In 1890s Indianapolis, few downtown buildings were grander than the new Romanesque Revival-style Central Avenue Methodist Church. The building continued to grow with the city, expanding in 1900 and again in 1922. The church became the largest Methodist congregation in the state of Indiana; many of its members were the business and social elite of the city.
Central Avenue members were also among the leaders of the Social Gospel movement in Indiana, using the church’s wealth and community standing to create institutions that would help all of the citizens of Indianapolis. In 1899, largely at the behest of the pastor and members of Central Avenue Methodist, the Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church approved a proposal to build a new hospital for the city. Methodist Hospital, which opened in 1908, would grow into one of the largest medical centers in the city and the state.
By the end of the 20th century, however, as demographic change altered the landscape of downtown Indianapolis, the Central Avenue Methodist Church was no longer being used as a sanctuary; the Centrum Foundation attempted to preserve the original building but the costs were too great and by 2008 the structure was empty, decaying, and in considerable danger of being demolished.
Today, however, the church stands beautifully restored as the site of the headquarters for Indiana Landmarks. With the generosity of philanthropist and historic preservation supporter Bill Cook and his family, the church and its offices were saved and turned into an auditorium, meeting and reception spaces, and office space. Central Avenue Methodist Church has once again taken its place as one of the premiere buildings in Indianapolis.
Sources: www.indianalandmarks.org and inumc.org
A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.