top of page

Indianapolis Skyline 1910: A Closer Look

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

While digging through the image archives at the Indiana Historical Society, I happened to run across the image above of the downtown skyline from 1910. The photo was taken by C.F. Bretzman, a prominent photographer in Indianapolis at the time, from the top of the Central Union Telephone Building at the corner of Meridian and New York and covers a wide area from the statehouse in the west, to the beginnings of Mass Ave in the east. The original neagtive was badly damaged, but the full size digital image can be found here. Thanks to the quality of the digitized image, the zoom function allows you to really focus in on the details of the photo. To further explore this image, I've identified seven areas of the photo to look at in more detail:

Photo 1: Transit In Indianapolis

The intersection of Meridian and Ohio has always been busy, and 1910 was no exception. In looking closer at the intersection, we can see several modes of transportation represented. First, going down the middle of Ohio are street car tracks. Additionally, there are several horse drawn carriages and wagons present, including one traveling through the intersection, but mostly hidden due to motion blur. Several automobiles are also visible, including several parked along the curb bordering the Board of Trade building on the southeast corner of Ohio and Meridian (where the Salesforce Tower is now). Lastly, there is a bicycle parked on the curb in front of the small store facing Ohio Street. Of course, being Indianapolis, there is also some road work being done in the middle of the intersection.

Photo 2: Memory of the Flat Irons: The Indiana Pythian Building

Just beyond the Federal Courthouse and Post Office (recently completed in 1905 at the time of the panoramic), is a large building called Pythian Building, located on the angle created by Massachusetts Avenue and Pennsylvania Street. The Pythian Building was one of several flat iron style buildings which graced the city's skyline, thanks to the diagonal spoke streets coming off of the circle. (Left: Indianapolis Baist Atlas Plan # 5, 1908, courtesy IUPUI) The Pythian Building was completed January 1907, and was 138 feet high with 10 floors. The building met its demise in 1967, making away for the new construction of the present day Regions building, and the truncation of Massachusetts Ave. 

The Pythian building as it appeared around 1925. Massachusetts Ave. is to the right, and the Murat Shrine Temple can be seen in the distance. Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Photo 3: The Sculpture and the Library

While inspecting the panoramic, I noted a strange shape at the location of Photo 3. The Coca Cola/Birk's Pharmacy billboard obstructed the building behind it, but on the roof there appeared to be the shape of a person, with their arm reaching towards the sky. The location looked to be close to the intersection of Meridian and Ohio Strees. 

The more I studied this, I was unsure if I was looking at a real person caught by the photographer, or some part of the building, However, I felt like I had seen it this before, but I couldn't quite place where. Then it hit me...this was the sculpture on display on the back of the new portion of the Central Library:

Turns out, this sculpture was positioned on the roof of the main location for the Indianapolis library, before the construction of the Central Library on St. Clair St. This library was located on the northwest corner of Ohio and Meridian Streets. Today, the space is occupied by the Sheraton Hotel.

The sculpture was cast in 1892 and was mounted over the entry to the library. The sculpture consists of three figures, which correspond to the name of the statue: "Arts, Sciences and Letters" In 1917, the Central Library was completed and the sculpture was left on the old library building at Ohio and Meridian, which was converted into the headquarters for the Indianapolis Public Schools. IPS continued to use the building until 1967, when the structure was demolished. "Arts, Sciences and Letters" was removed, and transplanted to Crown Hill Cemetery where it was subjected to the ravages of time and vandals. In 1981 the sculpture was returned to the library and displayed on the west lawn. With the additions being made to the Central Library in the early 2000's, the sculpture was sent to Detroit for restoration, and for the replacement of various pieces which had been damaged or stolen. Once this was completed, the sculpture was returned to the newly expanded and renovated Central Library where is continues to reside. 

The old Indianapolis Library at the corner of Ohio and Meridian Streets in 1909. Arts, Sciences and Letters stands guard over the main entrance. Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

Location 4: The Church on Ohio

The Zion Evangelical Church was located on Ohio Street between Meridian and Illinois. The congregation of the church had a long history in Indianapolis, having first met in 1841, and primarily consisted of German immigrants. While the name here is what was noted on the 1908 Indianapolis Baist map (photo below), the church's name varied over the years and depending upon the sources. At its founding, it was called the German United Evangelical Protestant Lutheran and Reformed Zion Church of Indianapolis. Other references called the church the Zion German Evangelical Church. While the congregation was still at the 32 West Ohio Street location at the time of this photo in 1910 (this land was originally purchased in 1845), the next year in 1911 land for a new location was purchased at North and New Jersey Streets. The photo below right is from another panoramic photo from the early 1900's and shows the front of the church, from what appears to be the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  (Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society, link here.)

After the sale of the church, the building was converted into a theater, and was named, appropriately enough, the Ohio Theater. The theater opened for the showing of motion pictures in November 1919 and had an advertised capacity of 1500.

Photo 5: Interurban Cars Stand at Ready

The Traction Terminal and its history as a focal point of mass transit in Indianapolis during the first half of the 20th century has been heavily covered by other blogs and articles, so I won't go into too much detail in this post. To summarize, the Traction Terminal was reputed to be the largest interurban terminal in the world, and was built to consolidate the growing interurban operations at one point in the city, versus the scattered stops and hubs which had been popping up around downtown, and which were causing significant congestion.  

If you look closely you can see three interurban trains standing at ready in the open yard just to the north of the traction terminal shed (the lightly colored area with tracks in the image below). If you look at the image above really closely, you can also spot the first of the three freight depots noted in the 1908 Baist map below, just to the west of the open yard area. By 1918 freight operations had overwhelmed the capacity at the terminal, and a separate freight terminal was constructed on Kentucky Ave. 

While not included in this photo, the 10 story Traction Terminal Building, and the terminal shed, can be seen in the panoramic photo, just south of where the interurban trains in photo 4 are parked. 

Photo 6: Need a Place to Stay That is Close to Downtown?

The panoramic photo shows evidence of the industry which was present around the downtown area in 1910, especially as you moved west towards the area between the Central Canal and the White River. The pollution  is especially clear on the far right side of the photo, where there is a large structure which is partially obscured by the haze. 

This building is on Ohio Street (photo below left), just north of the statehouse. This is the Imperial Hotel, which while it was a hotel at the time of the photo, it was originally built as a medical school. The building was converted to a hotel in the early 1900's, and served in this role until around World War II (when the structure was demolished), although it went through a variety of owners and names. The location is now a surface parking lot for state employees. The photo below right depicts the hotel as it appeared in 1903 (Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society)  

If you opened up the panaramic photo from the Indiana Historical Society website, also take a look just to the left (or south) of the Imperial, and you'll see that the north side of the statehouse appears to be a lawn, with walkways and a road leading to the north entrance. Today, that area is also a lovely parking lot serving state employees.

Photo 7: Construction of the Lemcke Annex (I think) 

The skeleton of this high rise caught my eye, as did the images of the workers near the top of the structure. I think this is the Lemcke Annex building, located in the middle of the block of Delaware between Ohio and Market Streets (yellow highlight below). The tower was adjacent to the already existing Lemcke Building, and construction was begun in 1909, and completed in 1910. 

Baist Atlas Indianapolis, 1916, #3, Courtesy IUPUI

This building has survived to this day, and sits just to the north of the National Bank of Indianapolis building on the northeast corner of Market and Pennsylvania. The Lemcke Annex was later renamed the Consolidated Building. More recently, the building underwent a renovation and was renamed Pennsylvania Street Tower.

The Pennsylvania Street Tower (middle of the image) as it appears today.


Indianapolis Star, August 7, 2007, September 29, 1979, November 16, 1919, October 7, 2017, August 13, 2007

Indianapolis News: September 1, 1981, September 19, 1981

Baist Atlas, Indianapolis, 1908, 1916,, Lemcke Annex and Indiana Pythian Building

Indiana Historical Society, Digital Images Catalog

577 views0 comments


bottom of page