Class and Color at Municipal Gardens

Johanneson Cannon II

In 1916 the first Indianapolis Canoe Club structure on Lafayette Road burnt where Municipal Gardens sits today.

In 1916 the first Indianapolis Canoe Club structure on Lafayette Road burnt where Municipal Gardens sits today.

The Indianapolis park now known as Municipal Gardens has hosted several buildings at the site along Lafayette Road.  The site was first home to the Indianapolis Canoe Club, an exclusive boating club.  Club lore was that the idea for a White River riverfront club was hatched by a circle of veterans while serving in Puerto Rico with the 27th Battery of the Indiana Volunteer Army, which was in the Spanish-American War in 1898.  The club originally was located near Riverside Park, where the club opened in September, 1900.  During the winter of 1912-1913 the club built a new building on  Lafayette Road, with Indianapolis Speedway developer Carl Fisher providing land and some financial support for a new facility that opened in May 1913.  Membership flagged by 1916, when the club launched a membership drive and changed its name to the Indianapolis Athletic and Canoe Club in April, 1916.  In December, 1926, though, a fire burnt the clubhouse to the ground.

In February 1927 hopeful African-American entrepreneurs held an event at the former Casino Gardens, which they planned to purchase and re-name Spring Hill Country Club. The former Casino Gardens eventually was sold to the Parks Department that summer.

In February 1927 hopeful African-American entrepreneurs held an event at the former Casino Gardens, which they planned to purchase and re-name Spring Hill Country Club. The former Casino Gardens eventually was sold to the Parks Department that summer.

The club rebuilt the clubhouse but sold the property in 1920, which was renovated to become Casino Gardens.  The jazz club and dance hall featured many famous artists including Hoagy Carmichael.  When the club closed in 1927, a group of African-American entrepreneurs led by lifelong politician Henry A. Fleming announced a plan to purchase Casino Gardens.  After failing to sell the property to the city’s Parks Board, Fleming reached an agreement to convert the location into the Spring Hill Country Club.  With the city’s parks racially segregated, Fleming’s group hoped to secure a waterfront leisure space for African Americans.   However, the neighboring Haughville and Riverside Civic Organizations convinced the city Parks Board to threaten to condemn the property if it was sold to African Americans.  The city purchased the property in Summer 1927 and opened it as Municipal Gradens.

The Canoe ClubCasino Gardens, and Municipal Gardens were all racially segregated, but this May, 1918 ad confirms that many of the staff working at these venues were African Americans.

The Canoe Club, Casino Gardens, and Municipal Gardens were all racially segregated, but this May, 1918 ad confirms that many of the staff working at these venues were African Americans.

Municipal Gardens is well known for its housing of Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball leagues.  Within these and subsequent leagues a few NBA players have played at the Gardens, including Eric Gordon and George Hill.  Municipal Gardens has an interesting and eventful history.  From its beginning stages as a space primarily for the elite to its final stages as family oriented park, the Gardens has had a lasting impact on its surrounding neighborhoods and community.

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