Vance Block

( Indiana Trust Building )

Dates:

1875-1876, demolished July, 1959

Location:

Southeast corner of Washington Street and Virginia Avenue (now 117 E. Washington), Indianapolis, Indiana

Architect: William H. Brown
Contractor:

Gerhard Ittenback (cut stone)

Addition: c.1894-1895 (two floors added)

The Vance Block was built during 1875-1876 and on a wedge-shaped lot at the corner of Pennsylvania Street and Virginia Avenue. It was built for Mary J. (Bates) Vance, widow of prominent Indianapolis merchant Lawrence M. Vance (1816-1863).

According to Sketches of Prominent Citizens of 1876 (Indianapolis, 1877), “Mrs. Vance owns that splendid property on the corner of Virginia avenue and Washington street, on which she erected the fine banking house in 1876, which is the most imposing in appearance of any in the city.” It also seems to have contained the first elevator in Indianapolis.

Vance Block, complete with flag, was shown in Harper's Weekly of October 14, 1876. It was in the background of an engraving titled “The Boys in Blue—Soldiers’ Reunion at Indianapolis, Indiana,” showing a reunion of Civil War soldiers on Washington Street.

Washington Street looking east from Delaware, 1875 (Image from HABS/HAER) Detail showing construction of Vance Block at Washington Street and Virginia Avenue (Image from HABS/HAER)
The Vance Block, from Indianapolis Illustrated, 1888 The Vance Block in 1893

The 1877 City Directory carried a text advertisement reading “VANCE BLOCK, Corner Virginia Ave and Washington, containing 100 ELEGANT OFFICE AND STORE ROOMS Heated by Steam, Water Supply in Every Room. For Offices Apply at Room 42, 3 rd Floor.” Room 42 was the office of Lawrence M. Vance, the son of Mrs. Vance. The 1884 City Directory lists Lawrence M. Vance’s sporting goods store in Room 5 of the Vance Block, and his residence in Room 59. The store remained the same in 1885 but Vance had moved his residence to Room 75.

The building was dramatic in form, with a polygonal tower vaguely reminiscent of Brown's Ford School of 1869. It was approximately 55 feet high with the tower reaching a height of 80 feet. The exterior walls were of Oolitic limestone, skillfully carved under the direction of Gerhard Ittenback. A triangular light well was located in the center of the building, extending down to the top of the first floor. The Sanborn Insurance Maps do not indicate the location of any staircases, but there was probably a staircase inside the entrance at 117 E. Washington Street, possibly wrapping around the elevator shaft.

About 1894-1895 the top of the tower was removed and two floors were added to the building. This increased the height to about 80-85 feet. The light court was rebuilt as a five-story triangular atrium topped with a huge triangular skylight. The atrium was surrounded by iron columns with capitals of a modern Corinthian style, supporting beams with decorative rosettes. Railings of curving ironwork spanned the three sides of each floor. Two elevators serviced the building’s six floors.

This striking example of W. H. Brown's masterful design skill remained largely unaltered after the 1890s addition. It was occupied by the Indiana Trust Company at the time of the remodeling, taking on the name “Indiana Trust Building” by 1896.

Detail of tower gables View of Vance Block from the northeast, 1893, note skylights over light well on roof
Vance Block, September, 1893, from Hyman's Handbook of Indianapolis, 1897. An 1895 advertisement for Wm. B. Burford's photo-gravures featured the newly-remodeled Indiana Trust Building
Indiana Trust Building, 1897, from Hyman's Handbook of Indianapolis, 1897. The arched entrances of the Pembroke Arcade can be seen behind the building on both sides. West Washington Street with the Indiana Trust Building at left, from Hyman's Handbook of Indianapolis, 1897.

During 1895-1896 the Pembroke Arcade was built one building to the southeast of the Vance Block. The arcade contained a street of shops running from Washington Street to Virginia Avenue under a glass and iron vaulted roof. The Pembroke Arcade was designed by Indianapolis architect Bernard Vonnegut (grandfather of author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.). It was demolished in 1943.

A large sign stating "INDIANA TRUST CO. PAYS 3 PERCENT ON DEPOSITS" was added to the roof of the Indiana Trust Building around the turn of the century. By 1912 it read "INDIANA TRUST CO.: A HOME FOR SAVINGS." Four years later the sign had again changed to "INDIANA TRUST CO.: SAVINGS BANK: THE STRONG CO.," which remained until at least 1924. In 1929 the sign read "INDIANA TRUST CO.: FOR SAVINGS 4% INTEREST 4%." By 1937 a taller sign bearing the company name and interest rates had been installed. This remained until the late-1950s. In 1953 the Indiana Trust Company merged with the Merchants’ National Bank. In November, 1958, the Merchants National Bank announced plans to demolish the Indiana Trust Company Building and build a new building on the site. The bank had acquired the site of the Pembrooke Arcade and included that in its proposed site.

Indiana Trust Building, from a 1908 postcard, note Marion County Court House tower at left
The Indiana Trust Building, c.1925, from a company envelope Detail of facade showing stonework [ people and cars are drawn unrealistically small ]

Occupants of the Vance Block included many prominent Indianapolis architects. In 1878 R. M. Cosby, architect, occupied Room 65. In 1879 Isaac Taylor, architect, occupied Room 70.

In 1886 Bernard Vonnegut, architect, occupied Room 62 of the Vance Block, and his directory advertisement listed “(Elevator)” after the room number. In 1887 he became partner with Arthur Bohn, and the firm of Vonnegut & Bohn occupied Room 62. By 1890 they had expanded to occupy Room 63 as well, and on into Room 64 by 1893. In 1896 they are first listed in the newly re-named Indiana Trust Building, with the address changed to Rooms 608-610. In 1898 they had expanded further, occupying rooms 608-614.

In 1897 architect Adolph Scherrer, the former partner of Edwin May who had helped design the Indiana State House, occupied rooms 415-417 of the Indiana Trust Building.

Other tenants of the building included Jacob Huber, a merchant tailor, occupied the corner store room, called the “Vance Block Point” in an 1884 advertisement. In 1892 the International Typographical Union occupied Room 59.

This magnificent Indianapolis landmark retained its cornice, elaborate cut stone, and large windows until 1959, surviving the trends to strip off or cover historic facades.

Excerpts from the Indianapolis Times, February 1, 1959

When they begin battering down the old Indiana Trust Building in July, an era will have ended in Indianapolis. The antique building, erected at Washington and Virginia in 1876 and looking like it, can’t tell the tales hidden inside its walls.

But its two senor tenants, Robert I Marsh and Frank Symmes, preparing to move and break up a 49-year friendship with the building and its occupants, recall many memories.

Mr. Marsh, a former judge, shook his shock of white hair and pointed to the busy streets below the windows of his third floor office on the point of the building. “I’ve watched Indianapolis go by for almost half a century from here. I saw them go off to two World Wars and parade home again right there on Washington Street.”

“I’m peeved to see them tear down pretty buildings like this. New ones are’t half so pretty,” he said.

Indiana Trust built its business home after receiving the first charter ever granted to a trust company in Indiana. Traditionally it has housed lawyers and has changed very little over the years. Two additional floors were added to the original four and the front doorway was moved to Virginia Avenue. But spittoons still stand in the halls. The original elevators, oft-repaired, still clatter up and down daily.

Lawyers and architects still house their most valuable records in special fireproof vaults originally installed on each floor. “I’ll really miss the place,” continued the Judge. “After World War I, I served coffee and doughnuts to 500 people who crowded into my office on the point to watch the celebration below.”

He knocked more ashes off his cigar to the floor and recalled the year 1913. “The streetcar workers cut the trolley wires on Washington, leaving hot wires lying in the street,” he said. He watched, fascinated, when street car officials came to take up the dangerous live wires. “Strikers descended on them and beat them up, with police standing around gawking like knots on wood,” said the Judge…

Up on the sixth floor, Frank Symmes, 75, looked at his now bare bookshelves. Mr. Symmes, known for the many criminal cases he’s handled the last 49 years, came to the Indiana Trust Building fresh out of law school, as did Judge Marsh. He, Marsh, Ed Jackson (later Governor of Indiana) and Arthur Robinson (later a member of the U. S. Senate) were partners then.

“All these years—since 1910—the building has meant more than just a place to work,” Mr. Symmes observed. “It’s been a fraternity, a home for a family of lawyers—I’m going to miss all that when we scatter this spring to the modern sites in town,” he said…

He walked into the hall, with its rough-hewn board floor, and met an architect, also an old tenant of the doomed Corinthian-columned building. “This new building is a monkey house,” the architect said. It’ll look like the whale’s teeth or a set of dominoes.” he complained, hating to see the old torn down.”

But Orro N. Frenzel, president of the Merchants National Bank & Trust Co., said the new building is planned with “modern Indianapolis” in mind. By fall of next year, a fashionable $2 million structure with no spittoons, but all the latest conveniences and slick-running elevators, will rise in the place of the old Indiana Trust.

But it won’t have memories.

From the Indianapolis Star, November 22, 1958. The vacant site of the Pembroke Arcade is within the dotted lines. From the Indianapolis Times, February 1, 1959
Lawyer Frank Symmes, who had an office in the building from 1910-1959, standing in the 6th floor of the atrium, February 1, 1959 Rendering of the Merchants National Bank Down-town Drive-in branch by Lennox, Matthews, Simmons & Ford, architects, published in The Indiana Architect, May 1961.

The Vance Block / Indiana Trust Building was demolished in July, 1959. The new "Down-town Drive-In Branch" of the Merchants National Bank & Trust Company of Indianapolis was built on the site during 1959-1960. The building was designed by Lennox, Matthews, Simmons & Ford of Indianapolis (architects of the City-County Building), and built by the Carl M. Guepel Construction Co. It was soon nicknamed "The Zipper Building" due to its unusual trapezoidal windows. While it lacked both the urban density (replacing a six-story building with a three-story one) and street presence of the Vance Block / Indiana Trust Building, the Zipper Building was one of Indiana's most significant examples of High Modernist architecture. It survived intact until 2007, when its distinctive facade was stripped off and the building remodeled beyond recognition.