The Imminent Demolition of the Carmel Grain Elevator

Contrail, Power Line and AbandonedGrain Elevator, Carmel, IN

(Click to enlarge photographs.)

Thus we have the American grain elevators and factories, the magnificent FIRST-FRUITS of the new age. – Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1927.

A photograph of Carmel’s landmark historical grain elevator structure is one of the two anchor images of my project, Truth From Perceptions.  Currently it is in the 2 Photographers Works In Progress Exhibition at Midland Arts and Antiques Market in downtown Indianapolis.

I had also written about the area in a post from this blog dated August 9, 2011.  These photographs were included in that post:

This is a portion of what I wrote about this area:  It was a gorgeous winter day and it was like the sky was playing its own concerto.  The interaction of the natural clouds with the contrails was quite something.  The area where these photographs were made is one that stills reveals Carmel’s history as a small town whose livelihood likely revolved around this grain elevator adjacent to the railroad tracks – maybe that is why I’m drawn here so often.

Imagine my surprise when I read on Twitter this past Saturday that it is a done deal that the City of Carmel is going to demolish the grain elevator.  Apparently, technically, it is the Carmel Redevelopment Commission (CRC) that is going to do the deed. According to City documents the CRC requested the Board of Public Works, which consists of the Mayor and two appointees, to write a resolution to demolish the structure.  Apparently that three person Board of Public Works has the power to act on the behalf of the CRC and indeed they did.

From what I’ve been told from a very reliable source the CRC can do whatever it wants to in this area by virtue of zoning law.  The CRC is an appointed government entity that does not answer to Carmel’s City Council and therefore the citizens of Carmel.  And today I found out that they actually are able to encumber the City of Carmel with debt without getting approval from the City Council, ie the Citizens of Carmel.  That was a shocker.

Apparently the Mayor and the CRC have a plan to build an additional water tower straddling the Monon Trail that has fountains or some such thing and rather than consider integrating the grain elevator into the plan they are going to demolish it, again, with no public input.  There are instances where these structures have been reused in various ways.  Being a part of the Arts and Design District I would hope that rather than tear down one of the last historical structures connecting Carmel to its past that the CRC would come up with a more creative solution.  Maybe even ask the public and artists and architects for some ideas.  But recent history shows that Carmel’s government likes shiny new things.  Problem is that, not much later, those shiny new things become dull older things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

It was extremely disappointing to see in an Indianapolis Star article Carmel Clay Historical Society’s (CCHS) board member Fred Swift easily dismiss this structure as having no historical significance.  Yet in the next breath he makes the case for the structure when he acknowledges that the structure has been a part of Carmel’s landscape for ninety years and was one of Carmel’s largest employers before Carmel was a “big suburb.” Update 2-25-2012 – From an IBJ article it is now known that the CCHS received a $31,000 grant from the 4CDC which is an organization that works as a shadow government entity that disperses Carmel public money with no public input nor oversight.  So it is no surprise that the CCHS has no interest in preserving the grain elevator.

Apparently now that Carmel is a suburb we no longer have any use for our agricultural past.  I expect more than this from an organization that is supposed to be protecting our history outside of local politics.

I find it ironic that the CCHS is housed in, what I’m certain Mr. Swift considers historically significant structures, railroad depot buildings that were repurposed to suit CCHS’ needs and are in the shadow of the grain elevator.

Even more ironic is this news story from Current in Carmel; the first two paragraphs are here:

The City Council Monday night approved an ordinance authorizing historic preservation and the creation of a historic preservation commission. 

The ordinance, which passed with a 6-1 vote, was proposed to “provide a means to promote the cultural, economic, and general welfare of the public through the preservation and protection of structures and areas of historic and cultural interest within the City” and to “maintain established neighborhoods in danger of having their distinctiveness destroyed,” among other stated purposes.

Zack Myers of Fox 59 news interviewed me for their story on the demolition of the grain elevator.

I encourage you to read an article about all of this written by Jonathon Haag that can be found on his blog, Innovate Carmel.

Here is a recent letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star by Jane Oakes:

Maybe we can progress without
tearing down grain elevator

6:41 PM, Jan. 05, 2012

I hadn’t thought about the Carmel Grain Elevator in years, but all of a sudden the story on Wednesday, Jan. 4 (“Eyesore or landmark, elevator’s coming down”) brought back a virtual flood of memories. When I moved to Carmel as a child, there were 771 people living there, as attested by a sign at the south edge of town.

At the Carmel school, all in one brick building at the east end of Main Street, I was in the same class with both Fosters and Kendalls, the families that owned the grain elevator. The Monon Railroad was a large part of the community from the proximity to the grain company to the hook by the large door that snagged mailbags each day. Putting a penny on the tracks was an exciting pastime; I’ll bet if I looked carefully enough I might still have a very thin, flat, smashed penny. Progress does not always mean removing the past. Sometimes it means honoring it through visible memories.

Jane S. Oaks


A fellow grad from Carmel High 1976 had this to say about the grain elevator:

The Carmel Grain Elevator should be preserved as a historical landmark… Even as the town moves forward, and the landscape through the years has changed, it should always leave reminders of what once was.

Mike Sapp

Also there is a discussion on Carmel City Councilor’s Rick Sharp’s Facebook page.

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