Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

New time! ... Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

Jan. 19 show

L.S. Ayres & Company history

The first Ayres Tea Room was on the fifth floor from 1905 until 1929. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society.The marketing slogan for its women's fashions: That Ayres Look. The eighth-floor dining spot beloved by generations: The Ayres Tea Room. The signature dish: Chicken velvet soup.

The holiday-season attractions: The lavish display windows and the Santaland Express children's train. The exterior landmark: The clock, which still perches in downtown Indy above the sidewalk at Meridian and Washington streets, once the site of the flagship L.S. Ayres & Company store.

Here's how a new, lavishly illustrated book sums up the impact of the legendary retailer on Hoosiers for more than 100 years: "Ayres was as much a part of Indianapolis as Monument Circle or the Indianapolis 500."

Ken Turchi, who has devoted years to researching and writing L.S. Ayres & Company: The Store at the Crossroads of America (Indiana Historical Society Press), will join Nelson in studio to explore all aspects of the company that grew to include Ayres department stores in suburban Indy neighborhoods such as the Glendale area, as well as in Fort Wayne, Muncie, Bloomington, Terre Haute and other Indiana cities. Ayres also opened chains of retailers such as Ayr-Way discount stores and Sycamore Shops, which catered to youthful preppies.

L.S. Ayres had an in-house advertising department with talented artists who captured "That Ayres Look" in sketches such as this one from 1960. Image courtesy Tiffany Benedict Birkson, Historic Indianapolis.With origins dating to 1872, when founder Lyman S. Ayres Sr. acquired a controlling interest in a dry-goods store called the Trade Palace in Indy, L.S. Ayres & Company (this link includes Ayres Storybook and Magic Mirror videos) was overseen by three generations of family members.

As our guest Ken Turchi puts it, they "took the store from its early silk-and-calico days to a diversified company with interests in specialty stores and discount stores - before Target and Wal-Mart."

The Trade Palace had just 27 employees when Lyman S. Ayres Sr. acquired control. By 1922, more than 2,000 employees worked for his son, Frederic Ayres, in Indianapolis. According to Ken Turchi's book, both Lyman Sr. and Frederic were modest, work-focused men who shunned the limelight and treated their employees with a nurturing style.

Lyman Sr., who had been a retailer in Geneva, N.Y., before moving to Indy, died in 1896. At that point, the opening of a department store at the corner of Meridian and Washington. an intersection then known as the "crossroads of America," was a dream. (The initial Ayres store was located elsewhere on Washington Street.) Frederic oversaw building of the flagship store, which opened in 1905 amid great fanfare.

The store's commitment to women's fashion gave Ayres, as our guest Ken Turchi puts it, "the same cachet as its larger competitors in New York and Chicago."

Ken Turchi. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society.Ken, a former board member of Indiana Landmarks, grew up in Crawfordsville, worked at an Ayres store while attending college and has spent most of his career in aspects of marketing and strategic planning. Today he lives in Indy and commutes to Bloomington, where he is the assistant dean at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. His home, built in 1954 in the northside Indy neighborhood of Arden, was featured on last June's Mid-Century Modern Home Tour. It is decorated with photos and memorabilia from Ayres and its major competitor, the locally owned William H. Block department-store chain.

He describes the flagship Ayres as "a traditional department store where you could spend the day browsing for everything from furniture to sheet music to sewing machines to typewriters."

In many ways, though, Ayres was more than just a store, Ken writes. "It was an experience."

During the 1980s, Ayres was acquired by May Company. A series of local blows followed, beginning with the closing of the Tea Room and the Top of the Stairs restaurants in the flagship Ayres store in the early 1990s. In 1991, the May Company announced that Ayres would not be part of the planned Circle Centre mall, which then was in a fragile state of development.

Cherub on clock at L.S. Ayres department store in Indianapolis in 1947. Image courtesy Indiana Historical Society.By the mid-2000s, the Ayres name had vanished from retailing after a local presence of more than 100 years. A portion of the sprawling, flagship Ayres building is now Carson Pirie Scott in Circle Centre, although the landmark clock continues to adorn the exterior. Part of Oceanaire restaurant is in the area where Ayres kept men's designer suits.

Some fun facts:

  • The "S" in L.S. Ayres actually was an abbreviation for nothing, according to Ken's book. He quotes the founder's great-granddaughter, Indianapolis civic leader Nancy Ayres, as revealing that the family patriarch did not have a middle name and created an "S" because "a store called L. Ayres wouldn't look or sound right."
  • The Ayres clock was designed by Kurt Vonnegut Sr., father of the famous novelist, and was installed in the 1930s. Decades earlier, the architectural firm of Kurt Sr.'s father, Bernard Vonnegut , had designed the Ayres building.
  • Fashion models strolled among diners in the Tea Room, a popular destination for well-dressed women and children, who could pick out a toy from a treasure chest when exiting.

Roadtrip: Henry Louis Gates Jr. to speak in Kokomo Jan. 25

Henry Louis Gates Jr.Chris Gahl of Visit Indy suggests that we take the Roadtrip to Kokomo to hear a presentation about genealogy titled "Finding your Roots." The speaker is the acclaimed Harvard professor, author and literary critic, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., who also is host of the popular PBS television series Finding Your Roots.

This event commemorates the celebration of Ivy Tech Community College's 50th anniversary on March 15, 2013. Tickets for this event are available online at the Ivy Tech website.

While in Kokomo, you can also take the Wildcat Creek Walk of Excellence, which winds its way through several of Kokomo's city parks and historic areas. Auto buffs can also visit the Kokomo Automotive Museum, which houses more than 100 classic cars, including the first gasoline-powered car built in 1894 by Kokomo native Elwood Haynes.

History Mystery

Beginning in 1919, Fort Wayne residents patronized an upscale department store that became the equivalent of L.S. Ayres for shoppers in the state's second-largest city. Generations of Fort Wayne families enjoyed the store's holiday season windows and visited Santa Claus in the downtown retailer.

Wee Willie Wand doll.The store's Christmas mascot was a four-inch Wee Willie Wand doll, according to Ken Turchi's new book. In addition to the flagship store in downtown Fort Wayne, the retailer eventually opened a store in the city's Southtown Mall.

But Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayres, a competitor, opened a large branch store in Glenbrook Shopping Center on the north side of Fort Wayne in 1966. About three years after that, Ayres went a step further and bought the Fort Wayne stores run by the beloved retailer.

Question: Name the department store that, for more than half a century before its purchase by Ayres, was cherished by generations of Fort Wayne shoppers.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is admission for two to the Eiteljorg Museum, two admissions to the Indiana Experience and two admissions to the Crispus Attucks Museum. These prizes are courtesy of Visit Indy.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

Save the date!

Fifth-anniversary party is set for Feb. 21

Friends and fans, please mark your calendars now for the Hoosier History Live! Fifth Anniversary Party, to be held Thursday, Feb. 21, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Indiana Landmarks Center at 1201 Central Ave. in Indianapolis. Thanks to Garry Chilluffo for chairing this event, and watch our website for details.

As local media content continues to disappear, we've made it five years on the air!

Jan. 26 show

Pioneer music in early Indiana

The jaw harp was popular. So were the fiddle and dulcimer. Community bands played flutes, whistles and drums.

There even were pianos before 1840 in Indiana, despite the significant challenges of transporting them to frontier communities via horse-drawn vehicles and river boats.

Musical instruments that weren't widely seen (or, in some cases, not present at all) in the Hoosier state of the 1820s, '30s and '40s: the guitar, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, ukulele and accordion.

"Keep in mind that, during the pioneer era, Mozart had not been dead for as long as Buddy Holly has been gone today," says Erik Peterson, an Indianapolis-based musician and historian who has performed at Prairietown at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park and at other history-focused sites.

This ad for singing instruction appeared in the Indiana State Journal on Jan. 20, 1838.Erik has been researching pre-1840 music of central Indiana for a postgraduate degree, thanks in part to a fellowship from the Society of Indiana Pioneers, Adept at various instruments, Erik often performs traditional Irish, American folk and Celtic music with various ensembles, including Hogeye Navvy, an Indy-based band known for sea chanteys.

To share insights about the music cherished by early Hoosier settlers - and to perform a few musical interludes to convey a flavor - Erik will join Nelson in studio for what is certain to be a lively, memorable show. Erik has been gaining insights by tracking down diaries, letters and journals of pioneer families.

"People in that era were incredibly musical," he says. "Music was a daily part of their lives, and it served as a way to build community among neighbors."

The jaw harp, a hand-held instrument about the size of a harmonica, was played frequently. Erik, who notes that the jaw harp primarily is relegated today to the soundtracks of cartoons, will play a rendition on the instrument during our show.

"The fiddle was the king of instruments here during the pioneer era," he says. "It's loud, and it's portable."

Erik also will play a few verses of Hail, Columbia!, the unofficial national anthem of the era. (The Star Spangled Banner was not adopted as the official national anthem until 1931, about 100 years after the era that will be the focus of our show. Since then, Hail, Columbia! primarily has been played to introduce the American vice president.)

In addition to researching Indiana pioneer music for a master's degree at IUPUI, Erik is serving as a historical music consultant for an upcoming "Guitars: Roundups to Rockers" exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum.

Erik also recommends the following "learn more" websites:

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