Abandoned hotel in Akron Ohio

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio
Date added: June 02, 2023 Categories: Ohio Hotel Georgian Revival
Detail of porte cochere and second-floor windows (1988)

The Portage Hotel, serving as the premier hotel for Akron during the rubber boom of the first third of the twentieth century, is significant as a key site in the formation and development of the United Rubber Workers of America.

Rubber made Akron, and rubber created the Portage Hotel and helped it prosper. By 1910, Akron boomed because of the rubber industry, but the city was without a decent hotel to host salesmen and executives traveling to town. A group of prominent businessmen, including three rubber company executives, formed a corporation to finance the Portage Hotel. Named for the nearby Indian portage trail, the hotel opened on July 11, 1912 attracting Akron's most prominent citizens. It served as the city's premier hotel hosting major social, industrial, and political events until the Art Deco Mayflower Hotel, 259 S. Main St. at the corner of State, opened in 1931.

As early as 1913, the hotel hosted the Ohio State Senate hearings on the International Workers of the World (I.W.W.) strike of rubber factories in the late winter of that year. The prolonged hearings investigating the causes of the strike were headed by Senator William Green, who would become a national labor leader. During the tumultuous rubber labor struggles in the 1930s, the Portage Hotel was known as the "labor hotel." The remodeled bar, titled the Rubber Room, served informally as the clearinghouse for strategy planning, where deals were struck for the union men. The Rubber Room embodied the spirit of Akron, fitted with rubber flooring, rubber tables, rubber booths, and rubber tractor tires for chandeliers. The rubber walls were covered with rubber mosaic murals depicting the rubber industry from rubber plantations to cars with rubber tires. In all, four tons of rubber were used. The room was dismantled in 1963 and replaced by a coffee shop. The room itself still exists within the plan of the hotel.

In 1935, the "council of unions" met in the Portage Hotel to begin the process of creating an international union specifically for rubber workers. The next year, during the first convention of rubber workers, the American Federation of Labor reluctantly gave them their own charter. On September 13, 1936, in the Portage Hotel ballroom, William Green, who had become the president of the A.F. of L., presented the charter creating the United Rubber Workers of America. A major strike the following year tested the strength of the fledgling URWA. During the tense negotiations through January and February, the union set up rooms in the Portage Hotel, while Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company officials occupied suites at the more elegant Mayflower Hotel. Local and national labor leaders such as John L. Lewis (CIO), Powers Hapgood (UMW), and Rose Pesotta (ILGWU) met with company officials in the smoke-filled rooms at the Portage where deals were hammered out.

Building Description

The Hotel Portage stands as the only Georgian Revival building in downtown Akron. Designed in 1911 by the Buffalo, New York firm of Esenwein & Johnson, the rectangular, eight story flat roofed building dominates the important intersection of Market and South Main Streets. Dark red, Flemish bond brick with limestone trim covers structural steel and reinforced concrete construction.

The building's tripartite arrangement begins with a smooth limestone first-floor base articulated by a series of round-arched storefront windows and entrances which combine to create an arcade-like effect. Five floors of brick surmount the base, delineating the middle section. The top of this section is punctuated with brickwork and limestone tiles forming diamond patterns between single windows and window pairs. A projecting limestone beltcourse separates the middle and top sections. The two-floor top section is distinguished by limestone Ionic pilasters between windows or window pairs (facade and south elevation), and is topped with a heavy projecting metal cornice featuring egg and dart molding and dentils.

The facade is also a three-part composition horizontally, with each section articulated by smooth, white quoins. The center entry bay projects slightly with massive metal supports for the once-canopied central entrance. Above the first floor, the 1/1 double-hung sash windows are arranged symmetrically with paired windows in the center and single windows on either side. The bays on either side of the center section reverse the window patterns with paired 1/1, two single 1/1, and a single 1/1 flanked by two narrow 1/1 windows under a round arch. The window pattern extends to the top two floors where it is separated by limestone pilasters finished with Ionic capitals to form eleven sections. Second-floor windows are round-arched, with a double row of brick headers punctuated with limestone keystones framing the blind (limestone) arch. Windows on floors three through six feature limestone lintels also with keystones in the center and on ends; windows on floors seven and eight have taller flat arches with limestone voussoirs and central keystones. A11 windows have limestone sills.

While the south elevation repeats the facade ornament, the north elevation is unadorned; a new painted advertisement occupies 2/3 of the seventh and eighth-floor space. The facade and south elevation design wraps nearly half way around the west (rear) elevation to the 1926 addition, but the ornament is more subtle with only simple limestone lintels above windows and no projecting beltcourse or cornice at the top two floors. A fire escape occupies the second right bay. Remnants of painted advertisement for the hotel remain at the cornice level reading "Cocktail Bar PORTAGE HOTEL Excellent Food."

The interior, while deteriorated, retains significant features. Two rows of massive Ionic columns dominate the central grand lobby. Retail space occupied the areas south of the lobby and a ballroom filled the northwest corner of the first floor. Originally a bar operated in the northeast corner, remodeled into the Rubber Room in 1933, and remade into a coffee shop in 1963. The guest rooms on the floors above form a horseshoe around a center light court.

The Portage was constructed at a cost of $700,000.00, with furnishings totaling an additional $125,000.00. Of the 250 rooms available, 150 had full baths, with the remaining 100 having hot and cold water. Seating capacities ranged from 275 in the Banquet Room to 125 in the restaurant and 50 in the grill room. With interior partitions of gypsum tile, the reinforced concrete brick-faced Portage was among the earlier Akron examples of buildings classified as "fire-proof." The Portage occupies the site of two previous hotels: The Ohio Exchange and The Empire Hotel.

The exterior has seen few changes over the years. In 1926, Esenwein and Johnson also designed an addition (Noah and Frank, Associated Architects were the local associates for the addition), enclosing the light court to expand the number of rooms. Built on top of the ballroom in the northwest corner, the addition is only visible from the back of the building. More recently, the first-floor windows, still intact, have been covered and the light fixtures between the arches were removed. Adjoining buildings on Main Street still maintain a sense of continuity on the primary elevation. The buildings behind the hotel have been razed, giving the hotel added prominence on the Akron skyline.

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Front and South Facade looking North (1988)
Front and South Facade looking North (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Front Facade looking West (1988)
Front Facade looking West (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Front and north Facade looking South (1988)
Front and north Facade looking South (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Rear and South Facade looking East (1988)
Rear and South Facade looking East (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Rear and North Facade looking East (1988)
Rear and North Facade looking East (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Rear looking East up Market Street (1988)
Rear looking East up Market Street (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Detail of center projecting bay cornice (1988)
Detail of center projecting bay cornice (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Detail of limestone tile work and center bay quoins (1988)
Detail of limestone tile work and center bay quoins (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Detail of porte cochere and second-floor windows (1988)
Detail of porte cochere and second-floor windows (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Detail of second-floor windows (1988)
Detail of second-floor windows (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Detail of lobby window (1988)
Detail of lobby window (1988)

Portage Hotel, Akron Ohio Detail of lobby (1988)
Detail of lobby (1988)