For 100 years, art students, teachers and lovers of art have made their way to 16th and Talbot streets, the site of the Herron School of Art. But in another year that will be changing as the Herron School pulls up stakes for a new facility on the IUPUI campus. Left behind will be historic buildings by Paul Cret and Vonnegut and Bohn, as well as the neighborhood itself.
A century ago, carriages spun along these streets and in mirrored parlors afternoon tea was served on fine imported china. Today, Herron holds on at the heart of a dense mix of residential and commercial buildings on the city’s near-Northside.
Douglas Meagher, a neighborhood resident, is coordinator for a group called The Friends of Old Tinker Street. Named for Capt. William Tinker, who lived from 1796 to 1862, and who homesteaded the property where the Herron School is now, The Friends are what Meagher calls “a loose coalition” of citizens dedicated to the “aesthetic and economic revitalization of 16th Street.” They are concerned because with just one year to go before the Herron School pulls out, there is still no plan for what will become of its historic buildings or its site. Recent news that the city will be taking control of the property through a land swap with IUPUI has only served to heighten curiosity about what might be in store.
From Meagher’s perspective, the Herron site has long been a kind of neighborhood anchor, bringing hundreds of people to the area on a daily basis. Now that the art school is leaving, Meagher and his cohorts, including members of the Herron Morton and Old Northside Neighborhood Associations, want to help seize what they think is a great opportunity for neighborhood revitalization. “If the right sort of attraction is put there,” Meagher says, “it could very easily impact from the Methodist complex up to Fall Creek.”
But The Friends don’t want to see just any sort of development on the site. In the first place, they want to make sure the buildings are preserved. Meagher says that he thinks most people would accept a compromise if saving the buildings means turning them into some form of residential or office space. But, he adds, “I suppose the greatest fear for the site is if there’s an option for doing something that preserves the arts and education heritage and that option is ignored.”
As far as Meagher is concerned, the possibility of razing the buildings is out of the question. “There will be people laying in front of the bulldozers I’m sure,” he says. The Friends are reaching out to a variety of organizations and groups in order to facilitate a solution before the Herron situation becomes critical. They would like to see the site turned into what they are calling the Museum of the City of Indianapolis, a suggested amalgamation of several arts and cultural organizations that might include groups like the National Art Museum of Sport, permanent exhibition space dedicated to the U.S.S. Indianapolis or, perhaps, IMOCA, the fledgling Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.
“All these entities have one thing in common,” Meagher notes. “They base their identities on a connection to the city. All are looking for places to be … together they might form a unique museum for the city.” Given the redevelopment taking place immediately to the north at Fall Creek Place, as well as the presence of new cultural facilities at the Harrison Center for the Arts and the Old Centrum, Meagher believes the Herron site offers an invaluable chance to create the critical mass necessary to revitalize the area.
“What is most important is that we replace the Herron Art Gallery with a similar attraction that is going to draw people to 16th Street.”