The plaque on the side of the building reads:
"When constructed in 1905, the Ayres Building was the first modern, fireproof department store in the city. Located at 1 West Washington Street and designed by the local architectural firm of Vonnegut & Bohn, the store was enlarged in 1914, 1928, and 1946. Founder Lyman S. Ayres (1824-1896) had been a leading dry goods retailer in the state since opening his first store on Washington Street in 1872. A family owned business for three generations, the department store founded many of the great traditions of downtown Indianapolis, such as the Ayres Tea Room, Santa Land, the Ayres Clock, and the Christmas cherub. L. S. Ayres & Company vacated its historic headquarters in 1992. The building was rehabilitated and integrated into Circle Centre."
From the Lost Indiana web site:
"Before suburban shopping malls, indeed, before automobiles, the Ayers family department store anchored the retail center of Indianapolis.
Lyman S. Ayers was born in Oswego, New York on September 4, 1824. In 1843 he followed the population movement westward, opening a series of stores in Ohio, bringing goods from New York into the midwest. Expanding his empire, he purchased the Trade Palace store in Indianapolis which stood at 26 West Washington Street. For several years he stayed in New York as the buyer for the store, moving to Indianapolis in 1874.
Lyman continued to grow his company, expanding to 33 West Washington a few years later. By the mid 1890s the company had outgrown this location, too, and Lyman purchased the land at the southwest corner of Washington and Meridian streets for a grand new facility.
Unfortunately, Lyman would not see his dream come to reality, as he died on May 7, 1896. His son, Frederic M. Ayers, would take over the company and build the new store in 1905.
The original building was 8 stories tall, with the administrative staff occupying the top floor. In these early days, goods purchased and shipped in from outside of town were expensive and slow to arrive. Like many large department stores of the time, Ayers actually built or constructed many of the items it sold. Complete floors were devoted to the construction of picture frames and cabinets and another to hundreds of dressmakers who assembled both custom creations and the racks of ready-to-wear dresses on sale below. Most of the rest of the store was sales floor, with the basement reserved for economy items, markdowns, and a large soda fountain.
As the city expanded into the suburbs, so too would Ayers, becoming an anchor of the new Glendale Center in 1958. Under the leadership of Lyman S. Ayers II, who took over the company in 1954, there would eventually be 10 stores open around the city and state. Ayres diversified in 1961 with the creation of Ayr-Way Stores, a discount operation designed to compete with K-Mart which lasted until its sale to Target Stores in the early 1980s.
By the early 1970s, the department store landscape in Indianapolis was crowded, and downtown shopping in serious decline. The Associated Dry Goods Company acquired LS Ayers and Ayr-Way in 1972, operating both as separate divisions. In 1986 the May Company of St. Louis purchased L. S. Ayers and Company.
Despite loosing over $2 million on the downtown store in 1988, the May Company signed up to become an anchor for the proposed Circle Center Mall. After years of delays, they were finally forced to close the facility in January of 1992. Many of the historical items were put in storage, including the cherub that appeared over the corner of Washington and Meridian each Christmas and 120 years of L. S. Ayers downtown came to an end."