Iconic Structures of Indiana: Bush Stadium

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Bush Stadium from the southwest

Bush Stadium is a baseball stadium just Northwest of downtown Indianapolis. This ivy covered brick structure with a heavily styled Art Deco entry has been the home of several teams since construction in 1931, all of whom have had a major role in the sports history of the city. Legend says that Wrigley Field (1913) served as inspiration for the ivy covered walls and roof system of the Indianapolis ballpark.

(NOTE: the property is closed and there is no access to the interior of the stadium)

Bush Stadium entry pavillion

Typical exterior walls of Bush Stadium

The structure has been essentially abandoned since 1996 when the Indianapolis Indians team moved to Victory Field downtown. The Indians move wasn’t such a bad plan, it consolidated the sports activities in the downtown area and created another destination in the central core. Victory Field and the Indianapolis Indians team offer one of the best baseball experiences available in the US, I love the current configuration they have. But as seen in a photos here and one from this link, Bush Stadium was quite sufficient as a baseball park and consolidating downtown was the reason for the move rather than obsolescence.

An aerial image from 1995, the last year that the stadium saw a full season

I wanted to concentrate on this structure for a few reasons:

  • It is currently on HLFI top ten endangered list
  • It has an exposed structural system, which always attracts my attention
  • It has a great location near downtown and alongside the river
  • I want to help raise awareness of the structure

Google Earth 3-d building model of Bush Stadium from the south

Google Earth 3-d building model of Bush Stadium from the southeast

The Indianapolis Star had a good descriptive article on this structure last year, but there was absolutely no call to action.

I hope that Indianapolis will find a reuse for this structure, but I don’t think that the current owners, Indy Parks, actually know what to do with it yet. Historic preservation has never been too high on their list of priorities and they seem to be too comfortable with razing a significant structure just to acquire a clean piece of property. Indy Parks official position is that they are entertaining offers for the property, but that no “viable solution” has been proposed.

The current cost estimate for a rehab is $6.7M (and maybe as low as $5M). If you look at how much Lucas Oil Stadium cost (~$700M), you can see that a rehabbed Bush Stadium will cost significantly less. Bush Stadium holds 12,000 spectators compared to LOS’ 60,000, so you get 1/5 the people for 1/100 the cost. No matter where you draw your money from, that doesn’t seem like a bad value. Most importantly, you now have a stadium that nobody can compete with, an authentic art deco structure.

Ripken Design performed the restoration feasibility study sponsored by the Chambers Family Foundation. It seems that no action has been taken since the initial phase, probably everyone is waiting for the city to make a decision or put funding into place.

When you consider how distinct the authentic facade is, you can easily imagine adaptive reuse consultants having an easy time marketing this property. Even if not for baseball or softball or little league, other sports such as cricket, soccer, or a facility of IUPUI’s choosing is possible. Many sports have devoted fans in need of small, yet upscale, stadiums to host championship games or tournaments.

Aerial image from 1937 showing arrangement as a baseball stadium

Aerial image as of 2005, after outfield was converted into the 16th Street Speedway

The entry pavillion is precast concrete with a metal awning. The cast reliefs probably refer to local issues set as mythological stories, which was a big hit in Art Deco days.

An art deco design relief (click for larger view)

Art deco relief showing original name of Perry Stadium

An Native American with ceremonial headdress and baseball equipment

The exterior windows are steel with divided lites. The awning and ticket counter windows give the impression of an old movie theater experience, which is probably not coincidental since they were also a burgeoning industry at this time. The management and operational facilities are directly above the ticket counter windows.

Awning above ticket counter booths with more design elements

Original gates to control traffic in and out of turnstyles

Turnstyles in main room of entry pavillion

Main room of entry pavillion with offices above the ticket booths (check out column details)

The vendors are no longer open but the signs are still hanging around

Beautiful desolation

Typical stadium ramp up to the seating area

A wild view greets anyone walking up the ramp to see the old playing surface

I don’t know how the upper stadium boxes were accessed, but they appear to be a later addition that has not fared very well. On the other hand, the lighting towers are obviously original and look absolutely fitting in their function and appearance. The roof structure is steel trusses with some type of steel decking covering almost all of the seats. That in itself is a rare thing at any baseball stadium.

Left field of Bush Stadium

Right field of Bush Stadium

One of several enormous light towers

A closer view of the home plate area and the “luxury boxes”

Good view of the windows and ticketing areas

The stadium risers are concrete and look cast in place, supported on brick walls. There is plenty of room for vendors under the risers. The exterior walls have overhead doors at regular intervals, these are access doors for the vendor stands. It looks like one could just back a truck right up into the stall and sell out of the truck. At the very least, it makes loading and unloading a simple affair.

Old vendor stall with roll-up door

The roof is supported by a steel frame structure, likely a moment frame with rigid connections to the truss chords. There is some wood roofing materials falling down, but nothing extensive. The timeline of the stadium shows that public use was still being allowed as late as 2001. I refuse to believe that this structure which has been exposed to weather for 70 years would go from structurally sound to the brink of collapse in 8 years. It seems like a scare tactic to me.

View of the framing from the exterior, note the braced frames in certain bays

The tall steel columns are connected with built-up trusses acting as a rigid frame

Good view of the trusses supporting the roof members

Viewing the structure from the outside, it is clear that this building is still in serviceable condition, and reportedly sees some seasonal upkeep. An outfield wall recently collapsed, but those are typically unbraced at their top so not surprising this would happen while nobody is maintaining the brick. There are no signs of walls being out of plumb, no exposed steel rusted through, nor any evidence of serious degradation by water. Many of the reports reference structural deficiencies, but (at least from the exterior) it appears to be in great shape compared to many of the historic properties I have been in.

My impression is that the decision to leave Bush Stadium was political and the required maintenance of the structure was merely a convenient excuse. Instead of focusing their energy on a solution that would preserve the heritage of the city, the owners (city of Indianapolis) began describing the stadium as “crumbling” or “unsafe” and rapidly abandoned it to raise a new edifice in honor of their own leadership.

Bush stadium is in good shape, even if it does have a few problems needing to be addressed. Only a limited amount of graffiti is present. Many of the window panes are still in good shape, a rare phenomenon for an abandoned urban building. Looking at the above referenced renovation costs, I think it is safe to assume that most of that cost would not be structural issues, but rather M/E/P, accessibility, or “luxury booth” upgrades. Asbestos treatments may be a concern, but there are many structures where management-in-place policies have been very effective.

Looking even further into the future, the stadium is on a direct route from downtown to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Thus, a dedicated people mover could serve both facilities. In my opinion, this is a strong argument in favor of preserving it. It could become another great facility in the portfolio of Indianapolis sports venues. I wouldn’t even be opposed to letting it sit for many more years and cultivating Indy’s first set of urban ruins, to be celebrated in a picturesque way many decades from now.

I just hope that the city of Indianapolis understands that once something is lost, it is lost forever. In the end if we can’t save Bush Stadium then it will be a sad day for us all.

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5 Responses to “Iconic Structures of Indiana: Bush Stadium”


  1. mheidelberger

    Cool post! I went by the area recently, but saw people inspecting that broken window; couldn't tell if it was maintenance crew or urban explorers. Either way, way too much activity for me to try to sneak in considering I almost got 'pinched' doing something similar before…

  2. Ben

    I've been looking into renovations on the site for a while now. I think it would be a great hub of international sports like cricket, especially considering its proximity to BioCrossroads. I'd be interested to hear if anybody else would be seriously interested in making a move on Bush Stadium, before it is too late.

  3. Graeme

    Matt, sorry you did not get in. Hopefully the stadium will open again and then everyone will have a chance to explore it as much as they wish.

    Ben, it is great news that people like you are interested in this property. I also agree that it could be a great sports hub.

  4. j . j .

    I'd rather the city spend money on this than welfare.

  5. Marc

    I have been when something was going to happen to the stadium; I have also been told that it is structally unsafe, but if anyone is interested in spearheading a committment to clean up the park, let me know. jasonjamez@aol.com I would like to resurect the ballpark for various uses.

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