Fountain Square was the first commercial historic district in Indiana, its existing buildings span more than a century of development from 1871 to the present. Fountain Square played an important part in the Indianapolis theater heritage; the areas commercial district had more operating theaters than could be found in any part of Indianapolis from 1910 to 1950.
Fountain Square is once again becoming known as a home for independent restaurants, brewerys, art galleries and studios, live entertainment, and small professional office. The designation of Fountain Square as one of Indiana’s first urban Main Street programs, coupled with the distinction of being named as one of the six Indianapolis Cultural Districts, has the commercial district poised for further reinvestment and improvement. Fountain Square is linked to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which connects Fountain Square to downtown Indianapolis with a world class urban bike and pedestrian path. The Cultural Trail also features a bikeshare program providing visitors and residents an exciting, convenient way of enjoying downtown Indy.
In 1835, Calvin Fletcher and Nicholas McCarty purchased a 264-acre farm to plat what became the Fountain Square neighborhood. Although the earliest settlement was sparse and primarily residential, substantial settlement and rapid commercial growth occurred in the area beginning in the 1870s. Much of the development was fueled by a large number of German immigrants settling in the area. German and German-American merchants helped to establish much of the character in this neighborhood.
The Virginia Avenue corridor began to emerge as the South side’s commercial center in the 1860s. When the Citizen’s Street Railway Company laid tracks down Virginia Avenue and located a turnaround at the intersection of Virginia Avenue, Shelby, and Prospect Streets in 1864, the neighborhood began to be known as “the End” by local residents.
Fountain Square also played an important part in the Indianapolis theater heritage. The area had more operating theaters than could be found in any part of Indianapolis from 1910 to 1950. Fountain Square continued to fill the role of “downtown” for the southside well into the 1960s, offering multiple movie/vaudeville theaters, independent banks, a wide range of retail, and churches/social centers serving a range of ethnicities.
The 1950s witnessed the beginning of the economic decline as new developments further south eclipsed Fountain Square’s long-standing role as the Southside’s primary commercial center. The closing of all of the neighborhood’s theaters provided an obvious example of Fountain Square’s commercial decline. A symbolic example was the removal of Fountain Square’s fountain to Garfield Park in 1954.
Between 1950 and 1970, neighborhood resident composition changed as the largely German, Irish, and Italian original residents moved further out. The construction of the interstate system in the 1970s led to the demolition of hundreds of homes and many businesses and churches, displacing residents and adding to the suburban flight that began in the 60s. This confluence of events triggered a 15-year period of decline.