It was a neighborhood institution: the crown jewel of the Indianapolis theater district. Built in 1928, the Fountain Square Theatre was a 1,500-seat motion picture with a stage that hosted vaudeville acts.
But by the late 1950s, the theatre had been closed and gutted. For many years, the space housed a Woolworth store, which gave way to a Value Village thrift shop.
Linton and Fern Calvert didn’t care about any of that. They were only interested in bowling.
“We were running the duckpin bowling alley just south of Iaria’s on College Avenue, and we needed to expand to another location. We knew the building had a bowling alley in it,” said Linton.
It did—but it needed lots of work. Linton and Fern started renovating the lanes in 1993 and were open for New Year’s Eve of that year.
But the real treasure was yet to be uncovered.
“The theatre space was a 12,000 square foot open span with a drop ceiling. You couldn’t tell there’d even been a theatre here,” Linton said. “But we took out the ceiling, and saw that the dome we have now, with all the twinkling stars, was still up there.”
The Calverts had the original blueprints and some photographs. “The only thing we didn’t know about were the colors, but we got some people from the neighborhood to help us with those,” said Linton.
This was a far cry from the original plan of a bowling alley. “But we could really see an amazing opportunity to expand our business,” Fern said.
The total cost of the renovation of the Fountain Square Theatre ballroom was $1.5 million. LISC provided a loan of $400 thousand. It was one of the first loans approved through LISC Indianapolis’s commercial development loan pool.
Today, the Fountain Square Theatre anchors the booming Fountain Square Cultural District. The Calverts have two duckpin bowling alleys in the building, along with two restaurants and a bar—plus rooftop dining in the summer—gorgeous hotel suites, meeting space, and more.
Including the theatre itself: a starlit Italian courtyard with columned arches and balconies surrounding a wide dance floor, with a large stage and a mezzanine that overlooks it all. It’s once again the center of a busy dining and entertainment destination.
Which, although it wasn’t their original intention, is where the Calverts ended up, too. Linton and Fern have been tireless promoters of Fountain Square. They’ve been leaders of the Fountain Square Merchants Association and have been instrumental in helping attract and retain numerous businesses that are, in turn, attracting customers—and new residents to the area.
“LISC really helped us with the funding we needed to make this all possible,” said Linton, “We never imagined we’ve be pioneers in changing the neighborhood. But it’s all worked out great for us. It’s an exciting time to be in Fountain Square.”