Archive for the ‘ohio’ Tag

Rust Belt, Cleveland

The Rust Belt is America’s industrial heartland, certainly not what it was back in the early-to-mid 20th century, but it remains the manufacturing belt of the United States. Geography had plenty to do with it, much of it having to do with coal making its way to the Great Lakes, paving the way for steel production, and easy access to commercial corridors. So rose the formerly great cities of the Rust Belt, Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Toledo, among others.

I’ve driven cross-country numerous times, and one of my favorite stops is Cleveland. It’s been maligned forever, with industrial decay, riots, Cuyahoga River fires, lousy sports teams, a neglected lakefront, Ariel Castro, among other things. Then there’s the great Cleveland Orchestra and lots of really amazing cultural attractions that manage to fly under the radar.

I particularly enjoy downtown and the industrial flats, with the winding Cuyahoga River going through all of it, and a myriad of functional bridges criss-crossing at all sorts of angles and all sorts of levels. This makes for one of the great industrial panoramas and a glimpse into the once-bustling city. Cleveland unfortunately has suffered from the massive population loss, it’s a rather empty 82 square miles, once densely populated with over 900,000 residents, now just under 400,000. The neighborhoods haven’t fared that well, with a few exceptions, there’s no longer cohesion between parts of town. Freeways have further isolated the neighborhoods, and sometimes split them in half. But parts remain beautiful, and there’s still a hint of that industrial heritage.

Detroit-Superior Bridge (1918) and Cleveland skyline

Detroit-Superior Bridge (1918) and Cleveland skyline

The still-active Cuyahoga River

The still-active Cuyahoga River

Cleveland's cathedral, walking along the flats under the bridge

Cleveland’s cathedral, walking along the flats under the bridge

Classic Tremont.

Classic Tremont.

Yup, Deer Hunter. St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral (1912).

Yup, Deer Hunter. St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral (1912).

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Roebling bridges

John and Washington Roebling, the father-son engineering duo, and best known for their Brooklyn Bridge in New York, finished in 1883. They also designed a number of bridges across the nation, here are a few of them.

Starting about 80 miles from New York, across a peaceful Delaware River, is the Delaware Aqueduct, also known as the Roebling Bridge (1849), which used to carry river traffic to relieve traffic on a crowded, busy river. Yes, it’s a suspension bridge, with the tops of the main cable visible at the ends of the bridge. While this once carried water and barges, it’s now been converted into a one-lane bridge. What’s seen today is mostly a remodeling job done by the National Park Service to restore it to its near-original appearance (minus the water).

Roebling Bridge and Delaware River

Roebling Bridge and Delaware River

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, WV, was the longest span in the world when completed in 1849, linking Wheeling Island with downtown Wheeling. While it has been rebuilt and strengthened over various periods, this is the oldest suspension bridge still in use in the U.S., although only able to handle a limited number of cars on the deck. The original structure was not by Roebling, he had proposed a more conservative structure, but ultimately the design went to Charles Ellet, Jr., who aimed big and designed a large, 1000 foot+ span. After the deck was destroyed during a windstorm in 1854, the bridge was rebuilt. The original deck apparently collapsed under similar circumstances as the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940, attributed to aerostatic flutter that led to the bridge vibrating at its natural resonance frequency. Washington Roebling designed the cables during a remodeling / reconstruction in 1870, and that’s more or less how the bridge has looked since then. The cable design should be familiar to anyone who’s seen a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge. This one is on a smaller scale, but still has an impressive 1010 foot center span, and a nifty asymmetry. The bridge deck level slopes downward in the center towards the level of the island. It’s a worthy part of the National Road (US 40), and one of America’s great unknown structures. The city of Wheeling is a shadow of its former self, but yet might come back.

Wheeling Suspension Bridge from downtown

Wheeling Suspension Bridge from downtown

Looking towards Wheeling Island

Looking towards Wheeling Island

Further downstream on the Ohio River is the Roebling Bridge that links Cincinnati, Ohio, with Covington, Kentucky, this one being the direct ancestor of the Brooklyn Bridge. Finished in 1866, it lacks the Gothic features of the Brooklyn Bridge, but has the signature cable pattern and rugged towers. This one out-spanned the Wheeling Bridge by a few feet, with a center span of 1057 feet. Depending on which way you look, the view of the bridge and the Cincinnati skyline today is little changed from 80 years ago. It was also notable that the construction of the span continued during the Civil War, for military purposes, but could be interpreted as a political move to connect a northern state with a state that did not formally secede from the Union, but had mixed views on slavery, balanced with practical concerns about trade and transportation.

And a view from the top of the Carew Tower

And a view from the top of the Carew Tower

Roebling Bridge, Cincinnati, tower detail

Roebling Bridge, Cincinnati, tower detail

Peoples’ Savings and Loan Association Bank, Sidney, OH

100 miles west of Newark is Louis Sullivan’s other Jewel Box bank in Ohio, the Peoples’ Savings and Loan Association Bank, facing the main square in downtown Sidney, OH. The building remains occupied by the bank that commissioned Sullivan to build the structure back in 1917, no small feat in these times. And unlike the Newark structure, this one is in fantastic condition, lovingly maintained inside and out. It was also one of Sullivan’s larger bank commissions, on a scale similar to his earliest bank in Owatonna, MN.

Front facade

This structure has a brick exterior, with terra cotta decorative elements, and unusual for a Sullivan building, has extensive use of mosaic on the main and side facades. The mosaics utilize a more restrained, controlled palette than in Newark, green on the side, and blue on the front. The front facade has a prominent ‘THRIFT’ spelled out in mosaic. The side facade follows that of Sullivan’s banks, with a row of stained glass windows that let in ample light. The decoration on the side facade is rich, in contrast to his Grinnell bank and lower-budget structures in Algona and West Lafayette.

Side facade

The interior is a successful integration of functional and decorative elements, most notably the air circulation and cooling system that is cleverly disguised in the corner metal and wood planters, as noted by Twombly and Mariscal in their book Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture. And like in Columbus, WI, the drinking fountain is a real work of art.

Detail, front entrance mosaic

Decoration, front entrance

The building is located on a prominent corner across from the courthouse / main square in Sidney, contrasting with the predominant Second Empire styled courthouse. These banks were not only places of business transactions, but they served as forums and meeting places for the citizenry, in contrast to the bank’s more transient role in a much larger city such as Chicago, and Sullivan certainly had this in mind when he designed the banks. He also consciously democratized the interior, emphasizing transparency and access. The safe is clearly visible and a balancing, symmetrical element, and offices for the bank president and other officers were easily accessible. Some of the banks even had waiting rooms where customers and citizens could interact (not in Sidney).

Last stop, Owatonna, MN.

Louis Sullivan’s Home Building Association, Newark, Ohio

The so-called Jewel Boxes are all late works of Louis Sullivan, who struggled to get commissions after the end of his partnership with Dankmar Adler in 1895. Between 1908 and 1919, he received eight commissions for small bank buildings, scattered over five states in the Midwest. All of them remain today, in varying states of repair. I had the chance to tour all of them recently, and will try to put together a few blog posts on the buildings.

His Home Association Building in Newark, Ohio, known as ” The Old Home”, was built between 1914-1915, and occupies a narrow, though prominent corner site opposite the town square and county courthouse. The building stands out as being quite unlike the other seven Jewel Box bank structures. Sullivan’s choice of materials was unusual, clad in gray terra-cotta, with liberal use of mosaic, in contrast to the red brick of his other designs. The pattern of decoration, however, is signature Sullivan, with his characteristic plant forms and blooming ornament, and the presence of the gryphon creatures that look over some of his other Jewel Boxes. The structure has been significantly modified over the years, with signs covering the two mosaics on the long south facade and on the smaller east facade, and a great deal of damage was done in the 1940s when a corner entrance was carved out of the south facade, destroying the symmetry of the south facade.

South facade, note the corner entrance.

East facade

The building has gone through its life as a bank, butcher shop, jewelry shop, ice cream parlor, and now is apparently a residence on the top floor and vacant at ground level. I went by it in July 2012 and noticed that the lights were on upstairs, though the ground floor windows were covered up. The mosaics are again visible, but there is noticeable damage to certain areas where signs had been once mounted. The mosaics have a color scheme that is almost psychedelic, integrated with Sullivan’s acanthus leaf motifs. The terra cotta panels are falling apart in places, and some of the steel is exposed and rusting. The stained glass windows on the second floor appear to be in good condition. I was not able to tour the interior, but old photographs show that it was a marble-clad banking hall with intricate stenciling and rich decoration.

East facade mosaic

Mosaic detail, note Sullivan’s name in there.

It’s a jewel in the rough; let’s hope the current owner is able to bring back some of its former glory before the building deteriorates further.