Backtrack: Drunk History

On this New Year’s Eve, even the Great Depression didn’t dampen the spirits of the Indianapolis Architectural Club.
Wilting streamers, dirty dishes, a pitcher brimming with some kind of liquid refreshment—members of the Indianapolis Architectural Club had obviously enjoyed a fine New Year’s Eve celebration when this photo was taken in the wee hours of January 1, 1933. Did they hold their shindig at their headquarters at 46 North Pennsylvania Street or someplace more festive? The location has been lost to history.

The all-male group had formed in 1911 with the goal of “the promotion of fellowship and the development of architecture.” Membership qualifications were simple: be a man working in an architecture office for someone else. The club began with 11 young members.

In the early years, it wasn’t all fun and games. Members undertook a fairly rigorous scholarly program, overseen by Indiana native Robert Frost Daggett, a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. But by the time the Roaring Twenties were in full swing, the club was very much part of the zeitgeist. Its activities were shifting away from hands-on design and driving full-speed into party time. Budding young architects such as Leslie Ayres, who joined the club in 1927, were thoroughly Modernist men who weren’t interested in looking back to the past. From the 1920s through the 1930s—even during the darkest times of the Great Depression—the club was a party waiting to happen. A drinking man’s lunch became a club staple each month.

A program for July 1931 lists that month’s activities. For July 14, it was inscribed, “It’s Here Boy’s come and get it,” followed by “the big golf tournament” on July 18. Three days later, there was an educational “trip through a plant in operation.” On July 28: “Here’s something enlightening from one of the boys. . . ask Erv Snyder or Joe Small about it.”

Over the next decade, the IAC seems to have carried out all its activities with a reliably sophomoric attitude. Photos of the group’s stag parties, like this one, show abundantly lubricated crowds of men. The club fizzled out in 1941 with the advent of the U.S. entry into World War II—enough to sober up even the merriest band of brotherhood.