Atlee Bernard Ayres, architect, was born in Hillsboro, Ohio, on July 12, 1873, the son of Nathan Tandy and Mary Parsons (Atlee) Ayres. The family moved to Texas, lived first in Houston, and then moved in 1888 to San Antonio, where Nathan Ayres for many years managed the Alamo Flats, a luxury apartment hotel. In 1890 Ayres went to New York to study at the Metropolitan School of Architecture, a subsidiary of Columbia University. There he won first prize in the school's annual design competition. His teachers included William Ware, a student of Richard Morris Hunt. Ayres took drawing lessons at the Art Students League at night and studied painting under Frank Vincent Dumont on Sundays. Upon his graduation from the school of architecture in 1894 he returned to San Antonio and worked for various architects. He subsequently moved to Mexico, where he practiced until 1900. That year he moved back to San Antonio and began a partnership with Charles A. Coughlin that lasted until Coughlin's death in 1905. Ayres designed the Halff house (1908) and a villa for Col. George W. Brackenridge (date unknown) that was later was torn down.
In 1924 Ayres formed a partnership with his son, Robert M. Ayres. During the 1920s and 1930s Atlee B. and Robert M. Ayres, as the firm was called, designed numerous residences in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, among them the Hogg house (1924), the Mannen house (1926), the Newton house (1927), and the Atkinson house (1928, now the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum). The firm was also adept in using other revival modes, including the Colonial Revival of the H. Lutcher Brown residence (1936) and the English Tudor of the Jesse Oppenheimer residence (1924).
In 1915 Ayres was state architect of Texas, a position that allowed him to design the Blind Institute (now the Texas School for the Blind), the Texas State Office Building, and other important public buildings. On the University of Texas campus he designed Carothers Dormitory and the original Pharmacy Building. He drew plans for courthouses in Kingsville, Alice, Refugio, Del Rio, and Brownsville. In San Antonio his firm helped design the exterior of the Municipal Auditorium (1923) and the Administration Building at Randolph Air Force Base (1931), known as the "Taj Mahal," with a tower that conceals a 500,000-gallon water tank. It also designed the thirty-story Smith-Young Tower (1929), the Plaza Hotel (1927), and the Federal Reserve Bank Building (1928) and remodeled the Menger Hotel (1949–53).
Ayres was the author of Mexican Architecture (1926). He was a charter member of the Texas Society of Architects and was one of three architects instrumental in securing passage of state legislation in 1937 for the licensing of architects to practice. He received license number 3. He married Olive Moss Cox in San Antonio in 1896, and the couple had two sons. After Mrs. Ayres's death in 1937 he married Katherine Cox, his second cousin, in 1940. Ayres was still practicing architecture when he died at the age of ninety-six on November 6, 1969, in San Antonio. He was buried in Mission Burial Park.