History 301: Building helps celebrate 100 years of Slovenians

Tile artwork in the building’s entry led to its nickname, the “Nash

By CONNIE ZEIGLER

If a friend invited you to “the Nash,” would you know where to go? You would if you grew up in the Haughville area west of White River and happened to be of Slovenian descent.

The Nash is the in-the-know nickname for the Slovenian National Home. It has been located in its current building at the corner of 10th and Warman streets since 1940, but the organization is just coming off a year when it celebrated its 100th birthday. 

The birth of the Nash came about because a large number of the residents of the west side area centered around White River came from Slovenia near the end of the last century.

According to an 1893 publication, Pictorial and Biographical Memoirs of Indianapolis, in 1875 Benjamin Haugh established the Haugh & Co. Ironworks at Michigan Street and Belleview Place. That same year, just a few blocks away, Cleveland Malleable Iron Co. expanded to the city’s west side, opening the National Malleable Castings Co. at Michigan Street and Holmes Avenue.

By 1883, 30 or so residents living around the two foundries incorporated the area as the town of Haughville. In 1884, William Dana Ewart moved his chain link factory (later called Link Belt) to Haughville – completing a triumvirate of heavy manufacturing in the town that had grown to about 70 residents.

Haughville needed iron workers to fill manufacturing positions at these plants. So, in the 1890s, National Malleable’s salesman, George “Jurij” Lampert, a native of Slovenia, cooked up a plan. He would recruit his fellow countrymen, known for their metal-working abilities.

Lambert returned to his homeland, according to washie.com, a website about Slovenian life in Indianapolis, and offered free ship’s passage to America to able-bodied men willing to work for a preset amount of time at National Malleable.

The men who came often brought their wives and families with them, and a community of Slovenians formed in Haughville. The immigrants retained their familiar customs and culture in their new land, but were also eager to become Americans. Once their contracts were worked off at National Malleable, the men continued to work there or left to find better-paying jobs at Haugh, Ketcham & Co., Link Belt or the meat-packing plant, Kingan & Co., in Haughville.

By 1908 – when new immigrants from the Balkan States, Macedonia and Greece were being lumped together and derided as dirty “Hunyaks” in The Indianapolis News – the same paper praised the community of Slovenians in Haughville (which by then had been annexed to the City of Indianapolis) as model immigrants. They had bought “or are buying on credit” the homes in which they lived – homes with “white lace curtains in the windows, grass in the yards and a fence around the house and children.”

These home-loving Slovenians took to the streets in 1908 in a jubilant parade celebrating the construction of the Slovenian Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, dedicated that year on Holmes Avenue. In an era when immigrants were derided as dangerous job-stealers and were often the target of racism, the Slovenian community took extra care to show their America-first enthusiasm, even when celebrating a community win. The Indianapolis Star noted that “the American colors were the most prevalent” at the parade.

When the US entered World War I, many young men from the Slovenian community entered the service of their new country. But the war heightened anti-immigrant hostilities and increased efforts on the part of do-good societies in Indianapolis, and across the nation, to Americanize immigrants as quickly as possible.

When organizers hosted the annual Fourth of July parade in 1918, stating that it was the chance for “loyal citizens . . . to show their Americanism and patriotism,” according to the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, members of the Slovenian community grabbed the opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty. This must have seemed crucial considering that their country was fighting with the Austro-Hungarian Empire – America’s enemy in the war.

The Indianapolis News took note that Slovenians marched in the city parade beside a truck covered in bunting that carried a pledge of loyalty to America: “Slovenians – We are for America, First Last and All the Time.”

At war’s end, the Slovenian community of Indianapolis did something that many other Slovenian groups were doing across the state, forming Slovenian social clubs. The Indianapolis Star noted a number of such groups incorporating in the years during and just after WWI. These groups saw the official formation of these clubs as a way to preserve their own heritage in an America increasingly focused on washing away ethnic differences through Americanization.

The Indianapolis community incorporated the Slovenian National Home in Indianapolis in 1918 and that year constructed their first building at 729 North Holmes Ave. The founding members, with Frank Jonta, Joseph Pushner, Louis Fon and Frank Luzar as directors, intended the National Home to be a social club, offering concerts, sports teams, cards games and dances for members of their community.

Two decades later, just before the U.S. entered another World War, the group decided it was time to upgrade its facility. They purchased land on the south side of 10th Street on the corner of Warman Avenue, still in the Haughville neighborhood, for a new building.

Maurice E. Thornton designed the nominally Art Deco-style brick building with limestone trim. It was built entirely by more than 25 members of the group who donated their work. Construction started in June 1940 and the group dedication their new Slovenian National Home on Oct. 20, 1940. Embedded in the terrazzo floor in the entry, slate tiles spelled out: “SNH 1940,” over time the building got a nickname – the Nash – stemming from the first syllable of “National”

Smartly thoughtful of the optics of an organization dedicated to a particular ethnic group, the president of the association said at its dedication, “We are American people now and we want our children to enjoy the benefits of American life.” The organization boasted 220 members when the new building opened. The dedication program was printed in English and Slovenian, the latter welcoming members to the new Slovenski Narodni Dom.

Today the Nash, according to its website, still hosts the Slovenian community for dinners, euchre nights, and Karaoke; in September 2018 it served as the venue for a decidedly non-Slovenian party, Makahiki: a Night of Tiki. If someone invites you to the Nash, go.

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