The Athenaeum Foundation was formed in 1991, by the new generation of founding fathers of the Athenaeum Building complex in bustling downtown Indy, with the purpose of guarding, keeping and restoring a national treasure, the Athenaeum Building of Indianapolis. The National Register of Historic Places mentions the Athenaeum three times, and this fact alone more than validates the Foundation’s dedication.
The Athenaeum Building, just a half-mile from downtown Indianapolis, has always been a center for physical fitness and community events, including classes, arts and entertainment and charitable functions. It is famous for its German-American heritage through the various Indianapolis German societies, its community outreach and its scope of service. Culture, education, athletics, charity and the arts are tops on the list of Athenaeum offerings.
Constructed between 1893 and 1898, after the “sound mind in a sound body” philosophy of Friedrich Jahn, the Athenaeum/Das Deutsche Haus (The German House) is a national architectural treasure of the era, a fine example of the enormous influence German architecture exerted over the architecture of the American Midwest during the late 1800s and beyond.
But, just as the soul of man is more important than the body, it’s what goes on inside the Athenaeum that’s really important. Presently, all these groups call the Athenaeum their home: The Athenaeum Damenverein, the Athenaeum Docent Club, the Athenaeum Pops Orchestra, the Athenaeum Turners, the Indiana German Heritage Society, the Indianapolis German Language Institute, the Indianapolis Maennerchor Inc., the Max Kade German-American Center, the Rotary Club of Indianapolis, the American Cabaret Theatre, the YMCA at the Athenaeum and the Young Actors Theatre, as well as the host of volunteers who keep the center running and humming.
Though the Athenaeum Foundation was originated in the late 1900’s to renovate and restore the building to its erstwhile elegance, the foundation itself has its roots in the beginnings of this historic center. During the 1820s through the last decade of that century, there was a major influx of German immigrants into the state of Indiana and surrounding environs. These hardworking peoples poured themselves into becoming prosperous and generous American citizens. By the end of the 19th century, they were in a position to band together to create the German-American center now known as the Athenaeum.
The plan was to make a place where all German clubs and organizations could reside under one roof, which eventually became Das Deutsche Haus, renamed the Athenaeum. The originating group held to the motto most dear in their German heritage, of uniting physical, mental, charitable and artistic goals in one place, and their success has been long-lived on a grand scale.
The Athenaeum Foundation originally came up with $32,000, a huge amount of money in the late 1800s, to buy the two pieces of real estate on Michigan and New Jersey Streets, on which to build. A few years later, they raised $160,000 for the construction of The German House, which completed the famous East Wing by 1894. The West Wing followed, and was done by 1898, housing, among many other things, a large bowling alley and a 360-seat auditorium.
The city of Indianapolis, Indiana owes an enormous debt of gratitude to founders of the Athenaeum, as well as those thousands of dedicated folks who have kept this historic treasure thriving across the centuries.
The Athenaeum Foundation
401 E. Michigan St
Indianapolis, IN 46204
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