September 22, 1966, The Tribune quoted William G. Panschar, an IU marketing professor, making the following remarks…
You simply can’t make downtown attractive enough… The Downtown Revitalization program will never work. You would have to throw fantastic amounts of money into such a project. And even then, you would have no assurance of its success. As far as I personally am concerned, anyone who tells me downtown is going to come back, I say he’s out of his mind.
The Bloomington Tribune, “Claims Downtown Area ‘Can Never Come Back’”,
Written by Mike Kelsey. September 22, 1966.
Bloomington in the 80s
In the mid 1960s, people, including businesses, and jobs, began leaving downtown Bloomington and overtime the abandoned buildings began to fall into disrepair. By the early 1980s, community leaders, along with CFC Properties, the real estate arm of Cook Group, specializing in historic renovation, recognized a desperate need to overhaul the Downtown area thus sparking the conversation for revitalization. CFC led the charge, determined to reverse the downward spiral that had been affecting Bloomington for so long. After some consideration, CFC proposed to renovate the entire south side of the downtown square, and thus, The Anchor Project, later to be named Fountain Square Mall, was born. Jim Murphy, President of CFC Properties said…
Being that Fountain Square Mall was one of the largest renovation projects in the history of Bloomington, it had to be completed in stages. Work on the west end of the block was the first stage to be finished. Setting on the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and College Avenue is building number 8, which once housed the First National Bank of Bloomington, established by George A. Buskirk in 1871. However, in 1906 it was torn down to build a new limestone structure for the First National Bank. Today, it’s home to The Briar & The Burley and a number of commercial spaces.
Late 1988, CFC installed a one-story by 15 feet fountain on the lower level of building 5 thus complementing Fountain Square Mall’s name.
Herald Times, “Watery Centerpiece Inherits Square’s Name”. Written by Mike Leonard. January 12, 1989.
On the far east side of the block, where Tovey Shoes once occupied, building 1, reinforcement of the exterior wall was needed to prevent it from collapsing. This building is the oldest of the buildings that make up Fountain Square and is one of two of the second oldest buildings on the courthouse square. Today, Ossip occupies the space.
Just right of Tovey Shoes is building 2 constructed in 1869. It housed the Old Opera House on the second floor up until sometime before 1907. In 1897, Henry B. Gentry began his circus career with the Dog and Pony Show at the Opera House and went on to lead the world-famous Gentry Brother’s Circus.
The Old Jail, built in 1936, once housed the Monroe County Jail and the Police Department. In 1985, they agreed to move to the Justice Building in order to allow CFC to merge it with the other buildings. Upon dismantling the walls, newspapers from 1936 were discovered in the mortar, as well as, a vial containing a letter from a jail deputy and two inmates who had fixed the wall after an escape attempt.
The intoxication cell on first floor had once been painted a bright pink because they believed it helped calm intoxicated occupants. Interesting enough, a century later, Bill Cook requested to paint the east side wall of building 1 along Walnut Street “pink”. When asked why, he said,
It’s in need of some TLC… that building has been unloved for more than 100 years and I wanted somebody to notice it.
“A $50 million partnership of government and private enterprise is nearing fruition, bringing the central city back from the graveyard. Half of the Fountain Square project on the south side of the square is finished, and construction goes apace toward the eastern end. The skywalk from the second downtown parking garage to Fountain Square is in use. Renovation, remodeling and reconstruction is under way on a number of smaller private projects. A decade ago, Bloomington was in the doldrums. Downtown merchants were bleeding financially.” Then, “William A. Cook, who has served Bloomington pretty much as the Lilly Endowment has served Indianapolis,” stepped in alongside with CFC, the real estate arm of Cook Group.”
A remarkable achievement… none of this could have happened without the leadership and inspiration of Bill and Gayle Cook.
Today, Fountain Square Mall, now known as just Fountain Square, encompasses many businesses and service providers who continue to help enrich the downtown revitalization success story.
Feel free to wander the building viewing various angles from the popular staircase or glass elevator. Even the exterior has a vast amount of detail photographers enjoy capturing. Also, take some time to browse the one-of-a-kind retail shops, they’re full of unique-to-Bloomington items that are easy to fall in love with. After all, browsing is free!