The National Road, later known as US 40, was a major driver in the development of downtown Indianapolis, and where the road cut through the city- it was known as Washington Street. By the turn of the century, Washington Street was the most cosmopolitan shopping district in the state, and became home to dining, hotel, and entertainment venues.
By the 1920’s, Indianapolis, like other American cities, was swept up in the magic of the motion picture. The Indiana Theater, built in 1927, was designed and built to outshine all other venues. Designed as the city’s largest and most lavish “movie palace” by the architectural firm Rubush and Hunter, the six story building features an ornately carved glazed white Terra Cotta façade, sculpted by Alex Sangernebo in a Spanish Baroque style. The interior was designed to awe and inspire as well, featuring a mix of Spanish, Indian and Egyptian Motifs, sparkling lights, and rich tapestries. The original building included a 3200 seat movie house, a bowling alley, lunch counter, barber shop and more.
As the suburbs developed in the 50’s, with their modern shopping centers, Washington Street slowly lost most of its tenants, and all of its high profile establishments. The Indiana Theater fell into disrepair and by the mid 1970’s was considered endangered.
In 1979, the Indiana Repertory Theater purchased and began the renovation of the historic building, reconfiguring the interior to contain the performance spaces - and restoring much of the lush atmosphere in the theater lobbies.
The upper floor of the building contains the Indiana Roof Ballroom, a unique space designed as a “Spanish” town square, surrounded by buildings, and topped with an elliptical dome with sky effects. It was a very popular venue for big band and other performances in its heyday in the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s currently a popular rentable events space. The Indiana Roof Ballroom is very similar to Chicago’s larger 1926 Aragon Ballroom in the Uptown Neighborhood, which now is a concert venue.