Kipp Normand is building a shack for Charles Bookwalter, a place for the former mayor to go when all else is lost. It's a concatenation of various old, damaged materials: two pump organs, Gramophone horns, broken trombones, snare drums, scrap metal, scrap wood and all manner of reclaimed junk. Bookwalter will rise resplendent. We'll cede the floor to Normand — lover of junk, restorer of old buildings, professorial and bearded local fixture — to tell the story in a moment.
Think of Normand regaling you as he climbs about the old city hall, pointing out points of interest like the Department of Public Works safe that has remained anchored in the building for over a hundred years. Listen to him telling of Indiana history while regretting the building's state of disrepair. Step with him over pieces of detailed plasterwork falling from the water-damaged fourth floor ceiling.
Attend to his words, for he knows that of which he speaks: a real estate development manager for Southeast Neighborhood Development Corp., he works to rehab old houses on the southeast side. Prior to his current job, Normand worked for Indiana Landmarks and the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, for which he assessed preservation issues in the Old Indianapolis City Hall when ownership of it reverted to the city in the mid-'90s. In any case, take a listen as he tells a good story from Indianapolis history:
“Prior to 1910, when the City Hall was finished, city offices were scattered around Indianapolis. There were rented spaces in office buildings. They did some business in the Marion County Courthouse; prior to that time, county commissioners were very powerful, and the county government was more of a presence in the city than the municipal government … The city, not nearly as powerful as the county government, was becoming more prominent, and by the turn of the 20th century, and by the time Charles Bookwalter took office in 1906, he thought it was essential for a city as large and prominent as Indianapolis — being the capital of the state and the county seat — to have a proper city hall.
“So he led the cause to build a proper city hall, and at the laying of the cornerstone for the building that was the City Hall, there's an inscription from a speech he made that day where he said, 'I am myself a citizen of no mean city.' Today, we've lost the sense of what the word 'mean' actually means; it means rude, ignorant, poor, less than average. He said Indianapolis is not rude, poor and ignorant, and we ought to have a civic building that represents our stature of an up and coming city, a real place.
“There was, of course, lots of haggling over the cost of the building and the design. It was designed with every modern amenity of the day: high-speed elevators, telephone connections in every room. It was also built in this wonderful beaux-arts style, which refers to classicism but was also a modern elaboration upon it.
“Along comes election time, and Bookwalter had an opponent named Lew Shank, who ran against Bookwalter primarily by saying that Bookwalter was building a palace for himself, spending all kinds of money on a ridiculous building. Shank was a populist, a yee-haw kind of guy who used to speak in colloquialisms, tell colorful stories.
“The citizens of Indianapolis proved themselves to be quite mean after all, and they voted Bookwalter out of office. He was never actually allowed to serve in the building that he had caused to be constructed. Shank was inaugurated, and he was the first one to give the speech at the dedication. He moved into the mayor's office, put his boots up his desk and proceeded to go on to his career as mayor.
“The space in which I'm doing my installation is on the second floor, and from what I've read about the building, that's where the mayor's office was located. I don't know if my spot is actually in the mayor's office or in the waiting room outside the mayor's office, but it's close enough.
"So I'm building a palace for Charles Bookwalter, out of junk, inside the mayor's office. The piece is called 'Fanfare for Mayor Charles Bookwalter,' because he never got his ceremonial time to occupy that office. I think it was a great gift to give to the citizens of Indianapolis, although, of course, we paid for it. In my mind, it's a similar tragedy that it sits in disuse and deterioration now, where the city can't figure out what to do with it, where it's an albatross to them.”