The American Planning Association (APA) has announced the designation of Monument Circle as one of the 10 great public spaces for 2011 under the organization’s Great Places in America program.
APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners play in creating communities of lasting value.
APA singled out Monument Circle, the physical and monumental center of Indianapolis, for the impressive array of architecturally diverse buildings that provide a rich backdrop for the dramatic Soldiers and Sailors Monument. These structures house cultural, religious and business institutions and frame the 4.5-acre Circle, providing a cohesive, clearly defined space.
“The evolution of Monument Circle from the prospective home of governors to unadorned public gathering space to iconic heart of a thriving downtown is testament to the ability of well-conceived plans and innovative design to create enduring civic places,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “Building height limits and elevation setbacks – which allowed for abundant sunlight and preserved views – and more recent restoration and beautification efforts have combined to make Monument Circle the state’s most recognizable and visible public space and a destination unto itself.”
Influenced by his work with Pierre L’Enfant on the plan for Washington, D.C., Alexander Ralston placed a circle in the center of the one-square-mile area that would become Downtown Indianapolis. Ralston did not specify land uses for the Circle in his 1821 plan, other than for the center, which was to be the governor’s residence. The mansion, built in 1827, was never occupied.
The Circle’s focal point is now the remarkable 285-foot-tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which encompasses an entire city block. For years, architects placed conventional buildings at a tangent to the Circle, but the evolution of cast-iron fronts in the 1880s allowed builders to warp facades and gave rise to more innovative architectural designs. Indiana limestone eventually would become the building material of choice for structures surrounding Monument Circle.
The unique character of the buildings lining the Circle stems from the work of architects Preston C. Rubush and Edgar O. Hunter. Their designs for the Art Deco Circle Tower at 5 E. Market St., the Columbia Club at 121 Monument Circle, and the Hilbert Circle Theatre at 45 Monument Circle redefined the public space. Numerous churches representing many denominations also have been part of the Circle’s history; however, only the Episcopal Christ Church Cathedral remains today.
Today Monument Circle plays host to many events and celebrations.