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Friday, September 24, 2021

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Last month, Around the Corner introduced some history of marvelous Martindale-Brightwood and its renaissance as a thriving neighborhood. The Indianapolis Recorder has called this area home for decades. Why? Mainly because African-Americans have called it home.

The beginning of the 20th century continued to see Brightwood prosper with thriving railroads and increased industrialization. The town received public improvements, such as a library in 1902. Today, plans are in the works for a new freestanding Brightwood Library.

Martindale developed as an industrial and residential area centered around Dr. Andrew J. Brown, formerly known as Martindale Avenue. Martindale Avenue became home to African-Americans with a mixture of private homes, churches and industry. African-Americans were provided a school, Francis W. Parker School #56, “The Colored School,” serving Martindale’s African-American population and offering students education and social activities. Boys were offered “Cardinal Pioneer Club’s” field trips and community service, while girls joined “The Girl Reserve Club” to “instill things of cultural value in girls.” Douglass Park was dedicated in 1921 and began operating a swimming pool in 1927.

During the formative years of Martindale-Brightwood, the railroads continued as the basis for the economy; however, following the relocation of the “Big Four” to Beech Grove in 1908, industry began to decline. By 1944, most of the railroad businesses had relocated. Loss of the railroad proved to be detrimental to the economic status of Martindale-Brightwood. White residents relocated to newly built suburbs. This migration from Brightwood left a surplus of housing, followed by an in-migration of lower income African-Americans, which has continued over the past six decades.

By 1960, African-Americans accounted for approximately half of Brightwood’s population of 5,700 and more than 90 percent of the declined population of 4,700 by 1990. Martindale remained an African-American center of working class homes intermixed with industry.      

The 1960s plans for construction of I-65 and I-70 cut through the Martindale-Brightwood area. Construction began in the ’60s and ended in the ’70s, further displacing residents and businesses. Paradoxically, this construction benefited infrastructure and economic development of Indianapolis but caused an intrusion in the life of Martindale-Brightwood, now divided by an east-west interstate, losing another portion of its population and businesses. Today, approximately 8,000 people enter the area on I-70 contributing in a small way to the economy of the area.

The result of the 1960s changes in economics and population were so drastic that by 1967, enough of Martindale’s near-6,000 families met the federal definition of “poor,” leading to Martindale being declared a poverty target area. Through the ’70s and ’80s, crime continued to increase. In the early ’90s, Martindale-Brightwood was targeted by law enforcement for programs to combat gang and drug activity. Today, the area is a federally designated Promise Zone and hosts the East District of IMPD for a warming station and roll call each Friday, October through February.

The economic center of Brightwood, Station Street, was vacated in mid 1970. The area lost a doctor’s office, accounting and bookkeeping services, cafe, insurance company, Salvation Army store, pool hall, pet store, and Cohen Bros. Department Store (open since 1897). In 1980, the remaining bank planned to leave.  

St. Rita’s Catholic Church and St. Francis de Sales were educationally and socially important to the neighborhood. St. Francis de Sales parish school, which served Brightwood, closed with the parish in 1983. The property did, however, become the campus for Martin University in 1987.

St. Rita’s, established in 1919 as the African-American parish in Indianapolis, flourished throughout the decades. Father Bernard Strange, appointed in 1935, proved to be a progressive leader, fighting for the desegregation of Catholic schools and becoming vital to the community. St. Rita’s, known for social activities for Martindale and African-Americans throughout the city, offered sports leagues including boxing and basketball. The gymnasium was used in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s for weekly dances, attracting between 500 and 800 youths.  

 

Martindale-Brightwood, a neighborhood bettering its Quality of Life, joins its past, people, organizations, churches, schools and businesses. For more information or to schedule a tour of the area, contact Gina Fears, Neighborhood Engagement Coordinator, at (317) 637-3776.

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