Newspapers in February 1874 announced that Hervey Bates, Jr. would soon commence building a  new block where “Sharpe’s Cigar store now stands.” The first brick wasn’t placed until June, and yet Bates still expected the place to be open by December. By September, a local newspaper was comparing the look of the rising building to that of “the Potter Palmer House of Chicago.”

Architect Edwin F. May designed the Bates Block, which stood at 30-40 North Pennsylvania Street. When it debuted in the spring of 1875, in a style one local newspaper called a “French style of architecture,” it had an undeniable “grand” look to it. The entire front was constructed of iron and columns stood five feet from the building, creating a colonnade and balcony. It stood four stories high with a slate mansard roof and a frontage of 142 feet on Pennsylvania Street and depth of 42.5 feet. The interior of the first and second stories was finished in black walnut and the third and forth in pine. The iron work was done by Haugh & Company (coincidentally, related to the namesake Haughville), the stone masonry was completed by Henry Helm and Company. John Martin  did the brick work, Shover & Christian, the carpentry, plate glass and tiling. The Johnston Brothers put up the cornice and the plumbing was provided by Thomas Gibson & Co. of Cincinnati. Not including the land, the building cost $100,000 to build.

The first floor was subdivided into six store rooms, three on either side of the main stairway and the first tenants in those were: No. 1, merchant tailors, Treat & Eagan; No 2. gentlemen’s furnishing goods, Eddy & West; No. 3, Stitt & Watt, merchant tailors; No. 4, ladies furnishings, August Kuhn; No. 5, clothiers, Owen, Pixley & Co and No. 6, Fletcher & Sharpe, bankers. It didn’t take long for the renters of the 5th storeroom to start eating into the real estate of the other shops. Not a full year later, Owen, Pixley & Co. expanded into the space formerly used by Fletcher & Sharpe. By 1879, they occupied four of the six store rooms and by 1882, the whole first level was dedicated to the store, better known by then as “The When.”

Owen, Pixley & Co’s “When” also expanded into additional markets. The first few, in addition to Indianapolis, were in Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Greencastle and South Bend. By 1882, they were also in Lafayette, Indiana and over the border to Peoria, Bloomington and Danville, Illinois, as well as Lockport, New York. Their factory was located in Utica, New York at 1-9 John Street. “The When” existed for years, finally going out of business at the end of 1922. For the bargain hunters among us, it was a sale we wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

The Indiana Business College (later University) was also headquartered in the building for many years.

1897 advert of Indianapolis Business University housed inside the Bates Block

The building was sold to C.S. Ober in May 1946 who “modernized,” the building– stripping down and hiding some of its most noteworthy features. He rechristened it the Ober Building. It was demolished in 1995 for another parking garage.

Ober Building, circa 1976. Image: Indiana Architectural Foundation

Bates Block, 1970

The Bates Block/Ober Building in 1970 (IUPUI/Indiana Landmarks Slide Collection)

Bates Block, 1979

In 1979, after its 1940s remodeling. (IUPUI/Indiana Landmarks Slide Collection)