Architecturally Significant Lakewood Building In Jeopardy

The proposed Downtown Development Project at the former Lakewood Hospital site threatens to emasculate the architecturally and historically significant Curtis Block, at the corner of Detroit and Marlowe Avenues.

While the Downtown Development Project plans are still being formulated, the developers’ plans presented to date call for retaining the exterior walls of the Curtis Block facing Detroit and Marlowe, and eliminating the building to make way for a 5-story apartment building.  The Curtis Block would be reduced to a sort of architectural mural, with no functions behind the façade.

In early 2016 the Curtis Block was designated as an Historic Property under Lakewood’s historic preservation ordinance, adopted to maintain the distinctive character, history and architecture of Lakewood.  At the time of its designation, it was described as “one of the most architecturally significant and intact buildings in the City of Lakewood.”  The Curtis Block is also included in the Lakewood Downtown Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Curtis Block is a two-story building comprised of five retail spaces on the first floor and five apartments on the second floor.  Constructed in two stages, the three eastern units in 1913 and the two western units in 1925, the building is a product of the streetcar era in Lakewood, when commercial development sprang up along the east-west streetcar routes on Detroit and Madison Avenues, and residential development populated the north-south streets.  Lakewood residents would return home on the streetcar from their work in Cleveland, and stop at the Curtis Block to buy a loaf of bread before walking home.  The Curtis Block housed a variety of retail businesses; in 1940, for example, it featured a bakery, a delicatessen, a dressmaker and Lakewood Electric.  Descendants of the pioneering Hall family, which owned large sections of Lakewood in the 1800’s including the site of the Curtis Building, lived in an apartment on the second floor as late as the 1980’s.

The Historic Property designation of the Curtis Block requires that any alteration or demolition of the building be approved by the City’s Board of Architectural Review, which must apply the U.S. Secretary of Interior’s Rehabilitation Guidelines in determining whether the alteration or demolition is appropriate.  Those Guidelines state that “a property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces and spatial relationships.”  Under these Guidelines, preserving exterior walls would clearly not be appropriate.

How could the Curtis Block fit into the Downtown Development Project?  Very simply, rehabilitate the building, as contemplated by the historic preservation ordinance, and lease the unique storefront spaces to local retailers and the apartment spaces to new neighbors.  Lakewood is a city of local businesses and low-rise buildings.  The rehabbed Curtis Block would lend Lakewood scale and personality to the new high-rise offices and apartment buildings planned for the hospital site.  And the apartment dwellers in the Project would enjoy the products and services available from the Curtis Block retailers.

I urge the many supporters of the Curtis Block to communicate their desire to keep the Curtis Block intact and functioning to the City, the Architectural Board of Review (check the Board’s meeting agendas at www.lakewoodoh.gov for Curtis Block reviews and attend the Board’s meetings) and the developers of the Downtown Development Project.

The writer, a lifelong resident of Lakewood, was a co-draftsperson of Lakewood’s historic preservation ordinance.

John Pyke

The writer, a lifelong resident of Lakewood, was a co-draftsperson of Lakewood's historic preservation ordinance.

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Volume 18, Issue 13, Posted 12:21 PM, 07.06.2022