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Historic Preservation Of Former Player's Pub Building In Jeopardy Due To Racial Past

players-pub.jpg

The Bloomington City council discussed the possibility of designating the old Player's Pub building on South Walnut Street as a historical preservation site Wednesday night, but a strong case was made against it due to the building's racial history.

Before becoming what most residents know as the Player's Pub, the building was "Boxman's Restaurant" from 1929 to 1958.

A photo of Boxman's Restaurant storefront in 1951.
The Boxman's Restaurant storefront in 1951. (Courtesy: City of Bloomington)

The restaurant was operated by local entrepreneur Henry Boxman, who gained national recognition for his food, but also because he became the first person to display a neon sign and install air conditioning in a Bloomington restaurant. 

But like most establishments during that period, people of color were not allowed to dine there.

“We could excuse it for that time period, but to look back today and say that behavior is okay, let’s just overlook it. No, we’re looking from a different perspective," local resident Craven Thomas said Wednesday night. "A perspective where I raise my daughters in this community and I don't want to be a member of a community that says let's forget about it."

In a 2013 WTIU documentary about the first African American to be chosen in the NFL draft, IU football legend George Taliaferro expressed his encounters with local restaurants when he was a student-athlete on campus. 

WATCH NOW: Indiana Legends: George Taliaferro

In 1947, Taliaferro confronted then IU president Herman B Wells about racial discrimination shown toward people of color in local restaurants.

"I've got $1.25 in my pocket and I can't buy anything to eat anywhere in the city of Bloomington," Taliaferro said he told to Wells. 

Taliaferro said Wells picked up the phone and called the owner of "The Gables" to tell them he was having lunch with Taliaferro in their restaurant. 

Wells recalled the owners were very hesitant about how that would go over with the rest of the predominately White student body, and what that would do to the restaurant's profits.

"Dr. Wells, very matter-of-factly, said, ‘Then I’ll have to make your restaurant off limits to all students.’ Case closed,” Taliaferro said. "All of the restaurants were integrated in that one fell swoop."

Both Wells and Taliaferro continued to advocate for racial equality in the Bloomington community.

10-09-2018-George-Taliaferro_2008_still.jpg
Before Taliaferro made history with the draft in 1948, he led Indiana University to its first Big Ten championship in 1945. (WTIU News Archive) 

Bloomington's racial history, especially with restaurants, made every council member pause and reflect Wednesday night.

"I found myself thinking, I wonder if Boxman's was listed in the Green Book? Back in the day, that listed restaurants where African Americans were allowed to eat and not allowed to eat," council president Jim Sims said.

Sims said despite the building's past experience with segregation and racial discrimination, its overall condition is also a factor in considering it for historical designation. 

READ MORE: Bloomington City Council Will Consider Player's Pub Building For Historical Designation

“And then what’s important to me was the structural integrity. I’m not so sure it’s our position or our desire to unnecessarily encumber a petitioner or a developer," Sims said.

Josh Alley is the petitioner and the owner of the building.

“I can tell you that I will not be doing anything further with the building. I can’t financially afford it," Alley said. "It doesn’t make sense given COVID, and the cost of goods have gone up 30-40%. They weren’t like that when I bought it."

Alley said the cost of renovating the space is too much given its poor condition. He said developers told him the building is in critical shape.

"They said if we get a really heavy snow, the building is liable to fall in on itself," Alley said. "We were told by our insurance agent that we need to board up the building."

Alley also said he was not aware of the building's segregationist history.

"I don't feel comfortable spending my money on a building that didn't allow a lot of my buddies. They would not have even been able to eat there," Alley said. 

After hearing directly from the petitioner and considering the location's clouded racial past, council did not make a due pass recommendation for the building's preservation.

The issue will be put to a final vote Wednesday, Feb. 3 where the legislation is not expected to pass. 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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