The Mass Ave Cultural Arts District (MACAD) is a nonprofit public benefit corporation founded in 2021 by residents, cultural arts organizations, businesses, and property owners. It supports those who live, work, play, perform, create, and invest in the Massachusetts Avenue community through initiatives focused on urban placemaking, historic preservation, walkability, arts, inclusiveness and equity, community celebrations, and advocacy.

Cooperation for the Common Good

In April of 1909, eleven merchants joined together to incorporate the Massachusetts Avenue Merchants’ Association. Their goal was to attract trade to the area and foster “more enlarged and friendly intercourse” between merchants of the district. An initiation fee of $5 was charged along with $5 in annual dues. The founders represented both the larger and small businesses on the avenue and most were well-known businessmen in the city. The first board of directors was made up of J. Howard Amos (Ralston Boot Co), Robert C. Bennett (R C Bennett & Co Clothing), John Bettermann (Bettermann Brothers Flowers), O.J. Conrad (Conrad Clothing & Cloaks), Leonard Geiger (Geiger Confectionary), George J. Hammel (Hammel Grocery), Robert H Losey (Buick-Losey Motor Co), George J Marott (Marott Department Store), Herbert H. Reiner (Reiner Fine Furs & Skins), Harry Stout (Stout’s Factory Shoe Store), and Gustav H. Westling (G H Westling Co Bicycles, Motorcycles and Sporting Goods). Marott was elected the first president, Conrad vice-president, with Westing to serve as secretary, and Stout as treasurer.[i]

[i] “Would Improve Avenue.” Indianapolis Star. April 20, 1909, p. 3.

These businesses represented only a portion of today’s Massachusetts Avenue, consisting of only three blocks from the intersection with Pennsylvania to the south up to the German House (Athenaeum) at Michigan Street to the north (the avenue was constricted in the 1970s with the construction of the now Regions Bank Building, which obliterated the first of these three blocks). This lower portion of the avenue contained most of its retail businesses as the avenue became more residential and eventually industrial as it stretched beyond College Avenue.

An Era of Growth and Prosperity

Even prior to the founding of the merchant’s association, the avenue was experiencing a period of growth and prosperity. As the city continued to expand, and with street car traffic constantly streaming up and down at rate of every two minutes, by 1906 an estimated twenty thousand people passed through the avenue daily.[i] In addition, the avenue continued to supply the growing adjacent neighborhoods, such as Chatham Arch and Lockerbie, whose residents could easily walk to the stores. Crowded with street cars, wagons, carriages, and thousands of pedestrians, the avenue was one of the busiest streets in the city. In 1906, the Indianapolis Star contained a two-page advertisement promoting the avenue: “By the deep faith of a certain clans of merchants who had foresight, backed by a little money, and who believed that the city of Indianapolis could spread more easily to the northeast than any other direction, a foundation of mercantile houses was laid, which in ten years more will probably change the business geography of Indianapolis to a marked extent.” The advertisement cited cheaper rents as a significant advantage over the more established Washington Street businesses and emphasized that these savings were passed directly to consumers: “Prices are lower on Massachusetts avenue, while the quality is the same.”[ii]

c 1907, the Neoclassical Revival-style Knights of Pythias building at the intersection of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania

The 1907 completion of the eleven-story, stone-and-terra cotta, Neoclassical Revival-style Knights of Pythias building at the intersection of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania created a stunning gateway to the avenue from the city center. Designed by Rubush and Hunter, it was the second-largest flatiron building in the country behind Daniel Burnham’s Flatiron Building in New York City, and for a brief period, it also was Indianapolis’ tallest building.

[i] “Massachusetts Avenue: The Busy Growing Throughfare of Indianapolis.” Indianapolis Star. October 14, 1906, p. 22.

[ii] Ibid, pp. 22-23.