As with many past posts, this one is focused on my neighborhood, Butler-Tarkington, and a version of this will appear in a future edition of the long running Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association Newsletter. Having noted this, we'll turn back to April 2020, when on Easter Sunday a fire broke out in a large, one story brick building located on the southeast corner of Boulevard Place and 40th Street in Butler-Tarkington. The fire filled the neighborhood with smoke, and caused the roof of the building to collapse, resulting in a total loss to the structure, although an adjacent laundromat on the south end of the building survived. The building had several storefronts fronting Boulevard and 40th Street, and therefore, several addresses (odd numbers, not even), and at the time of the fire multiple tenants occupied various parts of the building, including a church and a pizza restaurant. Below is a view of the building in 1997, just south of the intersection of Boulevard and 40th. The second image (use the arrow slider control) is a Google Street view of the building from within the above intersection, in around 2019.
The structure was actually one of the early commercial structures in Butler Tarkington and outside of the Mapleton core at Illinois and 38th (check out this post for more about Mapleton), and was constructed around 1923 and 1924. The 1921 and 1922 Indianapolis City directories note no businesses operating at this location, or any residences for that matter, during those years, although there were businesses across the street. Although the original building at first did not include the laundromat extension which was in place at the time of the fire, this addition was made in the 1960’s. The structure is highlighted with the red square in the Baist map below. This intersection has had a commercial nature for quite some time, dating back to the second decade of the 20th century as Butler Tarkington was first being subdivided northward from 38th Street (then called Maple Avenue).
Over the course of the almost one century of the building’s life, numerous business operated out of the storefronts located along both Boulevard and 40th Street. Such an established commercial area had grown around the building and its neighbors on adjacent corners, that a football team was fielded by the local merchants as part of the DeMolay Senior League football series in the 1930’s. The Indianapolis Times reported on October 1, 1937, that the ‘40th and Boulevard Merchants’ were set to play the “South Side Craftsmen,’ although the news brief asked that Craftsman manager to call the Merchants to actually finalize a time and location of the game. In 1932, the Indianapolis Star reported on a bowling league with the same ‘40th and Boulevard Merchants’ participating.
Some of the early tenants located at the building were food related, including the Red Wing Market and Joseph Jones Meat Market, located at 265 and 263 W. 40th Street in 1923. A delicatessen and grocery were located in the building facing Boulevard. In 1928 a fruit market took the place of the butcher’s shop at 263 W. 40th Street. The Ottinger & Davis Grocery operated out of 3961 Boulevard in the 1930's and 1940’s. (see city directory to the right, highlighted entries are those housed in the building.) This grocery had originally been located on the southwest corner of the intersection, but moved across the street in the mid-1920's. Additionally, prior to the laundromat addition to the building, the parking lot on the south side of the building hosted a Polar Ice stand, where residents could purchase ice for home use. Healthcare providers were housed in the building, including a dentist in the 1940’s. Dr. Henry Gill practiced at 261 W. 40th, prior to World War II, served in the Army during the war, and then resumed his practice at the same located in January 1945.
Religious use of the building was common. Mapleton First Baptist Church operated out of 3965 Boulevard Place from the 1960’s to early 1980’s. New Horizon Baptist Church was located at 3963 Boulevard in the 1980’s. More recently, the Tree of Life Christian Ministries was located on the corner at the time of the fire. Other uses included a daycare, called Kiddie Korner Kindergarten, which also operated out of 3965 Boulevard, preceding the arrival of the Mapleton First Baptist Church. In April 1964, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that the La Femme Facon Shoppe opened at 261 W. 40th Street. The Recorder noted that the opening had “a large gathering of fashion conscious ladies and gents on hand.”
In the 1960’s The Boulevard Snack Shop and Bakery was located at 3963 Boulevard Place, while 3961 Boulevard housed an electronics store called J & R television and HIFI (which later moved across the street). Previously, another electronic store, Zenith Radio Sales & Service had been located at 263 W. 40th Street as early as October of 1929, one of many businesses focusing on selling radios for home use. While the building housing the present day laundromat was not built until the 1960’s, a cleaners, named Red Seal Cleaners, had been located at 3963 Boulevard Place in the 1940’s.
A variety of tenants continued to occupy the building in the 1980's, including churches, although several vacancies in the building are noted in the 1986 city directory. That same year noted no addresses along the section of the building fronting 40th Street. More recently, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the building housed the Sambusa Hut Restaurant, an Ethiopian eatery which was featured in the local newspapers and magazines and opened in 1998. After Sambusa closed in June 2002, the Mo Bev coffee shop and restaurant moved from its location across the street and set up shop at 3961 Boulevard in 2003.
Mo Bev received regular media coverage in local newspapers and magazines and was popular amongst neighbors and commuters. However, it closed in October of 2004. The Indianapolis Star article announcing its closure noted its position as an “anchor” for the neighborhood, and that it “sparked an economic development revival along Boulevard,” which included the opening of additional restaurants in that corridor, including at 42nd and Boulevard. Since that time, a variety of enterprises have been housed at the location, including the Five Eighteen pizza, Allure Hair Studio, Lazzy’s Barbershop, among others. The laundromat also continued to operate.
Earlier in 2021, after many months delay and an administrative case determining who would pay for the demolition of the building, the city finally demolished the ruins of the building, while leaving the laundromat standing. The future of the site is unclear, although the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association hopes to work with the owner, local residents, and other stakeholders to ensure that the site is redeveloped in a way that best serves the immediate neighborhood around the 40th and Boulevard intersection.
Indianapolis Star: October 20, 1929, November 26, 1932, December 31, 1944, January 17, 1945, February 14, 1960. June 28, 2002, January 22, 2003, October 6, 2004
Indianapolis News: March 18, 1940, July 16, 1998
Indianapolis Times: October 1, 1937
Indianapolis Recorder: April 25, 1964
Indianapolis City Directories, 1918, 1920-22, 1930, 1965, 1986
3961 Boulevard Place (image), Indiana Historical Society, City of Indianapolis, Department of Metropolitan Development, Indiana Historical Society
Photos of the active fire and the demolition provided by Jeffrey Anderson and John Barth