Posted on Fri, Oct 9, 2015 under Press Release

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The White River Naval Armory in Indianapolis, renamed in 1965 for longtime commanding officer Capt. O. F. Heslar, includes a large gymnasium that doubled as a drill room. Credit: Hadley Fruits.

The City of Indianapolis Board of Public Works passed a resolution Wednesday (Oct. 7th) accepting the historic Heslar Naval Armory from the State of Indiana and transferring it to Indiana Landmarks. The building on White River at 30th Street has been vacant since the departure of the naval reserves in 2014. After the state found no interest among its agencies in the surplus property, the city inherited the site.

 

“The Naval Armory is an important landmark, both historically and architecturally,” says Indiana Landmarks President Marsh Davis. “We want to preserve the building, and Herron High School’s plan to open a second campus on the site seems like a perfect new use, and one that will help revitalize the Riverside neighborhood.”
“We are very excited about our partnership with Indiana Landmarks and the possibilities that the Heslar Naval Armory presents. Our Board of Directors and school leadership are committed to preserving the high-quality education provided at our current campus and extending that to hundreds more students at another campus location,” notes Janet H. McNeal, Head of School at Herron High School.
“Herron High School is working to secure financial support in order to transform the armory into an exceptional environment where students can thrive. We are grateful to Indiana Landmarks for securing and maintaining the building while our board explores the possibility of establishing another campus there,” she adds.
It is expected that retrofitting the building as a high school will cost several million dollars. Herron High School hopes to welcome students to the new campus for the 2017 or 2018 school year.
Completed by the Works Progress Administration in 1938 with an Art Moderne-style exterior, the white building was bomb-proofed with reinforced concrete. Taken over from the U.S. Navy Reserves by the Department of the Navy in 1940, it became a national training center for the next five years, turning out more than 1,000 radio operators.
The sailors, who referred to the armory as “the ship,” trained on a simulated navigation bridge, with actual signal hoists, lights, magazine, battle telephones, boiler room, radio communications room, ship’s ladder, and galley. The only thing missing was the ocean.
Central Indiana is probably the last place people would expect top-secret naval strategy might occur. That was the bet during World War II, when the Indianapolis Naval Armory became a planning site in developing the U.S. Navy’s war strategy in the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns. Unverified accounts have suggested that the armory was the site where elements of the D-Day invasion and war-ending bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were charted.
Indiana Landmarks will attach a protective covenant to the deed, guaranteeing that the building will regain its historic appearance through the restoration and will be maintained in the future. The armory will also carry state covenants that require preservation.

 

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Overlooking White River at 30th Street in Indianapolis, the gleaming white Art-Moderne building was constructed in 1936-38 by the WPA, created to provide jobs during the Depression by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. Credit: Hadley Fruits.