William H. Block Co.

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William H. Block Company
Former typeDepartment store
IndustryRetail
Fatemerged into Lazarus
Founded1896
Defunct1987
HeadquartersIndianapolis, Indiana
ProductsMen's, women's and children's clothing, footwear, jewelry, beauty products, home furnishings, bedding, china and silver, furniture, toys, books
 
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William H. Block Company
Former typeDepartment store
IndustryRetail
Fatemerged into Lazarus
Founded1896
Defunct1987
HeadquartersIndianapolis, Indiana
ProductsMen's, women's and children's clothing, footwear, jewelry, beauty products, home furnishings, bedding, china and silver, furniture, toys, books

The William H. Block Company was a department store chain in Indianapolis and other cities in Indiana. It was founded in 1874 by Herman Wilhelm Bloch, an immigrant from Austria-Hungary who had Americanized his name to William H. Block. The main store was located at 9 East Washington Street in Indianapolis in 1896. The company also identified itself as The Wm. H. Block Co., and Block's.

History[edit]

In 1910, a new eight-story store was constructed to designs by Arthur Bohn and Kurt Vonnegut Sr. of Vonnegut & Bohn on the corner of Illinois and Market streets. The new store at 50 N. Illinois Street officially opened it doors to the public on October 3, 1911.[1]

To the People of the State of Indiana, and Especially to the Home Folks of Indianapolis, This Magnificent New Store is Dedicated. The Pride of Hoosierdom

— Dedication announcement to the opening of the new Block's store in 1911[1]

Mr. Block was active in the business until his death in 1928, at which time the management of the company was passed to his three sons: M. S. Block, R. C. Block, and E. A. Block. The store was expanded to nearly double in size in 1934. The architect for the 1934 expansion was Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. During the expansion the building's interior and exterior was redesigned in a moderne style, including furnishings, stainless steel escalators, and two-story polished black marble and stainless steel facade entrances. Architectural drawings of the entrances became the trademark logo for the store on gift boxes, print advertisements, and company stationery. A company publication identified the store as, "one of the country's most beautiful department stores." Restaurants located within the Illinois Street store included the Fountain Luncheonette, the Terrace Tea Room, the Men’s Grille, and the James Whitcomb Riley Room. Block's was the second largest retail company in Indiana, its primary competitor L. S. Ayres & Co. being the larger. Other competitors included H. P. Wasson and Company and L. Strauss & Co.

The Block's store was located on Market Street across from the Indianapolis Traction Terminal (the largest traction terminal in the United States). From 1900 to the 1930s, the Indiana interurban system brought shoppers by the thousands from smaller central Indiana towns to shop in downtown Indianapolis. The availability of cheap mass transit to downtown Indianapolis greatly increased the customer base from which the Indianapolis department stores were able to draw. Block's, being directly across the street from the traction terminal, was the first department store shoppers would visit. Block's main competitors were located at least a block away on Washington Street. Central Indiana was networked with the most extensive interurban system in the United States. Most small towns were either on the system or a station was located nearby. Interurbans from Indianapolis reached as far as Dayton, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The net result of the interurban system to Block's and its competitors was a customer base that rivaled that of much larger midwestern and eastern cities, such as Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

In 1954, a small branch store was opened in the Indianapolis neighborhood of Broad Ripple at 724 E. Broad Ripple Avenue[2][3] and remain there until late 1960[4] when it was replaced by a branch of Union Federal Savings & Loan.[5] After several several name changes and bank mergers, this financial institution is still in operation at the same location as a branch of the Huntington National Bank.

Bloomington expansion[edit]

During the Second World War, Block's constructed their first branch store outside of Indianapolis in the city of Bloomington, just right across the street from the campus of Indiana University at 104 S. Indiana Avenue in 1942 and it was called as the Block's College Shop. This was so successful that it eventually expanded into adjacent store fronts when those properties became available. By 1955, the store's street address had become 100 S. Indiana Ave. through the last of these expansions.

After College Mall opened on the east side of Bloomington in 1965, business gradually began to move away from downtown Bloomington to the mall or nearby areas. In 1972, Block's opened their second Bloomington store in College Mall in the space currently occupied (in 2013) by Abercrombie & Fitch, Christopher & Banks, and five other stores. This location was across the hall from one of the original anchor stores, Wasson's.

Since both stores combined were small when compared to newer stores that Block's was opening at new malls being developed throughout Indiana, Block's had to wait until Goldblatt's closed their Wasson's store at College Mall in January 1981. After remodeling was completed in August 1981,[6] Block's consolidated the two Bloomington locations into the new 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) store.[7] The store was converted into a Lazarus store in October 1987[8] and eventually closed in 2003.[9][10]

After Block's had left the corner of Indiana and Kirkwood avenues, the location was occupied by the Space Port Video Arcade from 1980 until it was forced to leave in 1995 when site was purchased by the University for the construction of Carmichael Center.[11][12][13]

Expansion at regional malls and shopping centers[edit]

Starting in 1958, Block's opened stores that served as the original anchors at Glendale Shopping Center (1958), Southern Plaza (1961), Lafayette Square Mall (1969), and Washington Square Mall (1974), all in Indianapolis, and also at Tippecanoe Mall (1974) in Lafayette and Markland Mall (1974) in Kokomo.[14]

Block's also opened a store that served as an expansion anchor at the Greenwood Park Mall in 1980 when the original Greenwood Center outdoor shopping center was converted into an indoor shopping mall.[15]

The Glendale[16] and Southern Plaza[17] locations were opened air shopping centers at the time they were first opened. Glendale was enclosed in 1969. Southern Plaza was never enclosed. The other locations were originally designed as enclosed malls.

After Greenwood Park was enclosed and expanded in 1980, many stores left Southern Plaza and left Block's to be the last remaining department store tenant by 1987.

Ohio expansion[edit]

As a cost saving measure, Allied Stores began to merge small department store chains into larger ones during the 1980s.[18] In 1984, Allied Stores merged the single store division Edward Wren Co.[19] in Springfield, Ohio into the larger Block's store division. The original Wren's store in downtown Springfield was an economically depressed area located far outside of Block's normal advertizing area. This store had a hard time trying to compete with the department stores located 5 miles away in the Upper Valley Mall that had just opened in 1971.[20] Lazarus quickly closed this particular store soon after it acquired the Block's chain in 1987 since an existing Lazarus store was located at the Upper Valley Mall that was originally a Shillito-Rike's store, an original anchor, just the previous year.

Television station[edit]

In 1947, Block's was granted a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license for television station WWHB, channel 3. In 1949, the FCC records show the station's call letters had changed to WUTV, but still on channel three.

Merger[edit]

The William H. Block Co. merged with Allied Stores in 1962.[21] In 1987, Block's was sold to Federated Department Stores, at which time the Block's name was discontinued and many store locations were rebranded as Lazarus department stores.[22][23][24]

Lazarus closed the downtown Illinois Street store in 1993.[25] In 2003, the Illinois Street store building's upper seven floors were converted into residential apartments and the ground floor remained retail; the building complex is called The Block.

At three mall locations (Greenwood Park, Washington Square, and Lafayette Square) that had both Lazarus and Block's stores, Lazarus liquidated the stock in the former Block's stores and sold the leases for the smaller of the two stores at each location to Montgomery Wards.

In total, five Block's locations were immediately closed upon merger. The stores in downtown Springfield and at the open air Southern Plaza shopping Center were also closed. The Springfield location remained vacant for over a decade while the Southern Plaza[26] location became a Kroger grocery store.

By 2005, none of the former Block's locations was able to retain a Macy's Department Store, the final successor organization to Block's.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Opening of the Wm. H. Block Company's New Store". Indianapolis Star, October 3, 1911, page 11.
  2. ^ "Shopping in Broad Ripple". CONTENTdm Collection. Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Polk's Indianapolis (Marion County, Ind.) city directory, 1955". R.L. Polk, 1955.
  4. ^ "Ripian (1960): The Broad Ripple High School Yearbook". Archive.org. Broad Ripple High School. p. 137. Retrieved April 19, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Polk's Indianapolis (Marion County, Ind.) city directory, 1961". R.L. Polk, 1961.
  6. ^ "Block's grand opening Friday". Bloomington Herald-Times, August 20, 1981, Pages 1, 6.
  7. ^ "Additions to mall create new jobs". Bloomington Herald-Times, February 17, 1981.
  8. ^ "Lazarus to open Sunday". Bloomington Herald-Telephone, October 29, 1987, Page A7.
  9. ^ "Federated Department Stores to Close Indianapolis Outlet" Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, January 17, 2003.
  10. ^ "Another local store leaving: Financial factors force Lazarus closing". Indiana Daily Student, January 17, 2003.
  11. ^ "Four-story complex to be erected where Space Port, Nathan Hale's used to be". Bloomington Herald-Times, January 30, 1995.
  12. ^ "The game is over if Space Port doesn't find a new home soon". Bloomington Herald-Times, July 8, 1994.
  13. ^ "IU Law Update, Winter 1995". Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, Volume 5, Number 1.
  14. ^ "Block's to Open Kokomo Store". Kokomo Tribune, April 1, 1973, Page 4.
  15. ^ Jim Hillman and John Murphy, Greenwood (2010), ISBN 073857807X.
  16. ^ "An anchor's weight". Indianapolis Star, October 30, 2005.
  17. ^ "Site History". Tri-Land Properties, Inc. Access Date: April 2013.
  18. ^ "Linkup of Allied Joske's Stores Seen". New York Times, May 20, 1985.
  19. ^ "Renovated Bushnell Building may be tipping point for downtown". Springfield News-Sun, December 13, 2010.
  20. ^ "Springfield, Ohio: A Summary of Two Centuries" by Tom Dunham (2012), ISBN 9781477261903.
  21. ^ "SEC News Digest for July 27, 1962". Securities and Exchange Commission, July 27, 1962.
  22. ^ "Allied Stores agreed to sell its Blocks division". Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1987.
  23. ^ "Allied Stores Selling Blocks Division To Federated". Associated Press, April 27, 1987.
  24. ^ "Lazarus in agreement to sell Ward's three units in Indianapolis malls. (Federated Department Stores)". Daily News Record, October 23, 1987 .
  25. ^ "Lazarus to close Indianapolis unit. (Federated Department Stores Inc. Lazarus)". Daily News Record, June 17, 1992.
  26. ^ "The South rises again: Southern Plaza puts on a new face. (Focus: South Suburban Growth)". Indianapolis Business Journal, September 10, 1990.