Where Was “The Vision”?

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By Paul Dalbey

Today I welcome my good friend, Paul Dalbey, as a guest-blogger. I keep trying to persuade him to come back to the IndyCar blogosphere on a full-time basis, as he was when he was one of the many voices on More Front Wing. While he’s not ready to jump back in just yet, I do allow him to guest-blog here from time to time.

One thing Paul and I have in common is our love of useless minutiae when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. Today, Paul tackles a subject that I myself have been curious about for years; but never curious enough to actually research it. Paul did. – GP

On March 9, 1909, while driving from Chicago to Daytona Beach, popular driver Lewis Strang stopped off in Indianapolis to view the proposed location of the soon-to-be-built Indianapolis motor parkway. He was greeted there with an 8-foot replica of the race track that was to be built on 320 acres of what had been known as the old Presley Farm along the Crawfordsville Pike northwest of downtown Indianapolis. Standing over replica, an unknown photographer captured Strang, resplendently dressed in suit, overcoat, brimmed hat, gloves, and wing-tip shoes, admiring this model and no doubt trying to grasp how this small-scale line in the dirt would soon come to life. Less than two weeks later, a team of local businessmen led by Carl Fisher would officially form the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company. Work to bring the model to life would commence immediately.

strangsmall1

The iconic photograph of Strang, commonly now referred to as “The Vision,” has long been one of my very favorite photographs. Strang, who would two years later start from the assigned pole position in the first Indianapolis 500, was standing over this model of an Indianapolis Motor Speedway that did not yet exist and staring directly at an empty canvas of land that would soon become the World’s Greatest Race Course. He could never have imaged what that property was soon to become and the landmark innovations that would come from this empty land. But it started with this humble model of cement on the southeast corner of the property along what would eventually be known as West 16th Street.

For many years, I have wondered where this picture was actually taken. I had anecdotally heard it was taken outside of Turn 2, but that didn’t satisfy my desire to know precisely where it was taken. So I researched and pursued the exact location with seemingly little real success. Yes, I do realize, as George pointed out, that I’m perhaps the only person who is genuinely curious about this, but maybe, just maybe, there is someone else out there who, like me, wants to stand in that exact location and try to image exactly how it looked 109 years ago.

There are really only a couple of features that help pinpoint the location, those being a fence that runs through the picture, a house, and a barn in the far background. Further complicating matters was that I had heard Donald Davidson, on several occasions, mention the barn in the far background is thought to be the barn that still stands today near the 18th green of the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course.

The first working hypothesis of the track location was both supported and contradicted by Donald Davidson’s stories. In speaking of the picture, Mr. Davidson said the model was along Crawfordsville Pike (16th Street) and that the railroad tracks essentially ran across the back of the picture beyond the barn. If I assumed the model track was actually oriented in a north-south orientation at the very southeast corner of the current IMS property almost all the way to the 16th Street viaduct under the tracks and thus the picture was taken facing north-northwest, it would satisfy my assumption that the model was oriented in the same manner as the actual track and the barn in the background is oriented as it currently sits.

The problem with this notion is that it puts the railroad tracks on the right side of the picture rather than in the back and Crawfordsville Pike would be along the bottom of the image instead of to the right Additionally, the fence line between the model track and the house threw me for a loop. Why would a fence line run parallel to Crawfordsville Pike in that location? That didn’t seem to make much sense. Finally, and perhaps most troubling, my hunch was this location was not even actually on the original property of the purchased land from 1909.

The second hypothesis flipped that picture around, placing the house to the north of the “existing” barn and the model track still further north. The biggest problem with this assumption would be the model track would be a substantial distance from Crawfordsville Pike in the middle of a field. The entire point of the model was for people to quickly be able to see what the proposed motor parkway would look like. To set it off the main road by several hundred yards made no sense whatsoever.

Assuming these locations where not realistic, I discarded them and tried to convince myself the exact location really wasn’t that important.

The break in finding the location of this picture came, strangely enough, when listening to IndyCar Radio’s new TuneIn channel and hearing the 1955 Indianapolis 500 broadcast description of Bill Vukovich’s fatal crash. For whatever reason, curiosity got the better of me and I started a simple web search to find out more information about the crash, specifically where it actually occurred. That search led me to an aerial photograph of the Turn 2 area from the 1950s. If this zoomed-in photo from that era existed, somewhere there had to exist more photos that could perhaps show more of that area. My thoughts turned back to The Vision and where that little model once stood.

Luck finally fell my way when I stumbled upon an Indiana government website that had both archival aerial images and property boundaries for taxing purposes. Included on that site were two key pieces of information that helped boost my investigation along.

The first key piece was an aerial photo from 1937 showing the Speedway area. The stitching of photographs did not have full coverage of the track, but it did have full coverage of the eastern portion all the way to the railroad tracks east of IMS. In the 1937 photograph, the barn that still exists is shown in its current east-west configuration. However, there is no house anywhere nearby so that confirmed my previous hypotheses were indeed incorrect.

More importantly, what I did find in the 1937 image was a house that once sat outside of Turn 2. This is not the house that Pop Myers lived in directly on 16th Street, but another larger house back away from the street. Many trees had grown around the house but the shape and roof plan were identical to the house in the famous photograph. It is circled in white in the image below.

TheVisionHouse_1937

There was no barn behind the house as it shown in the picture, but that was easily explained by the fact the golf course had been built in 1929 on the area where the barn in the picture likely stood.

The other important piece of information confirmed what I had read in Al Bloemker’s 1961 book, 500 Miles to Go. The original property that Fisher and his associates purchased was 320 acres actually spread over four properties totally one mile from north to south and one-half mile from east to west. In designing the track, the original three-mile design of the outer oval track was reduced from 3 miles to 2.5 miles so that grandstands could be built outside of the track. They did so by moving the front straight and the south short chute away from the property lines. The implication there is that the back straight and the north short chute were still essentially against the property line.

In fact, the one-half mile wide east-west dimension would have put the eastern boundary of the original IMS property only a few feet east of the backstretch. More importantly, it was only about 100 feet to the west of the house in the 1937 overhead image. The fence in the photograph between the model and the house must have been nearly on the north-south property line separating the Pressley Farm location from the adjacent property. (Incidentally, the Myers house sat on the extreme southeast corner of the property. That boundary line ran only a few feet east of the house, west of the current entrance to the Brickyard Crossing.)

Accepting this as indeed the house in the picture meant the picture was taken facing northeast while Lewis Strang was standing and facing northwest toward what is currently the Southeast Vista. But I still wanted to know exactly where this was.

As it turns out, aerial images from as late as 1962, during the construction of the since-razed Speedway Motel, show the house continuing to exist, the east side of the house just west of the still-remaining Brickyard Crossing restaurant. It was likely torn down at that time and the land used as a parking lot for the motel.

Trying to judge the angle from which the picture is actually taken, measurements from the “front” of the house indicate the back corner of the house is nearly perfectly aligned with the mid-point of the nearest “long” side of the house, that is to say that if we could magically see through the house in the photo, the back corner of the house would be directly behind the fifth pillar we see along the west side of the house. Connecting those two points and extrapolating that line gives us the line on which the photograph was taken.

To judge just where on that line the image was takes a bit of guess work. My estimate (which is certainly open to revision if anyone could prove otherwise) is that the distance between the track and the fence/property line is about half the distance between the fence and the house. Using those dimensions, I have pinpointed on the figure below exactly where the east end of the small model once stood. My best guess is was approximately 110 feet due north of the northwest corner of the Myers House.

In the image below, the white rectangle is the outline of where the house stood as late as 1962. The black line is the line I believe the angle of the photograph is taken on. The red line is the original eastern property of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1909, and the yellow line roughly indicates a distance from the original property line that is half of that distance between the property line and the house. The blue star at intersection of the black and yellow lines represents the eastern edge of where I believe the model track was located in 1909, though if one wanted to move the model one way or another along the black line, I think such an argument could be supported.

TheVision_Location

Another conclusion I have come to regards the barn in the background of the image. Based on the fact the barn in the picture is oriented north-south and has a single cupola on the roof whereas the current barn is oriented east-west with two cupolas on the roof, it seems very unlikely the barn in the picture still exists today. That barn, likely located west of the existing barn and perhaps just on the western slope of the creek running through that area, was most likely torn down when the golf course was installed outside of Turn 2 in 1929. However, the barn that is still standing is shown in the aerial photograph from 1937. As such, it is still likely to be the oldest structure standing on IMS property today.

My final question was just how big the model was. Newspaper reports of the day indicate it was 8 feet long. However, given Lewis Strang being a man of even just average height, there’s no way the model is only 8 feet long if we assume “long” mean from short chute to short chute. However, I could accept the argument that it was actually 8 feet wide between the two long straightaways. If we accept that argument, then the east-west dimension is just over 17 feet. Again, using Strang as a measuring stick, I could accept that length as about three times his height.

So after many years of wanting to know exactly where Mr. Strang stood over this cement outline of a soon-to-be national landmark, himself having no grasp whatsoever of the majesty that was to come over the next 109 years, I finally feel I have pinpointed this spot.

My next quest is to get the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to allow me to recreate this model on the Brickyard Crossing parking lot so others can stand where Lewis Strang stood so long ago and try to imagine what the empty fields must have looked like that he stared upon. Mr. Boles, may I please?!

24 Responses to “Where Was “The Vision”?”

  1. BrandonW77 Says:

    Fantastic job Paul! I’ve wondered where that model was, would be really neat if they let you take some chalk to the parking lot and recreate it.

  2. Wow, Paul! Excellent work. I’ve wondered where that photo was taken at times but never had a clue how to find out. I think the spot should be marked, perhaps even recreate the model there. Nice work.

  3. This is very cool. IMS should try to replicate your findings, and if they can, place something in that area.

  4. Doug Boles Says:

    Man, Paul … I love this! So so so very cool! Let’s talk!

  5. The IMS should put a plaque or something there.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    You can’t see me giving you a standing ovation, Paul, but I am giving you a standing ovation.

  7. I think it would be cool to have someone photoshop Paul into the Strang photo.

  8. Thanks Paul. Love stuff like this. Will look for a Blue Star in the parking lot!

  9. jpindycar Says:

    Why didn’t you just turn back time on Google Maps?

  10. This is awesome! Great investigative research and insight! We may have found a second version of Donald Davidson historian!! I applaude this!😉

  11. Thanks Professor Paul for an excellent lesson on Indy history!

  12. Thanks for all the kind comments, guys! I really didn’t think many other people would find this all that interesting, but that’s the nice thing about (kinda) having a blog — you can use it to write about anything you want, even if it isn’t likely to be all that exciting. Hopefully IMS will do something with this info at some point in time because I think it would be a pretty cool monument to the history of the great Speedway.

  13. WOW.
    thorough.
    if this had been an ex-girlfriend, this is serious stalking.
    as it is, the NSA needs you, or Facebook. wants you.
    i hope i never make you mad.
    good job.

  14. Ron Ford Says:

    Maybe Jimmy Hoffa is under there.

  15. ed emmitt Says:

    Wow great work on the famed oval.
    Doug Boles reads Oilpressure, certainly a feather in the hat for
    the work George and Paul have done. 5 Stars

  16. Mark J Wick Says:

    This is very interesting. Recreating that photo with a new model of that model and a statue of Strang would be a great project.

  17. Nice work Paul, but I have a question: Carl Fisher wanted that model built on the grounds so folks could come by and see what it was being built on that property as you stated. If that is the case then why would he have it built over 100 feet away from the street as you have it situated? That means folks would have to walk way up into his property to see it. My understanding has always been that it was visible from the street; laying flat on the ground over 100 feet away is not at all visible from the street. I think more research is due here before putting up any plaque or marker. But a good start for sure!

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

    • I don’t disagree that it’s a bit further off 16th Street than one might expect. However, what I haven’t been able to track down are property records for Myers House (or what people at the track affectionately call the “Mouse House”). We know that it was there by 1937, we know that Pop Myers lived in the house pretty much full time (well before any IMS offices were even located at IMS), and we know that he was the superintendent/VP dating all the way back to 1910. If that house was actually on the property when the construction of the track began, it would stand to reason that the model track was built nearby the house so guests could be welcomed there and then see the model of the track. Remember, the Presley Farm itself was about 5.5 miles from downtown Indianapolis, a trip that is said to have taken Fisher and Lem Trotter about 15 minutes by car along what were still very primitive roads at that time. People weren’t likely to just swing by the area to go check out what was to be built. If they were going there, they were probably going there for a purpose, likely with a pre-arranged meeting, so using the Mouse House as a starting point of their visit, and thus having the model track near to that, would make some sense.

  18. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I enjoy stuff like this, and I’d be willing to bet that you’re as accurate as one can be.

    I was looking at that photo for determining a southerly direction judging by shadows and light. It appears to have been a very overcast day so the general direction of the sun isn’t easily discerned although I think we can maybe assume that if a slight preponderance of light came from the south, that the sun was more likely toward Strang’s back and not front which would correlate with all of your suppositions above.

    The only thing that seems out of whack though is the fact that if all above was true (especially fence running N-S) the model would not be oriented with the actual track construction and be sitting appx 90 deg off. I suppose this could have been the case, but it would make more sense to me if the model were oriented with the proposed construction. Any thoughts on that?

    • I agree, DZ, that it doesn’t feel quite right that the model is oriented E-W while the track itself runs N-S. However, if you accept the model runs N-S, then you have to accept either:

      A.) the photograph is taking facing NW with Crawfordsville Pike running very close to the “near” short chute at the bottom of the picture. Again, we would have this issue of why a random fence would be running east-west maybe 100′ north of Crawfordsville Pike. We would also have to accept that the picture in the background is not in fact the house I pointed out above that was torn down in 1962 as the house would then be oriented incorrectly AND the model itself would be outside the boundaries of the original IMS land purchase. AND, as you said there isn’t much light to judge south, but if we agree the light appears to be at least brighter on Strang’s back than on his front, then the light would be coming from the northeast, and that just doesn’t happen in March.

      OR B.) the photograph is taken facing SE which presents two major problems. 1.) The house in the background is oriented E-W whereas the farmhouse that was torn down is oriented N-S. 2.) That would put Crawfordsville Pike beyond even the barn in the background, a distance that would have to be at least a couple hundred yards. That just doesn’t pass the sniff test, IMO, as all indications are that it was fairly close to the road. Now it does put the sun at a plausible angle if the picture was taken in late afternoon and the sun was setting to the SW.

      Based on those problems, I think the model itself was actually oriented E-W. I agree, it doesn’t sit right in my mind either, but perhaps it just wasn’t all that important to them.

  19. Paul, as always, you have provided for us IMS “Gearheads” something new to visit and consider. As you know, I am a nut for IMS as my “slice of brick” and forthcoming green folding chair shows. As for the site of “”The Vision,” I buy it and will stop by and recognize it as another noted spot at the hallowed grounds I know as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

  20. Tom from Lake Forest Says:

    Well done, Paul! Thank you for this.

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