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Whispers of yesteryear: That Ayres Look

  • August 01, 2021 9:00 PM
    Message # 10788161
    Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submitted by: Murphy Hendy, ONS resident and Realtor

    The magic of the past sings poetically through the rooftops and tree canopies of downtown's Old Northside, painting the grounded historic streets with an ominous yet strangely familiar haunt from yesteryear. "That Ayres Look", a catchy company slogan designed to find its way into the psyche and wardrobe of the modern American woman, would eventually come to reverberate over the corner of 12th and Delaware with notes of confidence, grace and style only to pique our curiosity today with the distant echoes of its once-ironclad relevance. Before I go on: "Be Kind, Please Rewind" (another catchy slogan!).

    Let's go back to 1878, where Boston's George Emery and his family came to 1204 N. Delaware St to build a sumptuous home over 3 combined lots that would personify the classic Queen Anne and Stick style so beloved in the ONS today. George was wildly fond of the finest hardwoods available, as he sold some of the most luxurious Central and South American timbers to builders in the region while sourcing the best for himself. The home's interior was famously adorned with intricate, complex paneling techniques showcasing a wide range of colors, textures and recurring motifs (the focal elements of which were hand-selected and organized by George himself, of course).

    His taste for fashionable hardwoods became even more evident with the invention of an intuitive 'folding door' design throughout the home in which the large accordion-like, tongued-and-grooved panels were cleverly crafted of slender 2" colorful planks of the highest quality, surely meant to dazzle the user. Let's just say this: the newly finished residence was an ode to fine hardwoods from across the globe!

    Okay, we can fast-forward now. Just 4 years later, the Emery family moved back to Boston, leaving the young home proudly available for purchase in 1882 by Lyman S. Ayres (of the famed L.S. Ayres and Company, founded in 1872) and his wife, Maria. In 1905 (9 years after Lyman's death -- he was 71 and died of Nephritis, a kidney disorder), the iconic department store would materialize in the heart of downtown Indy where it became known for its robust influence on women's fashion. It housed the socially-significant 400-seat Tea Room and boasted the most captivating holiday window displays (part of which remains a treasured annual exhibit at the Indiana State Museum during the festive season).

    The company's name remained in use for 132 years and the catchy slogan would later become known as the oldest, continuous retail idiom. One of the Ayres' heirs (see what I did there?) lived in the home after both parents' deaths until the property was sold to the Madison, IN philanthropist, Arthur Jordan, in the late 1920's.

    Under his newly-formed foundation (with a $2 million endowment in 1928!), the Emery-Ayres home would become one of 8 music school locations (along with the nearby Benjamin Harrison house to the north) respectfully linked with Butler University. Arthur consolidated the city's various music conservatories into the 'Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music' (how ironic) and made 1204 it's formal administrative office. Mr Jordan moved his family to New York in 1932, unaware of the fate that would eventually find 1204 N. Delaware St 30 years later due to the construction of the highway that removed 11th St and the surrounding homes from the map.

    The SW corner of the Emery-Ayres home was negatively impacted by the off-ramp to Pennsylvania St and by 1962, it was deconstructed completely until all that was left was a pile of Mr Emery's prized luxurious hardwoods strewn-about the dusty debris field. Some accounts suggest the demolition of the stately dwelling may not have been necessary. Today, a faint echo murmuring "That Ayres Look", drifts over the grassy lot that remains as if to tempt us with its dissolved (but oh-so-fashionable) sentiment.

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