L.S. Ayres and Company was the queen of retail in this city. The first phase of the Ayres department store building was completed in 1905 and made double in size in 1914, both the work of Vonnegut & Bohn. A large south addition of the 1920s was the work of Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller. The store featured elevators and air conditioning. During the Great Depression, the firm was commissioned to update the store, which included the 1936 cantilevered Art Deco bronze clock. Weighing five tons, it is known as the “Crossroads of America” clock.
The Ayers building as photographed in the 1900s. Image: Public domain via Library of Congress. The Ayers building clock as photographed in the 1930s. Image: Public domain via Library of Congress.
Kurt acknowledged this history in a 2000 letter to his daughter, Edith, when he wrote:
"Father, like you, was a good citizen, a founder, among other virtuous activities, of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, one of the best in the world, and designer of a landmark clock at the corner of Washington and Meridian Streets, in the precise center of town, which intersection was and may still be called ‘The Crossroads of America.’ I was in Indianapolis last June, and I walked under that clock, and I looked up at it, and I said out loud, ‘Hi, Dad.’"
The book department of Ayres was the location of a Slaughterhouse Five book signing he described to Dan Wakefield in a 1969 letter:
"At the request of Ayres, I went to Indianapolis last week, appeared on a TV show and radio show, then signed books in the bookstore. I sold thirteen books in two hours, every one of them to a relative. Word of honor."
The Ayer’s building, now Carson’s department store. Image: Sailko, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Cover image: Sailko, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.