422 Fifth Street in downtown Columbus, lost its roof, facade, and its structural integrity in the December 3 blaze. Fire officials believe the brick building, known to locals as the “Irwin Block,” is unsalvageable and will need to be demolished. At the time of the fire the commercial building housed mostly office space, including for a law firm, mortgage lender, and a photography studio.
While Columbus is best known for its midcentury modern buildings by the likes of Gunnar Birkerts, Harry Weese, I.M. Pei, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, the downtown core predates those structures by many decades. The Irwin Block is 130 years old, and is named for the great-grandfather of J. Irwin Miller, the late chairman of local engine manufacturing company Cummins who commissioned many of the city’s most recognizable buildings. Every two years the city plays host Exhibit Columbus a design symposium and festival that activates its historic architecture with new installation commissions as part of the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize. In the 2022–23 iteration the Miller Prize recipients are Tatiana Bilbao ESTUDIO, PORT, Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), and Studio Zewde.
Local newspaper The Republic reports that the National Register of Historic Places deemed the Irwin Block building a “Queen Anne masterpiece” and perhaps the best Queen Anne–style commercial structure in Indiana.
“[It was a significant tie to the past and the early commercial success of Columbus,” Bartholomew County Historian Tami Stone Iorio told The Republic. “[It’s a tie to that original time, when some of our early city leaders were building the city and making it a commercial success. It was one of the major sites on Fifth Street, which I think a lot of people consider that our most significant streets in terms of architecture and buildings.”
“If you think about that part of the block, that north side between Fifth Street between Washington and Franklin streets, it’s the last of the original buildings,” Stone Iorio added. “[It’s like things come and go, but that building, it stood the longest. So, it just adds to the sadness when that bit of history is lost.”
The cause of the blaze remains unknown.