Re-opening the Ruins at Holliday Park

A celebration to open the park's centerpiece to be held September 17


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  • Casey Cronin
It’s been a long time coming, but the Friends of Holliday Park are excited. After seven years of planning, $3.2 million raised and months of construction, renovation and permits, “The Ruins” in the park on Indy’s north side will be open to the public this weekend.

“We are very excited because the Ruins have sat behind a chain link fence for almost two decades,” says Lisa Hurst, Friends of Holliday Park member and co-chair of the capital campaign. “You haven’t been able to interact with them. They haven’t had fountains going. They [the Ruins] have just been, quite frankly, a disaster falling apart.”

Making “The Ruins” accessible to the public once again is just one thing on a long list of projects the Friends of Holliday Park have worked on over the last 25 years. The Friends of Holliday Park is a non-profit organization consisting of volunteers and neighbors committed to the development and maintenance of the park located on Spring Mill Road just south of 64th Street. The group formed in 1990 out of concern for a neighborhood resource that really wasn’t very neighborly. In the 1980s many of the parks in Indianapolis were known as areas for drug usage, trafficking, gang violence and illicit sexual hook-ups. Despite its adjacency to middle and upper middle class neighborhoods, Holliday Park was no exception to the ill repute of the city’s park system. The Friends of Holliday Park aimed to transform the park back to its original purpose — a place for Hoosier families to enjoy recreational activities and study nature.

“This organization never looked at it as, ‘how do we get the bad stuff out of the park?’ It was ‘how do we get families back into the park?’” says Holliday Park manager Adam Barnes. “It was always that positive outlook on things.”

As a city employee, Barnes manages the park as well as working with the Friends of Holliday Park on the needs and maintenance of the park’s facilities. Over the last 25-plus years, the Friends of Holliday Park has raised money to re-build the playground at the south end of the park, recreate the trails through the woods to the White River, build a nature center to further enhance nature study and create an endowment to fund the maintenance of all of the projects. This latest capital campaign remodeled the exhibit hall in the nature center to an interactive “habitat” hall akin to an exhibit found at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and provided more endowment funds to maintain the improved park offerings.

“I think that throughout these campaigns, its been, ‘how do we bring the good back into the park?’ and once the families were here that bad stuff took care of itself and went away,” says Barnes.

Holliday Park was originally the homestead property of John and Evaline Holliday, well-known residents and philanthropists in the city at the turn of the 20th century. In 1916, the couple donated their estate to the city of Indianapolis for the purpose of creating a park as a part of the state’s centennial celebration. The couple emphasized that the land was “singularly suited to be a place for recreation and the study of nature.” That ideal for the property has fueled the efforts of both Indyparks and the Friends of Holliday Park to this day. Through various events like the annual Holliday Park Trail Run and events at the Nature Center, The Friends of Holliday Park donates about $100,000 annually back to the park for operational costs.
  • Amber Stearns
“We fill the gaps,” says Hurst. “That’s what we like to do, we like to fill in the gaps between what the city can give and what we feel this community deserves.”

And Barnes says the park would not be able to do what it has accomplished over the last 20 years without this very unique and successful public-private partnership.

“I think the city’s done a great job of finding efficiencies and focusing the dollars that we do have on maintenance and keeping things kind of status quo. So we’re so fortunate in having Friends of Holliday Park to supplement that,” says Barnes. “Everything from program supplies to building maintenance to park maintenance to these big capital projects. There isn’t money in the city budget to do those above and beyond kind of things. So I think that’s one reason why Holliday Park is one of the premiere parks in Indianapolis.”

So what is “The Ruins” exactly? Sesie Kunz, the other co-chair of the capital campaign and member of the Friends of Holliday Park, thinks of it as one of the first examples of installation art in Indianapolis.

The centerpiece of the Ruins is the atlantes, or columns of sculpted men holding up things, referred to as “The Races of Mankind” sculpted by Karl Bitter. The three men represent a Caucasian, an African and an Asian — the three basic races of man. The sculptures were originally in the front façade of a skyscraper in New York City known as the Saint Paul building. Hoosier artist Elmer Taflinger won the statues in a design contest when the original structure was demolished in 1958. Taflinger added other stone elements to his design, including columns from the Indianapolis courthouse, a geyser fountain from Fountain Square and other stone statues. The mix-match collection of stone art was dubbed “The Ruins” as a result.

  • Casey Cronin
“It has elements from all around the city, which I think is a really cool thing,” says Kunz.
The renovation of The Ruins embraced Taflinger’s original design by adding gardens, a shimmer pool and more brick and sloppy mortar for that continued ruin effect. But it also includes modern conveniences like bathrooms, benches and drainage for versatility of use.

“We’ve planted trees and we’re in the process of planting these beautiful gardens. They’re going to bring birds and bees and butterflies and a quiet space,” says Kunz. “I think all of these things make such a difference to the community. I personally am super excited about it.”

On September 17, the Friends of Holliday Park will celebrate their accomplishments with a free public party that will include food trucks, beer and wine stations, kids’ activities and a concert featuring local band Toy Factory. And since the city temporarily signed legal ownership of The Ruins over to the Friends of Holliday Park for the renovations, the group will “gift” the display back to the city in a public ceremony with Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Although this campaign is complete, Hurst and Kunz agree that there is still more to do, especially in securing the maintenance and upkeep of their accomplishments.

“I think that our predecessors in the Friends of Holliday Park also were smart enough and had the vision to get to establish an endowment and that has really made all the difference in being able to do the maintenance and take care of this park,” says Kunz. “And we do have to figure out a way to continue to increase our endowment.”

“You can build it, but how are you going to take care of it?” says Hurst. “Because honestly, in the end, that’s the bigger question.”


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