The Fair at 311 W. Washington Street

Updated: Jun 15

A few more in-depth projects are in the works for future posts (such as the Marion County Poor Farm and the corruption of Dr. Isaac Coe), but in the meantime, I decided to take a brief look at the history behind a downtown building. Specifically, the building where I work, 311 West Washington Street.

The building features a white terra cotta façade and is three stories tall. A series of 9 pillars are set in between the second and third stories. While no indication of its name exists on the outside, the building is generally known as The Fair, the name of the department store which previously occupied the building. In fact, in the lobby on the first floor are historic photos of both 311 W. Washington, and the building to the east, known as the Old Trails building, both of which are currently owned by the same company.

The Fair was originally constructed in 1920, and was the second location of the Fair store, which was previously located at 417-425 West Washington Street, and focused solely on men's clothing, before expanding to al members of the family in 1908. The store was owned by the Traugott brothers, Louis, Ed, and Leo, who operated their store under the name "Traugott Bros." Following World War I, the Traugott Brothers expanded their business, and constructed a new building a block east at 311 W. Washington St. Previously, the site of the new Fair had been a boarding house, a livery, and a saloon, the latter of which had a history of illegal activities. Newspaper reports from the early 1900’s indicated that the Armitage Brothers Saloon was located at the site, and was often the target of police raids, primarily for gambling.


The Fair building was completed in the early fall of 1920, and its grand opening was September 6, 1920. The Traugott Brothers celebrated the occasion with huge advertisements in all the local newspapers, and a one-day sale where everything was 20% off. The new building was described as being made of reinforced concrete with a glass ceiling which helped reduce electrical costs during the day, and allowed items to be displayed in the daylight. The white terra cotta façade, still in place today, was a feature and the windows had decorative metal work.


From the description, it suggests the building had one floor, with a open space in the middle, topped with the a glass roof. The interior was described as a ‘courtyard.’ The renderings in local newspapers, and an image from the Indiana Historical Society, below, suggest there was more than one floor. (Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society and Indianapolis Times, September 6, 1920)


However, in 1923, only three years after the ‘new’ Fair building had been completed, the Traugott Brothers embarked upon an expansion of the building. As described in the Indianapolis Star on December 1, 1922, the expansion included two parts including a three story addition on the westside of the building (in the Baist map below, the expansion is identified by the dotted line on the left side of the 'Fair' name), and the addition of two stories “to cover the rear of the present structure.” This would expand the building from 17,180 square feet, to 57,123 square feet. This description, and the square footage, leads me to believe that the original 1920 structure’s first floor stretched to the back of the lot adjoining an alleyway, as it does today (the alley the back is actually the old Pearl Street).

Indianapolis architecture Fair Building Washington Street
Fair Building, 1949. Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

It is possible that the second and third floor portion in the 1920 building only expanded halfway to the back of the lot (note the “to cover the rear of the present structure” quote above), leaving the rest of the first floor without any stories above. Using the square footage tool on IndianaMAP using the amounts provided by the Star, seems to confirm this. The Indiana Construction Recorder (published 9/30/1922) described the project as a "two story top addition to present building," in addition to the westside expansion.


Lastly, the December 1 Star article and the Construction Recorder both note that high speed passenger elevators would also be installed. The elevator shaft for the building is actually located just beyond the halfway point in the depth of the building, and outside the original three-story portion of the structure. I would guess that the 1920 version of the Fair had a stairwell which allowed access to the second and third floors on the front half of the building. However, it isn’t clear where that would be today, as the only staircase present today is located behind the elevators. (Note: If anyone has images from the inside of the Fair when it was a store, please let me know)

Baist Map Fair Department Store Indianapolis
Fair Store on 1927 Baist Map. Credit: IUPUI Baist and Sanborn Collection

The Fair Store continued to operate until the late 1940’s. In October of 1949, the State of Indiana leased parts of the building for use as state offices (The Bass photo of the Fair above is identified as 1949, perhaps before the Fair ceased operations). The October 8, 1949 Indianapolis News reported that the state had taken a four-year lease from the Traugott Bros., Inc., the corporate entity of the former operators of The Fair who still owned the building. The cost of the lease was $130,000. The initial tenants in the building were the Department of Conservation, which was moved from the State Library building, and would occupy the first two floors of the building. Other offices in the building would be used by the state highway engineering section, and various other state boards. The state Democratic Committee had offices in the building from the 1960's until 1982, as did a series of engineering firms and advocacy groups.


Today the Fair still houses state offices, along with a few private businesses, and the landlord’s offices. The white terra cotta façade is still in place, although the display windows on the first floor are gone, replaced with a metal façade, and office windows. Also gone are the metal decorative features which were on the second and third floor windows. Lastly, the Fair signs, which had been on the front of the building, and which had stood on the roof, are long gone.


One more thing about the Fair. A maintenance staircase allows access to the roof and the elevator machinery. On the wall of the machine room at the top of the elevator shaft was a small plaster patch, with the following inscription. I haven’t been able to find any information about this person.



Sources


Indianapolis News: March 27, 1911, September 6, 1920, September 23, 1923, October 8, 1949, July 1, 1982, March 6, 1984


Indianapolis Star: September 6, 1920, September 4, 1923, December 1, 1922, December 31, 1947


Indianapolis Times: September 6, 1920


Fair Store, 1920, Indiana Historical Society,

https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/1231/rec/11


Fair Building, 1949 (Bass#274291F), Indiana Historical Society, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/3089/rec/14


Indiana Construction Recorder, September 9, 1922, https://indianamemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16066coll66/id/7026/rec/2

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