Saturday, November 25, 2017

Prominent Architect Designed Emerson Avenue Duplexes--1944

After Butler moved away from Irvington in 1929, many people began to wonder what would become of the abandoned campus structures and 30 acres. Throughout the 1930s, the college tore down most of the original university buildings. There was talk of donating the land for an Indianapolis high school and some people wanted the area to become a park. Neither idea materialized and eventually the acreage was sold for redevelopment. Beginning in the early 1940s, Meridian Construction Company began building small cottages along Ohmer and Butler Avenues in what became known as the Campus Terrace Addition. The builders worked around some of the huge trees planted by the college although some of the groves vanished with the extension of University Avenue to Emerson Avenue.

In 1944, the Meridian Construction Company partnered with architect, Leslie F. Ayres, to design fourteen brick duplexes facing South Emerson Avenue. Still a young man at 38 years old, Ayres had already designed many impressive homes and commercial buildings throughout the country. He specialized in Tudor-Revivals early in his career, but by the late 1930s and early 1940s he had embraced the Art Moderne style.  The Wilkinson Home in Muncie, Indiana represents the peak of his his design during the Art Moderne period.  He also drafted "modernized" colonial revival homes which is what he termed the Emerson Avenue structures. Most of his incredible work still exists today along streets like Washington Boulevard on the north side of Indianapolis. He also designed the very beautiful Harry Moore Chapel along East Michigan Street. Beginning in the 1930s, Ayres was awarded the prestigious honor of being the architect of several Indianapolis Home Show residences. These dwellings were constructed at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and then often times reconstructed in various neighborhoods in northern Indianapolis. His untimely death of heart disease when he was only 45 robbed the world of an amazing architect.

Today, most east side residents of Indianapolis drive by the line of unusual doubles and do not know that these residences were designed by a brilliant architectural star. Mr. Ayres was also an accomplished artist and his work was exhibited by the Hoosier Art Salon. One of his early mentors happened to be his art teacher, Frederick Polly, an instructor at Arsenal Tech High School and resident of Irvington.

On September 8, 1944, the Indianapolis News featured the duplex at 251-253 South Emerson Avenue. The unnamed author described each of the rooms beginning with the living room with its long windows and tan-striped wall paper. The dining room sat in an alcove and the L-shaped kitchen featured two rows of white-painted cabinetry. Two bedrooms upstairs had "generous" closets with another closet in the hallway. The bathroom, also located upstairs, boasted a recessed tub and a "Venetian Mirrored" medicine cabinet. The double opened on to a large uncovered terrace. Hundreds of residents moved in and out of the 28 units over the years including former Indiana House of Representative, Dan Burton.

251-253 South Emerson Avenue under construction in the autumn of 1944 (Indianapolis News, September 8, 1944, 25)

217-219 South Emerson Avenue in 1948 can be seen behind Alfred Moffitt, who dwelled at 218 South Emerson Avenue (photo courtesy of the Moffitt family via

Duplexes in the 200 block of South Emerson Avenue in 2017

Duplexes in the 200 block of South Emerson Avenue in 2017

Leslie Ayres (1906-1952), a brilliant architect, designed many homes and structures in Indianapolis. (photo courtesy of Ball State Digital Archives) 

Leslie Ayres designed this residence for the 1941 Indianapolis Home Show

Leslie Ayres designed this home for the 1940 Indianapolis Home Show. 

The Wilkinson House in Muncie, Indiana was designed by Leslie Ayres. (photo courtesy of Indiana Landmarks)
"1941 Home," Indianapolis News, April 18, 1944, 37.
"Campus Terrace Addition," Indianapolis News, September 8, 1944, 25.
Lucile Morehouse, "Drawings of Historical Interest," Indianapolis Star, August 25, 1946, 53.
Obituary for Leslie Ayres, Indianapolis Star, September 7, 1952, 21.

To see some of Leslie Ayres beautiful renderings click on the Ball State digital site below:

Leslie Ayres


  1. Very interesting ... I had no idea about the history of these homes

  2. Modernized colonial revival, who knew?Yes, that's interesting. Wilkinson house is very cool. Sounds like he was the elite architectural renderer in town as well, according to Wikipedia.