This Music and Social Hall was Demolished despite attempts to save it

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana
Date added: January 08, 2024 Categories: Indiana Commercial Meeting Hall
South side and east front (date unknown)

The Maennerchor Society had it origins among the Germans who had come to the United States after the revolutions of 1848 in Europe. Among the ways that they sought to retain the culture of the country they had left was to sing the old songs and accustom themselves to American beer. In June, of 1854 a small group formalized their relationship and formed the Maennerchor. They gave their first concert on May 28th, 1855. During the rest of the nineteenth century the Maennerchor occupied several buildings in the downtown Indianapolis. The decision to allow non-participating members in the organization resulted in an increase in membership and wealth for the Maennerchor. They used this new ability to finance the Maennerchor Building; a headquarters designed especially for their musical and social needs.

In the middle of June 1906 the cornerstone was laid for the new building with pomp, ceremony, and singing. The presence of Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks, James Whitcomb Riley, and German Ambassador Baron Von Storberg, as honored guests and speakers attest to the importance of the event. The new building enabled the Maennerchor to continue its tradition of bringing world renown performing artists to Indianapolis. John P. Frenzel, Benefactor and music lover, went to Europe to engage performers for the Maennerchor. Until the mid 1930's when Frenzel's death marked the end of both his financial and personal help the Maennerchor saw three to six major concerts each year in addition to their regular singing programs. Among those who came there were the Flonzaley String Quartet which appeared almost yearly from 1911 to 1928, Pablo Cassels and his wife, Susan Metcalf Cassels in 1917, Gregor Piatigorsky in 1928, Joseph Szigti in 1927, 1928, and 1929, Georges Ensco in 1929, and 1932, Vladamir Horowitz in 1935, and the Budapest String Quartet in 1935. In 1935 the Maennerchor began rehearsing the Athenaeum and in December of 1936 they gave their first concert there. This marked the end of the association of the Maennerchor and the Maennerchor building although the Maennerchor Society still meets and sings in Indianapolis.

Incidental to its long-range development the Maennerchor became a symbol of anti-German feelings during World War I, when the name Maennerchor and the script verse were removed from the building and replaced with the "Acadamy of Music" on April 15th, 1918.

During World War II, the building served as a local Service Men's Center and was a nightclub for a short time. In 1946 the Maennerchor started a new career when Indiana University made it the home of their Indianapolis law school. They moved to a new building in 1970.

The Maennerchor, along with the Athenaeum serves as an example of the importance of German-Americans in Indianapolis and of what these people thought was important to society. It was the building in which some of the best music heard in Indianapolis was presented. For twenty-four years many Indiana lawyers received their education in the Maennerchor.

In 1974, the American States Insurance Company purchased the landmark building and promised to donate it to any group that could find a use for it. A company spokesman said "You don't have to worry about us tearing the building down, I'm sure you can come up with a workable solutions. We actually want you to do something with the Maennerchor."

American States Insurance placed a six month deadline on its offer, a very short time to develop plans and raise funds for restoration. A coalition of art and historic preservation groups obtained sufficient funds to meet the taxes and maintenance costs of the building for one year if the company would defer demolition. The American States Insurance Company refused, and had the building demolished.

Building Description

The Maennerchor building is a 3 1/2-story rectangular structure with approximately 40,000 square feet of floor space located on the corner of Michigan and Illinois Streets near downtown Indianapolis. Designed by a Swiss architect, Adolph Sherrer, it was completed in 1906 for $126,000.00 to house the performances, offices, and club functions of the Indianapolis Maennerchor Society. The poured concrete structure has a stretcher bond brick facing with extensive Indiana limestone trim and decoration. In overall impression, the building is eclectic showing German or Bavarian adaptations of Romanesque, Greek, and Gothic detailing.

The high gabled roof has two wings projecting south towards Michigan Avenue, which intersects the primary roof about halfway up the slope. The area between the two wings is a flat-roofed area two stories high that was once set up for a roof garden. It has a pillared limestone railing running across the front. Sitting in the roof garden one would have been surrounded on the north, east, and west by a red tile roof and looking out over downtown Indianapolis. Chimneys are located on the ridge of the eastern wing and on the east side of the western wing. The Ludowici tile roof has decorated parapets and plain eves on both the primary roof and the two wings. At the front of the building in the corner between the eastern wing and the main structure, an octagonal three-story tower is set into the building so that it is a complete octagon only at the top. The top of the tower is decorated with carved limestone lyres and busts of musical figures on each face of the octagon. The tower had a tile roof that was slightly bellcast and continued the sections of the octagon to a slim spire at the point. This tile roof was removed some time in the 1960s and the tower now has a flat roof.

The main entrance, facing Illinois Street, has three doors of equal size with stained glass transom panels and limestone, segmental-arched, lintles with large lyre-shaped decorations rising above the center of the arch on each door. The first floor is decorated, by raised bands four bricks in width, with two bricks in between. A narrow limestone band separates the bands of the first floor form the second which has quoins continuing the pattern of the banding and terminating in a ball on a base in the parapet gable.

The second floor of the main entrance has three windows set directly above the doors with smooth, semicircular, keystone, arches. These three windows had side and top panels of stained glass and are set in a rectangular limestone area with a decorated sill, squared pilasters, and a plain pediment. They could, because of the unifying decoration be considered three parts of one window. Some of the stained glass has been removed from these windows.

The third floor has four paired rectangular windows separated by a stone section with a segmental arch and brackets. These are located high in the third story just below the gable pediment. The gable end has three undecorated, narrow, limestone bands and three closely set rectangular windows high in the gable. This gable is topped with a relief carving of a lyre. The feeling of the front view is one of symmetry and extensive, varied, decoration that emphasizes the musical theme of the building. Although the eastern wing project to the left of the primary section and the octagonal tower is at the intersection of these two portions of the building the wing and tower are symmetrical enough in themselves so as not to take away from the feeling of symmetry but to ensure that it is not monotony.

Viewed from the side, on Michigan Avenue, one again is impressed with the symmetry and the varied profusion of detail. The first-floor windows, one on each wing and four on the slightly set back central area below the roof garden, are rectangular sash windows with plain lintels that give a feeling of label lintels because of the limestone block frames that repeat the rhythm of the quoins, from the second and third floors. The side door is located on the east side of the center section and has a plain pediment, squared pilasters, and a half-elliptical transom. The second-floor windows are directly above those on the first and have flat center pointed arches, leaded glass pains in a central window with sash sidelights. The east side of the building facing the alley and the north side of the building are undecorated with irregularly spaced windows.

The interior of the Maennerchor Building is designed to facilitate the musical and club activities of the Maennerchor Society. The main doors on Illinois Avenue leads to a marble lobby with stairs running up and back leading to the main concert hall on the second floor. The concert hall is two stories high, with a balcony, north-facing stained glass windows on one side and a series of wooden overhead doors on the other that lead to a hallway. This auditorium had 800 seats, frescos, and a frieze with the names and faces of the prominent members. There was a large dining hall decorated to represent the four seasons. The second floor also held a rehearsal hall and a music library. The building also contained a "kniepe" or bar, game rooms, lounges, and offices all decorated in the German tradition.

The alterations to the building were largely done to convert it for use by Indiana University's Indianapolis Law School between 1946 and 1970. The concert hall balcony was enclosed with a partition, the first-floor rehearsal hall and the paneled hall next to the concert hall have been divided by moveable office partitions. The stage has been removed from the concert hall. Some of the brass lighting fixtures, stained glass windows, fireplace mantles, and some of the frescoes in the balcony area are missing. In 1953 a lecture hall was added to the north side of the building and connected the Maennerchor to a pre-Civil War house on the property. This addition is not on the sides of the building that were intended to be viewed. Since the law school moved out in 1970 the building has been vacant and this, combined with lack of heat and a leaky roof has caused superficial deterioration of the interior.

With the exception of the lecture hall addition, modifications have been primarily on the interior rather than the exterior of the building. From the street, it appears much as it did when constructed in 1905-6.

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana  (1975)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana  (1975)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana  (1975)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana  (1975)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana  (1975)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana South side and east front (date unknown)
South side and east front (date unknown)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana First floor, entrance hall (date unknown)
First floor, entrance hall (date unknown)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana First floor, dining room (date unknown)
First floor, dining room (date unknown)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana Second floor, auditorium (date unknown)
Second floor, auditorium (date unknown)

Maennerchor Building, Indianapolis Indiana Second floor, kniepe (drinking room) (date unknown)
Second floor, kniepe (drinking room) (date unknown)