Lockefield Gardens is a rental community located along Indiana Avenue. Its history is intertwined with the housing and educational opportunities for Black families in Indianapolis.
As part of the New Deal, in 1934, the United States government approved the development of local complexes built explicitly to provide quality housing for low income citizens. This program was part of the Public Works Administration (PWA) and was designed to be both a way to provide employment opportunities in the construction industry for the unemployed during the Great Depression as well as a “slum clearance” project to replace substandard housing with new, quality housing.
Twenty-two acres along a stretch of Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis were designated as the site of “Project H-1601.” The area, then home to many Black families, was to be cleared of all existing structures to make way for the new housing. “The area covered by Lockefield was considered a slum during the 1930s,” according to a report of the Historic American Buildings Survey issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1983. That report noted that more than 200 parcels of land were cleared to build Lockefield Gardens.
Dozens of similar projects were implemented at the same time in cities throughout the United States as part of the PWA.
From its initial plans, Project H-1601 was to be used as segregated housing for Black families. At the time of its development, official segregation of services by governmental entities was part and parcel of life. The original plans included apartments for 748 Negro families, according to the Federal government. Twenty-four buildings were included in the complex in the area bounded, at that time, by Indiana Avenue, Locke Street, North Street, and Blake Street.
A brochure highlighting the area noted that “Elementary School No. 24 is within the project site. Crispus Attucks Senior High School, one of the finest Negro High Schools in the state, and a junior high school are each less than a mile from the project.”
The formal name, “Lockefield Gardens,” was announced by the United States Secretary of Interior in April of 1936. The name was based on Locke Street and the anticipated “garden” atmosphere planned for the public housing complex.
Locke Street was named after Major Erie Locke. He served as a member of the Indianapolis City Council as well as an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Major Locke and his family were among a group of Indiana residents who settled what was known as the Indiana Colony – land that became the City of Pasadena, California – in the 1870s. A news article dated Dec. 8, 1874, in The Evening News of Indianapolis indicated “… Erie Locke reports his health greatly improved since his sojourn at Los Angeles, California.” He became the first notary in what is now Pasadena, according to “History of Pasadena,” a book written by Hiram Reid. In 1877, Major Locke was elected a justice of the peace in San Gabriel Township (a predecessor municipality to the City of Pasadena). The book indicated Major Locke was unable to continue to serve in his elected position because of sickness in 1878; he died the following year.
The portion of Locke Street that served as a border for original layout of Lockefield Gardens no longer exists. Instead, the street was vacated in this area and replaced with University Boulevard. The name of that street came from the expansion of the campus of Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis onto lands that were originally part of Lockefield Gardens.
Blake Street is likely named after the Blake family. A news article dated Oct. 16, 1861, in The Indiana State Sentinel noted a plat had been filed with Marion County regarding land located — at that time — outside of the City of Indianapolis. The filing was made by “… James Blake and James M. Ray, which lots front on Blake Street, and contain two acres of land.”
North Street got its name because the original part of North Street served as the northern boundary of the initial one-square-mile City of Indianapolis. Indiana Avenue, of course, was named after the State of Indiana.
Part Two of What’s In A Name, Indy? — Lockefield Gardens will detail the initial operations as well as the redevelopment of this housing complex in the 1980s.
Do you have questions about communities in Indianapolis? A street name? A landmark? Your questions may be used in a future news column. Contact Richard McDonough at email@example.com.