Indianapolis is the state capital and, with a metropolitan population of 1.3 million, by far the largest city in Indiana. It is best known for the Indianapolis 500 motor race, held every Memorial Day (May 30) when, in a loud and colorful blur of motion around a 2-mile oval, high-tech, low-slung Indy cars reach speeds of more than 200 mph before boisterous crowds of half a million people.
Indianapolis and wheels go together. The city, in the middle of the state, was built in the early nineteenth century on the banks of the White River in the hope that the transportation opportunities the waterway offered would lead to growth and development. As it turned out, the river was too shallow most of the year for anything other than small boats. However, the city’s central geographic position was an advantage as Indianapolis became a hub for east-west and northsouth traffic. It boasts the title of “Crossroads of America” by virtue of the seven interstate and nine US highways located through and around it.
Designed in a wheel pattern after Washington DC, the city grew out from Monument Circle, where a 285-foot-high monument to Indiana soldiers and sailors pays tribute to the more than 210,000 Hoosiers killed during the Civil War and more than 4,000 killed in the war with Mexico. Monument Circle and its surroundings—cobblestone streets, the Capitol, and the restaurants and night spots fanning out from the circle—present a spectacle reminiscent of Europe. Adding to the appeal are the Canal Walk and the five-block Veterans Memorial Plaza, which features the immense limestone and granite War Memorial Building, lovely gardens, woodland, bright grassy stretches, and a bewitching and playful water sculpture. It’s hard to believe that not long ago central Indy was a bleak and dangerous eyesore. Since then a progressive city government has spruced it up and made it safe. The new Circle Center mall is now the place to go to party, relax, and shop.
Before its centennial renovation in 1988, the interior of the Indiana Statehouse had been painted a drab green by prisoners. The $10 million makeover renewed original hand-painted details, brass chandeliers, and marble floors. The governor’s office features a desk made of teak decking from the USS Indiana, the Supreme Court gleams with original brass spittoons, and just a few blocks west of Monument Circle the limestone shoulders and copper dome of the Capitol are bathed in light at night.
Downtown Indy abounds in historical edifices, most within walking distance of Monument Circle. The Madame Walker Urban Life Center at 617 Indiana Avenue features Egyptian and African design. The restored structure was built to house the business of C.J. Walker, America’s first African-American selfmade millionaire. The Indiana Theater at 134 West Washington Street is home to the Indiana Repertory Theater, the state’s only professional resident theater company. The Spanish Baroque building, originally a 1920s movie palace, offers three stages and a variety of performances. The elaborate Indiana Roof Ballroom on the sixth floor has a starry domed “sky” and the decor of a Spanish village. Concerts, dances, and New Year’s Eve parties are held there. Union Station at 39 Jackson Place was built in 1888 as the nation’s first grand railway station with the Union name. It saw 200 trains a day during World War II. Now it’s a marketplace loaded with specialty shops, restaurants, and an arcade. The James Whitcomb Riley Home at 528 Lockerbie Street in Lockerbie Square was home to the poet who penned such rhymes as “Little Orphan Annie” and “When the Frost Is on the Punkin.” The 1872 house, which is open to the public, is furnished with period pieces and the author’s personal effects.
The Middle East visits downtown Indy with the Murat Shrine Temple, a massive building right out of the Sahara with an exquisite Egyptian Room, where big-name concerts and holiday celebrations are held. Among many fine religious structures, the Scottish Rite Cathedral on North Meridian Street stands out. Its Tudor/Gothic style resembles a castle. The Masonic temple has been lauded as one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. Its ballroom has a magnificent black and white walnut parquet floor, and rare Russian white oak in the auditorium.
One of the keys to Indy’s downtown redevelopment is Circle Center. With other components in place—sports and performing-arts venues, hotels, a convention center, a zoo, museums, and housing—the one essential missing ingredient was shopping. As in other cities, most of Indianapolis’ major retailers had abandoned the downtown area for suburban malls. In 1995 a $310 million, four-level shopping and entertainment complex was opened, and it has been a big hit. Circle Center not only keeps people in the city, but draws visitors from surrounding areas and far away. Its architecture combines the fa\347ades of eight venerable buildings with new construction that is both comfortable and contemporary. Arched skylights run the length of the mall and storefronts run the gamut from elegant to funky. The 100 tenants include Nordstrom, the Seattle-based department store famous for its customer service and quality merchandise, and the Parisian, a Georgia-based department-store chain that has an in-store jungle gym for restless kids.
Many of the best restaurants are downtown or in the affluent suburb of Broad Ripple, just to the north. Traditional American, Italian, and Chinese have been popular in the past, but in the past decade a wider variety of ethnic cuisines has come into the picture, including Indian, Korean, Ethiopian, and Russian.
When it comes to the performing arts, the outstanding Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s few 52-week orchestras. It offers some 200 concerts a year for all tastes—classical, pop, a Yuletide celebration, and a Symphony on the Prairie series. For visual arts, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, founded in 1883, is one of the oldest art museums in the United States. Set in the beautifully landscaped riverside splendor of the former estate of Josiah K. Lilly Jr. (the grandson of pharmaceutical company founder Eli Lilly), the museum is home to a superb collection of J.M.W. Turner watercolors and drawings, old master paintings, contemporary art, and remarkable collections of Chinese and African art.
Indianapolis was rolling woodland back in 1820, occupied by scattered Native American villages and two white settler families. It became the capital in 1824 because it was located near the center of the state and was thought to have great potential for transport. By the Civil War (1861-65), the city had more than 100 manufacturing concerns. Today, Indianapolis is primarily a trade and manufacturing center, although government employment is significant, providing work for nearly a fifth of the labor force. There are more than 1,500 firms in the eightcounty metropolitan area. Local products include pharmaceuticals, automobile parts, truck engines and bodies, jet engines, communication and electronic equipment, and rubber and paper goods. The city is among the leading US corn and grain producers, and is headquarters for many insurance companies.
The two largest educational institutions here are Butler University and Indiana-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Also in the city are Indiana University’s Indianapolis Law School, the Graduate School of Social Services, the John Herron School of Arts, Marian College, the University of Indianapolis, and the Christian Theological Seminary.
But the city is best known for its sports. Not only the Indianapolis 500, but two more of racing’s notable events—the Brickyard 400 stock-car race and the International Hot Rod Association’s US nationals—are held here. The presence of high-quality venues and high-quality events has led to the creation or relocation of some 250 racing-related businesses in Indianapolis, ranging from engineering and design firms to racing organizations and equipment manufacturers. Indianapolis also has two well-known professional sports teams, the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League and the Indiana Pacers in the National Basketball Association. The minor league Indianapolis Indian baseball team and Indianapolis ice hockey team also have avid followings. As well, the Indianapolis Tennis Center showcases top international players. Many sports organizations have their headquarters here. The city has built or renovated more than $168 million worth of sports facilities and Indy has hosted hundreds of events, including the Pan American Games and NCAA Final Four basketball games, earning it the title of “Amateur Sports Capital of the World.” The economic contribution to the city has been more than a billion dollars. Indianapolis can be reached by I-70, I-74, I-65, and I-69. Its international airport is the largest in the state. It can also be reached by bus.