Indiana Avenue

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Indiana Avenue Historic District
Indiana Avenue Historic District.jpg
New buildings in the Indiana Avenue Historic District
Indiana Avenue is located in Indianapolis
Indiana Avenue
Indiana Avenue is located in Indiana
Indiana Avenue
Indiana Avenue is located in USA
Indiana Avenue
Location 500 block of Indiana Ave. between North St., Central Canal, Michigan, and West Sts., Indianapolis, Indiana
Coordinates 39°46′29″N 86°9′57″W / 39.77472°N 86.16583°W / 39.77472; -86.16583Coordinates: 39°46′29″N 86°9′57″W / 39.77472°N 86.16583°W / 39.77472; -86.16583
Area 3 acres (1.2 ha)
Built 1869
Architectural style Italianate
NRHP Reference # 87000912[1]
Added to NRHP June 12, 1987

Indiana Avenue is a historic area in downtown and is one of six designated cultural districts in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana Avenue was, during its glory days, an African American cultural center of the area.


In 1870, more African Americans were calling Indiana Avenue home as the original Irish and German populations began moving outward following the Emancipation Proclamation. The population had risen to 974 residents, more than one-third of the city's total African-American population. As the population escalated, African American residents took root opening businesses on practically every corner. Bethel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church, the oldest African American congregation in Indianapolis, was organized in 1836. The first African American businesses appeared on the 500 Block of Indiana Avenue as early as 1865: Samuel G. Smother's grocery store; William Franklin's peddler shop and the city's first owned and operated African American newspaper, The Indianapolis Leader in 1879.[2]

The avenue continued to culturally develop, in much the same way as the Harlem Renaissance. In fact, due to the nature of segregation and Jim Crow laws, several streets developed similarly including Beale Street in Memphis and 12th and Vine in Kansas City according to the book, Indiana Avenue: Black Entertainment Boulevard by C. Nickerson Bolden. Like Indiana Avenue, these streets were called Black Entertainment Bouelvards, or stops along the Chitlin' circuit because of the large concentration of black-oriented clubs, businesses and entertainment venues.

Many prominent historical figures have their roots on Indiana Avenue: Madam C.J. Walker, jazz greats including Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Coe, Noble Sissle, Erroll "Groundhog" Grandy and Wes Montgomery. Mary Ellen Cable was one of the most important African American educators in Indianapolis. Coupled with her great work as an educator, she organized and served as the first president of Indiana's NAACP chapter.[3][4]

Madame Walker Theatre[edit]

Madame Walker's daughter helped build the Madame Walker Theatre, which opened on the Avenue in 1927 and quickly became known as the "Crown Jewel of the Avenue".

Indiana Avenue logo

The decline of the Avenue[edit]

As segregation laws began to change in the late 1950s, the African American middle class began leaving the once bustling Indiana Avenue corridor for greater opportunities in northwestern Marion County, settling in Pike and Washington Townships. By 1965, the plight of the community left the Madame Walker Building closed to abandonment, removing a vital economic anchor for the area. The Walker Manufacturing Company remained in the ailing Building. By the early 1970s, Indiana Avenue was suffering from severe urban blight.

By the 1980s, instead of the city attempting renewal or regeneration, much of the area was merely demolished and replaced by office buildings or townhouses, although the historic Madame Walker Building was restored and reopened to the public in 1988 with a focus on the performing arts. While no longer a blighted zone, Indiana Avenue's legacy now consists of a few historic buildings and a plaque. Through the financial support of the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission, formed by Mayor Bart Peterson in 2002, community stakeholders are planning the regeneration of the area. The mayor recently announced an effort to restore the Indiana Avenue name to portions of the avenue that have been changed over the years.

On March 28, 2007, the name of Indiana Avenue north of 10th Street and south of 16th Street was restored, after having been called Stadium Drive since 1932.[5]


  1. ^ Staff (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "Discovering Indiana Avenue". 
  3. ^ "IUPUI Diversity Assets" (PDF). National Park Service. 2006-11-02. 
  4. ^ "Indiana". 
  5. ^ "Inside Indiana Business". 2007-03-28.