The subject of this article should win some sort of award for the longest one in the making, but, twelve years later, it has culminated in a major accomplishment: a certain landmark building now has an article permanently inscribed in the Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, courtesy of yours truly. The structure is the former First Lutheran Church in downtown Indy (originally Mt. Pisgah Lutheran). I have featured this old church in four separate articles on American Dirt, starting way back in March of 2010, when I reflected on its abandoned state at the time. Within a few months, I learned that a childhood friend’s relative was one of the final parishioners at First Lutheran before it closed; I interviewed this parishioner and advanced a separate article on the topic, featuring her reflections on its final days.
Fast forward a few years, and First Lutheran found a buyer, transforming it to The Sanctuary on Penn, an events venue popular for weddings. I interviewed Scott Wheeler, the owner, and received a tour of the refurbished interior, which I featured in a photo-heavy (montage) article in 2013. I offered an abridged article on The Sanctuary at the blog Urban Indy. Nearly a decade later, and the charming structure continues to serve a variety of events.
Six years later, the Polis Center at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) invited me to revamp my previous articles into a historical perspective on First Lutheran that summarizes its past and present. The Polis Center deemed First Lutheran Church of lasting historical significance to the city, worthy of a separate article in the updated Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, an expansion and enhancement of a book first published in 1994. This article required me to refine, combine, and abridge my research from the past, while conducting a few new interviews to make certain the article would feature the church’s latest advancements. I announced this project back in 2019.
The road toward completion was elongated and more than a bit bumpy. Multiple edits and refinements took place in 2020; then, in November 2021, the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis received its initial launch. However, a number of the articles slated for inclusion had not received their final edits, including the one on First Lutheran Church. But, at long last, on June 30th 2022, the article finally achieved permanent inclusion within the Encyclopedia.
This may represent the most etched-in-stone documentation of my work, akin to getting published not just in a newspaper/journal article but actually published as part of my home city’s official historical records. It’s exciting for me as a blogger but also a tremendous testament to this resilient little structure, which as recently as the early 2010s seemed likely to suffer a bleak fate: it was too aged and obsolete for any church to use it, but it was probably too small for a developer to convert into multifamily housing. Would it deteriorate and face demolition, even while entering the National Register of Historic Places? While the staff at The Sanctuary on Penn are still busy keeping it as a successful operation—I’ve attended a wedding reception there myself—the parishioner I interviewed in 2010 is no longer with us. But I devote the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis article to the memory of Virginia Frye. And I hope she can view the church with relief from her current celestial home.
14 thoughts on “First Lutheran Church: a permanent record at Encyclopedia of Indianapolis at last!”
I think Sanctuary on Penn is under new ownership but I’m not 100% sure. It was mentioned in an IBJ article yesterday (it says their owner bought these Fountain Square businesses): https://www.ibj.com/articles/six-businesses-in-fountain-square-theatre-building-sold?fbclid=IwAR2PtPpMzdpkFS7CGvu482YAZBjovZj4YDrT_7lGqGj1NXs3Ya15GVSyPRg
But maybe the IBJ got it wrong…
From the article:
The owners of wedding venue The Sanctuary on Penn purchased six businesses in the Fountain Square Theatre Building this week, with plans to increase activity in an event center that hosted vaudeville entertainment and screened movies in the 20th century.
Moller Enterprises, a company owned by Pike High School alumni Roger Reeves and Mark Smith, bought the theater operations from Linton Calvert, who Reeves described as “the godfather of the revitalization of Fountain Square.”
I believe you (and the IBJ article) are correct. But I shared this with Scott Wheeler anyway because it was his vision that helped save the building. I might be misremembering, but I think First Lutheran was on the list of “Indiana’s 10 Most Endangered Buildings” back in 2011 or thereabouts.
Scott definitely did the dirty work! 🙂
And congratulations on being in the encyclopedia! I have a hard copy from the earlier edition I bought at Indy Reads a few years ago. I often use it for fact-checking for historic articles. The old and new versions are wonderful resources!
Agreed, and I’m sort of surprised so few cities actually do anything like this!
Congrats Eric! Your persistence clearly paid off!
I never had any expectations for my coverage of this church the first time around. But it was heartening to see it get refurbished, and then the Polis Center reached out to me after learning all the attention I devoted to it.
Congratulations! This is great evidence of the lasting value of your work.
And it is not insignificant that y’all chose this building for your reception! One of the first!
We had a blast that night!
Well done, Eric!
This is awesome Eric! Congrats!