Bounded by Beecher Street, I-65, Troy Avenue, and East Street/Madison Avenue, the Garfield Park neighborhood is located south of Fountain Square with easy access to the Pleasant Run Trail, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and multiple interstates. The neighborhood is anchored by Garfield Park, Indianapolis’ oldest park, and is populated by a mix of long-time residents and young families. Housing stock ranges from the 1842 Yoke farmhouse to 20th-century bungalows and duplexes. The continuing presence of storefront businesses along the Shelby Street corridor lends a small-town atmosphere to the neighborhood.

Proximity to the city’s first major park encouraged little growth in the vicinity of Southern Driving Park (renamed Garfield Park in 1881) before a bridge was constructed over Pleasant Run and the first streetcar line reached the leisure spot in 1895. In the next decade, many of the neighborhood’s streets were laid out, on which homes and businesses would be built over the next few decades. However, into the 20th century, onerous railroad crossings impeded substantial residential development on Indianapolis’s south side.

The park itself increased to 125 acres when additional land was acquired between 1893 and 1918 including 25 acres of the former Yoke family farmstead. Major improvements to the area between 1900 and 1910 included the creation of bicycle paths, sidewalks, and swimming beaches, and the construction of a pagoda, greenhouses, tennis courts, and entrance pillars resembling the letter “L” which mirrored the shape of the park. Elevating railroad crossings allowed easier access to the area, and by 1916 a neighborhood had sprung up east of the park.

A period of land acquisition and improvements shaped the park in the years leading to 1940. However, during the Great Depression and World War II, no major projects were pursued. Increasing deterioration of the neighborhood fabric, diminution of the park amenities, and a loss of recognition characterized the Garfield Park neighborhood for the next 40 years.

The 1950s marked the beginning of a major change in the Garfield Park neighborhood. The Madison Avenue Expressway was built in 1958, followed by the construction of Interstate-65 in 1975. Though the neighborhood achieved its peak population of 13,000 residents in 1962, these two high-traffic roads cut off neighbors to the east and west of the park and the 1970s and 1980s saw many residents moving to the suburbs as a result. In 1989, the Garfield Park Master Plan was created by the Division of Planning at the Department of Metropolitan Development. Since then the neighborhood has experienced a slow renaissance.

The creation of two registered neighborhood organizations not only serves the community but has played an integral part in the rebirth of the neighborhood by engaging local groups and promoting projects by various city departments. The Garfield Park Neighbors Association serves residents directly north of the park and the Garfield Park-South Neighborhood Association serves those directly south of the park.

Besides the two neighborhood associations, many residents, businesses, and other organizations have united to further facilitate the ongoing revival of the Garfield Park area. Projects such as the renovation of existing historic properties, the construction of new homes, the promotion of locally owned businesses, and the addition of pedestrian and bike paths have become major objectives for the neighborhood.

One community project resulted in a colorful mural of a postcard painted on the side of a commercial building on Shelby Street, just south of the intersection at Raymond Street. The opening of the Garfield Brewery, the continuance of a Mexican Independence Day celebration, and the inaugural celebration of the Holler on the Hill Festival all point to the growth in events, businesses, and cultural diversity in the environment. Additionally, projects like the Southside Quality of Life Plan and the neighborhood-run Farmer’s Market indicate a renaissance in the Garfield Park community.

The Garfield Park neighborhood is home to a mix of residents that includes numerous local artists. Through the Artist and Public Life Residency Program, a partnership between Big Car Collaborative, the Riley Area Community Development, and the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), eligible artists co-own a home with Big Car and Riley. In exchange, the artist commits to working for six years in support of the Garfield Park neighborhood. The INHP provided a $75,000 grant to purchase nine vacant homes and a former church in the Garfield Park neighborhood. By 2020, 10 homes were in the program with four more in the rehabilitation stage. The goal is to give artists a home while they collaborate with neighbors to boost the culture, health, and safety of the community.

Revised June 2021

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