Located at and near the intersection of three busy thoroughfares—Virginia Avenue and Prospect and Shelby streets—Fountain Square has been a commercial center for over 100 years. The Citizens Street Railway Company laid tracks down Virginia Avenue and located a turnaround at the intersection in 1864. Settlement, sparse at first, increased significantly in the 1870s as German families built homes in nearby Fletcher Place. Additional traffic from the Virginia Avenue viaduct gave the area a second boost after 1892.

The entrance to the theatre has a large marquee sign with neon lights. Above the sign is the word "TALKIES" in large, lighted letters. On the marquee is "FOUNTAIN SQUARE and See and Hear "The Air Circus" a talkie movietone vaudeville new and comedy". The ticket booth and poster displays are under the marquee.
Fountain Square Theatre marquee, 1929 Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

German entrepreneurs were the first to arrive, opening groceries, bakeries, jewelry stores, and saloons in the square. Irish, Italian, and Danish immigrants followed, but Fountain Square retained a distinctive German character well into the 20th century.

The original fountain in the square was erected in 1889 by area merchants. According to lore, the fountain toppled some 30 years later when an advertising banner was anchored to it. The second fountain was constructed as a memorial to Ralph Hill, an Indiana congressman. Local artist Myra Reynolds Richards sculpted the fountain piece, The Pioneer Family. Dedicated in 1924, the fountain was removed in 1954 as part of a plan to alleviate traffic congestion in the square. A community organization petitioned for the fountain’s return from Garfield Park in 1969.

A wide, unpaved street has commercial buildings and telegraph poles on each side.
Virginia Avenue looking north from Shelby Street, ca. 1888 Credit: The Indiana Album: Joan Hostetler Collection View Source

Fountain Square prospered into the 1920s, especially when it became the city’s first cinema theater district. As many as seven theaters operated at one time, including the Sanders (Apex) Theater (1914-1952) and the Fountain Square Theatre (1928-1960).

Fountain Square fell on hard times after World War II when newer shopping centers emerged and suburbs drew away residents. Interstate 65/70 construction razed many homes in the 1960s, but when the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, corporate support, city grants, and private donations initiated a revitalization program that was followed a year later with placement on the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission list of adopted districts on which to focus rehabilitation efforts. A more focused rehabilitation effort began in the 1990s as restaurants, art galleries, retail and office space, and live entertainment came to the neighborhood. In 1999 Fountain Square’s renaissance culminated with its recognition as one of six Indianapolis cultural districts.

A statue depicting a man, woman, and child sits atop a fountain located in the middle of a street. In the background is the Fountain Square Theatre Building which includes Smith's Beer and Liquor store and Shelby Furniture.
Pioneer Family statue in Fountain Square, 1942 Credit: The Indiana Album: Ray Hinz Collection View Source

Fountain Square is recognized for its walkability, unique architecture, proximity to downtown Indianapolis, and easy access to major highways. It also is known increasingly for its restaurants and nightlife. Fountain Square played an important role in the historical development of the city’s transportation system, especially as the last stop on the Virginia Avenue streetcar line. That connectivity continues via the Indygo rapid transit Red Line and the Cultural Trail.

Revised April 2021

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