Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Tale of the Traveling Facades

Rephotography with a twist.

The Lafee Building (the exuberant facade to the right) and Clegg's Hall stood on the south side of Third Street between Main and Jefferson. These buildings, together with their neighbors, created a visually interesting street wall on Third, wich in the 19th century was as much a main street as Main itself as it led to the canal landing. The Lafee Building dated to the 1870s.

The arrow points to a fireplug. Fireplugs are about the only way one can locate a rephotography subject downtown since so much has been demolished. in this case. The scene today. Note the fireplug. Nearly the entire block has been demolished. Currently a parking lot for RTA management (and there is some irony in that).

Goodbye Lafee Building? Not necessarily so...

...the Lafee Building reborn, but around the corner on Main Street. The facade was disassembled and the pieces stored. When RTA bought the American Building as a site for their new bus hub the facade was incorporated into the design. Close call. as there are cases of disassembled facades that never get reassembled.

Clegg's Hall was an "Opera House", meaning there was a stage and seating on the upper floor. Built in the 1850s by one of Dayton's pioneer industrialist families (started out in foundry work and cotton spinning). It was not so fortunate, being demolished in the late 1940s and replaced in 1950 with a cafeteria (the "Virginia Cafeteria" in the criss-cross directory).

Next door to the Lafee, between it and the American Building, was these two commercial blocks, one with an unusual neo-gothic treatment.
Together they formed a department store, the Home Store, wich burned in 1926. In 1927 the Home Store rebuilt in brick, in a sort of modernizing quasi-deco design. One can tell in some of the 1920s buildings that the local architects knew about modern design, but softened modernism with vestigal revivalist details.
The Home Store became Beermans's Department Store, and after 1960 (when Beerman took over Elder-Johnson) Elder-Beerman. And Elder-Beerman it remained until the Courthouse Square store opened (late 1970s?) , after which this store closed.

The Home Store remained vacant until being torn down in the early 1990s. This left only the American Building on the Main & Third corner and the old Odd Fellows Hall (?) on Third & Jefferson.

So what is there today? This building:
Which is yet another traveling facade. Behind it is the RTA waiting room and shopping arcade. But it orginally was the Cooper Block, located on the northeast corner of Main and 2nd, part of a mini-historic district of surviving 19th century downtown buildings.
All were torn down in 1988 or 1989 for the construction of the Citizens Federal building (until very recently the 5th/3rd Building). Except the corner Cooper Block facade, which was, like the Lafee Building, disassmebled and the pieces stored.

Recapping the south side of 3rd between Main and Jefferson: nearly the entire block removed, one very old structure (Clegg's Hall) removed, replaced, and the replacement itself removed.

And then the facades get saved, relocated, and reassembled... create the street fronts of the new RTA hub, shown in gray below.
The saves of these facades are one of the sucess stories of Preservation Dayton, and in one case required heroic measures. The disassembled pieces were stored outside, and the markings on the stone blocks that told how they should fit back together were washing off in the rain and snow. Apparently Preservation Dayton folks got some whitewash and went out and repainted the markings so the facade could be reassembled.

If the remarking wouldn't have happened the facades would never have been re-assembled, and would have ended up as piles of useless stone.

Instead we have two lively survivors of Daytons booming 19th century.


Unknown said...

Excellent post, Jeffery - thanks!

Anonymous said...

Very cool about the moving facades. I didn't realize that was done for anything but very famous buildings.

Love your old photos juxtaposed with current ones.

Jefferey said...

I'll be doing more of the juxtaposition type of posts in the future.

The source for the old pix is the Lutzenberger Collection online at the Datyon Metro Library site.

James said...

So marvelous to see the description of this. I have a photograph of The Lafee in the mid-70's. I'd enjoy sharing it with you. Downtown Dayton has been rudely dismembered and dissolved in so many ways. At least on this block we have an attempt at remembrance, if not preservation.