Three carefully-sculpted figures atop three Ionic columns, in the middle of lush green grass and manicured shrubbery and a mishmash of other statuary. Picturesque, but also a little surreal. Those three statues, and the attached columns, are collectively called the Ruins.
It sounds both intriguing and mysterious. It’s neither. In fact, the story of the Ruins at Holliday Park isn’t the story of the Ruins at all…it’s the story of a massive skyscraper in New York City that no one cared about.
When the St. Paul Building slowly rose in New York City, no one knew quite what to make of the peculiar building. Big, sure. It was big. But it was weird looking too. Its designer, architect George B. Post, had modeled the city’s newest skyscraper along with the style current in vogue in the 1890s— Neoclassical, a grandiose and dramatic homage to Greek and Roman art and architecture.
Named after the nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral, Post’s skyscraper contained twenty-six floors, each composed of orders of Ionic columns, and stood over three hundred feet tall. A bold and adventurous design…
But no one liked it. No one exactly hated it, but even looking at photos of the building today, even a lay person can see why architectural critics would call the St. Paul Building “the least attractive design of all New York’s skyscrapers.”
Ouch. But there is something not right about the building. In my humble opinion, its looks almost skeletal or unfinished. Greeks constructed beautiful buildings with their simple post-and-lintel column compositions, but the never constructed them three hundred feet into the air.
Orders of columns work aesthetically in the horizontal; in the vertical, they make one nauseous.It served as an office building for fifty years, but when owners decided to demolish it in 1958 and replace it with a more modern skyscraper, no one seemed to care. Neoclassical became déclassé by mid-century.
Down it came.
But before the building came down, the owners decided to save a portion of the building. Namely the three caryatids (sculpted figures, typically female, that serve as a support column) over the main entrance. Officially called the “Races of Man”, the three figures represented the groups involved in the building’s construction.
A contest was held, and whichever city proposed the most interesting home for the caryatids would win them. While most cities offered them a prominent place in museums or city halls, the city of Indianapolis offered a novel idea. Why not put them outside, in an arboretum? The owners liked the idea, chiseled out the facade, then dropped the St. Paul Building like a bad habit.
Indianapolis had it own struggles with displaying the Ruins, mostly involving funds. City coffers aren’t so forthcoming when the parks department puts out its hands, and it took a monumental effort by the Friends of Holliday Park and motivated officials to finally give the Ruins the fitting display that visitors enjoy today.