A history – and a reputation – carved in stone
Visitors to our corporate office are surprised when they encounter the World War I Doughboy in our lobby. A timeless, hand-carved stone monument to American sacrifice, he stands guard to remind us of the values that have been at the heart of Blakley’s since 1898: hard work, integrity, commitment, and top-quality people selling top-quality products.
Our history begins in 1895, when Earl Blakley went to work carving cemetery markers and memorials for the Cooperative Granite Company on Union Street in Indianapolis. Earl bought the company three years later, moved it to East New York Street, and incorporated it as The Blakley Granite Company in 1902. He purchased rough granite blocks and used hammers and chisels to cut, carve, and shape them.
Earl was always an innovator, and his company became one of the first users of sandblasting for shaping, carving and lettering. The company developed a new kind of stenciling “dope” to protect granite during sandblasting, designed and built a circular shot saw, operated a polishing mill, and even put one of those newfangled automobiles to work as a marketing tool.
As World War I ended, the company commemorated America’s sacrifice with many memorials, including our Doughboy. Sons Earl “Tim” and John “Jack” Blakley joined the family business. Tim took a break to attend DePauw and Purdue, but returned to run the company in 1937 when Earl died. Jack graduated from Purdue and joined his brother.
The company grew, but the world again needed America’s help, and Tim and Jack accepted commissions as U.S. Navy Captains early in World War II. Longtime employees Bill Walker and Garvin McCutheon took over operations, and the company’s sandblasting expertise brought contracts from the Defense Department, as employees sandblasted carloads of armor plate 23 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Soon after V-J Day, Tim and Jack returned to Indianapolis, where they impressed banker Felix McWhirter. He arranged a meeting with Fran Wilhelm of the F.A. Wilhelm Construction Company to discuss the future of construction, and Blakley’s soon expanded into ceramic tile and marble installation. The renamed Blakley Granite, Marble and Tile Company capitalized on the growing popularity of automobiles and the recognition that each filling-station restroom needed 64 square feet of tile. They captured that market, along with new residential styles such as marble window stools, flooring and wall tile.
A 1958 project brought the company national attention. The marble and tile work at the new City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis provided a dramatic showcase for Blakley’s expertise, and prominent contractors and architects (among them Frank Lloyd Wright) invited the brothers to participate in projects.
In addition to developing new ways to use adhesives and thin-bed setting, Blakley’s added resilient flooring and tufted carpet to its product lines. While 52-year employee Chuck Wuensch prepared bids and oversaw the resulting work, Tim and Jack sent an employee into the South to recruit new tile mechanics. They also added warehouse space at 9th and Capitol, and brought Herb McKenzie in to manage operations.
Soon, the third generation of Blakleys joined the company. Tim’s sons, Mike and Steve, arrived first, although Mike soon left to serve in the Air Force. After Steve brought Blakley’s into the vinyl flooring market with a contract for a southside apartment complex, he left for Vietnam. In 1968, Jack’s son, John, arrived after graduating from Purdue, and his other son, Jim, joined the company after his 1973 graduation from Georgetown. The four young men, with Mike as president, began an aggressive effort to grow the small business into a large corporation. They expanded the multi-family business and added work in commercial resilient flooring and carpeting. Tim left to start a new business, and the remaining three consolidated operations at a new facility on Harding Street. It wasn’t long before that facility proved inadequate, and 1979 saw a move to a new building complete with a showroom on 88th Street in the growing Castleton area.
The third-generation team that began with two sets of two brothers ran the company from 1973 until Jim’s retirement in 2014. The four-decade-plus tenure provided stability as the industry experienced significant changes. Granite’s popularity rebounded in the 1980s, and Blakley’s responded with a new architectural wall division that provided cladding for office buildings as far away as Arizona, Florida, and New Jersey. Today, this division provides complete exterior building envelopes, including aluminum curtain wall, glass, granite, and aluminum panels. The company expanded into concrete restoration and repair with the 1994 acquisition of F.E. Gates. The multi-family apartment business separated into new-apartment and replacement-carpet components, and the company started a new-home division. Reflecting central Indiana’s healthy economy, Blakley’s opened a second retail showroom in Carmel and moved our primary showroom from our headquarters to a new facility at 88th and Hague.
As 2015 dawned, the company moved into its next generation, as John’s son Jack and Jim’s son Jeff joined with John to create the fourth generation of Blakley family ownership. Today, the company’s day-to-day operations are overseen by Bill Sullivan, CEO. Under his leadership, operations have been streamlined into strategic business segments: CFS (Commercial Flooring Services), CMS (Concrete & Masonry Services), and AWS (Architectural Wall Systems), CHS ( Community Housing Services ), NHF (New Homes Flooring), improving internal collaboration and responsiveness to customer needs.
Twelve decades after Earl Blakley’s work began, The Blakley Corporation has grown into a global concern, shopping and importing products worldwide to better serve customers. Yet we continue to be guided by the values that mattered to our founder: hard work, integrity, commitment, and top-quality people selling top-quality products.
*Image credit: Timeline photo of City County Building: “Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society”