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Massachusetts Avenue Historic District

Massachusetts Avenue Historic District- Murat Shrine Building

Murat Shrine Building
Indiana Division of Historic Preservation
and Archaeology

Massachusetts Avenue is one of the city’s most intact diagonal streets, originally laid out in the Ralston plan of 1821. The Massachusetts Avenue Commercial District developed as an important outlying commercial area that served trolley commuters during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The district includes a remarkable collection of commercial, light industrial, and institutional architecture, from vernacular Italianate blocks of the 1870s to imposing institutional and fraternal complexes designed by the city’s leading architects.

Massachusetts Avenue was platted to link to an existing diagonal road, the Pendleton Pike. The pike reached far into northeast-central Indiana, so it was natural for businesses to develop along the route to serve those entering town and leaving. Houses also faced the avenue, but Citizen’s Street Railway extended a trolley line down Massachusetts fostering a conversion to all commercial use by the 1870s and 1880s. Other lines that split off for other neighborhoods and eventually interurban cars added to the volume of potential shoppers on the avenue. Institutions came to the avenue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Das Deutsche Haus, now called The Athenaeum, opened its doors in 1894, the Murat Shrine in 1909. Chinese Americans also found a niche on Massachusetts Avenue. They operated restaurants and cleaners in several storefronts.

The avenue was in decline in the 1940s and 50s but remained viable, because auto traffic still funneled to downtown on it. In the 1960s, construction of the inner loop of I-65 and a bank tower in the 100 block effectively cut off most through traffic. Listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and a concerted effort by merchants have revived the avenue as a center for art galleries, local restaurants, rehabilitated apartments, and small specialty stores.

Starting at the south end of the district, the Wright Block at 318-336 Massachusetts is a good example of Italianate commercial architecture. Stout’s Shoe Store has been an occupant here for over 100 years. Even if you don’t need new shoes, step inside and check out the “change trolley,” a system of overhead wires that carries baskets with the customer’s purchase and change to a mezzanine area, where the transaction is finalized. Chinese Americans maintained a club room in the upper floor of the Wright Block. Across the street at 301 is the Hammond Block of 1874, a prime example of one of Indy’s “flatiron” buildings. The brick Italianate façade has cast iron storefronts and window hoods. Up the avenue at 340-358, George Marott built Marott Department Store in 1906. This is one of the city’s Chicago Style commercial buildings with its banks of windows, simple moldings and plain overhanging cornice. At five stories, it is also the tallest historic building in the corridor.

Commercial buildings in the 700 block
Commercial Buildings,
700 block of Massachusetts Avenue

Indiana Division of Historic Preservation
and Archaeology

Further up, at New Jersey and Massachusetts, is a unique architectural wonder, the headquarters of the Indianapolis Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine — the Murat Shrine Building. Oscar Bohlen of D.A. Bohlen & Sons designed this building in 1909. Bands of tan and brown brick, Moorish arches, onion domes, and a 208’ minaret tower make this landmark stand out on the Indianapolis skyline. In 1922, architects Rubush & Hunter designed a north addition with Egyptian Room, inspired by the recent find of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb. Across the street is the German social club, The Athenaeum (Das Deutsche Haus).

Two commercial buildings in the 700 block of the avenue are noteworthy for their original Italianate designs. 706-710 and 707-711 are brick c. 1875 Italianates. Both retain original stone arcaded storefronts. Further up the avenue past restaurants, galleries, and drinking establishments, 858-868 is an Art Deco masterpiece. Local architects Rubush & Hunter designed this large complex for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1931. The gleaming white glazed terra cotta exterior is ornamented with chevrons, sunbursts, and stylized pilasters in relief.

Plan your visit
Massachusetts Avenue Commercial District is located on Massachusetts Ave. from Delaware to I-65 roughly bounded by one block to either side of Massachusetts Ave. Businesses are open to the public. Galleries and restaurants are open at night. Visitors can take a gallery tour and enjoy a meal at one of the many eateries. INDYGO bus line from downtown: The Blue line shuttle takes riders from one side of downtown to another. Das Deutsche Haus has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.

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