Ghosts aren’t always something scary, but many times just memories. As we grow older, these ‘ghosts’ are reflections of places and the youth still buried within us. For Southsiders, one of these is the Southern Plaza Shopping Center.
The May 23rd gathering of the Perry Township/ Southport Historical Society addressed this to a packed room. President Diane Saari started the meeting promptly at 7 p.m. Those waiting in the wings were eager to speak; they had stories to tell. It was therapy—reliving their youth in a time when things were simpler. Original land developer George and Frank Bixler had a vision for a parcel of farmland. Plain and simple. Bixler’s granddaughter was in attendance, hanging onto every recollection (especially of her grandmother Peggy’s influence), and having a few of her own. There were
several longtime Southside residents present, remembering days when the first stop sign appeared on now busy US 31, then the first stoplight. Back in the day, it was a two-lane road lead to the far reaches of the sparsely-inhabited Southside of Indianapolis—Southport and Greenwood. However, the Bixlers turned their vision into a reality, and changed the landscape, still having ramifications today.
Southern Plaza was the first shopping mall on the Southside of Indianapolis (Glendale on the north side being the first, closely followed by Eastgate on the east side). The concept that Southern Plaza, as all other malls, adopted was—One trip, One place, One experience. And, as with neighbor Eastgate, what started as an ‘open-aired’ mall was eventually enclosed under a canopy. 1961 became Southern Plaza’s dedication year, with J.C. Penney becoming a anchor, accompanied by Woolworth, groceries Kroger and Standard, AFNB bank, Hook Drug Store,
Lyric News & Record Store, Roselyn Bakery, and W.M. Block (having initial struggles, but eventually overcoming. It sat where the present Kroger is today). The boom to the shopping center came when I-465 provided an exit near the mall in the early 1960s.
Cindy Bertram recalled her teenage days, borrowing the family convertible and cruising—from the South Circle Drive-In (Hannah Avenue and East Street-the now location of Steak & Shake) to the Triangle Restaurant (Tibbs Avenue and Kentucky—the pies!) to the Teepee Restaurant (East Street) and finally Southern Plaza.
Many others recalled their neighborhoods in close proximity to the shopping center, their homes, their lives, and how George and Peggy Bixler had been the most gracious hosts: change was in the air, as was development!
For more history on Southern Plaza, check out The Southside Times article ss-times.com/celebrating-southern-plaza/