1987: Indiana’s tallest building gets groundbreaking filled with fanfare, fireworks

The Bank One Center was years in the making
Posted at 5:37 AM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 13:10:20-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Most groundbreaking ceremonies consist of a few dignitaries turning over some dirt with the shiniest of shovels, but in 1987, the folks at Bank One Indiana had other plans.

A team of 350 people, many of them volunteers, orchestrated the ceremony on June 18, 1987.

There were fireworks, balloons, a confetti waterfall, a banner drop, a 100-person marching band, four skydivers, and even a skywriter (who battled gusty winds while attempting to write ‘Bank One’ in the sky with a trail of smoke) - all while the music of a calliope played in the background. There was also a 22-foot cake served in a replica of the tower.

Thousands of Hoosiers traveled from around central Indiana to witness the festivities. Some of them arrived up to two hours before the groundbreaking began.

“It’s a long time coming and I’m glad that they’ve come to a final decision,” said one spectator. “I think it’s good for Indianapolis.”

This celebration indeed was a long time coming.

“It’s a dream come true,” Frank McKinney Jr. told WRTV reporter Gerry Dick.

“I started this back in ‘69 and thought we could get it done in four years. It took a lot longer than one thinks and I’m just glad that time was kind with good health and everybody is still here to see this reach fruition.”

Frank McKinney’s pie in the sky proposal

Frank McKinney Jr. began planning his tower nearly two decades earlier. McKinney was climbing the ropes in his father’s footsteps at American Fletcher National Bank or AFNB. He became the head of the American Fletcher in 1973.

McKinney Jr. pictured the American Fletcher Center as a defining presence in the city’s skyline. The first step in realizing this dream was acquiring the real estate needed to build the tower.

McKinney and his AFNB associates began acquiring several properties in the northeast quadrant of Monument Circle including the Bankers Trust Building at 30 E. Ohio St., the Hume-Mansur Building at 23 E. Ohio St. and the Wilking Music Building (also known as the Vajen Exchange Block) at 120 N. Pennsylvania Street.

The Hume-Mansur and Wilking Music buildings were purchased by AFNB in 1973. The nearby Kittles Building on Pennsylvania Street was purchased a few years later.

By January 1980, demolition for the buildings loomed.

WRTV reporter Ken Nelson reported on the effort to preserve some elements of the structures before they were razed to make way for the new tower.

1980: Demolition looms as AFNB eyes expansion

“Sometimes we tear buildings down that we regret having to tear them down because of the sentimental value and the historical significance, but when they gotta go, they gotta go,” Virgil Pummel told WRTV.

One element that was preserved was the cast-iron facade of the Wilking Building. It was carefully taken apart and stored on the grounds of the Central State Hospital. It was later reassembled in the 100 block of S. Meridian Street, where it still stands today.

Ohio-based Banc One Corp. acquired AFNB for about $600 million in 1986. McKinney Jr. transitioned from being AFNB’s president and chief executive officer to president and chief executive officer of Banc One.

McKinney stepped down from his day-to-day duties at Banc One in 1990. He was one of six people killed when two airplanes collided over Marion County on Sept. 11, 1992.