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April 16, 2021

In 1930 the Indiana Bell Building Was Rotated 90°, No One Inside Felt It Move!

The Central Union Telephone Company built a headquarters building on the corner of Meridian and New York Streets, in 1907. Indiana Bell bought Central Union in 1929, but found the existing headquarters inadequate. Originally, the old building was to be demolished to make way for a new building on the site. However, that would have caused disruptions in telephone service. Kurt Vonnegut Sr., the architect of the new building, suggested moving it to the adjacent lot at 13 West New York Street.

Over a 30- or 34-day period, the 11,000-short-ton (10,000 t) building was shifted 52 feet (16 m) south, rotated 90 degrees, and then shifted again 100 feet (30 m) west. During the move, work continued in all areas above the basement. They had to install safety stops in the elevator shafts to make sure travel to the basement was no longer possible. Functions included administration, business offices and toll equipment. Local exchange equipment was in the building.

All utility cables and pipes serving the building had to be lengthened and made flexible to provide continuous service during the move (electric, phone, gas, water, sewer and steam). A moveable concrete and steel bridge connected the vestibule to a covered walkway. This permitted employees and the public to enter and leave at any time while the move was in progress.

The straight line move used manually operated jack screws. Each was operated by a team of men that turned handles through an arc of 90 degrees six times in about 30 seconds, and then they rested 30 seconds. Each operation moved the load about 3/8 of an inch. The pivoting operation was accomplished with the aid of cables attached to a stationary steam engine.

Completed on November 12 or 14, 1930, this was all done without interrupting customer telephone service or telephone business operations. The new headquarters was completed in 1932, and was seven stories tall. It was later expanded in the 1940s and 1960s to bring it to its current size and height. The original building that had been moved was demolished in 1963.


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