Indianapolis Old City Hall
Designed by the famed architectural firm of Rubush and Hunter, Indianapolis’ Old City Hall was dedicated on December 21, 1910. The 68,000 square-foot, five-story classical revival building housed the city offices until 1962. The Indiana State Museum then occupied the building from 1966 until 2001. It then served as the interim Central Library for the Marion County Public Library System until 2007. Since then it has only been used sporadically as an art gallery. At the time of writing, there are plans to redevelop the site as a 21c Museum Hotel. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and as historically significant by the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission in 2017.
Backstory and Context
The push for the construction of a city hall was initiated by Mayor Charles Bookwalter in 1908. An architectural contest then took place, which was won by Rubush and Hunter. The cornerstone, with a famous Bookwalter quote inscribed on it, was laid in 1909 and the building was completed the next year at a total cost of over $800,000. The Indiana limestone exterior features two-story, recessed Roman Doric columnns along the second and third floors and a set of bronze doors in triplicate as the main entrance. The famous limestone eagles that flank the entry stairs came from the Traction Terminal Building and were added in 1968. One of them was damaged by construction work and replaced in 2012.
The highlight of the building’s interior is its large, 85-foot tall rotunda that is topped by a 750 square-foot circular glass dome. The marble floor of the rotunda sports an inlaid compass rose design that once had a gravitational pendulum swinging above it. The interior also features marble staircases and the floors are inlaid with colored marble. Many walls contain marble wainscoting panels, pilasters, mahogany woodwork and zodiac animal murals painted by William Behran’s Art Firm of Cincinnati. The city’s offices contained hardwood floors and the second-floor mayor’s office featured a hidden staircase to the first-floor.
The building served as city hall until the offices moved to the City-County Building in 1962. It then sat vacant for four years until the Indiana State Museum moved in. The museum then vacated the building for its new home at White River State Park in 2001. It then housed the over 700,000 volumes of the Marion County Central Library until 2007. Since that time, many ideas have been floated regarding the buildings future, to include condos, an art museum, and a casino. In 2013, 80 historic preservationists spent 7 hours of a confab attempting to develop a plan for the Old City Hall. In 2015, the city, which owns the building, cut a deal with the Louisville-based 21c Hotel Museums to redevelop the building and add an adjacent 150-room hotel. The $55 million redevelopment plan includes a $9.1 million city loan as well as a $11.3 million federal loan through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of February, 2017 the plan has been delayed by financing issues.
Meeker, Mary Jane and Eric Gilbertson. "National Register of Historic Places -- Nomination Form. United States Department of the Interior/National Park System. June, 12, 1974. Accessed February 16, 2017. https://secure.in.gov/apps/dnr/shaard/r/1cf9a/N/Old_Indy_City_Hall_Marion_CO_Nom.pdf
Zeigler, Connie. "History 101: What does the future hold for old City Hall?" Brooks Publications. March, 2009. Accessed February 16, 2017. http://www.brookspublications.com/files/HISTORY101_cityhall.pdf
"Old Indianapolis City Hall." National Park Service. Accessed February 16, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/indianapolis/oldcityhall.htm
Olson, Scott. "Old city hall hotel project faces financial delay." Indianapolis Business Journal. August 20, 2016. Accessed February 16, 2017. http://www.ibj.com/articles/60026-old-city-hall-hotel-project-faces-financing-delay