Construction of an Icon: Building the Circle Tower


In the annals of Indianapolis architecture, the Circle Tower on the southeast quadrant of Monument Circle stands tall among one of the most iconic structures in Indianapolis. The often-photographed Art Deco-style tower was designed by the firm of Rubush and Hunter, whose name is behind many of the building designs around Indianapolis during the first half of the 20th century. The property was owned by the Tower Realty Company (whose officers included members of the Rubush and Hunter firm), with property management being handled by Klein & Kuhn, Inc. The general contractor selected for the project was the William P. Jungclaus Co. The Jungclaus firm had also constructed the recently completed Guaranty Building, located on the southwest quadrant of Monument Circle, which was also designed by Rubush & Hunter, and was the headquarters of Klein & Kuhn, Inc.

Circle Tower Indianapolis history Rubush Hunter
Indianapolis Star, May 13, 1929

The cost for construction of the Circle Tower was estimated to be $1,700,000, which included a 99-year lease on the property. The plans for the structure called for a fourteen-floor tower, which would utilize what was described by the Indianapolis Star on May 19, 1929, a “set-back principle,” which entails the upper floors and façade receding back, creating a tiered look, which was designed to give “deference” to the circle’s central figure, the Soldier’s and Sailors’ Monument. This was the result of a running debate and city ordinance regarding the height of buildings around the Circle not exceeding a certain level which would dominate the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.


The owners of the planned building told the Star that the new tower would be the “aristocrat” of Indianapolis buildings, and signage on site at the project, and print advertising, used the Aristocrat name frequently to promote the property. Rubush and Hunter prepared the detailed plans for the tower, and on May 19, 1929, it was announced that the William P. Jungclaus Co. was awarded the general contract for construction of the tower. The images below are part of the architectural plans for the tower as produced by Rubush and Hunter. The entire collection of these plans (which is quite extensive) is available for review at the Indiana Historical Society. The collection guide for the Rubush and Hunter Architectual Firm Records materials may be reviewed here.

Circle Tower Indianapolis History Jungclaus-Campbell
Credit: Indiana Historical Society, M1212

Circle Tower Indianapolis history Jungclaus-Campbell
Credit: Indiana Historical Society, M1212

The plan above also had a smaller inset with detail of the penthouse level for the tower, which was cropped out of that image. A close up of that section is pictured below.

Circle Tower Indianapolis history Jungclaus-Campbell
Credit: Indiana Historical Society, M1212

However, the planned site for Circle Tower was not shovel ready. The lots around Monument Circle had all been developed since not long after the city’s founding, and the location for the planned tower in the southeast quadrant of the Circle was quite crowded.


The Circle Theater was already in place, and the location of the future Circle Tower was occupied by the Franklin Building and the State Savings and Trust Company building, as seen on the 1898 Sanborn and 1927 Baist Atlases slideshow above.

The photo above shows the Franklin Building at it appeared in late May 1929, just prior to the start of demolition, as seen from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Market Street is to the left. Note the State Savings and Trust Company building just to the left of the Franklin Building. Also, if you look closely, you can see a small alcove on the second floor at the front of the Franklin Building. For many years this housed a statue of Benjamin Franklin, although Jungclaus workers removed the statue prior to demolition. The statue was donated to the International Typographical Union headquarters on 28th Street. When that headquarters was demolished, the statue was donated to Franklin College where it still stands today. Historic Indianapolis has a post from a few years ago detailing this story that can be accessed here.


The Circle Tower site’s former banking history led to some difficulty for the Jungclaus firm during the initial demolition phase. A concrete and metal vault had been constructed in the basement of the bank. However, the vault and its concrete foundation did not want to go easily, and Jungclaus’s demolition crews spent several weeks chipping away at the concrete. Will Hayes, Jungclaus’s foreman for the construction, was quoted by the Star as stating that removing the foundation was “the worst job I ever ran into.” He further noted that “I have wrecked hundreds of walls, but never before anything like that. No safe blower could have gotten into that without wrecking the block.”


Progress on the demolition of the vault was slow, and after disassembling the metal parts of the vault, the workman “pecked” at the foundation. As described by the Star, compressed air drills would punch a row of holes into the concrete, and then workers would insert wedges, which when struck with sledgehammers, would crack the concrete. However, the drilling was slowed since the reinforced concrete contained steel rods (thus, the ‘reinforced’ designation) which were sometimes struck by the drills. The Star also noted that had the concrete foundation been located in a field, it could have been blown up with demolition charges. However, “careful engineers don’t set dynamite off bedside theater buildings in the heart of a city.” The images below show the site of the demolition as of July 1, 1929. The foundation of the old vault can be seen in the upper left corner of the first image (left), and the second image is a zoomed in close up of that part of the first photo. Note the drills and sledgehammers in use as described by the Star.


However, within a few days concern about explosive damage to surrounding structures was overcome, and out of what the Indianapolis Times termed “desperation,” Jungclaus obtained a permit to use dynamite for three hours on the morning of July 2, 1929, to blast out the vault. John Lambert, who was described by the Times as a “expert blaster,” and who had assisted in clearing land for the site of the Indiana War Memorial, was brought in to direct the attack on the vault. The dynamite did what “fifteen laborers with air drills, heavy chisels, and sharp picks had failed to do in six weeks of work, night and day.”

Indianapolis Times Circle Tower Indianapolis history
Indianapolis Times, July 2, 1929

With the vault finally removed, construction on the Circle Tower began, starting with foundation work which commenced later that month, and continued into August. The photo below, dated August 1, 1929, shows work being done on the foundation of the tower, as seen from Monument Circle, looking east. Market Street is to the left of the image.

By September 1, 1929, much progress had been made on the tower, with seven stories already in place. Note the sign on the roof of the sidewalk, which states that the Circle Tower was "a new monument to Indianapolis - The Location of Convenience."


As of October 1 (first photo below), the lower levels of the tower already had their limestone facing, while additional levels, including the tiered penthouse sections, were beginning to take shape. By November 5 (second photo below, from Indiana Historical Society), the top pinnacle of the tower was being completed, while the tiered upper levels were mostly finished. Additionally, a nine-story addition on the southern flank of the tower, barely visible in the October image, was much advanced in construction. The third photo is from November 15, and shows the upper floors even more far along, and the southern addition receiving its limestone façade.

While the tower was nearing the completion of the construction phase, bad weather struck the project on November 28. A strong storm passed over the city around rush hour on that date, and 60 mile per hour winds hit the tower. Part of the scaffolding on the top levels was blown off the building, and crashed onto Market Street, while other pieces broke through skylights and windows on buildings to the east of the tower. Luckily, there were no causalities reported.


The tower was completed in early 1930 and topped out at 17 stories. Advertising for space in "The Aristocrat" of Indianapolis appeared in the various local publications, promoting luxurious, yet affordable suites available in the tower. As the ad noted below "[n]ever before in the Hoosier Captial has there been so fitting a business home for those who have attained the aristocracy of achievement."

Circle Tower Indianapolis Jungclaus Campbell
Indianapolis News, May 12, 1930

Today the Circle Tower is still used for commercial purposes and is a cornerstone of the Washington Street-Monument Circle Historic District, established in 1997. For those visiting the Circle Tower, make sure you take the short hallway between the Starbucks coffee shop and the lobby of the tower, where the painting of the tower shown below resides in a small alcove.



Sources


Note regarding photos: Unless otherwise noted above, the photos of the construction of the Circle Tower are provided courtesy of the records of Jungclaus-Campbell. Many of these photos also appear in the digital collections of the Indiana Historical Society. These photos were taken by the WH Bass Photo Studio, copies were maintained by the William P., Jungclaus Co., and its successor, Jungclaus-Campbell. Copies were also part of the Bass collection which is archived by the Indiana Historical Society. The photos above credited to the IHS are also part of the records for Jungclaus-Campbell, but are framed for display, and not easily digitized.


Indianapolis Times: July 2, 1929


Indianapolis Star: May 19, 1929, July 2, 1929, July 3, 1929, October 3, 1929, November 28, 1929,


Indianapolis News: December 31, 1929, May 12, 1930


Circle Tower, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/Indianapolis/circletower.htm


Washington Street-Monument Circle National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, (Circle Tower, p. 12), f7f68000-f585-4475-b043-ba1d2f59ad61 (nps.gov)


Bulletin of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, March 1930, Vol. 45, No. 3


Bulletin of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, February 1930, Vol. 45, No. 2


Aerial View of Construction of Circle Tower, Indiana Historical Society, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/V0002/id/234/rec/6


Selected Items from the Rubush and Hunter Architectual Firm Collection, Indiana Historical Society, https://indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/rubush-and-hunter-architectural-firm-records.pdf



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