Witnessing Poplars’ beginning and end
Steve Riggins has witnessed both the beginning and the end of Indiana University’s Poplars Building.
When he was a young boy growing up in Bloomington, he would spend at least two days a week visiting his grandmother, Mary Maish, who lived in a white house on North Dunn Street.
“I remember vividly many visits there with her at her easel doing a lot of painting,” Riggins said.
So when crews started building Poplars across the street from Maish’s house in 1964, she started painting. Her brushstrokes capture a red excavator and several men preparing the site for construction. A young boy wearing red shorts is at the center of the painting, peering over a railing and watching the crews at work. That boy is 7-year-old Riggins.
“I used to love watching trucks and construction equipment,” he said. “I watched (Poplars) going up step by step.”
Now he’s watching it come down step by step. The demolition of the building, which has dominated the city skyline, began earlier this month. The parking garage will reopen once demolition is complete, and the site will become greenspace.
Both Riggins and his late father, Jack, have spent time working in the building, and Maish’s painting was even on display in different offices in Poplars at times. When Jack Riggins retired from IU, he gave the painting to Daryl Brawthen, who managed Poplars when it was a hotel — perhaps best known for housing Elvis Presley when he visited campus for a concert at Assembly Hall.
“When I first started working with IU and started in purchasing, I worked with Insurance, Loss Control & Claims on a project,” Steve Riggins said. “I went into Daryl’s office and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my grandmother’s painting.’”
Despite his many connections to the building, he said he isn’t sad to see it go.
“Since I’m in property management, I see the functionality of the building, and Poplars has served its purpose,” said Riggins, who works as an assistant director of property management at IU.
He is, however, sentimental about the painting that depicts its beginnings. It now hangs in his office on South Henderson Street, not far from the framed picture of his grandmother that sits on his desk.
“I don’t know how many people who’ve walked into my office I’ve told the story about this painting,” he said. “It’s been really fun to have in my office.”
Realizing that it captures part of IU history, Riggins said, IU Collections will take possession of the piece once he retires from IU. It will be housed in the McCalla Building.
“I’ve been talking to my brothers about it ending up there, in the same neighborhood where it was painted,” Riggins said. “I’m really happy my grandmother’s legacy will live on through this painting.”
Barbara Brosher is a communications consultant with IU Studios.