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Indianapolis, Indiana (U.S.)

Marion County

Last modified: 2016-02-27 by rick wyatt
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[Flag of Indianapolis, Indiana] image by Rick Wyatt, 15 October 1997

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Description of the flag

The flag's design is basically a rough sketch of downtown Indianapolis. The flag is very new, maybe only 10 yrs old or so. The colors are very American: red, white, and blue (popular colors for other countries too). The lateral line represents Market Street, the longitudinal line represents Meridian Street, and of course, the star in a circle represents the center of downtown Indianapolis, which has a roundabout in its center. Indianapolis is known as "the circle city" because of this roundabout (they're not very popular in the Midwest like they are in Europe or the East Coast), as well as an interstate (intrastate would be more correct) that circles the city of Indianapolis.
Vincent, 15 October 1997

History of the flag

History of Indianapolis' flag is posted at (reproduced here to preserve it)

The city flag waves on a pole in front of the City County Building, Nov. 25, 2012. This year is the 50th anniversary of the city's flag.
(Rob Goebel/The Star)

With its intersecting lines representing Washington and Meridian streets, the flag is illustrative of Indianapolis' "Crossroads of America" status. And with its tight selection process -- the only ones to weigh in, back in 1962, were a handful of white males -- the flag is illustrative also of the top-down way the city used to do business. The flag is a thick, white cross over a blue background, the horizontal bar representing Washington, the vertical bar Meridian. At their intersection is a circle -- Monument Circle, duh -- and inside the circle a white star against a red background symbolizing Indianapolis as Indiana's capital city and commercial center.

Technically, Monument Circle is at Meridian and Market streets, not Meridian and Washington. Washington, the major east/west route known as U.S. 40, is actually a block south of Market. But flags aren't maps. "A flag should be highly stylized," said Ted Kaye, editor of the North American Vexillological Association's quarterly journal. "Good flag design incorporates simplicity and meaningful symbolism." So the designer of Indianapolis' flag doesn't get a pass for blurring Market and Washington streets, he gets plaudits for it.

In 1962, Roger E. Gohl was a thin, pompadour-wearing 18-year-old freshman at John Herron Art School. Gohl entered the flag-design competition, he recalled the other day from his home in Oxnard, Calif., "because I wanted the fifty bucks." That was the prize offered by Indianapolis' chamber of commerce for the winning design of a new city flag. Indianapolis already had a flag that had been adopted by the City Council in 1915. But that flag was "never unfurled for lack of interest," the Indianapolis Star reported the day it announced Gohl's new design. It was an overstatement, but not by much: The 1915 flag design lay dormant, wasn't even fabricated, until 1960, reported the vexillology journal, the "Flagwaver" (Vol. II, No. 1, Issue 3, June 1997) and was passé even at its unveiling, with its too-small-to-make-sense-of city seal and its eight hard-to-figure stars that represented such mundanities as the city clerk, the board of public works and so on -- a clerk is certainly vital to a municipality's workings, but a star?

On top of all that, the 1915 job featured an X design (the X's representing Virginia Avenue and other diagonal streets) that could possibly have been interpreted as a nod to the Confederate battle flag, an image at odds with the one growth-minded city burgers were promoting in '62 (at the burgeoning of the civil rights movement), when Gohl answered their call for a design possessing not just "simplicity" and "good visibility" but also "appropriateness." (For an unabashed homage to the rebel flag, see Montgomery, Ala.'s flag.)

Many U.S. cities and towns have flags (Fishers has one, so does Carmel). Some are better than others, some more widely exploited than others. In Indianapolis, which lacks a widely recognized icon -- no Statue of Liberty, like in New York; no arch, like in St. Louis; no Space Needle, like in Seattle; no Alamo, like in San Antonio, etc. -- a decent flag could be especially important in creating an identity. It isn't, though. Indianapolis' city flag is rarely seen, except on the doors of city-owned trucks. One flies at the City-County Building, in the courtyard on the building's south side. But the flag is unfamiliar to most city residents. It's a missed opportunity, said the vexillologist Kaye, who is retired from his job as chief financial officer at a small tech firm in Portland, Ore. "Cities can use their flag like a brand," Kaye said, "and citizens can rally around it."

Fans of the pro soccer team in Portland cheer on the Timbers by waving Portland city flags, Kaye said, "and Chicago has a tremendously evocative flag -- when a police officer there dies, his casket is covered in the Chicago flag, not the American flag. We've even seen Chicago flag tattoos." "A flag is identity, or can be," said Richard Beck. Beck, 83, is the last survivor of the three-member committee that chose Gohl's design from among some six dozen submissions. He was the art director at Eli Lilly and Co. and worked at the highest end of corporate/industrial design. He once collaborated with the photographer Richard Avedon. Beck's fellow committee members were Edward D. Pierre, the vaunted Indianapolis architect and all-around idea man (the Indiana State Library was his design and the "Circle of Lights" his idea) and Wilbur D. Peat, the painter, writer and director of Indianapolis' art museum. All three were men with sound senses of aesthetics, no doubt about it. But they were all men, and not only that, they were all white. "Back in the early 1960s (Indianapolis') leadership was very small at the top," said George Geib, a Butler University historian who has written about Indianapolis for decades. "Lilly, and the Lilly family, were at the center of most decisions."

Style-wise, too, much has changed since 1962, when Cadillacs had fins and tennis players wore all white. But great flag design is timeless, said Kaye. He noted the Stars and Stripes dates to the 18th century "and it holds up beautifully," as does France's much-respected tricolor, "an extremely powerful design." Indianapolis' Gohl-designed/ Beck-approved flag, with its simplicity (just three colors) and its meaningful symbolism, also holds up, Kaye said. And he's not the only one saying it: As recently as the 1990s, Jackson, Miss., adopted a city flag that almost had to have been cribbed from Indianapolis'; and in 2004, NAVA ranked Indianapolis' flag eighth best among the flags of the 150 major U.S. cities.

Gohl, who went on to have a big career as a designer for major corporations such as Hilton and Radisson, agrees his work as an 18-year-old still looks good. "I can't say I was surprised it was ranked eighth," he said, "and I'm not sure I'd not have ranked it higher." Beck pointed to the top-ranked city flag of Washington, D.C., and to fifth-ranked St. Louis'. "Ours is better," he declared (he took his hat off, however, to Chicago's).

"And I think our city flag should be celebrated. I'd like to see it more often, flying.
Ted Kaye, 8 December 2012

Variant Flag

[Flag of Indianapolis, Indiana] image by Randy Young, 30 September 2015

I have seen modified versions on the back of municipal vehicles with words inscribed in the white circle reading "CITY OF / INDIANAPOLIS" in black.
JAK, 30 September 2015

1915-1963 Flag

[Flag of Indianapolis, Indiana] image by Rob Raeside, 21 August 2014

Gohl's design reworked the best elements of the city's first flag, adopted on 21 June 1915. Ironically, no flag of the 1915 version was made until 1960, when Mrs. Norma Gribler sewed one, just two years before a new flag was adopted. The earlier flag, designed by Harry B. Dynes, a city resident, is divided vertically into two sections, the first of which is two-fifths of the flag's length. On a blue field is depicted a white circle, about 3/18ths the width of the section, with four spokes radiating diagonally to each of the four corners of the section, thus forming four quadrants. In the top and bottom quadrants, there are two large white stars, one superimposed vertically over the other in the quadrant's center. In the hoist and fly quadrants, the stars are placed similarly, but smaller and farther apart so that there is a star at each of the spokes' intersections. One large white star, also on a blue field, is in the center of the inner circle; superimposed on it is the corporate seal of the city in gold. Nine alternating red and white horizontal stripes occupy the remaining three-fifths of the flag. The white circle in the blue field represented the city's center, Monument Place (now called Monument Circle), and the four diagonal spokes represented the four major avenues radiating from the Circle: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Virginia. The large white star symbolized the city's mayor, whose power was denoted by the corporate seal. The four large stars in the top and bottom quadrants stood for the city clerk, city controller, city police judge, and the school board; the four smaller stars represented the board of public works, board of safety, board of health, and park board. Lastly, the nine stripes symbolized the nine city councilmen.
Ben Cahoon, 21 August 2014

Detail of Seal

[Flag of Indianapolis, Indiana] image by Rob Raeside, 21 August 2014