Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Trips

Indianapolis, Indiana and The Madam C.J. Walker Theatre

Hey peeps! Today I'm going to share with you some details of my recent trip to Indianapolis, Indiana, where I had the awesome chance of touring the Madam C.J. Walker Theatre. If you recall, I provided a brief history lesson on Madam Walker when I featured her as the Black History Month Spotlight back in February. I now have more info to share on this fabulous pioneer.

The pic at left is of me standing inside the lobby of the Walker Theatre, which, by the way, is chock full of African American history--history that many of us most likely never learned about, and will never learn about in any history class or book. But first, let me share with you a pic of what I saw as I approached the Walker building while heading down Indiana Avenue by foot:

This four-story building, which spans an entire block, once housed a theatre, a drugstore, a beauty salon, a beauty school, a restaurant, professional offices, and a ballroom. As my tour guide Mr. Ridley proclaimed, the Walker Theatre was once considered a one-stop shop, particularly for teens and young adults, as one could get their hair whipped, grab a bite to eat, and watch a movie all in the same place. Now isn't that convenient for a night out on the town! 

Mr. Ridley, who grew up in Indiana, experienced firsthand the importance and prominence of the Walker Theatre, as he stated, "I could tell my friends to meet me at the Walker corner, and they knew exactly where I was talking about."

Mr. Ridley, my tour guide, seated inside the boardroom of the Walker Theatre.
Before touring the magnificence that is the Walker Theatre, Mr. Ridley and I first sat down inside the baordroom to discuss some of the background and history of the theatre. I explained to him that I was already quite familiar with Madam Walker's life and legacy, but wanted to know how on earth the construction of a theatre tied in with her passion for hair. Well, the story goes something like this:

Madam Walker, who had already established her company headquarters in the city of Indianapolis in 1910, loved movies and even attended the Isis Theatre, which was located in downtown Indianapolis, on a regular basis. Well, on one particular occasion, it is said that Madam Walker was informed by a young white ticket booth operator that the admission fee for "colored people" had been raised from 15 cents to 25 cents, the former price still standing for white patrons. This bit of information infuriated Madam Walker, who then vowed that she would one day build her own theatre. 

Although Madam Walker purchased the triangular shaped, block-long building that is the Walker Theatre, shortly after that harrowing incident at the Isis Theatre, she unfortunately passed before the dream of owning her own theatre could be realized. Yet, her vision lives on thanks to her daughter, A'Leila Walker, and her former business partner, Mr. Ransom, who opened the doors of the Walker Theatre in 1927, eight years after Madam Walker's passing. 
 
The boardroom inside the Walker Theatre.
Although Madam Walker's business took a major hit during the period we now refer to as The Great Depression, the Walker Theatre still stands despite the fact that it once ran the risk of being torn down. It took the strength of a few concerned citizens, who rallied together to salvage the building in the late '70s, and then reopened it after much renovation in the fall of 1988, to ensure that Madam Walker's legacy would continue throughout the ages.

The theatre, which is now corporate owned and run by board members who meet in the very same room you see pictured above and below, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Although the drugstore and restaurant are no more, the Walker Theatre still houses the 1,500 seat capacity theatre, ballroom and hair salon that once made it the go-to spot back in its heyday.
A pic of the boardroom as featured on the Madame Walker Theatre website.
Me seated inside the boardroom.
A shot of the Egyptian art that can be seen outlining the stage.
The 1,500 seat theatre where virtually every type of performance--music, dance and theatre--have been featured on this stage for more than 80 years.
My son and me in front of the stage.




The 4,800 square foot Grand Casino Ballroom (Image from the Madame Walker Theatre website).

The Ballroom can be rented to host your next event, be it a banquet, wedding reception, business conference, or dance. It offers the perfect space for every occasion!






The coolest part of the tour was of course the beauty salon, which still operates inside the Walker Theatre building:

The beauty salon inside the Walker Theatre building.
 

Walker Beauty Salon stylists, Selina Paschall and Sherry Thompson.
I really enjoyed meeting the two stylists, Selina and Sherry, who when asked about their speciality replied, "We specialize in healthy hair!" Any salon that makes hair care and not hair styling a priority, is the salon for me!
A picture of the pressing comb, which Madam Walker did NOT invent, but rather improved on the design and perfected its use. It is said that black and white women used the pressing comb to get silky straight locks.

Madam Walker products, which went from being stored in tin cans to plastic over time, are on display inside the Walker Theatre building.


An interesting tidbit I found inside the brochure I was given while visiting the Theatre is that Madam Walker "considered the art of hair growing to be similar to the cultivation of plants, emphasizing the need to nurture the scalp--as one would nurture the soil--to produce strong healthy hair." If you read my The Carolinas! post, then you know that I mentioned how my husband and I came to this same realization upon visiting Pearl Fryar's Topiary Garden in South Carolina.

Although Madam Walker started the "Hair Growing Business," she was about much more than just hair. Madam Walker was a true entrepreneur and activist, who inspired and encouraged others to pursue their passion in life. The Walker Theatre is a great reminder of her life and legacy. For more info on this fabulous pioneer, visit www.walkertheatre.com. If you're interested in learning about Madam C.J. Walker hair care products, which are still available for purchase today, visit www.madamewalker.net.

Now, I did get a chance to experience a few other things during my trip to Indiana. For one, the hubby and I grabbed a bite to eat at Maxine's Chicken and Waffles, located in downtown Indianapolis:

The hubby's blueberry waffle with chicken.
My plain waffle with chicken. Can we say "Cheat day?"
And our hotel was located right next to the beautiful Canal Walk, where you can enjoy a nice stroll or bike ride along the water, or even rent a pedal boat or gondola:
 

That's it for the deets on this trip. Stay tuned for more adventures!

7 comments:

Dannielle said...

Your son has gotten so big! It seems like you guys really enjoyed your trip to Indiana. Thanks for the history lesson.

DPrincess28 said...

@Danielle: Yes girl, he has, lol! It was a great trip. I learned a lot. You're welcome! XOXO

cottonballmama said...

Thank you for sharing this story because it shows the power of Madam Walker's dream. It was like a seed planted in her daughter's heart to grow the business to its highest heights with a legacy that lives through the products even this very day.

This is the perfect example of never underestimating the power of a dream. Very inspiring...THANK YOU!

CocoEuro said...

Wow, thanks for sharing!!!

DPrincess28 said...

@Cottonballmama & CocoEuro: You're welcome!

EbonyCPrincess said...

I lived in Indy while in grad school and although I did find out why it was called Walker Theatre (until then I had no idea her company was headquartered in Indy), I never actually visited! I'll definitely have to do so on my visit back...and I also never made it to Maxine's!!! If you ever go back, you have to try the Country Kitchen next time. Best soul food EVER!

Thanks for sharing, your son is just growing away!

DPrincess28 said...

@EbonyCPrincess: Cool, will do!