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Historic Indiana Avenue: Years of change

Much of the old only lives in pictures
Posted at 11:27 PM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 19:39:58-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Historic Indiana Avenue looks a lot different today than it did decades ago, and it could soon look even more different if a plan for a new apartment building is approved.

The Indiana Avenue district of Indianapolis is undeniably historic, but if you blink, look the other way or, drive a little too fast, you might miss it.

"This is one of the largest most intact black neighborhoods in the country," said Sampson Levingston.

Livingston is a storyteller, lover of Indiana history and, as of this summer, a self-employed Indiana Avenue tour guide. He's fascinated with the area, originally home to the center of black life and business in Indianapolis, but nearly all of what once was is now gone.

"You know, we made this place home, and not because we wanted to but because we had to. We had to find a place to make home, a place to have a community, a place to go to church, a place to do business, a place to see shows, a place to come up with new ideas and go to school, and that was right here," Levingston said.

The music of famous jazz musicians, the commerce of business from residents like Madam CJ Walker, and the community which housed thousands of Black Hoosiers now lives only in pictures and memories.

Some fear a five-story apartment building and retail space proposed to sit between The Walker Legacy Center and Indianapolis Urban League will further erase the historic black culture that has already taken a blow from gentrification and the growth of nearby IUPUI.

"Well it just seems extremely large, just a monstrosity and it would take up all the space, knock down one building and build apartment buildings which we have plenty new apartment buildings downtown," Aleta Hodge said.

Aleta Hodge saw first-hand what the Indiana Avenue she writes about in her book once looked like. Her family lived on what is now the IUPUI campus. She says the once thriving 10-block area is unrecognizable these days, and while she's not against new developments, she is hoping to see something that reflects the many years of black history.

"And just like when the Circle Center Mall first came, they kept the historic buildings, the kept those facades so that it looked like you were walking into a historic building, but you were walking into a huge shopping mall and the same thing could be done here," said Hodge.