When the Indiana Bell Building Was Rotated 90° While Everyone Worked Inside in 1930 (by Kurt Vonnegut’s Architect Dad)

These days, when a com­pa­ny finds itself in need of more space than its cur­rent build­ing affords, it moves to a big­ger one, expands the one it has, or does a full tear­down-and-rebuild. But con­sid­er­ing only these options shows a cer­tain fail­ure of imag­i­na­tion, as under­scored by the video above: a brief sum­ma­ry of how the Indi­ana Bell Tele­phone Com­pa­ny added a sec­ond build­ing along­side its Indi­anapo­lis head­quar­ters — but only after hoist­ing up the lat­ter and piv­ot­ing it 90 degrees on its side. “This was no small task,” says the video’s nar­ra­tor, “as the eight-sto­ry, steel-frame-and-brick build­ing mea­sured about 100 by 135 feet, and weighed 11,000 tons.”

But between Octo­ber 20th and Novem­ber 14th, 1930, the com­pa­ny did indeed man­age to turn and shift the entire struc­ture as planned, “and the move caused no ser­vice out­ages, and all 600 work­ers with­in the build­ing still report­ed to work every day.”

This neces­si­tat­ed length­en­ing and mak­ing flex­i­ble all its util­i­ty cables and pipes, then lift­ing it a quar­ter-inch with jacks and plac­ing it on rollers. “Every six strokes of the jacks would shift the build­ing three-eighths of an inch, mov­ing it fif­teen inch­es per hour.” As for Indi­ana Bel­l’s employ­ees, they entered and left their slow­ly piv­ot­ing work­place “using a mov­able pas­sen­ger walk­way that moved with the build­ing.” To Kurt Von­negut Jr., then eight years old, all this must have been an impres­sive sight indeed.

The young nov­el­ist-to-be must have seen it not just because he was born and raised in Indi­anapo­lis, a fact he ref­er­enced through­out his life, but because his father was the pro­jec­t’s lead archi­tect. Kurt Von­negut, Sr. fol­lowed in the foot­steps of his own father Bernard Von­negut, design­er of Das Deutsche Haus, today known as the Athenaeum, which the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places des­ig­nates as “the best pre­served and most elab­o­rate build­ing asso­ci­at­ed with the Ger­man Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty of Indi­anapo­lis.” This Ger­man lega­cy would prove rather more com­pli­cat­ed for the most famous Von­negut of them all, impris­oned in Dres­den as he was dur­ing World War II. The dark­ness of his expe­ri­ence man­i­fests in his work, not least his mas­ter­piece Slaugh­ter­house-Five; but so, one imag­ines, does the near-fan­tas­ti­cal prac­ti­cal­i­ty of 1930s Indi­anapo­lis.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A New Kurt Von­negut Muse­um Opens in Indi­anapo­lis … Right in Time for Banned Books Week

Watch the Com­plete­ly Unsafe, Ver­ti­go-Induc­ing Footage of Work­ers Build­ing New York’s Icon­ic Sky­scrap­ers

See New York City in the 1930s and Now: A Side-by-Side Com­par­i­son of the Same Streets & Land­marks

Free Online Engi­neer­ing Cours­es

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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