Note: This post will appear as an article in the fall edition of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association newsletter.
Way back in the early 1940s, the area of Butler-Tarkington north of 52nd Street was a quieter place than the rest of the neighborhood. Construction of homes had not quite reached its zenith in that area, and aside from a few homes here and there, much of the area north of Butler’s campus and west of Boulevard Place was still undeveloped. However, an exception to this general rule was the construction of a small drive-in restaurant, at the corner of 52nd and Westfield Blvd., just north of the yet to be named Hinkle Fieldhouse, and across from the 52nd Street bridge into Rocky Ripple. The restaurant was named the “Ron-D-Vu” and it quickly became a frequent stop for high school students, including those from Shortridge and Broad Ripple High Schools, along with students from Butler University.
The Ron-D-Vu, or the “Vu” or sometimes the "Ron" as it was known to the young people, opened on June 6, 1940. Described in ads as the city’s “smartest” drive-in, the Vu advertised “delicious sandwiches, frozen custards, soft drinks,” and parking for 500 cars. The Vu was described as a small cinder block building, although it was advertised as “ultramodern.” Images show a low, octagon shaped building (top of post) sitting in the middle of a large lot on the corner of 52nd and Westfield Blvd. In 1941 the Vu's ownership apparently changed, and a person named Tompkins took over management. The drive-in was sometimes referred to “Tompkins’ Ron-D-Vu,” especially in advertisements.
Since the Vu was a drive-in, part of the experience was the servers who would take orders and deliver food to your car. Advertisements in many newspapers promoted the “courteous and efficient” staff. The Vu was constantly advertising for “curb girls” to handle the serving duties. One such ad, in 1945, simply stated “GIRLS,” in bold letters, with “to hop cars” in smaller text.
The Vu proved popular and was quite busy. However, this success resulted in the side effect of the business butting heads with the neighbors who began to build homes in the area. On April 23, 1949, the Indianapolis Star reported that the owner of the Ron-D-Vu, now Charles "Bud" Moore (a regular at a local Butler-Tarkington bar told me that Moore was a former Marine), was facing legal action from neighbors due to the noise from the drive-in. Moore, who lived at 525 Berkley, received a petition signed by 52 property owners who leveled numerous complaints, which included that the drive-in was detrimental to the health of the neighborhood, it disturbed the "peaceful rest" of residents, jeopardized the safety of children, attracted "undesirable characters" to the area, and was the source of litter and trash.
The neighbors also complained of auto racing around the drive-in and "necking" parties which occurred in the parking lot. One man, H.F. Weakley, who lived along Westfield Blvd., claimed he suffered from "Ron-D-Vu insomnia" for the previous nine years due to the noise from the drive in. The two images below, from 1937 and 1962, respectively, (available on MapIndy), shows the site of the Vu, and how the area surrounding the drive in built up over the years. Note that the bridge over the canal in the top left-hand corner no longer exists. 52nd Street is the road at the bottom of the images. Also, if you look closely in the 1962 image (right), you can see cars parked outside the Ron-D-Vu.
According to the Star, Moore tried to explain to the neighbors that he had attempted to address their complaints and had sought police assistance. Indianapolis police suggested that Moore hire an off-duty police officer to maintain control of the parking lot during busy hours. The neighbors insisted that they did not want to drive Moore out of business. The meeting with the neighbors ended in what the Indianapolis News described as a "friendly atmosphere," although it noted that the end of the meeting was "punctuated by the sound of auto horns" from the direction of the Ron-D-Vu.
The popularity of the Vu with local high school students was encouraged by Moore and the Vu. In addition to newspapers ads, the drive-in was featured in a full-page ad in the 1951 edition of the Riparian, the yearbook for Broad Ripple High School. The image accompanying the ad (shown here) includes the Butler fieldhouse in the background. This popularity with local high schoolers, and college students from nearby Butler, eventually did not go unnoticed by law enforcement authorities. In July of 1958, the Indianapolis Star reported the Indianapolis police chief was confronted by angry parents, who said that their teen’s vehicles were searched illegally while parked at the Ron-D-Vu. The kids recounted that they were ordered out of their vehicles by a police officer who then executed a search of the vehicle, including the glove compartment, and under the seats and trunks, apparently in search of illegally possessed beer.
Parents alleged similar incidents had been occurring at other drive-in locations during the previous few weeks. The president of the city’s Board of Public Safety, Dr. David Silver promised that any teenager would get their full constitutional rights, and also noted that the only time a search was constitutional was when making an arrest, or the officer had a search warrant or the vehicle. The chief of police, Frank Mueller, promised to investigate, but also observed that some officers may have been “overzealous” in their effort to combat the “drinking gangs” who were frequenting local drive-ins.
Aside from the problems stemming from kids hanging out at the drive-in, and the car racing, drinking, and "necking," the Vu also attracted crime to the business itself. Numerous reports over the years detailed how the Ron would be broken into and hundreds of pounds of meat, sugar, and other consumables would be stolen from the restaurant. The cigarette machine was also a popular target, as were radios.
The Vu appears to have continued to be a popular stop for local young people into the 1960s. An advertisement in 1963 seemed to poke fun at itself, encouraging readers to “Head for the Ron,” and that “[t]he food is lousy, the service is slow, buts where the suckers love to go!” At the same time, the Vu was advertising the “Harry Gaddis Pork Sandwich,” a recipe that was reputed to have been passed on to the Vu by Harry Gaddis, a local restauranter who owned a “pop stand” on the southwest corner of 46th and Central. The sandwich, which was made from Gaddis’ own “formula,” was served on a bun with relish and mustard. The pop stand had been shuttered in 1944, and Gaddis died in 1949, but the roughly 20 years of operation of the stand had its impact on the local food scene. Another frequently advertised item at the Vu was the “Giant Burger,” a 1/3-pound hamburger with all the fixings. The Vu's proximity to Butler also served as a convenient space filler for the school’s newspaper, the Collegian, which would often run multiple Vu ads on one page, advertising “Cokes Dates” at the Vu and to visit the Vu “after the shows.”
However, the Vu’s time was limited. On February 28, 1964, the Butler Collegian reported on a rumor that had been circulating which suggested that the Ron-D-Vu would be demolished to make room for additional student housing for Butler University. The university denied this claim, although its public relations director indicated that an apartment project was planned for the site of the Vu, but that the project was being pursued through the city’s Metropolitan Planning Commission. Plans were in the works and contemporaneously with the Collegian article, the Vu was closed, sold, and then razed to the ground, to make room for a new $540,000 apartment building (see March 1, 1964 image). This building would later be owned by Butler and is known at University Terrace and continues to be used to this day.
In 1985 a new restaurant opened in Nora which honored the history of the Ron-D-Vu. The "Vu," as this new iteration was called, would feature 1950s and 60s memorabilia while offering a varied menu of drive-in favorites. Its grand opening on April 12 featured numerous celebrities. including Matthew Welsh, former governor of Indiana who served in office in the early 1960s when the original Vu was still operating. The management of the Vu were also bringing Charlie Moore out of retirement in Florida to attend the grand opening. This Vu was located near where the Target is presently located in Nora Plaza, possibly in the building which today houses the post office.
If you happen to have any Ron-D-Vu memorabilia, please shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would like to update this post with any additional images or other items from the Ron-D-Vu.
Indianapolis News: May 28, 1940, June 6, 1940, April 27, 1949, March 13, 1985, May 3, 1985, August 14, 1992
Indianapolis Star: June 12, 1945, April 23, 1949, September 10, 1952, July 9, 1958, October 20, 1962, May 31, 1963, September 21, 1963, March 1, 1964, April 12, 1985
Indianapolis Times: June 6, 1940
Jewish Post: July 18. 1941
Butler Collegian: February 28, 1964
Broad Ripple High School Riparian, 1951, https://www.digitalindy.org/digital/collection/brhs/id/1784/rec/21