Power Building, Cincinnati Ohio

Date added: January 16, 2023 Categories: Ohio Retail Industrial

The building was constructed in 1903 by the Power Building Company as a commercial venture established for the purpose of developing this building. The company went out of business shortly after its construction. It was purchased in 1904 by Anna Sinton Taft as a real estate investment. She was a member of the influential Taft family who was involved in state and national politics and who developed numerous downtown Cincinnati buildings by the 1920s. The building was designed for industrial use within which tenants rented space to produce a variety of manufactured or processed items. Early tenants included the Joseph Berning Printing Company and the American Book Company. Also included was Fechheimer Kiefer and Company, a company that was one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the American garment industry at that time. Shortly after its construction, the building housed a number of firms that specialized in clothing manufacturing, although the building did not exclusively cater to this type of industrial use. Throughout the years, the building continued to attract companies that manufactured clothing and leather goods. The last company to occupy space in the building, Polly Flinders, specialized in girl's dresses.

The Power Building derived its name from the technological process of generating electrical power for use within the building and for its tenants. Located in the basement is a 240 horsepower engine and a 150-kilowatt generator. Steam that was produced from coal-fired boilers was transferred to run a reciprocating engine. The mechanical energy of the reciprocating engine was then transferred to the generator which changed the mechanical energy into electrical energy. The Power Building was not unusual with respect to producing its own electrical power, however, the process was not widespread. Several other buildings in downtown Cincinnati have been identified as doing this as well. By 1903, two other buildings were built that also produced their own power. The earliest of these was the Butler Building which was constructed in 1898. It was demolished in 1947. The second was the Commercial Tribune Building which was constructed in 1902 and demolished in 1970. Both were industrial buildings. The Power Building is the oldest surviving building that made its own electricity.

Some developers of commercial buildings incorporated the aspect of producing their own electricity for two important reasons. First, it was felt that the local power company experienced too many disruptions in service which was of concern to building owners and tenants. Second, developers could use the ability of their building to generate power as an incentive to attract prospective tenants. The ability to secure reliable electrical power was important to manufacturing tenants.

The Power Building was not unique in its use of electrical power generation. Other major manufacturing cities had buildings that provided power to their tenants also. However, its use was not widespread in Cincinnati or other cities.

The building was designed by the Cincinnati architectural firm of Harry Hake and Partners in 1903. Mr. Hake designed this industrial building early in his career and it is one of his earliest buildings to be constructed in the central business district. This building is one architectural commission from a firm that, at that time, was establishing itself as an important designer of Cincinnati buildings. The building contributes to a variety of commissions that Hake's firm engaged in during the early part of the twentieth century. It was an important building for the firm because of its massive scale and height. Only a few other buildings in Cincinnati were constructed for industrial use that matched the Power Building in overall bulk in the early part of the twentieth century.

The Power Building is atypical of those designed by Harry Hake and Partners. Throughout the long history of the firm, no other industrial building of this scale has been documented. The firm did not design any other industrial buildings as tall or as large. Industrial buildings were a part of the firm's diverse architectural commissions, however, no other industrial design compares to the mass and scale of the Power Building. For example, the firm designed the following industrial buildings in the period from 1900 to 1908:

1901 Miller, DuBrul, Peters Mfg. Co. (demolished)
1903 Queen City Varnish Co. (demolished)
1904 Doscher Brothers Factory Building (demolished)
1908 Pfau Manufacturing Company

These buildings ranged from two to five floors in height and exhibited muted stylistic details. They were functional in design.

It is important to note that Hake undertook a number of architectural commissions in the period ca. 1900 to 1908. During this eight-year period, the firm designed the following buildings in Cincinnati:

Substations for the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company
Numerous multi-family residential buildings
Private residential buildings for wealthy clients
Stables
Retail Buildings
Warehouses
Numerous fire and police stations
Skyscraper buildings in the central business district included:
Andrews Building (1901) (demolished)
Havelin Hotel (1905) (demolished)
Provident Bank Building (1907)

Hake specialized in the use of classical and renaissance revival inspired architectural details during this period. Although other Cincinnati architects also used these styles, Hake executed his revival buildings with remarkable artistry, especially when applied to small-scale buildings such as the city's fire and police stations.

With the early success of the firm, they were able to attract two major clients that were to provide important commissions. The Cincinnati Telephone and Telegraph Company asked Hake to design a downtown skyscraper building in 1912. Also, the Western and Southern Life Insurance Company asked Hake to design their corporate headquarters in 1915.

Harry Hake was the founder of one of Cincinnati's more prolific architectural firms. Mr. Hake was born in 1871 and died in 1955. He was educated at the Ohio Mechanics Institute and Cincinnati Art Academy. His career began in 1889 when he worked as a draftsman for an established Cincinnati architectural firm. He formed his own firm in 1897. He was a strong supporter of local Republican politics and this benefitted his firm with a number of important local commissions, especially for the city of Cincinnati. These included various fire and police stations and a building at the University of Cincinnati. With his death, the firm continued under the leadership of his son Harry Hake II. In 1979, Harry Hake III sold the firm to Champlin/Haupt Architects who still count as clients several of the early twentieth century clients of Harry Hake including Cincinnati Bell Telephone (successors of Cincinnati Telephone and Telegraph Company) and the Western and Southern Life Insurance Company.

The architectural influence of Harry Hake cannot be understated. By the late 1920s, his firm had designed fifteen buildings in the central business district. Throughout the years, the Hake firm and its successors designed more than 500 buildings in Cincinnati and the midwest.

Building Description

The Power Building is a ten-story, stretcher bond brick, commercial-style building that exhibits minor Romanesque and Renaissance architectural motifs to accentuate the main facades. Built in 1903, it is located at the northwest corner of Sycamore and East Eighth Streets. The building is situated in the northeast section of Cincinnati's central business district in an area that from ca. 1880 to ca. 1915 developed as a location for various industrial activities. Today, the Power Building is found in close association to several other late nineteenth and early twentieth-century commercial buildings. Also found in close association to the building are several large surface parking lots.

This is a large, massive building that imparts a monumental presence. The construction materials include a steel frame and exterior brick walls. It is "L" in plan with the main facades having eight bays on the south elevation along East Eighth Street and seven bays along the Sycamore street east elevation. The "L" is tucked behind the building and has a three-bay by five-bay configuration.

The main facades of the building rise above a lower two-story base. The first floor is composed of numerous storefronts, all of which have experienced various degrees of alterations to the lower panels, display glass, and transoms. One significant element is the decorative treatment to the asymmetrically placed entry bay located at the west side of the East Eighth Street elevation. The entry is articulated with a two-story frontispiece highlighted by decorative sandstone surrounds that enframe the altered first-floor door and the three-part lighted transom at the second floor. Adding to the stylistic embellishment at the entry is a decorative nameplate that reads "The Power Building". At the second floor of the lower base windows are 1/1 double hung wooden sash. The base is separated from the interior bays by the use of a projecting Sandstone belt course. To further accentuate the base division from the interior floors, the piers exhibit decorative capitals.

On the interior seven floors, architectural details are limited and lack embellishment. The floors and window bays are enframed by pier and spandrel wall construction. Window bays are composed of three, 2/2 double-hung wooden windows with plain brick lintels and stone slip sills. Metal fire escapes have been added at an unknown date to the south, east, and north facades. The top floor is separated from the interior floors by a projecting sandstone belt course. Each top-floor window is composed of three, 2/2 wooden double sashes and capped with a segmental-arched brick lintel. Roof detail exhibits a plain metal projecting cornice and a low brick parapet. Historical research has determined that the present cornice is the third to be placed on the building. The original cornice was a plain continuous broad cove cornice, surmounted by the parapet, and was on the building until ca. 1950s. The second cornice was similar to the existing one and was supported by plain dentil brackets. This was replaced in ca. 1960s with the existing plain cornice treatment.

The north and west side facades are composed of plain common bond brick coursing, 2/2 wooden double-hung sashes and plain brick lintel and sill detailing. No significant architectural treatment is found on these minor facades. The roof is flat and is composed of a composition built-up material. The rooftop retains a water tank and a metal platform from which a second tank was removed.

An exterior fire suppression system was installed with the original construction and is still in place along each facade. The system was designed to provide a continuous curtain of water that flowed down the facade that originated at sprinkler heads at the top of each window. The system was never activated to suppress a fire from within the building or to retard a fire from spreading from an adjacent building into the Power Building.

The building has three retail spaces that exhibit decorative pressed metal ceilings. All retail spaces have been extensively altered over the years with a loss of original architectural details. Some drywall partitions have been added and ceilings have been lowered. The upper stories are composed of wood floors, plaster ceilings and walls, and some room partitions. Overall, the floor spaces are largely open in their configuration. Numerous riveted "I" beam columns rise to support the floor above.

Several modern elevators are a later addition that replaced original elevators. On the tenth floor, four large original skylights pierce the roof.