Historic Structures

Schnull & Company Building, Indianapolis Indiana

Date added: April 30, 2021 Categories: Indiana Commercial

Henry Schnull, one of the greatest leaders of Indianapolis commerce in the last half of the nineteenth century erected the headquarters for his wholesale grocery firm after the fire of December 3, 1895 destroyed the commercial block that he had previously erected on the site. Schnull & Co. dominated the Indianapolis wholesale grocery trade until the 1930s. Dating back to 1855, Schnull & Co. was one of many businesses started by Henry Schnull in his long, successful business career in Indianapolis. Schnull (1833-1905) emigrated from the German province of Westphalia in 1852 with some business experience. He started a retail grocery business here with Fredrick P. Rusch in 1855, that later became A. and H. Schull & Company with Schnull's brother, August, as a partner. The retail business ended in 1860 and the Schnulls turned their attention to the wholesale trade and to developing and building the Wholesale District. Noted as the "Father of the Wholesale District", Schnull erected the first business block on South Meridian in 1863 at the southwest corner of Meridian and Maryland Streets known as the Schnull's Block, abutting the Schnull & Co. Building. The Schnulls sold their business in 1865 and that same year founded Merchants National Bank with Volney T. Malott, David Macy and Alexander Metzger. Henry Schnull served as the bank's first president from 1865 to 1866. In 1868, he formed the wholesale grocery firm of Severin, Schnull & Company in partnership with Henry Severin, a fellow Greman immigrant. Between 1872 and 1877, he was a hotelier operating the Occidental Hotel on the site of the Occidental Building, but returned to the wholesale grocery business in 1877 founding the firm of Schnull & Krag. This firm bacame Schnull and Company in 1889. The results of the 1895 fire were a new building and Schnull's Phoenix brand of groceries, an obvious reference to the firm's recovery after the fire. Schnull commissioned his son-in-law, Bernard Vonnegut of Vonnegut & Bohn to design the new building. Schnull & Co. pioneered vacuum-packed coffee in 1922. The firm occupied this building until 1924 when it moved to larger facilities at 601 Kentucky Avenue.

After Schnull & Company vacated 110-116 South Meridian, the Taylor Carpet Company occupied the building until the early 1930s. The Hibben, Hellweg & Company, wholesalers of drygoods and notions, occupied the building from 1937 to the 1960s. L. S. Ayres & Company department store used the Schnull & Co. Building as a warehouse until 1977 when the building was remodeled and occupied by Lascala Italian Restaurant. In 1985 the building was again remodeled by the same owners and it functioned as a night club and discoteque from 1985 to 1988. It was vacant until it was demolished in 1990.

The Schnull & Co. Building was a five-story, brick commercial building built in 1897. The main facade is clad with light-brown brick and is accented with moulded brick details and limestone sills.

The Building ws located on a rectangular parcel of land, virtually occupying the entire parcel from South Meridian Street to the alley Bird Street. The building was 64 feet wide and 187 feet, 6 inches long.

The building's structural system is that of mill construction with a heavy timber structure, with heavy wood beams from basement through roof, and generally wood columns from second through fifth floors. First floor and basement columns are brick and steel. The fourth column from the west seems to be a brick enclosure for the roof drains. In the basement, stone and brick were used as bearing and foundation walls. The perimeter walls are all brick with a minimum thickness of twelve inches.

The first floor of the Schnull & Co. Building establishes the pattern followed by the upper floors. The first floor is distinctive for its decorative elements and the mezzanine. The first floor is a large open area approximately 137 feet long and 61 feet wide. The area is interrupted by two columns of piers supporting the mezzanine. In the middle of the west end of the room is the open, public staircase to the mezzanine. In the southwest corner of the room is the enclosed stairs. West of the main open area is an open room with six steel pipe columns.

The floors above (second through fifth) are divided into three areas the large open space, the enclosed stairs on the south wall containing restroom facilities, and the small space located in the western most quarter of the floor. The exception to this pattern are the fourth and fifth floors. The southwest corner of the building has a skylight room on the fourth floor resulting in no floor area above this space on the fifth floor. The fourth and fifth floors have retained their three rows of wooden support posts but on the second and third, the middle rows have been removed. creating a large opening in the center. Corresponding to the open area on the first floor surrounded by mezzanine. The third and second floors have some drywall partitioned areas, created in 1977 as private dining rooms.

The basement is divided into four rooms and the stairwell. The large room corresponds to those on the upper floor and is punctuated by three rows of steel columns. The four smaller rooms are located in the west end and had mechanical service functions, containing boilers, electrical panels. etc. The room farthest to the west extended under the open loading dock area.