L.S. Ayres Department Store

L.S. Ayres Department Store was located at the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets from 1905 to 1992. L.S. Ayres was not just a department store, but an experience that transformed the way women participated in urban society. While public spaces had previously been dominated by men, department stores were designed to appeal to women shoppers.

Stepping Back in Time…

It’s Friday, November 27, 1959. You want to start your holiday shopping, so you go downtown. At the corner of 1 West Washington Street, you notice the 10,000-pound L.S. Ayres Clock sitting almost 29 feet up. Atop the clock is a bronze sculpture of a cherub. Outside is the beautiful holiday-themed window display in the front of the building. The feminine décor and decadence you see indicate this is a place for women.  The decorations, as well as the fashions, were art forms in themselves.

Entering the store, you hear holiday music performed live by the L.S. Ayres Carolers. Since you have been to Ayres before, you know the many departments throughout the building: men’s, women’s, junior's, children’s, shoes, hats, cosmetics, jewelry, furniture, and electronics. At each location, you are greeted by friendly employees that help you find everything.

After hours of shopping, you get lunch at the Tea Room. A uniformed server arrives, and you order chicken velvet soup and apricot bread. While waiting on your meal, you notice some children selecting gifts from the Treasure Chest in the middle of the room after riding the Santa Claus Express Train. After finishing, you head to one more place: the Downstairs (or Budget) Store. While most customers can only marvel at the couture fashions upstairs, they actually purchase their items from the Downstairs Store.

The Significance of the Department Store

Department stores such as L.S. Ayres offered a space for middle and upper-middle class white women to consume fashion and immerse themselves in beautiful surroundings where every detail had  been designed with them in mind.

Images

Lyman Ayres, 1896

Lyman Ayres, 1896

When Lyman Skinner Ayres moved to Indianapolis in the 1870s, he had over twenty years™ experience in the dry-goods business. He founded L.S. Ayres and Company in 1874 and served as the company™s head until 1896. L.S. Ayres was then run by members of the Ayres family, Fred Ayres (1896-1940), Ted Griffith (1940-54) and Lyman Ayres II (1954-62), for the next 66 years. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society | Source: Indiana Historical Society | Creator: T.C. Steele View File Details Page

Second Building, 1875

Second Building, 1875

In 1875, L.S. Ayres moved from its original location at 26-28 West Washington Street to 33-37 West Washington Street. This second building housed the department store from 1875 to 1905. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

1905 Ayres

1905 Ayres

Famed Indianapolis architecture firm Vonnegut and Bohn was responsible for the design and construction of L.S. Ayres' third and final downtown store. Completed in October 1905, the new L.S. Ayres was eight-stories high and housed multiple departments, a tea room, and an Economy Store. Throughout the years, additional spaces and buildings were added to the original structure. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Shoe Department

Shoe Department

L.S. Ayres Shoe Department circa 1905. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. View File Details Page

Tea Room

Tea Room

L.S. Ayres Tea Room circa 1905. The Tea Room epitomized the Ayres experience for many customers and was one of the few features that existed for the building's 87-year run. Guests ordered elegant, yet comfortable foods like chicken velvet soup and southern coconut pie, had food served on real china, and received the close attention of the staff. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. View File Details Page

Golden Anniversary

Golden Anniversary

This is an image from Ayrograms, the L.S. Ayres employee magazine, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the department store in 1922. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

That Ayres Look

That Ayres Look

As the retail industry transitioned from custom-made clothing to ready-to-wear in the 1920s and 1930s, L.S. Ayres' management decided to create a new slogan to symbolize this change. They ended up with "That Ayres Look." The slogan caught on with the general public and soon described the store's female clientele for much of the 20th century. The image above is a "That Ayres Look" ad that appeared in a 1946 edition of Vogue magazine. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Clock with Cherub, 1947

Clock with Cherub, 1947

The Ayres Clock and Cherub are two of the building's most iconic elements. The clock was completed in 1936. Sitting almost 29 feet off the ground, the clock and its supporting brackets weigh 10,000 pounds. The bronze cherub, perched atop the clock during the winter holiday season, debuted in 1947 to celebrate the store's 75th anniversary. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Ayres and Christmas

Ayres and Christmas

During the Christmas season, the bronze cherub sat atop the Ayres clock, special holiday meals were served at the Tea Room, carolers were organized among the staff to perform on the north balcony, special holiday-themed window displays were created, and children were able to ride the Santa Claus Express Train on the seventh floor. This watercolor painting was created by Ayres staff artist Robert H. Selby. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society | Creator: Robert H. Selby View File Details Page

Shoppers at Ayres During the 1950s

Shoppers at Ayres During the 1950s

Notice the all-white customers and sales staff. Even though African Americans and other minorities also worked at the store, they were traditionally relegated to non-selling, back-room positions. This began to change during the 1960s in selling, buying, modeling and supervising jobs. Photo Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Department Display, 1960s

Department Display, 1960s

Window displays, like this holiday scene in the L.S. Ayres Women™s Department in the 1960s, were noteworthy because they were usually made in-house by a full-service workshop as opposed to being purchased from vendors. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indian Historical Society View File Details Page

Santa Express

Santa Express

Developed in 1958, the Santa Claus Express was an electric train that transported visitors through a tiny Christmas village. At the end of the ride, Santa Claus waiting to hear the travelers' wishes. When L.S. Ayres closed, the train was donated to the Indiana State Museum, which continues this holiday tradition today. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Electronics

Electronics

L.S. Ayres Electronics Department during the 1960s. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Downtown Indy, 1970s

Downtown Indy, 1970s

Downtown revitalization efforts in Indianapolis took hold by the 1990s, including the creation of a new mall, Circle Centre. While many people thought the struggling L.S. Ayres would be part of this new establishment, the company's new management announced the store's closing on October 25, 1991. The following year, the downtown location of L.S. Ayres was closed. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Joseph and Georgia McGuire Collection View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Lyndsey Blair, “L.S. Ayres Department Store,” Discover Indiana, accessed December 9, 2016, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/31.

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