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Stairways to Nowhere in Indianapolis

During the past several years of riding the bus home along Illinois Street, I have become accustomed to the city scenery whizzing by as the bus heads north. One spot which has gained my attention are the parking lots which sit on the east side of the street between 18th and 19th Streets. This stretch of Illinois used to be all residential with trees and sidewalks lining the street. Today, there is little sign of the formerly residential nature of this area, aside from a few solitary homes which somehow survived demolition.


But there are other signs of the now gone neighborhood, and the parking lots are not what caught my attention. If you take a closer look at the parking lots as you drive by, you might spot random staircases connecting the sidewalk with the lots. These aren’t for the use of those parking at the lot (let’s be honest, rarely are those lots full), but are the remnants of the former residences, and mark the walkways which once led to the homes on those lots. Illinois between 18th and 19th has the remains of three stairways. The first two pictured below are still clearly stairs, aside from the snow, while the third is a cut in the low stone wall where a stairway was likely located, but it appears to have been removed.

I could not find any images of the homes which once stood on these sites, which today is part of the property for the IBEW Local Union 481, and a developer (it appears the latter is about to construct a medical office building on the northern lot). However, the Sanborn map below (1898 edition) shows the three home which appear to line up with the stairways shown above:

These stairways to nowhere are not a unique feature to Illinois Street. If you keep an eye out around the city, I’m betting you’ll be able to find stairways and the remains of driveways which evidence the location of a now disappeared residence. I had run across several more staircases while researching the blog posting about the former streetcar barn on Fosters Place between Capitol and Illinois.  

The two stairways pictured above once provided access to 151 and 153 McLean, a duplex, as shown in the Sanborn map below, which was demolished in the last 1960s. The street was called McLean at this point, although the name was later changed to Fosters. In 1915 a machinist named Morton G. Hardin was residing at 153 McLean. Jesse D. Ingram, a streetcar conductor resided in 151 McLean. Both were likely living at this location because of the proximity to the streetcar barn across the street.

Sanborn map Indianapolis history
1915 Sanborn Map, Map Indy

Another pair of staircases are located on the Ivy Tech campus, just north of Fall Creek on 27th Street. This stretch of road, between Capitol and Illinois, was once fully residential and lined with homes.

Today, the area is mostly all surface parking lots. On the northside of 27th, just about midway between the two streets is a pair of staircases. While fairly close together, this was not a duplex like the example on Fosters, but two single family homes.

These homes were demolished around 1991 and were among the last groupings of homes in the area now occupied by Ivy Tech and its parking lots. The first aerial image below is from 1986, with the two staircases marked by the red arrows. The bottom image is what the area looks like today.

The last staircase (or actually, staircases) is also the only example where I was able to locate an image of the structure which used to stand on the now empty lot. This location is on the southeast corner of the intersection of Meridian and 34th Streets, right across the street from Shortridge High School. On Meridian Street are two staircases and the remains of a driveway on the far-right side of both images.

There was not a single-family home here, but a large apartment building, which faced Meridian and wrapped around onto 34th Street. The remains of additional staircases from this apartment building are also visible along 34th Street. The Sanborn map below show the apartment building across from Shortridge. Meridian street is on the left of this map.

Sanborn map Indianapolis history
Indianapolis Sanborn Map #582, 1898 Edition, 1939 Update

The aerial image below shows the apartment, marked with the red arrow, along with the main subject of the image, Shortridge High School.

Digital Indy, Indianapolis Public Schools Collection, Indianapolis Public Library

As shown in the close up below, the driveway seen in the images above is easily visible on the right, or south side of the apartment building. If you look closely, you can also just see the stairways which remain today.

These apartments were demolished in 1978 and an empty lot has remained since that time, although the land is presently being advertised for sale.




Indianapolis Star: August 15, 1978

IU Indianapolis Library Sanborn and Baist Collection, various years as noted above.

Shortridge High School, Digital Indy, Indianapolis Public Schools Collection, Indianapolis Public Library,


564 views2 comments


J Widner
J Widner
Jan 25

I grew up in Indianapolis, but no longer live there. Sadly, what it tells me is that Indianapolis has no real concern for a lot of its real estate in certain areas. I recall living on the east side of Indianapolis and of the streets getting worse and worse as the city continue to spend money downtown to develop that portion of the city to the detriment of the rest of the city. It’s interesting to know that they don’t seem to have changed that policy much.


Jan 25

It may be a "short post" as you called it, but thanks for the "eagle eye", noticing these steps. So much history is out there, but one has to be aware of it! Thank you for all your posts.

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