Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts from the implosion

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2011 at 8:00 AM

"THIS IS 9/11 RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!" a voice shouted over the P.A. system immediately following the implosion of the Keystone Towers apartment complex on Sunday. "9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB," the unidentified voice screamed, loud enough to be picked up on local television.

Not even close, but +1 to the lunatic fringe for representing itself so early on a Sunday morning.

The demolition of the two buildings near 46th and Binford Blvd. brought an end to a complex constructed in the 1970s with optimism and shuttered 30 years later after years of crime, mismanagement and deterioration. City government, having given up on ever collecting back taxes on the property, condemned and finally razed it, correctly guessing it would be cheaper to pay $827,000 to tear it down than to restore it to its former glory.

Unlike other demolition projects in the city, most notably the 2001 destruction of Market Square Arena, few in the city mourned the loss of the Keystone Towers, formerly known as Vantage Point Apartments among other monikers. There is little nostalgia to be had about an abandoned eyesore of a building but much anticipation at seeing it explode. The crowd that assembled at 46th Street and Allisonville Rd. in the early hours of Sunday morning was a bloodthirsty lot, eager to see tons of concrete come tumbling down upon itself in a dynamite-inspired haze.

News helicopters hovered overhead and cameras inside the building fed live pictures of the destruction to viewers of all local TV stations and their Internet feeds.

Few of the spectators or media folk present were around when the apartments opened in the 1970s, just prior to the reconstruction and revitalization of downtown Indianapolis. The buildings were widely perceived then as an uptown equivalent of the tony Riley Towers complex. Stories of wild postgame parties featuring players from the ABA champion Indiana Pacers, who played home games just down the road at the State Fair Coliseum, spread through the city and, whether the tales of alcohol-fueled hijinks were true or not, bolstered its reputation as a swinging place to be.

One story involved a lot of Pacers players, a crew of naked women and enough weed and booze to intoxicate an army. One of the penthouse suites had a hot tub built in the center of the room, something that was unusual for the era, and the X-rated story I heard was both hilarious and unprintable, even for NUVO. I certainly hope it's true.

The place had a gritty glamour. Speaking of X-rated, unprintable stories, I have more than a few of my own about a certain apartment at Keystone Towers. I'll spare almost all of the details; I was guilty in some NUVO columns circa 1994-95 of felony TMI offenses about my sordid business there with a young woman. Look them up in the bound archives if so inclined.

She was 10,000 leagues above me and was well acquainted with certain NBA players, at least one of which is now in the Hall of Fame. I remember visiting her there and being impressed with the plush carpeting and seeming elegance of the building. I will always associate the place with the scent of Indian incense and gold Dial bar soap.

The media coverage of the demolition Sunday focused on the problems faced by the complex in recent years — the drug crime, squatters and tax problems. But that does the place a disservice, because thousands of people lived there, for a time at least, in happiness and contentment.

It was one of the first apartment buildings to be constructed in a post-segregation era and the racial diversity among its tenants was unusual for its time, when an unspoken but powerful red line of housing kept many blacks living south of 38th Street. Old-timers who know the area speak of the building housing a mix of young professionals and elderly residents who respected and educated each other.

It was opened right about the time the Lugar-Hudnut renaissance rebuilt the city, revitalized many areas and created a 20-year boom, the effects of which we still feel today. The fact it ultimately failed doesn't negate the good intentions with which it was built and happy memories that were created there.

Despite what the crackpot who hijacked the PA system said on Sunday, the destruction of Keystone Towers was not 9/11 or even an event that very many people cared about outside a few sentimentalists like myself.

As 1970s renaissance dreams were reduced to rubble, the canvas cleared for new vision to take root. We'll see if hot tubs and Indian incense will rise again.

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