In February 1874, newspapers 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. In 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 what 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 in front of 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 fourth in pine. The iron work was completed by Haugh & Company, the  the namesake of Haughville. Henry Helm & Co. handled the stone masonry; 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 held six distinct 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. 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 not-to-be-missed sale.

The Indiana Business College (later University) 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 and he “modernized,” the building–others of us would call it “aesthetically wrecking”– stripping down and hiding some of its most noteworthy features. He rechristened it the Ober Building. With the gorgeous high Victorian era ornamentation long gone, it was demolished in 1995 for another banal 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)

9 responses to “Preservation Denied: Bates/ When Building”

  1. Mickey Williams says:

    My optometrist in the early 1950s had an office on the fourth or fifth floor of a building on the north side of East Market street, east of Penn. Whenever I got a new pair of glasses, the view out of the office window looked down on the mansard rooftop of the Ober Building. Not forgotten.

  2. David brewer says:

    I made the acquaintance of Mr. Ober some 30 years ago, while I was working down the street in the Majestic Building. He was kind enough to show me through his building, literally from the basement to the attic. He said that the basement had one of the first electric generators in the city in the late 1880s which powered electric lights within the mile square. The spectacular light court shown in your article was floored in for additional office space, with the top floor being given over to the heating/cooling system. I climbed up an attic stairway and walked around up there taking pictures. At either end, there were over life size plaster figures of three women. You could also see where the old cage elevator shafts had been, and there was still peeling Victorian-era wallpaper up there. Mr. Ober said that there was also a bowling alley in the building at one time. I believe that he also mentioned that, when the building was remodeled, one of the cage elevators was taken to his home and used as a playhouse for his children. Ober said that he had initially planned to buy the building in the late 1920s and tear it down for a new office building, but the stock market crash of 1929 nixed that. I have seen architect’s renderings of the building, and it would have been a spectacular art deco skyscraper.

  3. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Wow! What a story! Thanks for sharing. I’d love to see those pix you took!

  4. David brewer says:

    I haven’t been able to lay my hands on them for a while, having moved many, many times over the past thirty years. But, when I find them I will let you know!

  5. Malcolm Cairns says:

    What an amazing original structure, and what a sad tale of unfortunate remodeling and demise. There was a store in Muncie called the Why Store . I wonder if this was tongue in cheek rivalry to When Store. There may be a Who store somewhere in Indiana. The Why store seems to be the inspiration for the name of the band by the same name.

  6. Anonymous says:


  7. William claypool says:

    Hello, I’m trying to find the origin of the name of the tow of Claypool, IN. Post office was fictional from 1847. Any information, connections, or persons would be great. Thanks. William Claypool

  8. Liz agee says:

    Do you know the source for the stereograph of the Bates Building at the beginning of the article?

    It is similar in style to those done by Daniel R. Clark, a local photographer in the late 19th century who gained some prominence for his publication of “Asiatic and Tropical Views” — a group of stereographs taken during the 1874 Transit of Venus scientific expedition. He made a local career as a cabinet portrait photographer, occupying spaces in the Vance Block and Bates Block. Given his connection to Bates Block was curious if this is one of his stereographs!

  9. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Unfortunately, not sure about that.

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