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538 W New York Street


538 W New York Street in 1975.

In 1860, Elizabeth and Caleb Smith moved into the house that would become 538 W. New York Street. At the time, the house's address was 158 W. New York.

The Smith Family

Caleb was a politician and was the first Hoosier to serve in the President of the United States' Cabinet. According to the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, he served as President Lincoln's Secretary of the Interior from 1861 to 1863. After resigning from the position due to poor health, he returned to Indianapolis and was a judge of the U.S. District Court until his death in 1864.

Elizabeth continued to live in the house until 1876. While her husband was the Secretary of the Interior, Elizabeth was working tirelessly within a Civil War hospital in Washington D.C.. According to the Indiana State Sentinel on May 19, 1862, Elizabeth and a colleague were "engaged like ministering angels in ameliorating the situation of our brave men." The article also noted that "besides the direct benefit that may follow immediate attention to the sick and wounded. The fact that citizens have visited the army to administer to the invalids, imparts hope and cheerfulness to the desponding soldier." As such, it is not surprising that as the Richmond Palladium said on August 8, 1967, Elizabeth's "praise was among all of the sick and wounded."

Elizabeth stayed in 538 W. New York Street for 12 years after her husband's death. During that time, according to the Indianapolis Journal, she rented out portions of the house, spent time with family, and even helped organize a trip to Santa Barbara California in 1873.

One can get a sense of Elizabeth's life based on an ad for a furniture auction she placed October 9, 1867, Indianapolis Daily Herald. This ad included a list of items to be sold, such as a 4 pocket fine rosewood billiards table, Bohemian champagne, a fine oil painting labeled as the "Feast of Baccus [sic]", a piano, a fine falling top family carriage, a trotting buggy, and one fine cow and calf.

In 1876, Elizabeth moved to Mount Repose, Cincinnati where she lived until her death in 1878.

The Leach Sanitarium and Indianapolis Cancer Hospital

In 1898, 538 W. New York Street transitioned from being a private residence to the Leach Sanitarium (renamed the Indianapolis Cancer Hospital in 1916). The story of how the Leach Sanitarium came to be is well described in the Journal of the American Medical Association article titled, "The Indianapolis Cancer Hospital." 

As described in the article, the Leach sanitarium/Indianapolis Cancer Hospital was a fraudulent enterprise run by Leon T. Leach and his wife as well as Charles A. McNeil and Charles C. Root. While claiming to be able to cure cancer and other ailments, Leach, McNeil, and Root would prescribe "Cancerol" or "Night oil" which were simply cottonseed oil or pills colored red and made of sugar, red pepper, baking soda, and iron sulfate.

In addition to ineffectual prescriptions, the Indianapolis Cancer Hospital also solicited patients by bribing ministers and clergymen. These activities consisted of sending them a pocketknife for a list of names of possible patients and then sending them $25 for every patient that resulted from the lists.

The hospital also preyed on the weak in society. As described in associate professor Ralph Lee Smith's book At Your Own Risk, the hospital would require patients to make down payments before treatment ranging up to $1,000 or about $14,800 today. In desperation, people would hand over their life savings or mortgage entire farms.

In 1929, the Better Business Bureau of Indianapolis released a bulletin calling the hospital "without doubt the most disgraceful institution that has ever been permitted to operate for any length of time in the City of Indianapolis, and one of the worst, if not the worst, in the whole country (Smith, 1969)." The exposing of these fraudulent practices by the Better Business Bureau, Journal of American Medical Association, and others eventually led to the institution closing its doors in 1929.

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Offer of a pocket knife to clergymen who provide a list of possible clients to the proprietors of the hospital from The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Parkview Hotel

From 1929 to 1932, 538 W. New York Street was home to the Parkview Hotel. Though it did not last long in this location, the hotel was a point of pride in the community. Its grand opening, detailed in the October 29, 1929 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder, reported that there was a 30 piece band playing to celebrate the event with hundreds of people touring the renovated building.

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1929 ad for Parkview Hotel in the Indianapolis Recorder.

In the increasingly segregated city of Indianapolis, this hotel served as a place of refuge for African American travelers and served as an important event space. One of the largest events the Hotel helped bring to Indianapolis was the 1930 National Medical Association meeting. At the time, the National Medical Association was made up of African American physicians, dentists, and pharmacists all working to advance the medical profession and the rights of African American professionals and patients. The conference took place throughout the community with Crispus Attucks High School and the Senate Ave. Y.M.C.A. also being prominent spaces. The event was regarded as a great success.

According to the Indianapolis Recorder, in 1932, the Parkview Hotel moved to its new location at 221 W Vermont Street.

Marion County Juvenile Home

In 1938, 538 W New York Street became the Marion County Juvenile Home, although it quickly became apparent that the building was not well-suited for the purpose, primarily due to its lack of security. This was demonstrated by multiple escapes of the juvenile home's inmates including one on 1939 that was reported in the Indianapolis Recorder

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1938 Muncie Post-Democrat article.

Despite multiple escapes, the juvenile home remained at 538 W New York Street until 1944 when the state fire marshal condemned the building as a firetrap. After determining the need to move the institution, the city began the process of finding a new building for the juvenile home.

According to the Indianapolis Recorder, immediately after the announcement, white neighborhoods on county-owned property opposed moving it anywhere near them, and the county agreed. Instead, the former Colored Orphans Home at 25th and Keystone Avenue, located in an integrated neighborhood, was chosen as the new location for the juvenile home. This move did not come without objections though. African American run clubs in the area hired an attorney by the name of Beckwith to fight the move. They argued that moving the juvenile home to the new location would lower property values and as such tax revenues. Yet after a 4-month long legal battle, the neighborhood at 25th and Keystone and local businesses lost and the juvenile home was moved there.

Parkview Apartments

The final chapter in the story of 538 W. New York Street is its time as the Parkview Apartments. This operation was established and owned by Lewis and Jerry Goodrich along with their wives. 

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Three of the owners of Parkview Apartments in front of the building in 1945.

The Goodriches wanted this complex to be more than just apartments and, according to a 1945 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder, dedicated the project to "the promotion of Education, the edification of character." To help achieve this goal, the apartment complex included a playground, ice rink, chapel, refrigerated cement storage food vaults, moving picture projectors, and more. These apartments were only available to nuclear families, meaning a husband and wife with at least one child. The Goodriches hoped that by providing quality housing and community for families, they could better the lives of African Americans in Indianapolis.

Much like the Parkview Hotel before it, the apartments were also a place for social gatherings. For example, the Ritzy Ramblers, a local social club, advertized a meeting there in the Indianapolis Recorder in 1958. The Parkview Apartments were also a place for activism, like the labor union meeting of the Colored Grocery Association or a meeting for parents and teachers concerned about and helping the youth in the community, both reported in the Indianapolis Recorder.

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1961 photo of fire damage at 538 W New York Street from the Indianapolis Recorder.

While we may never know if the Goodriches felt like they accomplished their mission, the Parkview Apartments were an important place for the families that lived there and the greater community for almost 30 years. Their importance was highlighted by the fact that the building was rebuilt following a devastating 1961 fire detailed in the photos above.

538 W New York Street Today

Though fire couldn't bring down this building, the growth of an urban campus did. In a story common in the African American community on the west side, the land was eventually acquired by IUPUI and the building torn down around 1971. Today IUPUI's McKinney School of Law stands in its place.

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Aerial view of 538 W New York Street in 2020.

Written by Kyle Turner

Edited by Hannah Ryker, April 2, 2020

538 W New York Street