Marion County Courthouses- Indianapolis (1876 + 1962): Part Two

The south face of the 1962 Indianapolis/Marion County City-County Building.

I’ve been up to my ass in alligators with school lately as I work towards finally getting my degree. With changes in my priorities and situations, this truly couldn’t come at a better time in my life! Unfortunately, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for this blog: I’d finally built up a head of steam only to succumb to a few absent weeks while I focused on academia. The work hasn’t been rigorous, but it’s definitely consumed a lot of my time. And all the while, WordPress has lovingly provided me with consistent notifications that, all of the sudden, more people are joining us here to read and talk about courthouses. That’s awesome!

Yes, a readership that might have been charitably described as small has increased to well…slightly less small. I was happy to see the uptick in follows for a second, but then I remembered that I hadn’t posted in what seemed like forever. How discourteous! I found time to post about the City-County Building in Indianapolis, as well as some of the statues from its predecessor smattered around the city. But some more things conspired against me: I got a new computer. Namely, a new iMac, as well as a new MacBook Air. It took a while to get everything situated, including a new copy of Adobe CC without all my favorite plugins.

The second salvaged courthouse statue, eyeing the ruins from a distance.

But the updates are done, and now that I’ve gotten ahead of the game with school after a torturous weekend we can finally get back to courthouses! When we last left off, I was heading down Spring Mill Road on Indy’s near north side from the ruins at Holliday Park towards Crown Hill Cemetery. It was hot- so hot, that my glasses fogged up every time I rolled the window down to smoke.  But I persisted: I’d just taken photos of two of the statues pried off of the demolished Indianapolis courthouse, and I was hunting for three more. 

An old postcard of the 1876 Marion County Courthouse, located in front of the present structure.

In case you didn’t check out last week’s post, the old Indianapolis courthouse -a gargantuan Second Empire structure- was demolished in 1962 after decades of disrepair to make way for the civic plaza of the new skyscraper that would house the consolidated governmental functions of Indianapolis and Marion County1. At the time, few were sorry to see the old building go2, but they were passionate about rescuing some keepsakes. Attention turned towards saving the building’s eight exterior statues, and a group was formed to do just that on the eve of the courthouse’s final property auction3. Rumors persisted that a private collector wanted to ship the statues out of state, but the group persisted. Unfortunately, their confidence in an unnamed benefactor’s offer to buy the statues for relocation at Indianapolis’s Holliday Park was dealt a last-minute blow when he died unexpectedly and the auction proceeded. Nevertheless, the group managed to acquire seven of the eight statues. Four of them ended up at the park as planned. Out of those four, only two remain today- several were dismantled and moved to storage due to age and vandalism4. 

Instead of a rapidly-deteriorating old courthouse, we’re now left with a rapidly-deteriorating entrance plaza where it once sat. Plans are underway to significantly renovate the area.

The fifth statue was acquired by a private collector in California, but the preservation group won out on the rest and installed the remaining three at Crown Hill. Having only been there once as a kid to see poet James Whitcomb Riley’s grave with Mom the English teacher, I had forgotten how huge the place was. I was unprepared in assuming I’d stroll right in, do a quick survey, take my photos, and leave. But that’s not what happened.

I entered off of Clarendon Road and threaded my car between Crown Hill’s funeral home and mausoleum. Aside from the two buildings, there didn’t appear to be much of anything on this side of the cemetery, and certainly no vistas or scenic plots befitting the courthouse statues. I drove aimlessly for a minute, contemplating my strategy, and happened to glance at a sign pointing towards a yellow line with the suggestion that I follow the demarcation towards Riley’s Grave. So I did. 

The statue of Persephone or Hebe from the old Marion County Courthouse.

I drove slowly under 38th street and looked around to assess my surroundings. To the right, there were trees. To the left- Bam! There it was! The first of the three statues, perched on the berm to my left and surrounded by a ring of flowers that hadn’t bloomed. I parked on the side path and took my photos. Just like the rest of them, the statue measures ten-and-a-half feet tall. Although a 1962 article in The Indianapolis Star noted that the statues represented commerce, law, justice, agriculture, and the four cardinal directions5, contemporary sources seem to indicate otherwise. Apparently, this one’s either Persephone (daughter of Zeus and Demeter), or Hebe, the cupbearer to the gods and herself the goddess of youth6. Here, she holds a vessel in her hand, but I’m going to run with Persephone- remember, my mom was an English teacher interested in Greek mythology. On the other hand, I’ll take the old Indy Star article for what it was worth. Persephone was the goddess of agriculture, fitting both descriptions. We’ll roll with that.

The state of Themis, located on the crown. The round monument behind her elbow marks the grave of Sophie and Louis Schwitzer, an inventor and winner of the first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I’d read that the next statue was at Riley’s grave on the Crown- the highest point in Indianapolis, although I didn’t notice it when I visited as a kid. I dutifully followed the yellow line until I found myself deep into the southwestern part of the cemetery. To my left, the private mausoleum of an Irsay appeared, and nearby stood the second statue. This one was of Themis, the daughter of Uranus and Gaia in Greek mythology and the goddess of law and order. Check her off as fitting into both the old Indy Star and contemporary descriptions as well. Perched on the crown, she seemed to be watching over the whole place. I meant to linger, but another car was coming up the steep drive of the hill. I didn’t want block their view or intrude, so I left. 

According to those contemporary sources, the third statue was supposed to represent Demeter, and I kept a lookout as I descended the big hill. Sure, I saw a couple of angels here and there along with a nice selection of obelisks, but no Demeter! Finding the courthouse statues had been way easier at Holliday Park, and after about an hour I parked the car on the side of the drive. I whipped out Google as I hesistantly typed some numbers into my phone keypad and hit the Send button. I waited through a few rings until someone answered- a young guy. “Crown Hill Cemetery,” he said. 

A construction perimeter surrounds this headless, salvaged courthouse statue at Holliday Park- an artifact from the ruins’ rehabilitation.

“Hi,” I said. “This is a weird question, but I’m somewhere in your cemetery trying to find the old courthouse statues. I found the one next to the overpass and the one on the hill. I can’t find the last one. Could you help me out?”

“Uh,” the guy grunted, shifting some papers. “Let me see if I can find someone to help you. Stay where you are.” With that, the line seemed to go dead. I sat in my tracks, not moving, feeling like I was awaiting important orders from mission control.

After a few minutes, some more shuffling and crackling. “Hello?” I heard a man -an older guy- ask. “Yes, hi. My name’s Ted Shideler. I’m in the cemetery and not sure where I am. I was wondering if-“ 

“46-B,” the man said, cutting me off as if he’d heard the question before.
“Huh?” I responded inarticulately, reverting to a primal state of incomprehension. What the hell did that mean?

“Section 46-B” the gruff, geriatric expert responded. “You’ll find it there.” 

I pulled up a map of the grounds on my phone- actually, I wasn’t that far. “Thank you!” I stammered.

Grunting, the old man hung up as quickly as he’d hopped on the line in the first place- as if to say, “And STAY out!” 

Demeter, the final courthouse statue at Crown Hill, located in section 46-B, is certainly no Joe Palooka.

I snaked through the next few sections of the cemetery, embarrassed and a little defeated. I’d made it to nearly everywhere in the state by this point, and I couldn’t find a stupid statue? But finally I found her peeking over some other monuments. Demeter stood in a place of little prominence around some benches, and I got out to photograph her in context. She clearly carries a chaff of wheat, which makes me wonder if the statue at the overpass really is Persephone. Hopefully, someone will find out for me. And hopefully that person’s connected with the parks department! I want to see the two they took down at Holliday Park.

My work complete, I left Crown Hill with a sense of accomplishment. I took a circuitous route back to Muncie through the city center. The drive was long, but I wanted to see the City-County Building once more before I left. Remember- nearly sixty years ago, this structure represented the apex in architectural stylings, as well as of municipal government. In fact, the structure’s novel designation as the “city-county building” was subject to a last-minute emergency session of local officials and their legal counsel, who realized that state laws required counties to conduct business in a “county courthouse7.” The building was hastily renamed for official purposes, but that’s how new the concept of this building was- no one even knew how to legally name it.

Mid-century modern outbuildings dotted the City-County Building’s plaza when I was there. Maybe future preservationists will eventually save them and put them at Crown Hill too.

No one really knew what to make of it either. While it doesn’t appear heavily adorned, the newly-christened City-County Building/Marion County Courthouse was initially appointed luxuriously enough that Hamilton County officials who toured the “glass monster” stuck their noses up at the plushness of Police Chief Robert Reilly’s suite, saying that “more time was spent in Reilly’s quarters because what felt like at least two feet of carpet made snoozing easier than anywhere else in the building8.” And we all know how restrained and tasteful those guys in Carmel are! Even if they were a little jealous, dealing with a decrepit courthouse of their own at the time.

As the skyscraper ages past the threshold to qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, I think the City-County Building will eventually gain as much appreciation as we have for its predecessor, especially as the city explores options to lure Amazon to town. But when it’s eventually time to tear it down, I don’t expect anyone will be clamoring to save any of its spandrels or windows- the building’s largely free of statues and ornamentation. But for now, we can appreciate that it represents what courthouses looked like in the 1960s. It also represents progress looked like back in the early 1960s as the crossroads of America was ushered into the jet age.

Thankfully, we still have some statues left over to remind us of what progress looked like in 1872 too. You just need to know where to look.

TL;DR
Marion County (pop. 928,281)
Indianapolis ( pop. 852,866)
Built: 1962
Cost: $25.5 million ($201.9 million in 2016)
Architect: Allied Architects & Engineers
Style: International
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 372 feet
Current Use: City/county offices and courts
Photographed: 4/2/2016- 73/92


1 “Tallest and largest office in Indiana” The Republic {Columbus, IN} June 7, 1961. 11. Print.
2 “Old Courthouse was Praised By Press” The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis). June 26, 1964. 9. Print.
3 “Courthouse Demolition to Begin May 21” The Indianapolis News [Indianapolis]. May 7, 1962: 21. Print
4 “History of the Ruins” Friends of Holliday Park. Web. Retrieved from http://www.hollidaypark.org/resources/Ruins.pdf .
5 “Group Seeks To Save Courthouse Statues” The Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis]. May 11, 1962. 16. Print
6 “Salvaged Goddesses” Gravely Speaking. April 19, 2017. Web. Retrieved from https://www.gravelyspeaking.com.
7 “City-County Building is Courthouse” The Indianapolis News [Indianapolis]. February 27, 1962. 19. Print.
8 “H-Caps Take 3 Hour Hike in Glass Monster” The Noblesville Ledger [Noblesville]. February 5, 1963. 1. Print.

Author: tcshideler

When I'm not driving around, drinking fountain pops, and taking photos of county courthouses, I like to perform and record rock music in my band, spend time outdoors fishing and camping, read, and watch pro basketball and hockey.

2 thoughts

  1. I used to work with an attorney who got a summer job around 1960 or 61 on the City County building as it was being built. His job was to walk across bare girders carrying 2 buckets of bolts per trip to the steel guys as they were fastening things together. He was on the two lower sections at the ends, but at 5 floors up and 3 levels of basements he said it was plenty high for him.

    It is hard for me to fathom that the building only has another 30 years or so to go before it hits the age of the old courthouse when it came down.

    Like

    1. That is definitely not something I would be fond of. I’d love to uncover some photos of this being built- I know it originally contained at least one indoor pistol range. All I’ve been able to find is a cool image of the old courthouse being torn down in front of it, as well as a photo of the courthouse statues standing around as if on a smoke break after their removal, which I’ve linked to here:

      http://indianaalbum.pastperfectonline.com/photo/4C113C74-FE59-4BBF-980C-020863276690

      By the way, one of my resolutions in getting back online with this is to be better at responding to comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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