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Issue Date: June 2004 Issue

Residential Makeover

After lengthy restoration and upgrades with modern amenities, the historic buildings on this year's Walk and Dine tours are ready for their close-ups.
Myra Orenstein

The names Schmelzer, Bolton, Zarnas and Rooney may not typically appear on the radar screen when Clevelanders discuss developers, yet these visionaries behind the Gateway District are the folks who are willing to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to investing in downtown's future. Exactly how they are transforming some venerable buildings' facades will be the highlight of this year's Walk and Dine evening.

Of the group, Jerry Schmelzer is the only one who inherited property in the district. The managing partner and CEO of The Pointe at Gateway LLC, he is the former chair of the Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corp. board and one of the originators of the Walk and Dine event. In 1948, his family purchased the office building, originally constructed in 1915. In 1998, he converted it into luxury apartments with modern amenities. Today, the 42 units in the eight-story building are being converted to condos,=hence its name, The Condominiums at The Pointe at Gateway.

"This is a mixed-use development," he says. "We were involved with a $12.5 million historic renovation of four buildings. We now have two very, very popular restaurants and a yuppie bar within the complex."

Schmelzer announced his decision to go condo in February. "We did it because the market was driving it," he explains. "There are simply not enough condominiums downtown. With interest rates so low, people can buy almost as cheaply as renting. And there's a 75 percent tax abatement."

Schmelzer's pride is evident as he speaks of saving open-air staircases, marble floors, 11- to 13-foot ceilings, original woodwork and filigree plasterwork on the office walls. Yet, he also appreciates modern amenities and is quick to point out newly installed imported tile floors, as well as the Jacuzzis and private glass sun decks in his penthouses.

From a commercial and retail perspective, Gateway is active day and night. Bill Bolton, owner of the Caxton Building, recalls a time when his structure housed print shops. "There were forklift trucks roaming the eighth floor," he says. Desktop publishing and new graphic techniques changed the face of the printing industry, causing the Caxton's tenants to close shop. The building, now celebrating its 100th anniversary, was "suffering from a lack of love," according to Bolton. "It became essential to renovate."

New commercial and retail tenants were attracted by Bolton's renovation of four historic corridors, creating open staircases and devising a new south hall near Gateway, as well as his conversion of the basement into a parking garage.

The building — named after William Caxton, the first English printer — boasted the most modern facilities of its day, including electric power generated on site and electric elevators. Its present incarnation is home to photography, audio/visual and audio studios, along with other businesses. The first floor of the 220,000-square-foot, eight-story structure houses several restaurants and retail establishments.

Planning anniversary events to coincide with Walk and Dine, Bolton hopes to highlight several of his tenants and involve the neighborhood restaurants.

His vision for a street-festival atmosphere mirrors HGNC executiveødirector Tom Yablonsky's overall concept for this year's Walk and Dine. "We will be showcasing this area as a residential/restaurant/commercial and entertainment district," Yablonsky says. "Walk and Dine has its own feeling because it's a summertime event in which people may take guided tours or walk the district on their own. "

Unlike last year's event, which spotlighted many buildings still under renovation, this year will unveil the finished work, according to Yablonsky.

Nick Zarnas of G&Z Real Estate agrees. His Sincere Building has taken a year to "clean out," but will now shine for those touring it.

Zarnas transformed the circa-1913 office building with a custom shoe shop into eight stories of two-bedroom, 1,850-square-foot condominiums. All units boast 12-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, granite countertops, tile baths and 10-inch concrete between suites and floors. Many of the units (average price $300,000) have not been completed, allowing prospective buyers an ideal opportunity to customize.

Rather than condos, Sean Rooney hopes to lease apartments in his W.T. Grant Complex, which comprises the original W.T. Grant Building, the W.T. Grant Annex, the Baker-Cushing Building, the Baker-Cushing Annex and the Edison Building. Part of the Euclid Avenue Historic District, the complex's facade has undergone what Rooney calls an "incredible restoration."

He describes 30 "unique, one-of-a-kind units" — from the three-bedroom, split-level design with original spiral staircase in one Baker-Cushing suite to a penthouse unit that originally housed the boiler/water storage.

Aside from the lobby/entrance to the apartments and their leasing office, the entire first floor is dedicated commercial space.

Each of Rooney's structures bears a long history that can be traced through its architectural details. The W.T. Grant Building, constructed in 1914 to 1915, replaced a five-story brick structure known as the Hardy Block, built in the 1870s. Owners of the Grant Building maintained the footprint of the Hardy Block and, in 1939, submitted drawings to alter the facade of the first two floors and construct a two-story addition. The Grant department store remained open until the 1970s.

The Annex replaced the four-story Cobb's Building, a sister to the Baker-Cushing Building. The Baker-Cushing Building, constructed in 1875, has undergone numerous changes over its life span. It received a new Art Deco facade in 1937, introducing pink granite and marble-veneer panels. Today, the exterior of the complex is composed of two color schemes: beige with dark bronze trim on the W.T. Grant Building and red brick with a sandstone accent on the Baker-Cushing Building.

Inside, each apartment's decorative scheme retains a neutral palette with complementing accent wall color in the kitchen and an accent tile color around the fireplace.

For those who don't want to buy or lease living space downtown, what could be better than spending an evening at the Hyatt Regency at The Arcade? The Hyatt's 239 rooms boast 56 different configurations, according to Robert Stachnik, director of sales and marketing. Hyatt and LR Development purchased The Arcade in 1999, and the hotel opened in 2001, following a $60 million renovation to the 1890 structure. The Arcade is a recipient of the National Preservation Award from the National Trust as well as the Award for Excellence from the Cleveland Engineering Society.

Perhaps its most outstanding feature is the atrium roof of 1,800 glass panels, an original 1890 fixture that was entirely rebuilt. Because Hyatt wanted to install key slots in the doors, yet hoped to maintain the Romanesque building's place in the historic registry, all original door handles are now utilized for closet entry.

Although it already boasts a 1,600-square-foot Presidential Suite — complete with fireplace, gentle-rain shower, Jacuzzi, working kitchen and a bed built on hydraulic shock absorbers — the Hyatt is in the process of fashioning a new hospitality suite.

With such an array of renovation achievements available for viewing in the district, how does Yablonsky feel about this year's Walk and Dine? "When you come down to it," he says, "Walk and Dine, in its seventh year now, is making history on its own."

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