Human Interest


Recently, a friend who had been reading about my youth activities on, pointed out that I was actually writing an autobiography, one subject at a time. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but he’s absolutely correct. Current articles about summer camps, the Miramar swim club, and Downey, when put in chronological order, do tell the story of my life, segment by segment.  

So, while I’m at it, I might as well tell you more (!) because there are a lot more things I remember. My intention, though, was not to write about myself, but to emphasize the activities and organizations that influenced me, and other teens, at an important time of our lives. These were integral parts of the lives of Indianapolis east side teens in the 1950’s and 60’s. This blog will include brief paragraphs sharing the memories I have of fun things about the east side. I’ll try to keep it from getting too lengthy. Arizona readers may find this hard to follow due to lack of familiarity, but It’s possible you’ve had similar experiences.

I’ll begin with broad categories, then narrow down to individual places and activities. Here goes:

Irvington: The area surrounding the 5000-6000 blocks of East Washington St. in Indianapolis was called Irvington. Irvington was the original location of the campus of Butler University (more later). It was bordered on the west by Emerson Ave., the east by Edmondson Ave., on the south by PennCentral railroad tracks, and on the north by 10th St. Trisecting the neighborhood north and south were Ritter Ave. and Audubon Circle. East Washington St. divided Irvington into north and south halves. It was lined on both sides by numerous retail business, churches, schools, drug stores, and theaters. Along the many narrow side streets were homes of modest size to stately, older mansions. Rather than a squared-off grid, the neighborhood had many streets that were angled, curved, or formed into a circle, giving Irvington a confusing, but unique, configuration. Driving through it one had to be familiar with the layout or risk getting lost. Centrally located in the south half of Irvington were “Downey” (Downey Avenue Christian Church) and The Missions Building, which until the 1990’s was the national headquarters of the Disciples of Christ denomination. The beauty of Irvington was in its mature trees, it’s stately homes, its many architecturally traditional churches, and the park-like setting along the length of Pleasant Run Parkway. It was an area where people were proud to live. 

Churches: Several large churches were an integral part of Irvington. Of course there was “Downey,” but also The First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science church) on Pleasant Run Parkway, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on Washington, Irvington Presbyterian and Irvington Methodist Churches. Irvington Methodist was a large, beautifully ornate building in the center of Audubon Circle. Audubon St. ran north and south and had two circular areas, one north and one south of Washington St. The Irvington Methodist church is an important landmark because on August 14, 1966, it hosted the wedding of Sandra Bourne and William Gilkison. A small church on Layman Ave also became important to us much later. It was Irvington Church Of Christ and was the original home of the Christians who started a satellite congregation on Southeastern Ave. called Southeastern Church of Christ, our Indianapolis home congregation. 

Retail Businesses: Most of East Washington was lined on both sides by retail businesses. They started a few blocks west of Ritter and extended eastward to Edmondson Ave. I will comment on several businesses as we travel from west to east.

     Bill Kuhn Chevrolet: The local Chevy dealer with a small showroom. I had my mom take me and a few friends there after school to see the new 1955 models for that year. Auto manufacturers changed styling of their cars every year, and they were secretive about it. Dealers would have an unveiling of the new models and new styling in their showrooms, and it was exciting to me to see what the new Chevys looked like. Much later, after I got married, I took my Chevy to Bill Kuhn’s for service. I had a fit because money was tight and the repair charge was more than I could afford. I thought they gouged me on purpose. 

     Tower Photography Studio: They did a lot of school and wedding photography. In fact, Tower did our wedding pictures. Their studio was next to Bill Kuhn’s, but I never visited it.

     Irvington Launderette: A self-service laundromat owned by Cleo and Marjorie Bourne, my in-laws. They owned this business from 1953 until the early 1970’s. They did dry cleaning for business customers, and had a limited retail cleaning and dry cleaning business. The main focus was the coin-operated, self-service, laundromat operation. Sandy spent many after-school hours there as a teen and teacher at School 57, across the street. My future father-in-law, Cleo, was repairing washing machines in the basement of the laundry when I approached him to ask for Sandy’s hand in marriage. Fortunately, he said “yes.”

     Wolman’s Drugstore: Right on the northwest corner of Ritter and Washington, Wolman’s was an Irvington focal point. Everyone knew where Wolman’s was so it was used as a landmark for directions to other businesses. It had a soda fountain, a long counter, and they served food all day. Above Wolman’s was old Doc Kingsbury’s office where he practiced family medicine until he was in his 90’s. 

     Vonnegut’s Hardware store: On the south side of Washington St. and two blocks east of Ritter, this neighborhood hardware store served the area well selling any imaginable household item. I always thought Vonnegut was an odd name until author Kurt Vonnegut gained fame and became a household name.

     Pete Iaria’s Pizza: Right next to Vonnegut’s was the only pizza place I remember in Irvington. This Pete Iaria (there were several) was a local fellow who was one of several generations of Pete Iaria’s. His son, Pete Iaria, was on my brother’s Little League team so the players got pizza when they won. I don’t remember eating Iaria’s pizza more than once or twice, but we visited his Italian restaurant on College Ave near downtown quite often.

     Several Retail Businesses lined the north side of Washington, too: Haag’s drug store, Woolworth’s Five and Dime, Dirk’s Market, and Dr. Chroniak’s office to name a few. At Halloween, the merchants of these stores sponsored an art contest. They partitioned their windows into several rectangles, and schoolchildren reserved their space and painted a Halloween-related scene or object on it. On the day before Halloween, the contest committee judged the paintings of ghosts, goblins, Jack-o-lanterns, witches, and other Halloween images, and awarded prizes. The “artwork” was on display in the store windows the entire week of Halloween. Everyone I’ve talked to about Irvington remembers this contest fondly, and much like me, wanted to win, but didn’t have the artistic talent to be in contention.

     Lindner’s Ice Cream: The best ice cream I’ve ever eaten is Lindner’s. Its flavor was unbeatable, and their hot fudge sundaes with whip cream, nuts, and a cherry were the best. If Lindner’s ever comes back, I’ll be one of their first customers. Lindner’s was on the SE corner of Washington St. and Catherwood Ave. and was hard to pass by.

     Irvington Bowling Alley: Farther east, almost to Kitley Ave. was the Irvington Plaza strip mall that also had a bowling alley. Research tells me it may have been called Play Bowl. As teenagers we went there occasionally. One of our high school classmates, Larry Fehr, called it his home lanes and had some success as a professional bowler.

Other Landmarks: A theater, bank, school, kindergarten, Job’s Daughters, and a hill.

     The Irving Theater: Probably the worst theater in Indianapolis. The floor was always sticky, the seats were often broken and tilted when you sat in them. The screen extended to the floor so people who sat in the front row blocked the lower part of the picture. If you stood up to leave your seat, the movie images were projected on your body. It was always noisy at the Irving because people were constantly talking during the movie. It was hard to concentrate on the dialogue, but tickets were cheap, and sometimes they showed two movies back-to-back for the price of one. You might be at the Irving all afternoon!

     Irvington Masonic Lodge: One block east of Ritter Ave. was Johnson Ave. On the SE corner of Johnson and Washington St was a two-story Job’s Daughters-Demolay Masonic Lodge. On the second floor was a large room where Job’s Daughters sponsored dances for their members. I was fortunate to be invited to those dances by young girls several times. They were dress-up, corsage affairs with a live band (Tommy Moriarty band), and refreshments. At age 14, I was very impressed. The Masonic Lodge still stands today!

     AFNB-American Fletcher National Bank: On the SE corner of Ritter and Washington was the bank where I had a Christmas Savings Club account. My mother worked for AFNB in downtown Indianapolis for many years after my father died.

     Public School 57: On the SW corner of Ritter and Washington was the elementary school where Sandy taught 4th grade for three years when I was in med school. Her fellow teachers and the principal helped this newlywed, first year teacher a great deal, but couldn’t change that she had 40 students. Her job paid the rent and medical school tuition after my father passed away. 

     Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School: The neighborhood Catholic Church and school.

     Shirley Brothers Mortuary: On Washington at Irvington Ave just east of Lourdes was the main funeral home for the Irvington area. The building sat back from the street on a grassy hill and was home to my fathers wake and funeral service. Conveniently located next door was a flower shop named Paul’s Flowers and Gifts, owned by the Bruner family.

     Brown Hill: On the SW corner of Emerson Ave and Washington was the former home of Hilton U. Brown, a wealthy Indianapolis journalist and newspaper executive. He also was a trustee of Butler University and the Disciples of Christ church. Until his death in 1958, the stately home sat atop Brown hill, on that corner. After his death, the home was demolished, but Brown Hill was preserved and became like a small park. In the winter, Brown Hill was perfect for sledding. 

     Miss Hibben’s Kindergarten: On Pleasant Run parkway south drive, Miss Hibben’s home, tucked into the hillside, served also as a kindergarten.The huge home had three levels on a terraced lot. I attended there when I was 4 or 5 years old. Most of my memories are of the appearance and size of the home. It was remarkable. 

     Pleasant Run Parkway: It had north and south drives that ran diagonally to the NE. The lanes were separated by a park-like median lined with huge, mature sycamore trees and Pleasant Run. Pleasant Run is a small river that runs for miles from White River to NE 30th street. On each side of Pleasant Run Parkway were huge homes owned by local TV personalities, politicians, executives, and professionals. The north branch of the parkway formed the southern boundary of Ellenberger Park.

     Ellenberger Park: It had a swimming pool, picnic ground, ice skating rink, baseball diamonds, and a hill that was almost steep enough for winter sledding. Ellenberger pool had  a reputation as a “polio pit!” Prior to Salk polio vaccine, public swimming pools were suspected of being a prime place to get polio. That all changed after everyone was vaccinated. I played baseball there, took swim lessons there, and sledded once or twice. The hill at Ellenberger just wasn’t steep enough to get your sled moving very fast so we gave up trying. 

     72 N. Layman Ave: The address of the home of Hildreth Davis, Sandy’s aunt, with whom she was living when we met. Sandy’s mother was badly injured in an auto accident and was bedfast in the hospital. Sandy’s grandfather had had a stroke, and was living in Hildreth’s home right in the center of Irvington. Sandy lived there to help care for her grandfather. So, for me to see her, I had to go to 72 N. Layman. It was there we studied together, and I helped her with chemistry. It was also in that house that on April 12, 1961, I asked Sandy to “go steady.” 

From 1875 to 1928, Irvington was home to the campus of Butler University, originally named Western Christian University. It was renamed Butler University in 1877 to honor its founder and benefactor, abolitionist Ovid Butler. After Butler moved to its present location, all but one of the remaining vacant buildings were demolished, and the site became a residential neighborhood. The remaining building, the university’s library, is now called the Bona Thompson Memorial Center and is still standing. 

In 1923, DC Stephenson, lived in Irvington, and became the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan. Two years later, he was convicted of murdering a young woman and served 31 years in prison. His home in Irvington is now privately owned and is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

It’s very obvious that Irvington played a huge role in the lives of many east-siders. Over the past 30 years, however, Irvington has transitioned away from a traditional neighborhood to one with a more “progressive” focus. Irvington remains a fascination to me and represents where some major life decisions were made, and the direction of my life was charted. It was like a small city unto itself. I had just about everything one would want. Of course, most of the buildings and homes are 60-plus years older now, but they’re still standing, except for the buildings from Bill Kuhn Chevy to Wolman’s, replaced by a Walgreen’s. Those remaining, though, still represent unforgettable life events and memories. I’m glad these memories remain because it’s fun to share them with others and to compare stories. I hope you have an “Irvington,” too.

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  1. Good article!

    You left out the old Library, which was on the S. Side of Wasington St, just west of school 57. I remember going there to look up things for school reports in an encyclopedia among other things. Irvington was the only library close to Bancroft St. We went there often. There is now a new nice library on the SW corner of Audubon and Washington. We go there often now.

    I remember also the “Bookmobile”, which parked in the lot at 21st and Arlington, NE corner. We went there too (as we drove there I don’t know why we just didn’t go to the library itself!)

    1. Eric,
      Thanks. I’ll have to confess I didn’t remember the library. Now that you mention it, I do vaguely remember it.

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