Friday, July 20, 2012
The Central Union Telephone Company Building that stood at the southwest corner of Meridian and New York Streets in Indianapolis had a fascinating history that involved an impressive preservation effort to save it from the wrecking ball. It eventually succumbed decades later, but not before attracting worldwide attention for the architects' daring maneuver.
The building was purchased in 1929 by the Indiana Bell Telephone Company with the intention of tearing it down to create a larger building on the site for the ever-growing company. The existing building certainly wasn't small at 118 feet tall, 11,000 tons, 8 floors, with a rooftop garden on top of the elevator penthouse, but it was inconveniently located on the site where they wanted a much larger structure. There doesn't seem to be a record of how architect Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. of Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller (and father to famed novelist Kurt Vonnegut) hatched his plan to move the building 52 feet south and pivot it 90 degrees and then move 100 feet west to face New York Street, nor how he convinced the Indiana Bell Telephone Company to approve the plan, but he began the massive undertaking on October 14, 1930.
Moved in 3/4 inch increments on 400 rollers, the building move was completed a month later, on November 12th. Due to the extra 200 feet of slack spliced into the telephone cables, flexible hoses for plumbing and gas lines, and a rotating, wooden sidewalk bridge, the employees in the building didn't lose a day of work nor did the company interrupt their service during the move.
Not surprisingly, Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller were hired to build the new Indiana Bell Telephone Building on the site of the previous building. Their design smartly incorporated potential expansions, which took place in 1947 and again in 1965. The latter expansion involved demolishing the original Central Union Telephone Company Building to create the present-day structure.
The photograph above, which is from the Wright, Porteous & Lowe Architectural Records collection (a successor to the firm started by Vonnegut & Bohn), depicts the building in the middle of the move at the point where it is pivoting. The photograph is pasted on a large board with other impressive examples of the firm's architecture and framed. Other photographs in the collection show that these framed photographs hung in the foyer of the firm's offices, providing a glimpse at how proud the architects were at their accomplishment. It remains one of the largest buildings ever moved.
Many thanks to Ball State University College of Architecture & Planning alum Ben Ross for his research on this topic and for generously allowing us to borrow from it. You can see more pictures of the building's move in Ben's post on the RATIO Architects' blog http://www.ratioblog.com/?p=320
Image: Central Union Telephone Company building move photograph, 1930. Wright, Porteous & Lowe Architectural Records, Drawings + Documents Archive, Archives and Special Collections, Ball State University Libraries.