- Tom Gilliam
Take a guess: do you know which of downtown Dayton’s buildings was once referred to as “the Grecian Lady of Third Street” and was furnished by Tiffany Studios out of New York City?
This week on The Buildings of Dayton, I'm going to tell you the story of The Old Post Office Building, located at 120 W. Third St. in downtown Dayton.
In 1804, Dayton's first postmaster, Benjamin Van Cleve, distributed mail from a room in his log cabin on the southeast corner of E. First and St. Clair Streets. The post office changed locations nine times before Dayton's first federal building was built in 1892 on the corner of Fifth and Main Streets, the current location of the Fidelity Building.
There were so many complaints about the crowded conditions there that a decision was made in 1903 to explore the possibility of expanding the existing building. A bill was introduced on December 21, 1907 by Congressman J. Eugene Harding to spend $325,000 for building improvements. Business owners and the general public immediately dismissed the idea.
On June 25, 1910, Congressman James M. Cox -- founder of the Dayton Daily News, future governor of Ohio and 1920 candidate for President of the United States -- introduced an amendment to Harding's original bill stating, "What Dayton needs is a new, million dollar post office."
Though Congress had reservations about the bill, Cox's determination paid off and the measure was passed. The U.S. government selected the site at the southeast corner of W. Third and Wilkinson Streets on January 11, 1911. Ground was broken signaling the beginning of construction on March 26, 1912. The cornerstone was laid in a ceremony presided over by Congressman Cox and attended by Dayton Mayor Edward Phillips on July 23, 1912.
James Knox Taylor, the U.S. government's supervising architect for the treasury department, designed the building in the Neo-Classical Revival architectural style. The contractor was Herbert B. Knox, owner of the Charles McCaul Company, based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tragically, The Great Flood of 1913 devastated Dayton on March 25 and 26, 1913, delaying construction for a short amount of time until the massive amount of debris from the flood was cleaned up.
Dedicated on January 1, 1915 by James M. Cox, the building was dubbed "a public structure which bows to no one in the state and ranks among the best in the country." Later, it would be called "the Grecian Lady of Third Street." No expense was spared on this 80,000 square foot building with bronze ornamental panels in the lobby, furnished by Tiffany Studios out of New York City that framed the service windows and bank of lock boxes lining the inner wall.
In 1969, the United States Postal Service moved in to their new Dayton headquarters on 1111 E. Fifth St. The federal courtroom and Southwest District offices remained until 1975, when they moved to the new Federal Building on 200 W. Second St. At this time, the building was completely abandoned and slated to be demolished for a parking lot under recommendation of the U.S. General Services Administration. Iconic Dayton architectural firm Lorenz & Williams Inc., founded in 1927, known for projects such as the restoration of The Victoria Theatre, Arcade Square and the Liberty Tower, purchased and restored the historic structure, saving it from demolition in 1979.
The Old Post Office Building quickly became an award-winning example of how to correctly execute an adaptive reuse project.
In 1981, Lorenz & Williams Inc. received the 1st place Remodeling Designer of the Year award in the Commercial Interior category as part of the Remodeling Design Awards Program, sponsored by Qualified Remodeler and Commercial Remodeling magazines. For 15 years, the offices of Lorenz & Williams were located on the building's first floor. The firm also provided gallery space for art, design and architectural exhibits as well as an event space for weddings and community receptions in the second floor courtroom. In 1994, the LW Partnership joined with the Miller Valentine Group to renovate the building for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which officially opened on June 15, 1995.
The building is currently owned by Dick Roediger and Larry Anderson, partners at LWC Inc. (formerly Lorenz & Williams).
"It’s been interesting to me with The Old Post Office and The Victoria Theatre [both buildings we have been deeply involved in] that they seemed to find a way to survive,” said Roediger. “Both were facing the wrecking ball when the community took notice."
The LW Partnership also had much help from an Ohio U.S. Senator who also happened to be the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth and oldest person to enter space.
"John Glenn was instrumental in Lorenz and Williams acquiring The Old Post Office Building and saving it from demolition," said Anderson. In 1978, Glenn's intervention with the General Services Administration allowed for the LW Partnership to secure the building.
On October 23, 2014, the building was rededicated followed by the 100th anniversary of The Old Post Office Building, which was celebrated on January 1, 2015. Current tenants include the United States Bankruptcy Court Dayton Divisional Office (Southern District of Ohio), Congressman Mike Turner's district office, the U.S. Trustees and attorney Herbert Ernst, Jr. This mostly-occupied building has 3,220 square feet of office space for lease on the third floor.
I recently spoke with Miller Valentine Group Reality Services' Sharon Rislund, the building's property manager regarding the future of The Old Post Office Building.
"We are doing a remodel for the Bankruptcy Court that should be completed by April or May,” Rislund said. “No other renovations are planned at this time. Our broker does show the vacant space on the third floor, but there are no new tenants," she said.
The Grecian Lady of Third Street is poised to amaze and inspire admirers with its extraordinary architecture for many generations to come.
Special thanks to Tony Kroeger & Amy Walbridge from the City of Dayton's Planning Department and Sharon Rislund from Miller Valentine Group Realty Services for providing historical information and additional resources for this series.