Historic building gets new life

On any summer day, patrons at Acapulco Joe's patio area along Vermont Street dine in the shadow of the Link-Savoy, a seven-story apartment building that has seen better days. While Roman columns adorn the Illinois Street entrance and majestic limestone eagles sit perched atop the walls, the Link-Savoy has lost its former grandeur. The historic Link-Savoy building is about to undergo a major renovation after years of decline.

Patrons across the street can see rows of boarded-up windows. Graffiti covers the alcove in the Vermont Street entrance where flies swarm among cardboard beds for the homeless. Trash is strewn among the overgrown weeds in the north courtyard.

But the view from Acapulco Joe's is about to improve.

This summer, the Riley Area Development Corporation (RADC) has partnered with the city and Mansur Properties to begin renovating the Link-Savoy. It will include 60 apartments and five town-homes on the top floor.

"It's going to be gorgeous," says Bill Gray, Riley Area Development executive director. "It will be one of the premiere locations in downtown living." But no discussion of the renovation is complete without considering the building's rich history, which spans more than 100 years.

According to various archives, the Link-Savoy was part of the first generation of apartment buildings built in Indianapolis from 1897 to 1902. Its construction followed construction of the Blacherne Building — then owned by Ben Hur author Lou Wallace — on the same block.

In the early 1900s, that first generation of apartment buildings on Vermont Street raised quite a fuss. "When you look at that time period, Meridian Street was large homes," says Leah Orr, archivist for Riley Area Development. "That plot was the side yard of a doctor. There were no apartment houses - just two story flats."

Orr says the building boom on Vermont Street revolutionized the city's nightlife. "People started going out to dinner," she says. "Restaurants grew from the downtown apartments."

The Link wasn't always "the Link" either - it was first known as "the Rink." Investor Joseph A Rink purchased the plot on Illinois Street and broke ground in 1901. "Things were built into the walls," Orr says. "Everything was quite high-class. They had janitor and maid service."

In 1928, Dr. Goethe Link purchased the building. He changed the name from Rink to Link - all the way down to the limestone sign at the Illinois Street entrance. "The shadow of the letter 'R' is still there," Orr says. "It's very disturbing. That tells you a lot about a person."

An archived photograph from the Indiana Historical Society shows the letter "R" in etched glass in the window below the sign.

Evidence of the building's old name still shows above one of its arched doorways.

"That's one thing I want to put back in there," Orr says, "just to show the caliber of this person. You have to look at what else is on that street to get a sense of the history. Take the roof garden for instance. It would be great to see if we could put it up there again."

As automobiles gained more popularity in the 1930's, residents started moving farther away from downtown. "By the 1960's everybody was gone," say Orr, who speculates that the building picked up the Savoy half of its name when it became a low-budget hotel.

In 1972, the building became federal housing under Section 8.

"That's the worst thing they could've done," says Orr. "There weren't any caretakers — they lost some of the original woodwork. It's sad."

The building had a seedy reputation throughout the1970s and 1980s. The final blow came in February of 1990 when a massive fire ravaged the building and forced out the remaining residents. It has stood abandoned ever since.

The Link-Savoy will be renovated under what's called Section 42. Gray says this is made possible by both historic tax-credits and low-income tax-credits from the Indiana Housing Finance Authority. "You have to keep it diverse," Orr adds. "You must keep a balance of incomes in the building. It's a good credit to history."


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