If these walls could talk: 200 E. Washington
It was noted in the last installment of our ongoing series of virtual "walks" through the history of notable buildings in Culver, that we're all but finished strolling around the downtown area. There are, however, a handful of properties well known to most readers whose histories ought to be included in our series.
One of these has particular significance to your local newspaper, which we'll explain shortly.
I'm referring to the northeast corner of Plymouth and Washington Streets, or 200 E. Washington, to be exact, the site of today's town hall. The story of the evolution of town halls in Culver may be saved for another time, but suffice it to say many readers will recall the old town hall at its longtime (as in, through much of the 20th century) home at the northeast corner of Plymouth and Cass Streets, which today is a parking lot owned by Grace Church across the street.
For the first several decades of the 20th century, 20 E. Washington was a vacant lot. In fact that appears to still be the case in October, 1942, when a World War II scrap drive collected junk at the "town lot" at the corner of Washington and Plymouth Streets, though the Citizen at the time understandably didn't spell out for us just which corner. So we can only assume.
What we can know is that Culver Citizen owner and publisher M.R. Robinson had moved the newspaper's operations (which, incidentally, have taken place in just about every commercial building in town at one time or another!) to the site from across the street to the north, at 108 E. Washington, in order that Culver's newly-formed VFW could move in there. Technically, the Citizen moved into 200 E. shortly before, by May of 1946. Three years later, Charles Maull Jr. had taken over the paper, in the same location, and in 1953 "Chet" Cleveland took over operations there.
It's worth noting that today's town hall was built with press operations in mind from the very beginning. Sally Ricciardi, our current town council president, and early member of Culver's EMS, which has always operated out of that building, has noted that the foundation of the structure is several feet thick of solid concrete, and the walls are also unusually (and at times frustratingly) thick as well, all with the idea in mind of minimizing vibrations from the huge presses operating there.
More than 20 staff members, some described in a 1949 article on the Culver Press, Inc. as "skilled craftsmen," made the operation work, though more than half of these were part of the news staff (an amazing number over the staff of today's Citizen!). The Press' employee roster in 1949 includes familiar names to many Culverites: Robert Rust, Dale Davis (press foreman), Opal Geiselman, Jesse Sims, Harold Hatten, Rudy Wakefield, and Ethel McKee. The "news" side of the operation was partly so large as it included "correspondents" who submitted news from the various "neighborhoods" near Culver (Burr Oak, Leiters Ford, Washington neighborhood, Hibbard, and more).
In its heyday, the Culver Press printed not only the Citizen, but several other newspapers (including the Culver Academy's Vedette), yearbooks (of the both Culver's public schools and Academy), and a huge array of stationary, cards, and "job" printings for a diversity of clients.
In 1967, Cleveland sold the press operation to Indiana Press of Plymouth, and soon it sat empty and idle.
The Feb 24, 1966 edition of the Citizen noted the Nelson Equipment Co. building at 504 Lake Shore Drive had been purchased for use as a new Town Hall for $25,000, with two vacant lots for parking at an additional $1,500. Slated to be moved into the new quarters were the fire and police departments, council chambers, and clerk-treasurer's office. The then-present town hall at Plymouth and Cass (which the Citizen noted had served in that capacity since at least the 1920s) would be taken over by the street department (the town water tower was also located on that property).
Not surprisingly, what must have seemed like a significant increase in space -- 504 Lake Shore Drive -- was fast becoming too small for the many departments occupying it, and by 1976 the decision was made to leave the entirety of that building to the fire department, moving the various town functions, as well as the police department, to 200 E. Washington: today's town hall, which opened its doors (though in a slightly different configuration from today) that same year.
In those days, residents entered at the angled door facing the corner of Washington and Plymouth, turning immediately left to the clerk's window to pay bills and the like.
Three years later, the town's first full-blown EMS service was established, and the building was altered to accommodate, including the addition of the present ambulance garage over the next couple of years. More recently, another reconfiguration took place, shifting the main entrance of the building to its present location facing Plymouth Street, and EMS volunteers are now nearing completion on yet another addition: small but important sleeping quarters for department members, just south of the garage and EMS area.
And the beat goes on. Today's dilemma for town officials has become whether to invest significant funds in renovating the old, increasingly aging building, or to move town operations elsewhere entirely. Either way, the title of our column certainly applies to 200 E. Washington: if its walls could talk, the stories it might tell...