A hand-carved stone monument of a World War I Doughboy stands watch in our corporate lobby. He’s here to remind us of the carved-in-stone beginning of our company and the hard work, contributions, patriotism and leadership provided by three generations of Blakleys.
The Blakley Corporation traces its beginnings to 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 in 1898, moved it to East New York Street and incorporated it as The Blakley Granite Company in 1902, purchasing rough granite blocks and cutting and carving them with hammers and chisels.
From the beginning, our company had a keen eye for innovation. We were one of the first to use sandblasting for shaping, carving and lettering, and developed a new kind of “dope” (stenciling material to protect the granite during sandblasting). The Blakleys designed and built their own circular shot saw, operating their own polishing mill – even used the newfangled automobile as a marketing tool.
The end of the First World War was good for America and profitable for the young company, which created many memorials – among them, our Doughboy. The second generation of Blakleys, sons Earl “Tim” and John “Jack,” began to help their father. Tim left to attend DePauw and Purdue Universities. In 1937, at age 23, he found himself in charge upon Earl senior’s death. Jack soon graduated from Purdue and joined his brother.
With the outbreak of World War II, the two young men accepted commissions as U.S. Navy Captains, leaving the company (and mother) in the care of longtime employees Bill Walker and Garvin McCutheon. Expertise gained in years of sandblasting brought new work from the Defense Department, as employees sandblasted carloads of armor plate 23 hours a day, 7 days a week.
After V-J Day, the brothers returned. Local banker Felix McWhirter recognized their potential and arranged a meeting with Fran Wilhem of the F.A. Wilhelm Construction Company to talk about the future of construction. With what they learned, the brothers expanded into ceramic tile and marble installation as The Blakley Granite, Marble and Tile Company. Capitalizing on the popularity of automobiles and the fact that filling stations needed 64 square feet of tile per restroom, they targeted that market, as well as residential items such as marble window stools, flooring and wall tile.
In 1958, the brothers won a bid that attracted national attention and took the company to a new level. The marble and tile work at the new City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis provided a dramatic showcase for Blakley’s expertise. Prominent contractors and architects (including Frank Lloyd Wright) invited the brothers to participate in their projects.
In addition to developing new ways to use adhesives and thin-bed setting, the company added resilient flooring and tufted carpet to its product lines. Jack worked with Chuck Wuensch (a 52 year employee) to prepare bids and oversee work. Demand grew so strong that the brothers sent another employee into the South to recruit new tile mechanics, added warehouse space at 9th and Capitol, and brought Herb McKenzie in to manage operations.
About that time, the third generation of Blakleys joined the company. Tim’s sons Mike and Steve arrived first, although Mike soon left for a stint in the United States Air Force. Steve brought Blakley’s into the vinyl flooring market with a contract for a southside apartment complex, then left for Vietnam shortly before Mike returned.
Jack’s sons followed; John in 1968 after graduating from Purdue, and Jim after his 1973 graduation from Georgetown. With Mike as president, the four hard-working young men aggressively grew the small business into a large corporation. They built up their apartment business and expanded their work in commercial resilient flooring and carpeting. After Tim left to start a new business, the remaining three consolidated operations at a new facility on Harding Street. It wasn’t long before that facility proved inadequate, and moved to a new building complete with a showroom on 88th Street in the Castleton area in 1979.
The 1980s brought a rebirth in granite’s popularity, 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 1994 acquisition of F.E. Gates added concrete restoration and repair capabilities. The apartment business separated into new-apartment and replacement-carpet components, and a new-home division started. A second retail showroom opened in Carmel, and crowding in our headquarters triggered the construction of a new showroom at 88th and Hague. The healthy economic environment in Indianapolis continues to support the company’s growth.
The Blakley Corporation is now a global company, shopping and importing products worldwide to better serve customers. But our core values are the same ones that guided Earl Blakley over a century ago: hard work, integrity, commitment, top-quality people selling top-quality products.