Submitted by: Murphy Hendy, ONS resident and Realtor
The magic of the past sings poetically through the rooftops and tree canopies of downtown's Old Northside, painting the grounded historic streets with an ominous yet strangely familiar haunt from yesteryear.
Let the allure of 1873 take you to a corner where a pioneer of skyscraper design, William Jenney, constructed a French-Renaissance chateau at 1305 Delaware St that would tower-over the tree-less streets as if to blanket the boulevard in a protective and embracing shadow.
Designed for Mr. Harvey Bates Jr, a wholesale grocer, for $80,000 (1.9M today), the imposing brick mansion would later inspire the timeless setting for Booth Tarkington's iconic story, The Magnificent Ambersons.
Three decades and many owners later, railway magnate, Hugh McGowan, acquired the urban castle in 1903 and resided there until his death in 1911. His family stayed until 1919, when it was sold to the Knights of Columbus by his wife, Mrs. McGowan.
This gentlemans' club (manifested to foster Catholic-American heritage; of which, Mr. McGowan was an active member), annexed the now-standing McGowan Hall to the elaborate abode in 1922, where it became a pillar among fraternal clubhouses across the city.
The well-tailored meeting house would include a theatre and ballroom on the main floor and billards, showers, and meeting rooms below. An event would follow, whose echoes are still heard in the mournful hearts of residents many decades later: the original chateau was razed in 1963 due to a decline in membership as new meeting halls were being erected outside of the city.
The somber shadows of the towers, spires, and turrets still cast a hazy spell over the corner of 13th and Delaware today. But the lively buzz from the proud civic center that remains can be heard across the neighborhood as folks gather to fundraise, perform, party, and learn.
Next time you stroll by, look up beyond the trees and into the clouds...be still for a moment. There are so many tales of a time long-gone, yet tantalizingly close. Let's explore this winding historical path and bring to life the spirit of the past.
McGowan Hall was the subject of a report by Urban Times historian Connie Zeigler in October 2016. That "History 301" feature can be found at the Urban Times Collection at digitalindy.org or here.
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