Urbana, Ohio – October 2020 – Random Views of Champaign County and beyond

Todays road trip through the country takes us to the town of Urbana, county seat of Champaign County. Full disclosure – some of the photos are likely from border counties as I was on country roads without county line markers.

Each little town seemed to have a commercial block of 100 year old buildings, this one with a restored clock tower.

Talk about a barn find for the Ohio countryside – an old Mercedes with late 1980s license plates!

An abandoned school in a crossroads town.

This stylish little building was in the small town of Mechanicsburg.

Normally ‘Quilt Barns’ are much larger than this, but the contrast of the farm implements added to the look of this one.

Not too many farms date from 1814 in Ohio.

Eventually I reached the town of Urbana. As with most county seats it seemed to have the best collection of buildings in the area. Some nicely restored, some not so much, it was worth the stop.

The Hotel Sowles dates from around 1800, it is said to have hosted every Ohio governor from the beginning of the state until 1900. A community effort resulted in this great old building being restored.

This former bank in an Art Deco look is now a law office.

The Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan has been located in Urbana for 140 years. The building is generally designed in a Roman Corinthian style, but with classical touches. A true midwest building it is built out of Minnesota granite and Indiana limestone situated in a small Ohio town.

Personally I think the Yellow Mini sets it off nicely.

This classic Gulf Gas Station from the 1970s is still in use as an auto repair shop.

The local airport is home to a small museum where they are restoring a B-17.

This small theater started life in 1904, However in the 1930s it was destroyed in a fire, and was rebuilt in 1941 – hence the Art Deco look.

It is currently undergoing restoration.

Urbana has a number of great ghost signs.

This vacant, decaying building once housed a company that provided galvanized iron for railroad use.

Just across the street is the former train station, now a coffee shop. This station served the Pennsylvania Railroad for many decades.

Our time in Urbana is over, time to move on.

Detroit – April 2019 – The Guardian Building

With the auto industry booming in the 1920s Detroit was flush with cash. As a result most of their grand buildings date from that period – which coincided with the Art Deco movement in architecture.

The Guardian Building is the best example in Detroit, and one of the very best in the world. It has made every single list of top 10 Art Deco skyscrapers every published.

In addition to the Art Deco, they use a Native American theme throughout the exterior and interior.

This unique, and stylish mix is fantastic.

The building is asymmetrical, with a taller tower on the north end, with a slightly shorter wing on the south.

The unique custom coloring became so popular that it is now known as ‘Guardian Bricks’.

As you enter the smallish lobby you are greeted by this great mosaic.

The north tower elevator lobbies are unique from any other with the native theme continuing. Note the stained glass window.

A close up of the stained glass. The building was designed by Wirt Rowland, and features the colored materials set in geometric patterns.

A close up of the elevator lobby ceiling shows this detail.

A Montel metal screen separates the lobby from the banking hall.

This close up of the Montel metal screen shows the very cool clock.

The massive banking hall gave this building it’s nickname – the Cathedral of Finance, with it’s strong design homage to the great cathedrals of the world.

The hall is 3 floors high and is flanked on the south end by an impressive mural.

The mural is by Michigan native Ezra Winter, and celebrates all the highlights of the state. Winter also did the mosaic featured above.

A detailed look at the mural shows this industrial side, which compliments an agricultural side (not pictured).

At the apex of the mural is a tribute to finance (after all it was built as a bank)

The newer lighting retains the art deco look.

The ceiling is covered in an acoustical absorbing material, a 3/4″ thick horsehair covering over the plaster ceiling.

This design keeps down the echoing in the great hall, as well as provides a much easier restoration that a 90 year old building requires from time to time.

Even the information sign contains the Native American elements.

The Guardian Building is truly one of the greats, worth a trip to Detroit by itself.

Pittsburgh – October 2018 – Doors Open Part 1

Having been in and around Pittsburgh for most of our lives, we were excited to find that they offer an Open House like Chicago and New York.

Known as Doors Open Pittsburgh, the event took place over a weekend featuring 50 buildings downtown and on the North Side.

I had the opportunity to email a number of times with Bonnie Baxter, the founder of the organization that coordinates the event. Her input was instrumental in our planning that allowed us to visit over 30 of the sites over two (busy) days. Bonnie has done a great job pulling together an event of this scale – it shows her pride in her hometown.

The next 4 posts are fairly long but give a brief overview on each of the venues we visited.


Frick Building – As we were walking down Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh waiting for the start of Doors Open Pittsburgh we saw a couple of people in their orange DOP volunteer shirts. Striking up a conversation with them, we found out that one of them, Al, was headed to the nearby Frick Building.

Al also volunteers with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, and was more than happy to share his knowledge of Grant Street, and the nearby buildings as we walked along. This was a precursor of what was to come, as for the entire weekend we met enthusiastic volunteers who are proud of their city and the architecture.

Once we arrived at the Frick Building we entered the lobby from the Fifth Avenue Side. Al then gave us a personal tour of the lobby.

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This unique lamp served as a cigar lighter feed by natural gas with a perpetual flame (since there is no smoking in buildings anymore the flame has been extinguished.)

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The current main lobby elevators reflect the Art Deco look.

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The re-purposed telephone booths are fantastic. Al pointed out that most people under the age of 25 can’t even guess what they were used for.

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In what started a trend that we kept most of the weekend, most of the buildings have very stylish mailboxes that had to be photographed.

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Grant Street in Pittsburgh used to have a large ‘hump’. In 1914 this hump was taken out, but as a result what used to be a ground level entrance sudden was 15’ in the air, so any building that pre-dates the removal had to be retrofitted with a new entrance in what was the basements. The Frick Building is one of those buildings, having been completed in 1902.

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As a result the second floor/mezzanine level has a very ornate elevator lobby since it used to be the primary entrance.

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The elevator doors are a piece of art in themselves.

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One final look at the lobby; a stained glass window by John LaFarge titled Fortune and Her Wheel.

Whatever history thinks of Henry Clay Frick, he did build an amazing building. Thanks to Al we had a great tour of the lobbies.

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Benedum Trees Building – Our first ‘official’ visit was to the Benedum-Trees Building. I had been fortunate enough to secure ‘insider tour’ tickets for this building, with a visit to the 18th floor to visit the offices of the Benter Foundation.

The 19 story building was completed in 1905 along the Fourth Avenue financial district. The name came from the Benedum Trees Oil Company, founded by Mike Benedum and Joe Trees in the early 1900s.

Our tour started in the lobby with another classic mailbox, along with the building directory sign and some great lighting.

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We then headed up to the 18th floor.

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Our visit was topped off (literally) by checking out the roof top terrace, with commanding views around downtown – despite being somewhat surrounded by newer, taller buildings.

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Later that afternoon we were able to look back from Mt Washington to see where we had been.

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Bank Tower Building – Completed in 1902 as the Peoples Savings Bank Building, the Bank Towers exterior features figures carved by John Massey Rhind.

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Easily the most impressive feature of the building is the spiral staircase that goes the entire 16 floors.

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A very nice bonus to this stop was visiting the offices of MCF Architects, where one of the principals showed us the offices, and some of the amazing work they have completed, as well as historic drawings they have.

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Their security gate is modeled after da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

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Dollar Bank – Designed by Isaac Hobbs & Sons of Philadelphia in the late 1860s, the Dollar Bank Building on Fourth Avenue is built primarily out of brownstone. Hobbs was known for his ornate design of houses, and it is clear it was carried over to this design.

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Built in the Beaux Arts style, it’s most famous exterior feature are the large lion sculptures, symbolizing a ‘guardianship of the people’s money’.

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The original lions are located inside the building.

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The lobby is impressive, and is used to this day for it’s original purpose, a bank.

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The Park Building – We spent most of our time at the Park Building staring up at the cornices.

Built in 1896, this 15 floor building depicts men kneeling, holding up the building. We have seen this used previously, most recently in the ‘Ruins’ in Indianapolis.

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continued in the next 3 postings.