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October 21, 2014
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Cultural Districts

Living in Fountain Square is Anything but... Square!

Great Neighbors
Variety of Housing Options

Less than a mile southeast of Downtown Indianapolis, a quiet transformation is taking place. Here, in the oh-so-retro Fountain Square Cultural District, a close-knit community of like-minded homeowners plays a hands-on role in the ongoing revival of this funky multifaceted area.

First settled in the mid-1800s, Fountain Square soon grew to become the city’s main southside commercial district, thanks to a thriving mix of commerce and culture. From 1910 to 1950, for example, more theaters operated here than in any other area of Indianapolis.

But as growth moved toward the suburbs in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the neighborhood fell on hard times. Theaters closed, businesses relocated – even the area’s signature town-square fountain was moved to a southeast-side park.

Today, Fountain Square is thriving once again, as evidenced by a fresh crop of restaurants, businesses, recreational facilities and newly designed public spaces. (Yes, a fountain is back, with plans for a major renovation in the works.) This new attitude can be attributed to local entrepreneurs, neighborhood groups and a fresh crop of homeowners looking for value – both of the economic and personal variety.

Matt and Tina Aalsma (Pictured to right) are among them. Seven years ago, the young couple – who relocated to Indianapolis from Seattle for work – was living in an apartment in a trendy Downtown neighborhood. They were ready to start a family and wanted to move into a house with plenty of room for children, plus extra space for friends or relatives – but without the accompanying financial burden of a massive mortgage.

They also hoped to live within an easy distance of Riley Hospital for Children, where Matt works as a child psychologist. And just as key: “We wanted,” Tina stresses, “to live in a neighborhood.”

Great Neighbors
Flash forward to present day. Matt and Tina, both 35, and their three children (Josie, 6; Norah, 4; and Merritt, 2) live in a 3,500-square-foot, three-story home built in 1885 and tucked along a quiet Fountain Square street. Matt’s mother and two younger brothers live in a separate apartment on the home’s third floor. And yes, they definitely reside in a neighborhood.

Trees and other greenery dot the landscape. The Aalsmas share a backyard – and a garden – with one nearby resident. An artist friend recently bought a house across the street, now painted an appropriately funky shade of teal. And for the last two years, neighbors here have gathered once a week for Sunday dinners, hosted by one of eight families on a rotating basis.

Simply put, says Tina, “You know who lives in each house, and they know you.”

In fact, the people who live and work in Fountain Square are one of the area’s best-kept secrets, say residents. Joe Cox, owns Joe’s Cycles along bustling Virginia Avenue, which bisects the heart of Fountain Square. He and his wife, Jessica, recently bought an 1800s bungalow-style home across the street from St. Patrick Catholic Church, where they were married just a year ago.

“Anything that is of value comes from people who are good people,” Cox says. “I think that’s what people realize when they get out of their car and walk Fountain Square.”

And walk they do. “Everything we do is within a five-mile radius,” says Matt Aalsma. “We love that…It’s rare in Indianapolis where you can walk to restaurants, you can walk to the grocery store (from home).”

Popular destinations include Joe’s Cycles (Cox serves up java along with cycles and accessories), Peppy Grill for freshly grilled burgers and Siam Square for authentic Thai food. When the kids are busy, Matt and Tina like to drop by the Brass Ring Lounge for appetizers and cocktails enjoyed to a background of vintage tunes.

Duckpin bowling offers family-friendly entertainment at the Fountain Square Theatre, where couples also gather to jive during lively swing-dancing nights or jam with Midwest bands at nearby Radio Radio.

Variety of Housing Options
With the attractions of Downtown Indy less than a mile’s walk or bike ride to the north, cultural, sports, dining and recreational opportunities expand exponentially. And the now-under-development Indianapolis Cultural Trail – a dedicated bike/walking path with specially designed pavers, lights, public art and infrastructure – will make accessing those amenities even easier when it is completed in early 2012.

All this within or near a neighborhood that offers a wide range of housing options. For those looking for bargains, it’s a buyer’s market. “I would challenge anyone to come up with land this close to these amenities at this cost per acre or per size,” Cox says. “You can buy a very decent bungalow house with garage for $50,000, $60,000.”

Those seeking luxury digs can head north on Virginia Avenue to the posh condominiums of Villagio at Page Pointe, featuring stunning views of the Downtown skyline, or explore the upscale apartments of The Waverley just a short distance north of Fountain Square.

Whatever accommodations its residents choose, Fountain Square inspires intense loyalty among those who call this Cultural District home.

“We didn’t even consider Fountain Square until we found this house, and now we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Matt Aalsma. “We were drawn to the house, but we’re staying because of the neighborhood.”

Echoes Cox, “Single-handedly, undoubtedly, there is not another place in the city I would rather live.”

Visit www.discoverfountainsquare.com for more!

Visit www.discoverculturaldistricts.com to learn more about the six Cultural Districts.

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