Indy group using old Bush Stadium seats to advance public spaces
BY Dave Hoekstra email@example.com November 30, 2012 10:36AM
Seats from the old Bush Stadium have a new purpose on an Indianapolis street.
Updated: January 3, 2013 6:14AM
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The view of a city is seen through many a lens.
Museums. Restaurants. Sports arenas. Neighborhood bars. Sometimes you see them in that order.
But a couple weeks ago I went back to the future while sitting at a bus stop at the corner of Vermont and Alabama streets in downtown Indianapolis. The bright yellow stop seats had been rescued and refurbished from the historic Bush Stadium.
Bush Stadium was built in 1931 on 16th Street on the industrial west side of Indianapolis; it was once the home of the minor league Indianapolis Indians. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron began his professional career in 1952 at Bush as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. The stadium closed in 1996.
I sat in a piece of history. It was just as thrilling as sitting in the Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island. And the view was just as promising.
The ballpark seat initative was created by People for Urban Progress (PUP), an Indianapolis “do-tank” of young designers and makers. This past winter they salvaged 9,000 of the 11,000 seats from the ballpark and are looking at other seat installations in Indianapolis parks and trails.
The “PUPstop” at Vermont and Alabama is a trail into the emerging “Mass Ave District” of art galleries, boutiques and bars such as the Old Point Tavern, not far off of the I-65 south exit from Chicago. Silver in the City, 434 Massachusets Ave., is a wonderful shop that carries PUP products. I purchased a snowflake ornament made from the roof of the RCA Dome (demolished in 2008) and I bought my favorite Indiana-born editor a durable $40 wallet made from RCA Dome material. (The dome wallets are one of PUP’s most popular items.)
The Mass Ave District is about a six-block walk from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, my favorite NBA arena. ( The Bulls and their recycled bench motor to Indianapolis on Dec. 26, and March 3, 2013. For tickets, visit Pacers.com/Tickets.) Check out the chicken and waffles concession in the balcony.
PUP hasn’t touched the Dome’s Wrigley Field-like fieldhouse, but they recycled 250 tons of the Teflon-coated fiberglass roof, which has been used to make purses and messenger bags. The group also salvaged vinyl, mesh and polyblend from banners used at Super Bowl XLIV at the new Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indy.
In the words of Wisconsin Arts Foundation founder Robert Gard, “no place is a place until things are remembered.” Jessica Bricker, product manager-designer for PUP, liked that quote. Her twin brother Michael co-founded PUP in November 2008. Their PUP studios, complete with three sewing machines, is in a repurposed building: the former G.C. Murphy’s Department Store (1929-1998), an anchor of the sweetly hip Fountain Square District, a mile and a half south of downtown. Fountain Square’s buildings date back to 1871; they now are home to art galleries, bars and the acclaimed Bluebeard restaurant, 653 Virginia Ave., (317-686-1580; www.bluebardindy.com) a farm-to-table Italian-influenced restaurant with a wholesale bakery.
A 30-year-old Indianapolis native, Bricker met me at Silver in the City. She took me to Indianapolis Fabrications (IFAB) on the east side of downtown. The company removed, stored and refurbished the old Bush Stadium seats. The aluminum and plastic seats were sandblasted, lead paint was removed and the seats were reassembled.
The IndyGo Transit Company chose the sites for the ballpark bus seats. The PUPstops are installed in four-seat increments. IndyGo splits the installment costs with local sponsors. PUP is also working on two-fer Bush seats/dining room table ensemble that will be available to the public. I’m in.
Besides the Vermont and Alabama location (near the 37-foot-tall mural of Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut), the historic seats can be found at Meridian and Fall Creek Parkway near Ivy Tech, 82nd and Evergreen Avenue (directly north of downtown), Broad Ripple and Carrollton Avenue and Hoefgen Street on the near South Side.
In a phone interview last week, Michael Bricker said seats will be installed next year near Bush Stadium. Earlier this year ground was broken for the site to become the Stadium Lofts apartment complex, with the shell and historic facade of the stadium retained . Another set of four bus stop seats will be installed at the historic Madame Walker Theatre, 617 Indiana Ave., a former blacks-only theater which is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.
“Here’s all our Super Bowl fabric,” Jessica Bricker said while looking at a huge box of discarded fabric in the IFAB garage. “We were told we were going to get nine palate boxes, and we ended up getting 50. They’re saying it’s about five miles of Super Bowl banners.”
The NFL approached PUP about recycling the fabric because the league heard of their work with the RCA Dome. “The NFL said it’s a challenge because no one really does what we’re doing,” Bricker said. “We’re one of the only non-profits that sells products to find larger projects.” Stores typically give 60 per cent of profit from the goods’ sales back to PUP. Products also are available on the PUP website (peopleup.org, click “Shop”) with 100 per cent of proceeds going back to the organization.
Shower curtains are made from Super Bowl mesh used around Lucas Oilfences. A former interior designer, Bricker picked up vinyl mesh and said, “This has holes in it. I was like, beach bags, so we made beach bags out of them. Polyester can be a problem. One of our designers is a fashion designer and we gave her some. She tried making clothes, but it just wasn’t comfortable.
Unless it was 1973.
“There’s 13 acres of RCA Dome fabric,” Bricker said with a bright smile. (Her late father Steve was a dentist, her mother Shirene, a dental hygienist). “Imagine if all that was in a landfill. We figured we used about a tenth of an acre in the first 1,000 bags we made. That gives you an idea of how long it is going to take to use that.”
Sports are a collective memory. PUP’s efforts have sparked civic pride around Indianapolis.
Michael Bricker said, “Across the country we have a tendency to throw things away that mean a lot to a city. The public remembers buildings like the RCA Dome, Bush, and even Market Square Arena (the site of Elvis Presley’s finalconcert). Those places made the city what it is today and now that the city has arrived a little more nationally, we’re moving on. Keeping these items in a relatively public realm helps honor our history, but also shows we are still moving forward.”
For more on the history of Bush Stadium, including Studs Terkel’s visit to the ballpark check out blogs.suntimes.com/hoekstra/