Fountain Square Indianapolis: antiques, art, & restaurants

Located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue, Shelby, and Prospect Streets, Fountain Square is one of several cultural districts in and around Indianapolis. Approximately a mile and a half from downtown, the area in 1835 was a 264-acre apple orchard owned by a single farmer, Dr. John Sanders. Often considered the first settlers to the area, Calvin Fletcher and Nicholas McCarthy, bought his land, divided and sold it in lots, and houses were built as the first families began to arrive. Except for a few Italian and Danish immigrants, the neighborhood consisted primarily of the German working class, and Fountain Square was recognized as the first real commercial district in the city. In the early part of the 20th century, the ethnic composition of Fountain Square grew more complex, however, as increasing numbers of people moved from the Appalachia region of Kentucky and Tennessee. Designated a historical landmark in 1984, the streets leading to the Square today are lined with antique shops, art galleries, retail establishments, and restaurants.

The central Ralph Hill Memorial Fountain has been replaced three times since the inception of Fountain Square. The first was a cast iron statue of “Lady Spray” over a simple watering trough; the second was a statue of a “Pioneer Family,” designed by Myra Richards in 1924 and dedicated to Ralph Hill, an Indianapolis congressman. Eventually, the fountain was moved to Garfield Park in 1954, where it remained until 1969. The present and third fountain was permanently restored to Fountain Square in 1979.

From 1910 to 1950, the district was the center for at least 11 operating theaters. The Fountain Square Theater, built in 1928 by Frank Hunter, with its Italian Garden décor, a 40’ lighted dome ceiling, and a seating capacity of 1500 was quite grand. Vaudeville shows and motion pictures were presented in the theater until it was closed and emptied in the late1950’s. For a time, the building housed a thrift shop and a Woolworth store. The restoration of this arts and entertainment venue began in 1993, with a remodeling of the interior that now features column arches around a large dance floor and a balcony of stained glass windows and plaster reliefs. The building also houses duckpin bowling, overnight accommodations, an authentic 50’s soda fountain and diner, and numerous shops. Fridays and Saturdays are outdoor movie nights during the summer, when movie classics are shown, and families can enjoy the classic films or dine at one of the many restaurants in the Square.
(Note: Shelby Suites, on the mezzanine level of the Theater, are available for rent as corporate meeting rooms, and The Fountain View Inn, has one-bedroom and studio suites, conveniently located in the Theater building.)

Atomic Bowl Duckpin opened in 1997 on the lower level of the Theater, with seven alleys furnished with 50’s and 60’s bowling equipment and memorabilia, vintage jukeboxes, a few arcade games, a pool table, and a soda fountain. The Action Duckpin Bowl, located on the 4th floor of the Theater, has eight alleys and a café. The Fountain Diner, located on the ground floor of the Theater, is a refurbished Woolworth soda fountain, with much of the same equipment found in the original Woolworth stores. The adjacent Fountain Room is the nonsmoking area of the Diner, both open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

On the top floor of the Fountain Square Theater, visitors can enjoy the Rooftop Garden, with a splendid view of the city skyline, or enjoy dinner or cocktails on the terrace of the shelBi Street CaFé. The Garden is open at 5:00 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. The shelBi Street CaFé and Bistro, at street level, offers sidewalk dining, as well.

Fountain Square Block, built in 1902, is another historic building in Fountain Square. At the time, it housed shops on the first floor, apartments and offices on the second, and the third served as a town hall. After 1994, however, the building was converted to accommodate the Fountain Square Library on the first floor, and the second and third floors to provide 22 apartments for senior citizens.

The Murphy Art Center in Fountain Square originally consisted of two buildings, the Schreiber Block built in 1895, and the Granada Theater in 1928, which were combined in 195l. The Murphy Art Center has 23 artists’ studios, five galleries, offices, a restaurant, and art supplies. As a part of the first Friday of every month art tour, sponsored by several Indianapolis cultural districts, Murphy Art Center holds an open house from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Visitors can view the work of various artists such as Krista Bermeo, Kevin Scott, Brian Moore, and Lois Templeton, as well as art from the Gallerie Penumbra.
(Note: The Gallerie Penumbra is open regularly Thursday — Friday, 5:00 p.m. to 8:p.m., and Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Murphy Art Center is open Monday — Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)

Many neighborhoods throughout the U.S. have experienced at one time or another a sharp decline in their economy, as a result of high rates of unemployment, crime, and drug problems. Fountain Square is no exception; however, it is a resourceful and diverse community that offers more than just the ordinary way of life. Rich in cultural history, with a town square, a central fountain, and architecture dating back to 187l, the neighborhood is an interesting place to visit and, for the many artists who live and work here, a great place to live. The chances are good that active community organizations in Indianapolis and willing residents will continue to promote and revitalize this fascinating and historic district.

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