Riverside High School

photo by: Laura Harris

Preservation Magazine, Spring 2019

Indianapolis High School Drops Anchor in Former Naval Armory

The students at Riverside High School in Indianapolis are known as Argonauts, after the sailing heroes of Greek mythology. The name is fitting: Their school is located in the Heslar Naval Armory, a former United States Navy and Marine Corps reserve base on the east bank of the White River.

Completed in 1938, the Art Moderne armory was designed by architect Ben H. Bacon and built by Works Progress Administration workers. Home to a flood simulation chamber and a review balcony with signaling towers, it served as a training facility and a communications and planning post during World War II.

The Navy decommissioned the building in 2015. Ownership was transferred from the city to nonprofit Indiana Landmarks and finally to Indianapolis Classical Schools (ICS), which used historic and new markets tax credits to transform the 60,000-square-foot building into its second charter high school.

Working with RATIO Architects, ICS repaired the concrete exterior, updated the mechanical systems, and turned office space into classrooms and science labs. The former officers’ club is now the cafeteria, and the drill hall became the gymnasium. ICS preserved many original architectural details, like wooden doors containing porthole windows and terrazzo floors inlaid with nautical imagery.

The school opened in August 2018.

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Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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