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The Atrium: 1903

The Atrium: 1903

West Baden, Indiana, circa 1903. "The atrium, West Baden Springs Hotel." 8x10 glass negative by William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

A native Houstonian speaks

I look at this photo and can't help but thinking the Astros or the Oilers will be taking the field at any moment. Obviously an inspiration for the Astrodome to come. Great photo.

Beware the other Indiana beverage

I visited in 1989 and the place was nearly deserted tho still glorious and in the middle of restoration. One of the shop stalls - the ones that look like rug merchants in this photo - was devoted to selling Indiana-produced wine, hardly a well-known vintage. But the rose seemed a bargain at $6. I took the bottle home and set it on my kitchen table. A week later, it blew its own cork and spewed itself on the ceiling.

Big, Bigger, Biggest

The TV show "Big, Bigger, Biggest" takes an architectural structure (dam, suspension bridge, ferris wheel, etc.) and uses five historical examples to illustrate the development of the art. For "Domes," I think West Baden was third in historical order after the Pantheon in Rome and Brunelleschi's cathedral dome in Florence, and followed by the Houston Astrodome and Oita Stadium in Japan.

Today's Fireplace

The atrium fireplace has been reworked over the years and now features a ceramic front. The illuminated spot on the upper left is a ceramic tile displaying a skyline view of the hotel.

With a little leverage you might still be able to get a 14 foot log into the fireplace.

"A Hidden Wonder of the World"

One of the grandest features of late-twentieth-century building technology got its start in 1901 in a small Indiana town.

Have seen it both ways

This place is quite impressive now. Was impressive in the late 1980s, even though it was falling apart then.

We were on a bicycle tour and the place was crumbling apart. Anyone could get in, and it was deteriorated. We wandered all over looking at things that were left behind after the seminary vacated the building. Wish I could find the pictures we took. The whole lot of us posed in the fireplace. I believe it is the largest freestanding dome in the world.

Wonderful space to visit

I performed my whip act in this space in 2001 and must say it was the longest echo my whips ever produced -- over seven seconds! Twelve-foot Australian stock whips. West Baden is glorious and is a great destination point on any trip.

Dear, does it seem a little warm in here to you?

I love how there's always something interesting going on in the photos here. In this one, it's a beautiful courtyard, and everyone seems quite relaxed. Overall it's quite pleasant except ... well, there is one gentleman who might be a tad more stressed out than the others, given that he appears to be spontaneously combusting.

Unseen Angels

At the apex of the atrium is a central hub 16 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. Its primary purpose is to join together the 24 steel trusses that support the roof. Secondarily it provides an anchor for the massive central chandelier.

During renovations it was discovered that an artist had painted the interior panels of the hub with depictions of angels. Although the building had been used in its decline as a seminary, it is thought that the paintings date to the construction of the building.

Photos of the angels are on view at the hotel:

NFL Sunday

The mirrors on the bases of the pillars look like big screen TVs -- some are on and others are off. They're gone in the modern photo.


Sometimes I look at these photos and think to myself that life looks to have been quite damned boring back then.

Visit if you can

I learned about West Baden Springs from Scouting NY, and had the opportunity to visit in August. They've done a great job of restoring the buildings as well as the neighboring French Lick Resort.

You can see more images of the renovated resort from my visit on flickr. Love your site, by the way. Thanks for sharing the great vintage photography!

String quartet

I see the band showed up that day for a few of the guests. Anyone notice the many spittoons on the floor around the sitting areas?

Largest in the World

This was the largest free standing dome in the world until the Astrodome was built. The roof was designed by a bridge builder.

The hotel has been wonderfully restored -- except for the fountain with the seal!

Wow, and it's still open for business.

Amazing what a tourist industry the mineral water craze produced. The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas, was not so lucky as the years went on (but it's now very fun to explore).

Have a warmup

That is one king hell fireplace to read your newspaper beside!

The Spirit of the place.

Looks like it was haunted by ghosts even back then.


The architecture of this place is amazing. It's still around and on the NR of Historic Places. The glass atrium roof reminds me of that of the Astrodome, only 60 years earlier.

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