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Apartments Well-Played in Vintage Indianapolis Ballpark

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Baseball fans adore classic ballparks—as long as they include modern luxuries like Jumbotrons, craft beer, and ample restrooms. The inability to keep up with contemporary demands has led to the demise of many older ballfields, and Indianapolis' Bush Stadium was no different. Today the stadium's 83-year-old grandstand survives. Only now instead of cheering baseball fans, it's filled with residents.

Bush Stadium was designed by local architects Pierre and Wright and constructed two miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis by Osborn Engineering, the same firm that built such icons as Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium, and the original Yankee Stadium. Bush Stadium opened in 1931 as the home of the Indianapolis Indians, a minor league team, and also served as the home field for Negro League teams, including an Indianapolis Clowns squad that featured a young Hank Aaron. Originally named Perry Stadium in honor of a former owner, the park was renamed Victory Field during World War II. The city purchased the venue in 1967 and renamed it after Donie Bush, a former Major League Baseball player and Indians owner, executive, and manager.

Bush Stadium oozed charm. The grandstand, built of brick with Art Deco limestone columns, was accessed via iron turnstiles and could fit about 12,000 fans. The ivy-covered brick outfield walls supposedly inspired Bill Veeck to follow suit for Chicago's Wrigley Field. Also like Wrigley, Bush Stadium had a hand-operated scoreboard. A teepee stood in the outfield, and the Indians' mascot would come out to dance when the team hit a home run. The park was a throwback, which made it useful to Hollywood—the period baseball movie "Eight Men Out," starring John Cusack and Charlie Sheen, was filmed there in 1987. The Pan Am Games were played there the same year. Bush Stadium wasn't in great shape by then, and the area surrounding it wasn't very inviting. The city decided the money required to refurbish should instead go toward a new park within the downtown core, and the Indians moved to their new digs, Victory Stadium, in 1996.

For a few years afterward, Bush Stadium saw action as a track for midget car racing. More recently, the field housed thousands of automobiles collected as part of the Cash for Clunkers government program. Preservationists, who feared the city would level the decaying ballpark, sought a long-term occupant. That's when John Watson, a former Indiana Landmarks board chairman and managing partner of Core Redevelopment, stepped up to the plate in 2010 with a plan to rehab the structure into apartments. His unique idea aligned with the city's 16th Tech neighborhood improvement plan, an effort to transform the area into a tech and medical hub. Watson bought the stadium from the city for $1. Work on the $13M project, named the Bush Stadium Lofts, began in 2012.

Architecture firm Heartland Design slipped three stories of apartments within the confines of the boomerang-shaped grandstand by removing the tiered stadium seating. The space is encapsulated by glass curtain walls at the ends and panels and windows along the infield. Not everything is new, though. The limestone and brick grandstand walls remain. So does the tongue and groove wood grandstand roof, which now serves as the ceiling for the rentals on the third floor. On top of the roof, three original light fixtures stand near the reconstructed press boxes.

The baseball diamond is back, but instead of dirt it's delineated in a brown-shaded concrete. The rest of the field was replanted in grass and serves as green space. The ivy is gone, but the brick walls still define the limits of left and right field. A renovated scoreboard towers above the right field wall. In later development phases, businesses and homes will be constructed in center field and on the former parking lots to the west and south of the lofts.

Despite its location, the Bush Stadium Lofts and its 138 units leased quickly when it opened in summer 2013. Rents range from $699 per month for a one bedroom to $1,499 for a two bedroom. No word if any windows have been cracked by foul balls.

· All Past Lives columns [Curbed National]
· Stadium Lofts [official site]
· Stadium Lofts [Heartland Design]
· Historic Bush Stadium Gets New Lease on Life [ENRMidwest]