The Collegiate Commons finds historic plans for a new Indianapolis

While looking through old student newspapers in the Ruth Lilly Special Collections Archive, The Collegiate Commons came across plans from the Marion County Metropolitan Planning Department dating back to 1958. Under the leadership of Calvin Hamilton, the Department made some ambitious plans for the city. 

Closing Monument Circle to Traffic

“The Circle area should be restored to the scale of the pedestrian by the judicious use of trees and planting areas,” the 1958 design plans said. “Specialty shops could display their wares outside in good weather, and a sidewalk cafe, art gallery or other new facilities would provide the shopper and office worker with delightful diversions.” 

Sound familiar?

SPARK on the Circle, a program which began in 2022, intends to make Monument Circle mostly car-free by 2025.

Heavy debate ensued over the plan and played a prominent role in the Indianapolis mayoral election last year. Incumbent Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Republican challenger Jefferson Shreve hoped to end the SPARK on the circle program, as did many motorists, but was beaten by Hogsett in the mayoral race 58.99 percent to 41.01 percent. 

Zoning downtown 

The 1958 design put forth ten “essential principles” that guided their proposed zoning plan.

  1. Establish well-defined land use districts for community cohesiveness.
  2. Provide an arterial system of one-way streets and a closed freeway loop to relieve traffic congestion in the shopping core.
  3. Provide adequate parking facilities.
  4. Provide a combined transportation center to facilitate movement of passengers, freight and mail.
  5. Promote private owner remodeling and renovation of property and buildings.
  6. Engage in large scale land clearance and rehabilitation of blighted areas.
  7. Provide expanded, compact and stabilized shopping facilities.
  8. Consolidate governmental facilities on the City, County, State and Federal levels. 
  9. Provide civic, cultural, and educational facilities which will extend their influence to encompass the entire Metropolitan Area.
  10. Ensure that Indianapolis, the Capitol City of Indiana, symbolizes by its growth the paramount position it holds in the political, economic and social functions of the State and its citizens. 

The “shopping core” mentioned in Point B decayed significantly by the 1970s, giving way to suburban shopping centers. 

The “blighted areas” referred to in point F appears to have meant the thriving Black community that once inhabited Indiana Avenue. After the city used the power of eminent-domain to take over these properties, much of the land was eventually ceded to the growing Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Renovations to the Indiana War Memorial 

Indianapolis, even at that point, was no stranger to design plans for grand monuments and historic renovations.

Patriotic sentiment, particularly after major wars, led to construction of numerous historic monuments. This led to Indianapolis having more memorials than any other city in the United States excluding Washington D.C. Therefore, it was fitting that one of the most ambitious projects planned by the Metropolitan Planning Department was a renovation of the blocks surrounding the Indiana War Memorial, although it never came to fruition. 

The actual planning for the initial structure began in 1919, and was spurred by efforts to encourage the American Legion to make Indianapolis their national headquarters. The inside of the building, however, was not fully completed until 1965. 

The design laid out by the Department involved first closing Vermont Street, and extending the memorial platform over Michigan Street. Then building a tunnel under North Street to connect the blocks surrounding the War Memorial in order to “return the plaza to the pedestrian.” 

The pictures in the plan also suggest the building of a reflecting pool akin to the one outside of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. 

The planners

Those involved in the plan can be seen below.

Indianapolis looks a lot different now than it did in 1958. Many of the proposed land use zones were changed, highways were built around the city, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis now takes up much of the Central Business District. Nevertheless, much remains the same. Concerted efforts continue to be made to make Monument Circle more accessible to pedestrians, and historic monuments and green spaces continue to provide character to downtown Indianapolis.

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