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Structural 'Wanderlust': The Relocation of the Bobbs-Merrill Building

The 1930 rotating of the Indiana Bell Building in downtown Indianapolis is a frequent feature on social media and other online sources. The event gained notoriety since the rotation was done while employees continued to work, and utilities remained connected. A short video of the building being rotated is also frequently shared.


While an impressive feat, other buildings were also moved around downtown, although none were quite as large as Indiana Bell. One such building was the Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Co. building which was located at 18 E. Vermont Street. The building appears on the bottom left of the block depicted in the 1915 Sanborn below, next to the 1st Baptist Church.

Credit: IUPUI Sanborn Collection, 1915 Sanborn #67

The image below shows the front of the Bobbs-Merrill building in 1914, with the 1st Baptist Church visible in the background left.

Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Keen observers may note the address for Bobbs-Merrill is on the block presently occupied by the Indiana War Memorial. The Bobbs-Merrill building was moved as part of the process to clear the several blocks needed for new War Memorial and plaza in the late 1920's and 30's. The plaza stretches from New York Street, north to St. Clair, with Meridian and Pennsylvania Streets bordering the plaza on the west and east sides, respectively. The cover of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce journal for October 1922 showed the area which would be included in the plaza. The southern portion was already occupied by University Park.

downtown Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce Veterans Plaza
Credit: Digital Indy, Indianapolis Public Library

While many of the buildings in this area would be demolished, the five story Bobbs-Merrill building was sold to a local realtor, who in turn planned to sell the building to the State Automobile Insurance Association and move the structure to its new location at 122 E. Michigan Street. The move began in February of 1927, and the structure was routed east along Vermont, then north on Delaware, before making a left turn on Michigan Street, and heading west to the middle of the 100 block of East Michigan Street. The first image below shows the building being moved up Delaware Street just before the intersection with Michigan Street. The second image shows the building from the same position but looking south towards the rear of the structure. The move was done by the Kress-Oravetz House Moving Company of Pittsburgh.



A quick note about these two images. Both come from the digital collections of Grand Valley State University in Michigan and are part of a collection of photos by photographer Donald James "D.J" Angus. Mr. Angus, who passed away in 1966, traveled widely throughout the country, and documented his family’s adventures in photos. He also spent some time working in Indianapolis which was when these photos were taken. The caption for these photos identifies them as the "Moving Democratic Club Building," although that is incorrect. The old Democratic Club building was located next door (to the east) of the Bobbs-Merrill Building. Thanks to Deedee Davis at the Herron Art Library for finding these Indiana-related items in this Michigan-based collection.


Returning to the moving of the Bobbs-Merrill building, it appears the destination site had been purchased by Bobbs-Merrill with the plan to construct a new building on the site in the future, but the company changed course and leased space in a building just to the north of their former location. Note that only the front portion of the building, the part shaded orange in the Sanborn map above, was moved. The warehouse section at the back was left in place. Also note the Barton Hotel pictured above still stands, as the Barton Center apartments. The automobile service station on the northwest corner of the intersection (with the Firestone billboard) sought an injunction, claiming that the move would damage their business while the streets were closed. The Indianapolis Times reported that that the hearing on the injunction was to be heard on February 19, 1927, but the hearing was continued since the building was nearing the corner, and its final location.


The Bobbs-Merrill was not the first building to be moved to this block of Michigan, and not the first by the Kress-Oravetz House Moving Company, leading the Indianapolis News to comment on the 'wanderlust' of the Bobbs-Merrill and other downtown buildings. Earlier in 1926, Kress-Oravetz had moved the Hough Hotel building away from the plaza demolition zone and to a position which was at 127 E. Michigan, across the street from the Bobbs-Merrill Building's future home. The Haugh had been located on the opposite side of the original block, along Michigan Street, from the Bobbs-Merrill, although it is unmarked in the Sanborn above.

Indianapolis history Hough Hotel Michigan Street
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The hotel would go through several names over the years, including Hotel Michigan after its move, but it still stands today, at 127 E. Michigan Street. Today is now branded as “the MICH" and houses a variety of tenants. The building is also known for the mural of Indiana Pacers player Reggie Miller on its eastern side. Another building, the Cambridge Apartments, visible in the upper right of the Sanborn map above, was also moved north, to the intersection of Delaware and North Street.


The Bobbs-Merrill was the last building to be moved from the new plaza and continued to stand in its new location for another 40 years. In early 1928, not long after the building had been moved, the State Automobile Insurance Association sold the building to Indiana University, who used it, and adjacent buildings, as part of the university’s Indianapolis extension, prior to the establishment of IUPUI. The circa 1970 image below is an excerpt of a larger photo of the entire block. The Bobbs-Merrill building is the one with a yellow highlighted Indiana University sign. Delaware Street is in the bottom left foreground. The Hough Hotel across the street was being called the Stevens Hotel at this time period.

Indianapolis history war memorial plaza
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

However, the Bobbs-Merrill was not as lucky as the Hough, and within a few years of the photo above being taken, the entire block would be demolished for the construction of the Minton-Capehart federal building. This included the former Bobbs-Merrill building.


Note: As I was concluding the research into the Bobbs-Merrill building, I ran across a Retro-Indy article from the Indianapolis Star in December of 2018 by Dawn Mitchell, which provides more detail about the system used to move the Haugh Hotel. A similar process was also used for Bobbs-Merrill, and that article can be viewed here.



Sources


Indianapolis News: September 3, 1926


Indianapolis Star: September 4, 1926, January 24, 1928, December 9, 2018


Indianapolis Times: November 5, 1926, February 17, 1927


Activities of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, October 1922, Vol. 5, No. 10, Digital Indy Collections, https://www.digitalindy.org/digital/collection/icc/id/603/rec/135


Minton-Capehart Before Construction, ca. 1970, Indiana Historical Society, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/p16797coll65/id/21/rec/1


IUPUI Sanborn & Baist Collection, 1915 Sanborn #67


Haugh Hotel, structure being moved, 1975 (Bass #331139) - W.H. Bass Photo Company--Pamela Tranfield Memorial Collection - Indiana Historical Society Digital Images, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/5397/rec/1


Bobbs Merrill Co., 1914, Indiana Historical Society Digital Images, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/1711/rec/40


Angus, Donald James (D. J.), “Indiana. Moving Democratic Club,” Digital Collections, accessed December 28, 2022, https://digitalcollections.library.gvsu.edu/document/21547.


Angus, Donald James (D. J.), “Indiana. Moving Democratic Club,” Digital Collections, accessed December 28, 2022, https://digitalcollections.library.gvsu.edu/document/21548.










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