Park Building, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: December 5, 2022 Categories: Ohio Commercial Office

The Park Building is a large, prominently sited and highly intact example of the style and form of commercial buildings that were being erected in the larger cities of the United States in the years shortly following the turn of the century. The building utilizes steel frame construction and features a symmetrical exterior clad in brick with cast stone trim. Stylistically, the building has elements of Neoclassical and Tudor Revival forms that relate to Chicago skyscrapers of an earlier decade. Its restrained exterior is a sharp departure from the buildings of downtown Cleveland erected around this same time and reflects the desire of the building's developers to achieve a highly functional building that provided a large amount of light and display window area. Its design by Cleveland architect Frank S. Barnum is sophisticated, yet largely devoid of historical imagery that helped to shape the exteriors of his other commercial buildings, such as the Caxton Building, built just one year earlier, which features a massive cornice and robust yet intricate entrance portal. It is the tallest and most prominent commercial building designed by this important Cleveland architect.

Frank Seymour Barnum (1851-1927) was a prominent Cleveland architect who began his career as a draftsman for Cleveland architect Joseph Ireland, designer of some of the finest late nineteenth-century residences along Euclid Avenue's famed Millionaires' Row. While in the office he met Forrest A. Coburn and the two went into practice together under the name Coburn & Barnum in 1878. During their twenty-year practice together, ending with Coburn's death in 1897, the firm planned some of the city's most distinguished buildings, including the Furniture Block and the Blackstone Block, the latter an example of fire-resistant mill construction that featured a four-story interior light court. The firm designed numerous churches, including Euclid Avenue Congregational, and residences for George Howe, William J. Morgan, and the Washington Lawrence House in Bay Village, since transformed into condominiums. They also designed the Olney Art Gallery on West 14th Street and the former home of the Western Reserve Historical Society. During its final year, the firm became known as Coburn, Barnum, Hubbell & Benes, in recognition of two talented younger members of the firm who, after Coburn's death went on to form their own highly successful practice which included the design of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

In 1895 Barnum was appointed consulting architect to the Cleveland Board of Education, a post he held until his retirement in 1915. Under Barnum's leadership, the finest schools in the city's history were designed, according to Cleveland Landmarks Commission Executive Secretary Robert D. Keiser. These include Collinwood School, Doan School, Gilbert School, Fruitland School and many others. In 1899 Barnum designed a six story building on West 6th Street for Hart & Company, a building that has been converted to loft apartments and known today as the Hat Factory. Like the Park Building, it is a simple yet powerful expression of the Commercial Style. In 1901 Barnum designed the Caxton Building for Ambrose Swasey. It is an eight-story building located on Huron Road and which was completed in 1903 as a steel-framed building housing commercial printing and graphic arts trades. This building, with its elaborate entrance portal and elegant terra cotta trim, is an excellent example of the Chicago Style.

The Park Building is one of two large commercial buildings in the downtown area designed by Barnum. It was also said to be one of the first buildings in Cleveland to utilize reinforced concrete for floors. The system was known as Roebling steel cable system of floor reinforcing. Previously, hollow tile had been laid up with formwork to form flooring for fireproof office construction. The concrete allowed thinner floor slabs that could be more quickly laid up. This building also effectively utilizes cast stone sparingly as a trim material. The motif of thin vertical elements at the top floor of the Park Building was also used by Barnum to accent wings on Harvard and Hodge public schools in Cleveland. This period marked the height of Barnum's career in his independent practice, when he received his most prestigious commissions and a time when he also took part in the discussions leading to the development of Cleveland's renowned Group Plan. Barnum retired from the firm in 1915 and moved to Florida, where he died in 1927. He was a talented professional architect who played an important role in shaping the city's future. He is in the ranks of local firms such as Hubbell & Benes, Lehman & Schmidt, J. Milton Dyer, Knox & Elliott and Walker & Weeks in terms of his impact on the city's built environment. While these other architects' careers were just beginning to bloom at the turn of the century, Barnum was at the high point of his career and, with the exception of some notable school commissions, was not to design buildings of this importance again.

The building had been described as being "eight floors and possibly higher". A typical late nineteenth-century commercial block would have several main stories and then an attic space formed by a slightly sloping roof draining toward the rear. The Park Building makes use of the "attic level" for offices by means of a low ninth-floor ceiling that slopes inward toward its center to provide for roof drainage. This innovation was perhaps facilitated by the use of reinforced concrete for the structure, eliminating the need for wood trusses that would have interfered with space inside the top floor. An elaborate cornice atop the Park Building would also have interfered with lighting the interior, as large windows would have been difficult to work into the design. By simplifying the cornice, the architects were able to gain additional usable floor space complete with adequately sized windows.

The building was erected for the Park Investment Company, formed by Truman M. Swetland, manager of the Swetland Candy Company. His company had previously operated out of a cramped storefront on this site and took a prominent storefront space when the building was completed. He was joined in the enterprise of erecting this building by R. H. & A. H. Swetland, J. G. W. Cowles and Hector Pennington.

The Swetland family were prominent in developing downtown Cleveland after the turn of the century. In 1912 they erected the Swetland Building, a tall commercial block at 1010 Euclid Avenue, just east of East 9th Street. Next door, to the east, the family erected the Truman Building in 1921, named for Truman M. Swetland. They also erected the Frederick Building on East 4th Street in 1912. These buildings are all standing in downtown Cleveland and are in good condition. The Park Building remains under the ownership of the Swetland interests, who maintain offices for the building in their original location, in the western end of the ninth floor. Its office tenancy featured transportation companies for many years. For example, in the mid 1920s the following had local headquarters in the building: The Minneapolis and St. Louis, the Lehigh Valley, the Missouri Pacific, the Wabash, the Illinois Central and the Delaware Lackawanna and Western. Later railroad offices included Central of New Jersey, the Pullman Company and the Reading Railroad.

Building Description

The Park Building is a nine-story rectangular office building with a flat roof that stands on the southeast corner of Ontario Avenue and Public Square in Cleveland, Ohio. It has a 116-foot frontage along Public Square, facing north, and extends from Ontario Avenue on the west to an alley known as East 1st Place (formerly Farnam Alley) on its eastern end. This narrow alley separates the building from its neighbor to the east, the twelve-story former May Company building. The building has a depth along Ontario Avenue of forty-two feet and extends south from Public Square to the Southworth Building, a four-story building that predates the Park Building. The Park Building's two principal elevations are faced in pressed brown brick with cast stone trim. Stylistically, the building is an example of turn of the century Commercial Style architecture, with horizontal string courses and storefront entablature and pilasters that recall the Neo-Classical style and bay windows that recall Chicago-style commercial buildings of the late nineteenth century. Its historic entrance pediment, removed some years ago, was an element relating to Sullivanesque architecture.

The building's site is generally level, although it is located along a minor beach ridge, with the ground sloping off gradually to the north and south and being basically level from east to west. The Park Building faces onto Cleveland's Public Square, a tract of land roughly ten acres in size, and which is divided by Ontario and Superior avenues into four quadrants. Public Square marks the center of Cleveland and is bordered by three of the state's tallest buildings: The historic Terminal Tower at its southwest corner, the recently completed Society Center tower at the northeast corner of the square and the BP America Building along the eastern side of Public Square. Other prominent buildings border onto Public Square, such as Old Stone Church, dating from 1853-57 and designed by Heard & Porter and whose interior was designed by Charles Schweinfurth after a fire in 1884, and the Society for Savings Building, built in 1890 from designs by Burnham & Root and rebuilt in 1991. The Park Building is adjacent to the May Company Building, built in 1903 from designs by D. H. Burnham & Company and enlarged in 1912 and 1931. Located in the center of the southeast quadrant of the square is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, completed in 1894 from designs by Levi Scofield. Standing across from the Park Building and facing onto Ontario Avenue is the former Higbee Company Building, now home to Dillards Department Store, built in 1931-32 from designs by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, designers of the nearby Terminal Tower. Adjoining the Park Building on its southern side is the Southworth Building, a four-story Italianate-style commercial block dating from 1889 whose facade was probably refaced as part of a 1936 renovation.

The Park Building has two principal elevations. Its front elevation faces onto Public Sq. and is one hundred sixteen feet long. Its west elevation faces onto Ontario Avenue and is forty-two feet long. The east elevation faces onto a narrow alley and is finished in common brick. It contains a metal fire escape, added sometime after the building was completed, plus window openings. The south elevation adjoins the Southworth Building and only floors six through nine are exposed. These are also finished in common brick and feature a series of regularly spaced double-hung windows with wire glass. Above the first floor, the Park Building has an irregular south elevation. Projecting sections at the east and west ends span the full forty-two foot width of the lot, but then the building steps back to form air shafts on either side of these wings. In the center of the building is a broad wing that contains the elevators and restrooms and it extends back to the lot line. Thus, the building has the form of an E at its roof level. An elevator penthouse rises above the center of the south elevation and is finished off in painted stucco and has a small cornice at its top.

The two principal elevations are finished in pressed brown brick with buff-colored cast stone trim. The first floor is set at grade level and features a series of storefronts on these two elevations. There are eight storefronts along Public Square, corresponding to the bays of windows on the upper floors. The west elevation has two storefronts. These storefronts are capped by a bronze entablature that extends around the building's two principal elevations. Separating each bay is a thin bronze pilaster capped by a Corinthian capital. The entablature's frieze contains glass panels over each storefront that were intended for sign displays. Each storefront has a recessed entry, a transom area, display windows, and bulkheads at ground level, In the center of the north elevation is the main entrance to the building. It is a fairly broad entry, corresponding in width to the flanking storefronts, and featuring elaborate sets of brass-and-glass doors, which are recessed. Its walls are lined with richly veined marble panels.

The second and third floors feature a series of slightly projecting semi-octagonal bay windows, each featuring a broad center window flanked by narrower windows set at angles to the main lines of the building. The end bays feature a pair of windows set flush with the wall surface. Spandrel areas between the second and third floors are faced with metal and feature decorative rivet-like elements arranged in geometric form. The narrow west elevation has a single projecting bay window flanked by large single windows. Above the third floor, the floor heights decrease and the windows become smaller. Horizontal rows of evenly spaced double-bung windows take the place of the bay windows on these upper floors. The end bays project very slightly and feature pairs of windows on the north elevation. The west elevation has rows of evenly spaced windows on its upper floors. The windows throughout these elevations have oriel-type sash, with the bottom unit square in size and the upper unit rectangular. The top floor is articulated as a broad horizontal frieze by means of thin string and cap courses and a series of vertical elements extending up from the base of the top floor to form a series of small spires that correspond to the rhythm of the bays below. It forms a simple yet effective visual climax to the building. The top floor is lower in height than the others and this is reflected by its small windows. The corner bays have groupings of three small windows whose upper sash are circular. These end bay windows, as well as the other top floor openings, are trimmed in cast stone. The only other cast stone trim used on the principal elevations is to form sills beneath each window and to form stringcourses at the base of the second and fourth floors.

Alterations to the exterior include the loss of an arched pediment over the main entry that extended up into the second floor and featured an ocular opening in its center. The drawings indicate this as a free-standing element made from terra cotta. It was removed in 1929. The windows have been replaced in more recent years with evenly divided double-hung units. The top-floor windows are aluminum casement units. What is indicated on the original drawings as terra cotta trim on the top floor and which was actually built with cast stone has apparently been replaced with cut limestone trim. In addition, the northwest corner has been partially rebuilt in recent years, resulting in the loss of some of its trim material. Some of the final elements atop the building are missing. Storefronts have been rearranged over the years. The transom areas have become large sign areas and some entrances have been relocated. The configuration of storefront entrances has apparently changed over the years, as the original plans show, for example, the storefront to the right of the main entrance having its access from the main hallway. It is possible that the bronze frieze and trim elements date from the 1929 entrance remodeling. During the course of this work, the entrance was apparently changed and the doors are now closer to the street than they were originally. The initial deep recess allowed for a set of steps to lead directly from the street into a former restaurant space that originally occupied the entire basement.

The main entry leads to a broad hall that terminates before a pair of elevators. To the right is an open stairway that extends up to the top floor. It has ornate cast metal newel posts and metal strapwork railings. The walls of the lobby are polished marble with elaborate veining and trim elements. The doors are in polished brass. Except for the lobby, the first floor is divided into storefront spaces, whose interiors have been adapted apparently many times to various retail uses. Elevators were originally three open cage-like devices but were replaced in the 1950s with two modern automatic elevators. A slightly different color of marble surrounding the elevators in the lobby indicates this change. Hallways on the upper floors all feature original oak trim. Doors to the various office spaces are framed in oak, feature glass transoms above and have oak doors, some of which are still glazed, but others have had oak plywood inserts added, apparently for privacy. An unusual wood feature strip appears over the doorways and extends along the hallways on each floor. This was used for electrical wiring and can be accessed by unscrewing the oak facing. Hall floors are terrazzo, laid in a simple yet elegant pattern. Each upper-floor hall passes by the elevators and the open stairway to the right of the elevators. There is also a restroom flanking the elevators on the left. The halls extend east and west, some stopping short of the ends of the building and others continuing to the last bay. The second-floor hallway is broader than that on the third floor. The stairway also reconfigures itself as it extends up through the building. The first floor has a thirteen-foot ceiling, the second and third floors are twelve feet high and the upper floors are ten feet, except the top floor, which is nine feet high. This necessitates a different stairway arrangement at these levels to provide space for additional or fewer steps. Offices are divided by partitions into spaces that correspond to the nine-bay rhythm established on the exterior. This also, according to the drawings, relates to the column spacing in the fireproof structure of this steel frame building. Offices have oak woodwork and feature plaster walls and ceilings.

The ninth floor varies from the other floors in its ceiling height and window size. Its ceiling is not level but corresponds to the roof above, which is sloped slightly to provide for drainage. It also has a series of fairly deep beams that are covered by plaster. On the ninth floor are the offices of the building, occupying the same location since the building was completed ninety years ago. The northwest corner office suite consists of an elaborate corner office facing northwest which features oak wainscoting and woodwork. The entry to the office area has a counter faced with elaborate marble panels. Behind the corner office is a board room that faces southwest and features leaded opaque glass panels and oak wainscoting. In this suite of offices are a number of framed historic photographs and plans of the building.

The interior has a fairly high degree of integrity. Most ceilings are the original height and have the historic sand plaster finishes. There are few dropped ceilings present. Lighting has been changed and consists of ceiling-mounted fluorescent fixtures in most spaces. The first floor has undergone change in the storefront interiors but the main entry has its historic appearance. The basement once contained an elaborate luncheonette/restaurant, but this has been removed.