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Lost LGBTQ Landmarks

June 7, 2019

The Famous Door, Bellflower Clinic, Essex House, Body Works. What do these places have in common? They are just a handful of lost landmarks of the Indianapolis LGBTQ community. Even though the structures are gone, these demolished buildings still share their stories with us today.

View of the fourteen-story Essex House hotel. Street lights and traffic lights can be seen on the street in front of the hotel.

Essex House, 1957

The Essex House was the youngest mid-rise apartment/hotel building in the city to be demolished. Built in 1952, the 14-story structure sat on Pennsylvania Street overlooking the Indiana World War Memorial. Used as the decoy band hotel during The Beatles’ 1964 performance, the Essex House should also be acknowledged as the site of the first Pride Brunch in 1981. Event guests entered the building wearing masks as to not be identified by onlookers. Demolished in the 1990s, the site is still used as a parking lot.

The Famous Door played a prominent role in gay nightlife and hosted some of the best drag shows in Indianapolis. The Famous Door was located 252 N. Capitol Street. It was known as a fancier institution that required guests to wear a coat-and-tie, was lined with leather booths and, of course, its shows. This is a flier from The Famous Door advertising "The Boylesque Review," a show that featured "some of the world's most famous female impersonators."

The Famous Door played a prominent role in gay nightlife and hosted some of the best drag shows in Indianapolis. The Famous Door was located at 252 N. Capitol Street. It was known as a fancier institution that required guests to wear a coat-and-tie, was lined with leather booths and, of course, its shows. This is a flier from The Famous Door advertising “The Boylesque Review,” a show that featured “some of the world’s most famous female impersonators.”

The Essex House isn’t the only historic structure bulldozed for a parking lot. The Famous Door, also known as the Pink Poodle for a time, was one of the city’s earliest drag venues – and an early entertainment space that racially integrated both performers and patrons. The venue hosted numerous cabaret-style events, mixing drag shows with burlesque, music, vaudeville, and comedy, near the intersection of Capitol and Indiana avenues. The Famous Door was demolished in 1981 for a parking lot serving the state government campus.

In tandem with Pride Month, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission has begun surveying historic buildings – both extant and demolished – throughout Indianapolis in order to celebrate and preserve the history of the LGBTQ community. Some of the research is grounded in our collecting initiative’s substantial library collections, including the Indy Pride/Chris Gonzalez archival materials and also our Indiana LGBTQ History digital collections. Interested in learning more about the survey or collecting initiative? Send me an email at jryan@indianahistory.org or attend our upcoming Pride event, Dragtivism, on Wednesday, June 19.

Jordan Ryan is the coordinator of the Indianapolis Bicentennial Project and Architectural Archivist. She spends her free time debating if Star Trek or Star Wars is better.

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