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.
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.
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
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 and remain there until late 1960 when it was replaced by a branch of Union Federal Savings & Loan. After 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.
50 North Illinois Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204
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