The Estuary is the former All Souls Unitarian Church, a historic Arts and Crafts style church built in 1911 on Indianapolis’ old Northside. The church was designed by the Indianapolis architectural firm of Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller, a firm with distinctively German influence that also famously designed The Athenaeum, a national historic landmark, and several other prominent buildings in the city. The intricate stained glass windows in the foyer and sanctuary were designed by Brandt Steele, a prominent Indianapolis Glass Designer and Potter, and remain a lovely preservation of his work.
From its inception, the 11,000 square foot building was a gathering space, and the earliest photos show Christmas parties, weddings, church meetings and dinners. Over the years, the church hosted a myriad of community events, which they labeled “Get Acquainted Meetings.” Favorite activities, especially in post World War 1 Indianapolis, included “Community Sings,” and concerts hosting various local musical talent. The church was extremely culturally and artistically minded and local artists (jewelers, painters and sculptors) were often invited to exhibit their crafts. Original essays and poems were read at community literature events. During the Indiana Centennial Celebration in 1916, professors were retained to give lectures about Indiana history, and those who had the good fortune to travel abroad would speak at events to tell stories of faraway lands.
All Souls made headlines in the Indianapolis News when they started hosting “dancing parties” for young people which was quite unorthodox for the time. “The dancing has been confined to the waltz and the two-step,” said Frank Wicks, minister at All Souls. “If we should see steps taken wrongly we will quietly interfere,” he said. Of course, a “licensed chaperone” was always present.
The Children’s Chapel was dedicated October 18, 1930 in memory of Elizabeth Wicks, wife of minister Frank Wicks. The chapel was used for “the church school as well as for many young persons’ activities,” claimed a newspaper article in the Indianapolis News about the dedication.
Dr. Frank Wicks was the minister at All Souls for 33 years, and was a gifted communicator and together with his attractive and poetic wife, won the admiration of the congregation, which grew from 50 to 500 persons under his leadership. Dr. Wicks was an intelligent man and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. He was interested in art, literature and greatly involved in the philanthropic, social welfare and civic affairs in Indianapolis. Notably, according to his obituary in the Indianapolis News, he participated in numerous associations, including (to name a few) the Literary Club, The Family Welfare Society, The Boys Club of Indianapolis and the Social Hygiene Club. His unconventional theology, however, put him at odds with many of the other ministers of the city, and he was never permitted to become a member of the City Ministerial Association. Wicks continued at the church as minister emeritus until his death in 1952 at the age of 84. After the death of Dr. Wicks, it became apparent that a larger facility was needed. The final All Souls service on Alabama Street was held on February 8,1959.
A series of churches occupied the building off and on from 1960–1988. Unfortunately, the final church was unable to meet its financial obligations, which resulted in frozen pipes and extensive water damage throughout the building. The property remained vacant under ownership of a bank until the property transferred to two professors at the Herron School of Art, to be used as a private residence. The couple faced enormous challenges to repair the building, but successfully converted the classrooms into living quarters. They decided to preserve the original design of the Sanctuary and Chapel. Author Kurt Vonnegut, grandson of the church’s architect, penned a note congratulating the owners and expressing appreciation that the building would be used by two artists.
In 2021, Renewing Management, an Indianapolis-based real estate firm that owns and operates multi-family communities throughout Indiana, purchased the property.
Sources: Photos and archives from the Indianapolis Historical Society, Abe Aamidor, A Living Conversation, The Indianapolis Star, February 17, 2007, Barry Shifman, Brandt Steele: Indianapolis Arts & Crafts Designer and Potter, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1994, History & Architecture Page, www.athenaeumfoundation.org, History Page, www.allsoulsindy.org.
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