Thursday, June 15, 2006

Steven Litt reviews two downtown preservation projects

This week the Plain Dealer Architecture Critic, Steven Litt, reviewed two projects with strong impacts on historic preservation in the downtown district. One was the reuse of a building in Playhouse Square by Ideastream and the other was the County's emerging process for dealing with the Breuer-built Ameritrust tower at East Ninth and Euclid.

On Sunday he reviewed the Ideastream building, a former home furnishing store designed in 1912 by Walker and Weeks and found the renovation, although hampered by physical, legal and financial constraints, nevertheless very well done and a positive contribution to the future of the city's old commercial and industrial buildings. (Steven Litt. "Studio Arts: Collaborative new Idea Center home squeezes seamlessly into a tight space." Plain Dealer, Sunday, June 11, 2006. Page J-1)

He followed that review up on Tuesday with one on the endangered Ameritrust Tower, a couple of blocks down Euclid on East Ninth Street. The County has purchased the tower and the iconic Cleveland Trust temple building next door, for its new consolidated administrative center and is in the early stages of deciding its future. They have solicited suggestions from architects, but due to state bidding regulations, cannot launch the sort of full-throated cry for designs that Litt thinks this project merits. The 1908 temple building is "untouchable," but the tower is very possibly doomed, despite being designed by world-famous architect Marcel Breuer in 1971, and Litt is perplexed why that preservations are treating that possibility with so little comment. (Steven Litt. "Short on creativity: constrained by rules, county foggy about center's design." Plain Dealer. Tuesday, June 13, 2006. Page E-1).

Part of the problem with the Breuer tower is that few people really see it and as we saw with the Hulett Ore Unloaders, no would-be landmark that is hard to notice will have the constituency to stave off demolition. Unlike the popular Cleveland Trust temple building on the corner, the tower is a relatively-anonymous hulking presence on an otherwise undistinguished section of Ninth Street. The tower is another example, along with the Pei-designed Rock Hall and Frank Gehry's new Weatherhead building, of the city getting forgettable examples of famous architects' works that don't develop much of a local following. The feeling may be that replacing it with another famous-architect-designed building may turn out to be a net gain. However, the bigger problem is that the city and its preservation lobby lack any kind of articulated criteria for what ought to be saved and a sense of which structures or districts are as untouchable as the temple building happily seems to be.


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