luxury hotel now? (well, maybe not with the county lockup across the street, but maybe that could have been put underground.).

  5. basil berchekas jr says:

    Although the old county courthouse did need to come down because it was on longer functioning in that capacity, numerous items could have been saved and the old city hall could have been redone as a city-county museum housing any artifacts taken from the old county courthouse.

  6. DuncanDawg says:

    The courthouse looks aesthetically pleasing, no doubt. But I wonder, with the old (and far as I can tell, deserted) City Hall looming in the shadow of CC building, would’ve the courthouse been put to good use over the years?

  7. Tim Jensen says:

    I’ve been trying to take my time and think about how to comment on this post. I am a strong believer in preservation (I live in downtown Indianapolis in a 100-year old cottage). I have lived in this city for 20 years, almost entirely downtown. It does sadden me that the Marion County Courthouse was torn down, however, I never knew the building.

    I have grown to love and appreciate the varied architecture in our city, and that includes the City County Building. It is a very good example of International style, and was designed by a local Indianapolis firm. At one time it was our tallest building downtown, and stood as an example of downtown that was trying to re-invent itself. Our other example of International style downtown is the portion of the Chase tower on Monument Circle, and it was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, Let us not forget that Marion County Courthouse was considered by some to be ugly and past it’s prime when it was torn down. Let’s not make the same mistakes with the next generation of buildings (and that includes Brutalism). It is these buildings that give us a sense of place in our city.

    We can’t rebuild the Marion County Courthouse, and the lesson is that we need to learn to appreciate what we have. A new challenge is finding a way to save and make the Indianapolis City Hall a productive part of our city. We also need to preserve more modern buildings and styles, of which our city has great examples. And we need to continue to challenge builders and architects to look forward and building good buildings that will last into the future.

  8. Fritz Moser says:

    I’m echoing what others have said. The question posed leaves out important variables (money and other motivations for demolition). Yes, the old courthouse appears to be a beautiful building. The kind I’d love to spend hours visiting and admiring the workmanship, detail and materials. It’s hard to determine what another 50 years of history would have brought – especially if there was no money for proper upkeep. Downtown Indianapolis offers a lot of beauty today with historic buildings standing next to modern structures. The town has blossomed into a major city offering locals and visitors many options for entertainment, dining and sightseeing. I honestly don’t know if aesthetically we’re any better today or not. I am however, impressed and proud to see how downtown has grown over my lifetime.

  9. Tom Davis says:

    Three of the statues that used to be on top of the courthouse are now at Crown Hill Cemetery, including one as you go up the hill. There are also one or two more at Holliday Park.

  10. basil berchekas jr says:

    Glad to hear it, my friend. I’ll check them out when I’m “up there” again.

  11. David Brewer says:

    I will preface this by saying that I, too regret that the old courthouse couldn’t have somehow be saved or adapted. In the late 1950s, my dad taught night school in another now long-demolished building across from the courthouse. His memories of the courthouse are not very nostalgic. He remembers it as a grimy, run-down building in a dangerous neighborhood. I don’t consider it’s demolition necessarily a crime or that the city planners were short-sighted as such. The new city-county building was simply a part of what was happening across the country at that time as cities expanded and modernized. My mom worked in the city-county building when I was a kid and I used to love going down there with dad to visit at lunch. Especially remember the great view from the observation deck. Like some of the other posters have mentioned, I have a spot in my heart for mid-century modern. It was part of the fabric of my background growing up. Much as I am sure people growing up in Indianapolis in the late 19th Century had a spot for the old courthouse in their hearts.

  12. jmdeur says:

    talk about a giant step backward – sad that the old courthouse couldn’t be saved.. who needs another glass box?

  13. abc says:

    How can you replace something so beautiful with that bloated brutalist monstrosity? 🙁

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