INDIANAPOLIS — A dispute over the future of a nearly century-old apartment building, vacant for the past five years, is for the time being in the hands of a federal court.
At the center of the issue is the Drake building, 3060 N. Meridian St., an eight-story late Tudor Revival apartment building, built between 1928 and 1929 by well-known architect Henry Ziegler Dietz, who designed a number of buildings along North Meridian Street.
On one side of the dispute is The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, one of the city's biggest tourist draws and economic drivers. On the other side is the city, via the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and the Metropolitan Development Commission of Marion County.
How the dispute started
The museum bought the property for $1.25 million in 2012. At the time, the building was operating and had occupants. The museum brought in a management company and the plan at the time was to continue operating it as apartments for the foreseeable future. At the time the museum purchased the property, there was no historic preservation plan in place nor did the museum seek one.
Audra Blasdel, vice president of operations for the museum, said the operator came to the museum in 2016 and said it wasn't feasible to continue operating the building any longer. Small repairs became big repairs and the building was too costly to operate, she said.
"We went and looked for another operator who could just take over and we weren't able to find another management company who was interested in operating the property for us. So we worked with the existing management company to relocate the residents," Blasdel said. "From there we've been on a five-year endeavor to find another operator, someone to redevelop it, a reuse prospect. We've coordinated with a variety of neighborhood partners who we work with on a routine basis through our neighborhood development working group."
Over the course of the next three years, the museum continued to seek operators or developers for the property with no success, Blasdel said.
"After spending several years searching for another management firm or developer, the museum announced its intent to raze the Drake in 2019," Kim Harms Robinson, director of media and public relations for the museum, said. "Initially, parking was one of the possible uses, but it was quickly dismissed when the city requested that it not be used for that purpose due to the proximity of the Red Line."
In September 2019, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, passed a historic area preservation plan to save the Drake building from demolition. The plan, which was ultimately adopted in December 2020 by the Metropolitan Development Commission of Marion County, seeks to preserve the "exterior features of the site and architectural and historic character thereof." It also seeks to encourage adaptive reuse/redevelopment of the building that preserves those exterior features and not demolition of the apartment building or its historic garage on the site.
In January, the museum filed a complaint in Marion Superior Court arguing that the historic preservation plan without a budget and plan for renovation would "commit the museum to ongoing costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, with no benefit to the museum's mission, its efforts to serve the community, or its visitors." The complaint, which in February was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, seeks to void the proposed plan or to require the IHPC and the MDC to modify the plan.
"Our complaint focuses primarily around process and procedure. Our intent was to continue conversations with the city while also protecting our interests in the property," Blasdel said. "Due process is an important part of the public procedure and is a good way to make sure that everybody's voices are heard. Our hope is that we continue conversations with the city and we have been able to continue those and we're hopeful that we're getting a framework outlined that will lead to a resolution."
Both the city's Department of Metropolitan Development and Mayor Joe Hogsett's office declined to comment on the dispute citing the pending litigation.
"The historic designation, for us, we feel it restricts the extent to which we can have flexibility to use the property for the betterment and the growth of our mission as well as our community and our community outreach services," Blasdel said. "It's still in our long-term vision we potentially see using the property as a part of our mission," Blasdel said. "But here in the near-term it's important for us to come to some sort of resolution with the property."
History of the Drake building
Image courtesy of Bass Photo Co. Collection, Indiana Historical Society
The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, in its historic preservation plan, notes that the Drake is historically significant for several reasons — its architecture, its association with architect Harry Ziegler Dietz and that it is an intact example of luxury tower apartment buildings from the period that were popular on the north side of the city.
"The Drake is kind of one of the classic apartment buildings of North Meridian Street and through this area it's located in, across the street you have the Admiral, the Buckingham, the Balmoral," Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services for Indiana Landmarks, said. "The Drake is just another one of these important landmarks of this area of North Meridian."
Though not in a historic district, the block of North Meridian Street where the Drake is located has a number of buildings of historic significance. Balmoral Court and The Buckingham Apartments, both located on the east side of Meridian from the Drake, are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Schnull-Rauch House, located immediately south between the Drake and the main museum building, is also on the National Register and is currently owned by the museum and operated as an events center. Indiana Landmarks also has a preservation easement on the property, meaning it can't be demolished or altered in a way that would take away from its historic or architectural integrity.
"It's an impressive house," Dollase said. "They've done a fairly good job of maintaining it. We hope that continues into the future under the requirements of our legal document."
Dollase said because the Drake retains much of its original architectural integrity, it should be preserved.
"It's a significant structure that both the city felt had local historic significance and we believe is also eligible for the National Register of Historic Places," Dollase said. "That is important not only for the recognition of the building but because it could also play into some potential financial benefits for the property as well."
The connection to architect Dietz is also significant, according to both Dollase and the IHPC preservation plan. In addition to the Drake, Dietz is known in Indianapolis for the Rivoli Theater on East 10th Street, which was added to the National Register in 2004, the Meridian Street Apartments, which is listed in the National Register as part of the Shortridge-Meridian Street Apartments Historic District, and seven other apartment buildings he designed south of 38th Street between 1924 and 1930.
"There are numerous important structures associated with him here in Indianapolis and he also later moved on and worked quite a bit out of St. Louis so he certainly had a Midwestern impact," Dollase said. "The Drake is an important design of his."
What to do with the Drake
After the Drake closed, the museum began working on what to do with the property.
Blasdel said the museum has worked with various stakeholders, including the city, neighborhood partners, members and others to determine the next steps.
"As is evidenced over the past 20 years, we're very thoughtful in our process. To get to the point where we know exactly what we need to do takes years," Blasdel said. "For us, we're still working through what that means and that's where the flexibility to do what we desire with the property that we own is important. It won't be without collaboration with our neighborhood partners and it will absolutely be in response to what is needed to further our mission. It's just with a historic designation we lose the flexibility to kind of forge that path."
Dollase said Indiana Landmarks was involved early on in a task force put together by the museum.
"It became pretty clear pretty quickly that that was not where they were headed and that they wanted to clear the site as they did with an apartment building a couple of doors to the north," Dollase said. "I think they've acquired the old Salvation Army headquarters building next door with a similar intent. Very clearly their plans are more to open up the Meridian Street side of their campus so you can not only see the Sports Legends program that they have going there at their facility but perhaps for future expansion as well."
Preservation groups, like Indiana Landmarks, have dedicated time and money toward a number of efforts to preserve historic structures in the area near the Children's Museum and the Drake building.
"We've made investments of time and money in this immediate neighborhood as obviously as do the Children's Museum on a daily basis," Dollase said. "We feel strongly that buildings like the Glossbrenner Mansion, the Stutz house, the Schnull-Rauch house as well as the Drake all add the character that makes this area special and unique and why people want to live there and work there. We would ask that the Children's Museum support the designation of the Drake and work with the community to find a way going forward to see that it's repurposed into another use."
Robinson said the museum remains committed to continuing talks with the city and other stakeholders about the Drake's future.
"Our goal is to continue conversations with the City of Indianapolis to reach a mutually satisfying resolution for both parties that includes a viable reuse for the Drake, while also preserving the museum's ability to use the property in the best interest of the museum for the long-term fulfillment [of] the museum's mission and serving the community," Robinson said. "Historic preservation status for the Drake takes away from the museum's long-term flexibility for mission-driven and community-based uses on a property the museum has owned for nearly eight years. It's important to the museum, for the long-term, that the Drake's reuse fulfills the museum's mission.
"This is consistent with our other development initiatives, such as the Riley Children's Sports Legends Experience and the green space and affordable housing apartments just north of the museum that used to be the abandoned Winona Hospital."