Note: A version of this post will appear in the upcoming edition of the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association newsletter, as part of an ongoing series of articles about the history of the neighborhood. If anyone has any photos of the athletic field described in this post, please let me know, because I would like to feature them in the BTNA newsletter article.
At the corner of 43rd Street and Haughey Avenue, right across from the Christian Theology Seminary, is an apartment development which has served the seminary's students since the early 1980’s. The complex occupies a roughly four acre site between 43rd and 42nd Street, with Haughey forming its western boundary. On the northeast corner of the property, at the back of one of the parking lots, are two stone pillars. The stone used for the pillars does not match the materials used for the apartment development and are the only remains of what had previously occupied the site. Up to the construction of the apartments, this property had been the location of the Shortridge High School Athletic field.
As some readers may be aware Shortridge High School is not in Butler-Tarkington, and is presently located at 34th and Meridian, several blocks south of the neighborhood. How the current CTS property became associated with the high school began over 100 years ago when this property was first purchased by the Board of School Commissioners for Indianapolis in 1904 (or 1910 according to some sources). The land was purchased from the Central Trust Company (see 1908 Baist map above) for $3,000 for future use by Shortridge and Emmerich Manual High Schools for athletics due to limited space for such activities at those two schools. Reports from not long after the purchase was completed indicated that both schools intended to use the field for formal games, and a few news stories were found about Shortridge hosting baseball games and other events at the field. However, other sources indicated the property was little used for this real game purpose, and was used more for sport practices by Shortridge, until 1927 when Shortridge was moved from its original downtown location to the corner of 34th and Meridian. That same year Shortridge administration decided to seek sole possession of the 42nd Street property for athletic use. In a letter dated November 15, 1926 (pictured below) to the Board of School Commissioners, Principal George Buck requested that the Commissioners give the field to Shortridge for its exclusive use, while also compensating Emmerich Manual High School for the amount of their investment from when the field was first purchased.
Principal Buck noted that Shortridge would improve the field, including installing a fence around the property, and equipping it with “every particular including grandstands, a field house, etc.” He also promised that there would be no future expenses to the school corporation for the field, and that the school and its alumni association would cover expenses for the project. Buck's letter was presented during the November 30, 1926 Board of School Commissioners meeting. While the matter was at first taken under consideration by the commissioners, the deal was later approved. The minutes for the Board of School Commissioners also contain a copy of the transfer agreement from Central Trust Company to the School Commissioners of the city of Indianapolis. The land was described as Lot Number 59 of the Columbia place subdivision, a description which is still attached to the land today.
The field was improved with a cinder running track and new football field in 1927. Tennis courts and a baseball diamond were also considered but it doesn’t appear the former was ever added, although there are reports of some baseball activities being held at the field. Other improvements and additions were constructed in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project at the site, including rehabilitating the existing cinder track, constructing a new permanent grandstand, and indoor facilities for the teams. A new entranceway for the field was constructed with donations from the class of 1938.
During a special program on November 11, 1949, the field was re-named Russel Julius Field, after the longtime athletics director at Shortridge who died in October of 1948. In September of 1954 Indianapolis Public Schools spent $30,000 to install lights, a new scoreboard, and additional bleacher seating (on the west side of the football field), which increased seating capacity to 4,700. While the stadium underwent multiple renovations, by the mid 1960’s the facility was in a neglected state, frequented by vandals, and being used less frequently.
In August 1966, the Indianapolis Star reported on Shortridge kicking off its football season against East Chicago Roosevelt, but noted that Shortridge would only play one home game that season, a “definite disadvantage” to the team. The Star noted that game attendance previous year was good, but no night games would be played at Julius Field due to poor lighting at the facility, and limited parking, which caused many local schools to decline to play at the field. A report in the Indianapolis News on October 19, 1968, noted continuing problems, and that maintenance staff had not winterized water pipes in the in the grandstand and locker room during the previous year, resulting in damaged plumbing. However, the field continued to be used for sporting events, including the football game pictured below from the 1971 Shortridge Yearbook, the Annual. (Note the Blue Ridge Water Tower in the background, discussed in this post.)
Todd Gardner, a 1981 graduate of Shortridge High School who grew up on Graceland Avenue in Butler-Tarkington, recollected that Julius Field continued to host home football games throughout his time at the school. The home bleachers were the large permanent grandstand seen in photos above. Mr. Gardner also recollected the school's marching band performing during games and other game time festivities: "I remember our Blue Devil Marching Band always performed at halftime. We had an awesome drum section which played up in the stands during the game. We always had some funky inspirational beats going. Our cheerleaders could really dance. Lots of soul, R&B & funk music. I think we definitely showed up our opponents in the rhythm department although we lost as much as we won at home I think."
Jay Alley, another Shortridge alum who grew up in Butler-Tarkington, played football at Julius Field every year that he was in high school, from 1971 to 1975. As discussed earlier, he recollected that the facility was not in top form during his playing years: "The locker rooms were really run down by the years I played - we always dressed in the locker rooms at Shortridge and then road the bus to Julius in our game uniforms. We only used the locker rooms for the bathrooms and for pre-game and half-time talks. The facility itself got very little attention from IPS, but we were used to that sort of treatment from IPS, as they tried to close Shortridge every year I was there." Mr. Alley also recalled during his junior year doing a teamwork day where he and his teammates cleaned up the field, including cutting weeds and painting the stands. Unfortunately, he also caught a "wicked case of poison ivy" during this clean-up.
Shortridge High School was eventually closed in 1981, although there wasn't a plan for the use of Julius Field. Butler University indicated they had no interest in the land, while there were informal discussions of housing or commercial developments being constructed on the property. Long term city plans suggested the use of the land as a park, and Crown Hill, when asked about the land as an addition to the cemetery, declined on account of having sufficient space for more than 200 years of burials.
The Christian Theological Seminary had been interested in the property for an apartment development for students attending the seminary, and began to make moves in this direction. As reported by the Indianapolis Star, the proximity of the property to CTS (which was right across the street) was the main factor in the seminary’s interest. On April 27, 1982, the Indianapolis School Board designated the athletic field surplus property (school board minutes excerpt below), and in August of 1982 the stadium was put up for sale. In September of 1982, the Indianapolis Public School Board voted to sell Julius Field for $50,000 to CTS.
Opposition to the sale came from various Shortridge High School boosters, and one board member, who believed that the land was being sold at too low of a price. The photos below from Map Indy show the field as it appeared in 1956, 1979, and 2021, the last photo with the student apartments in place.
The two stone pillars on the northeastern corner of the complex are all that remain of the the field, and appear to be part of the entrance constructed in the late 1930's.
The entranceway was pictured in the 1939 edition of the Shortridge Annual, where at least one pillar presently on site is still visible on the right of the image, and possibly a second set farther back on the left side. I believe this image was taken from 43rd street, looking south/southeast into the stadium.
There also appears to have been a small ticket booth placed behind the foreground pillar in the first photo. A few news reports mention that various plaques were placed at the entrance of the now gone stadium in memory of various employees who had contributed time to the athletics program. However, there was no sign of any plaques on the site today.
Indianapolis News: January 3, 1907, June 12, 1926, October 7, 1948, September 23, 1954, October 19, 1968, March 5, 1981, September 29, 1982
Indianapolis Star: April 17, 1912, October 15, 1925, May 15, 1927, April 21, 1928, November 17, 1948, September 23, 1956, August 31, 1966
Meeting Minutes of the Board of School Commissioners, February 1926 - December 1926, https://www.digitalindy.org/digital/collection/ips/id/263431/rec/22
Indianapolis Baist Atlas Plan # 34, 1908
Shortridge Annual Yearbook, 1939, https://www.digitalindy.org/digital/collection/shs/id/5624/rec/222
Shortridge Annual Yearbook, 1971 (Note: the image from this edition of the annual covered two pages, and was combined and slightly edited for this posting)
Shortridge Daily Echo, November 11, 1949
Meeting Minutes of the Board of School Commissioners, 1949