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Hoosier History Live

Mar 29, 2019

(March 23, 2019) With the announcement that downtown Indianapolis will get a new high-rise hotel that, according to news accounts, will "change the city's skyline," Hoosier History Live will explore two grand hotels that were rivals for most of the early and mid-20th century.

Detail from a vintage postcard shows the flatiron shape of Hotel Lincoln. Courtesy Indiana Album.When the elegant Claypool Hotel opened in 1903 at Washington and Illinois Streets, its lobby was touted as one of the largest in the world. During the next six decades, distinguished guests included Eleanor RooseveltJack BennyDwight Eisenhower and Fort Wayne native Carole Lombard, who spent the last nights of her life at the Claypool.

The glamorous movie star was killed in 1942 when her plane crashed as she was returning to Hollywood from Indianapolis, where she had raised a record $2.5 million at war bond rallies.

Two sensational murders at the Claypool made international headlines: The notorious "dresser drawer murder" in 1954 (the body of teenage victim Dorothy Poore was found stuffed into a dresser drawer), and the unsolved slaying of Maoma Ridings, who was serving in the Women's Army Corps at Camp Atterbury, during WWII.

Hotel Lincoln opened in 1918 on the current site of Hyatt Regency (it later was known as the Sheraton Lincoln Hotel after an acquisition). At 15 stories, the hotel was the largest flatiron building ever constructed in Indiana, built on an acutely angled lot at the corner of West Washington Street and Kentucky Avenue. The adjacent stretch of Kentucky Avenue was later eliminated from the city street grid prior to construction of the Hyatt Regency.

John McDonaldLike the Claypool, the Lincoln hosted political conventions, including dozens of state legislators who stayed at the hotels during the General Assembly. Demolition of the Lincoln in 1973 involved the first use of controlled dynamite to raze a building in the entire state, according to an article written by historian Joan Hostetler for

Nelson's studio guest is John McDonald, the CEO of the information technology company ClearObject in Fishers; he is the author of Lost Indianapolis (Arcadia Publishing, 2002), which devotes a chapter to the lavish Claypool.

Two years after a devastating fire in 1967 caused the Claypool to close, the hotel was demolished. Guests at a "demolition ball" then bid on dozens of Claypool artifacts and mementos.

Other Claypool objects, however, remained in storage for decades; for example, the Carole Lombard Suite (furnishings from the room in which the actress stayed) eventually was purchased in 2000 by the Indianapolis Propylaeum.

Some history facts:

  • Before the Claypool was built, its site had been the location of a legendary hotel of the 19th century: the Bates House, which was constructed in the 1850s. None other than Abraham Lincoln stayed at the Bates House. As president-elect in 1861, traveling from Springfield, Ill., to his inauguration in Washington, Lincoln delivered a speech from the balcony of the Bates House that made national headlines.
  • According to Lost Indianapolis, a partnership that involved entrepreneur Edward Fay Claypool, the son of one of the first settlers of Connersville, Ind., initiated construction of the eight-story hotel, which had 450 guest rooms. Our guest John McDonald writes that the Claypool's furnishings and décor were "made of the best mahogany, brass and textiles available." Every room at the Claypool had a private bath, a luxury in 1903.
  • At the Hotel Lincoln, an Estey pipe organ was built specifically for the Travertine Room, the elegant dining room.
  • The new downtown hotel will be a Signia Hotel, a new brand created by Hilton. Expected to become one of the tallest buildings in the Hoosier capital, the hotel is planned for Pan American Plaza at Illinois and Georgia streets.

Expansions of the Claypool during its heyday eventual increased its capacity to 600 guest rooms. The hotel included two ballrooms, the Florentine Room and the Riley Room, which was named in honor of poet James Whitcomb Riley.

Vintage postcard image of the lobby of the Claypool Hotel; the lobby was reputed to be one of the largest in the world."From the first night, the Claypool had no trouble filling its guest list with the most powerful and influential," John McDonald writes.

Carole Lombard stayed at the hotel in January 1942 while making a series of major public appearances to sell war bonds at Monument CircleCadle Tabernacle and the Indiana Governor's Residence. Lombard, 33, and her mother were among the passengers killed when their plane from Indianapolis crashed into a mountain in Nevada. Her grief-stricken widower, movie icon Clark Gable, then quietly visited Indianapolis and may have stayed in the rooms that later became known as Carole Lombard Suite.

The Claypool's reputation never fully recovered from the "dresser drawer murder" in 1954. Dorothy Poore, the 18-year-old victim, had come to Indianapolis from her hometown of Clinton, Ind., in search of a job. A door-to-door salesman was convicted of the gruesome slaying.

The years after the shocking murder also were a lackluster era for Indy's downtown, another factor in the decline of both the Claypool and the Lincoln hotels.

That era resulted in the demise of other landmarks depicted in Lost Indianapolis, the book by our guest John McDonald. In addition to being the CEO of ClearObject, John is the chairman of the Indiana Technology and Innovation Policy Committee.