FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Nov. 16, 2023 marks what would have been former Fort Wayne mayor Harry Baals’ 137th birthday.
Baals, who was born in 1886, served two separate stints as mayor from 1934-1947 and from 1952 until his death May 9, 1954.
Although the former mayor’s legacy can still be felt in Fort Wayne through a street named in his honor, a notable government building in downtown Fort Wayne also came close to bearing his name.
In 2011, City of Fort Wayne officials decided to name the building that now houses dozens of city and county departments Citizens Square which sits at 200 E. Berry St. in downtown Fort Wayne.
Harry Baals’ Name Earns National, International Attention
However, during the naming process, the City of Fort Wayne created a website where people could make suggestions on what to name the building.
While Citizens Square only received a few nominations, one suggested name received the most votes by a significant margin: the Harry Baals Government Center.
The story drew national and international attention, with major news outlets and late night talk show hosts all commenting on the name.
“And the saddest part about this really is there was a real life man named Harry Baals and I never got to meet him,” Jimmy Kimmel said on his show at the time.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, but despite the push from community members to name the building the Harry Baals Government Center, city officials felt it did not fit what the building would represent.
Woman supports Harry Baals Government Center
“We want to look at something that reflects both the city and the county, so we’re looking for something that isn’t just a mayor, for example,” said former Fort Wayne Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy in 2011.
Family members told WANE 15 at the time that descendants of the former mayor now pronounce the last name as “bails.”
Eventually, city officials decided on Citizens Square, which has remained the name of the building ever since.
Throughout out the public feedback process, city officials made it clear that the suggestion with the most votes would not automatically become the name.
Unfortunately for community members who voted on names, the name that garnered the second-most votes likely did not gain any traction with city officials either: Thunderdome.
“Two men enter. One man leaves.”