I need to get out more...

Last week I was on my way to dinner at the new (well, new to me) Adobo Grill on Washington St. downtown when I realized that, finally, the Zipper Building was gone.

One of the city's more eccentric buildings, the Zipper sat at the intersection of Washington and Virginia on a flatiron-style lot. It was built in 1961 by the local firm Lennox Matthews Simmons and Ford, Inc. -- a group that, as far as I know is gone -- and thank God for it. They also had a hand in my choice for Indy's ugliest building, the indecisively named City-County.

An exercise in midcentury wrongheadedness trying to pass itself off as forward thinking, the Zipper was the rare case: A building so bad it gradually became kind of good with the passage of time. It had personality, at least. Quentin Tarantino would have know just what to make of it.

I have to admit that I wasn't terribly sorry to see it being dismantled, a process that seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, downtown might be on the verge of getting a nifty piece of architecture on what should be considered a fairly significant site.


The site's owner, The Broadbent Co. is known for developing retail strip centers like Clearwater Crossing and Castleton Plaza. And that's what's been perpetrated on the lot where the Zipper once stood. The kind of low-rise faux Iberian suburban design that you can see in Boca Raton, Ft. Worth, or Barrington, Il. It's a nice slice of angel food cake -- and another nail in the coffin of Indianapolis' urban aspirations.

Now I understand that people in Indianapolis place a premium on private property rights. If you buy space downtown, you are free to do with it what you please.

But I was also under the impression that the city had recently adopted design standards with the purpose of trying to raise its collective game when it came to downtown construction projects.

I had also been led to believe that the recognition of the importance of design standards proceeded from the hard won understanding that distinguishing between what's public and private in a public environment like our downtown is complicated. In other words, you may have the right to build something there, but everybody else has to live it. There is a question of responsibility.

In the case of the Zipper site, someone was asleep at the switch. Or, as usual here, so delighted that somebody, anybody wanted to build downtown that whatever the builders wanted to do was just fine.

And so what we get to live with for the next generation or two is a formulaic piece of generic suburban sprawl that looks as if it was lifted whole from somewhere in Carmel and deposited downtown. It's amazing it doesn't have its own parking lot.

I didn't think it was possible, but just as Gannett made the the old Indy Star seem respectable by comparison, what sits at the intersection of Washington and Virginia makes me pine for the Zipper Building.


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