Located on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, Brookside Park was one of the first two city parks in Indiana’s capital. The City of Indianapolis purchased the land that would become Brookside Park in 1870, officially declaring the property a city park in 1900. Shortly thereafter, the space was incorporated into George E. Kessler’s park and boulevard master plan for Indianapolis, acquiring many of the picturesque qualities that it retains today.
Although the landscapes of Kessler's plan are often celebrated for their meandering pathways, idyllic tree lines, and vast grassy fields, numerous works of architecture, large and small, were also essential to Kessler's overall vision. Among these works was the Shelter House at Brookside Park, an idiosyncratic structure that represented a current fancy for playful eclecticism. Accordingly, it is difficult to assign a single "style" to this unique building. Its foundation was reminiscent of East Coast precedent; its flared hipped roof evinced an Asian influence; and its rustic wood posts and balustrades looked as if they had been plucked from a storybook.
Complementing the overall woodsy character of the park, the shelter would have been a delightful surprise for first-time visitors and a perfect setting for picnics and parties.
The building itself was a feat of skilled carpentry. Indeed, the construction of the roof required many well-calculated cuts and snug joints. The plan for the roof structure, pictured here, illustrates the complex intersections between the flared hipped roof over the main body of the building and the tapered conical roofs over the two cylindrical corner bay projections. Note that the hipped roof would have been covered in lath before the rafters of the conical roof sections were installed. The design and construction of these features would have called for a mastery of geometry that is increasingly rare among architects and carpenters.
Although the Shelter House no longer stands, the records in the Ball State University Drawings + Documents Archive serve to remind us of a quirky treasure that once graced the grounds of Brookside Park.
Written by Sam Burgess, Graduate Assistant in the Drawings + Documents Archive.
Images: Brookside Park Shelter House drawings, ca. 1910. [40-67a] Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation, Drawings + Documents Archive, Ball State University.