Transplanted, this Ivy Tech planted roots in AUL’s old home

Transplanted, this Ivy Tech planted roots in AUL’s old home

Transplanted, this Ivy Tech planted roots in AUL’s old home

Most people are aware of the significance of American United Life Insurance Company® (AUL) constructing an office tower to support our relocation, a catalyst for revitalization of Downtown Indianapolis.

AUL building in 1967.But what of the three-building, 14-acre campus along Fall Creek Parkway at Meridian Street that we left behind, and what of the organization that took over our old home?

The 1978 purchase by Indiana Vocational Technical College (now known as Ivy Tech Community College) allowed AUL (now known as OneAmerica) to build the 36-floor high-rise, which officially opened in October 1982. Meanwhile, Ivy Tech, just a teenager on the higher-education front, was fueling its own unique growth story.

“In our 140th anniversary year, we remember that significant real estate transaction as a key historical highlight,” said Jen Pittman, OneAmerica assistant vice president of community affairs. “Both organizations have both evolved since that time, but decades later, I am proud to say that OneAmerica and Ivy Tech are still working together to help strengthen the community we call home.”

One for the history books

If you were living in Indianapolis in the mid-1970s, you read about the much-debated and discussed deal.

AUL, completing its first century in business, had grown its way to become one of the Forbes Top 50 life insurance companies, with just over 900 employees.  But it was running out of room, even with a stately, Oslo-inspired 56,000-square-foot headquarters (built in 1931) plus the two additional AUL offices (constructed in 1957 and 1965.)

There was a civic push for AUL to leave the 26th Street-Meridian corridor and relocate Downtown - to reverse the trend of other companies that had fled the core and moved to the city outskirts.1

Ivy Tech in the late 1970s was only in its adolescence, but it shared the same basic problem as AUL: no room to expand, with an enrollment of 3,900. And Ivy Tech was suffering a problem AUL did not have — a “creaking physical plant in a high-crime area (Washington Street on the Near Eastside) with inadequate parking and no freeway access.”2

The first announcement of negotiations made headlines in the Dec. 23, 1977 Indianapolis Star: “Ivy Tech, AUL Discuss Sale of Firm’s Building.” Yet, even with backing of then-mayor Bill Hudnut, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, it would be a full year before an agreement could be reached.

The transaction, valued at $9.4 million, finally went through after two state agencies gave separate approval on Aug. 16 and Sept. 15, 1978. AUL could pursue property purchases that could allow building the tower.

On June 29, 1979, Ivy Tech signed an agreement with AUL that leased the property back to the company rent-free through Oct. 20, 1982, a date tied our associates moving in to the Downtown Tower literally just 3 miles away on Illinois Street.

Here are some little-known facts associated with the move:

In an early effort to maintain the image and presence of its business predecessor, all blinds in the building were closed at sunset every night, a tradition carried over from the AUL days.

Although AUL packed up much of its belongings and moved them downtown, they left behind Houserman wall panels (iconic during their day), a kitchen, flagpoles, the vestibule, and the organ that had been acquired years before and placed on a balcony at the back of the auditorium.
When Ivy Tech took over full occupancy, they agreed not to post clever sayings on AUL’s signboards (a tradition dating to 1958). That allowed AUL to bring the quips to the urban core.

To this day, OneAmerica continues an affiliation with Ivy Tech. We award scholarships to the highest scoring All-USA applicants in Indiana (who are not New Century Scholars) attending Ivy Tech campuses.

And since 2016, former Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, now president of Ivy Tech, sits on the OneAmerica board of directors.

Ivy Tech’s building was a signature architectural gem in its day, a replica of the Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway dreamed into existence by then-AUL president Herbert Woolen. To this day many would not know that what was is an academic setting was once an insurance company. We are glad that it became an image enhancer and a facilitator of growth, helping the College achieve its mission and serve the community. Then-President Lamkin called it "a reflection of change" which pointed to the Ivy Tech of the future.

As the historical article described, “Ivy Tech’s decision was selfless; the buildings that the college had acquired in 1978 through the deal literally allowed Indianapolis to redevelop — the building on which the College had spent so much money and effort to adapt and renovate over the years—had been through its location and its presence a key factor in the growth of the College facilities and enrollment. The efforts paid off and made friends for the college.”3

1 Hetherington, James R. “AUL: Progress through Partnership.” Published in 2002.

2,3 Susan Mannan and Frank Moman, “A History of the North Meridian Center of Ivy Tech State College,” published October 1988.