Why downtown’s crown jewel is still waiting for someone to act on a $38M proposal
written by Jenny Conn
images from “The Official Souvenir of the Opening of the Mayflower Hotel,” courtesy of the Akron-Summit County Public Library
A faded flower on Main Street, Akron’s Mayflower Manor isn’t quite ready to be pressed between the pages of a soon-to-be-forgotten album of memories.
Since 1973, Mayflower Manor has been home to some of the city’s lowest-income residents, seen daily, standing or sitting, some in wheelchairs, outside the 16-story, 450-room Art Deco building at 263 South Main. Residents are comfortable and relaxed in surroundings many have occupied for decades.
As Section 8 housing, Mayflower Manor is well-situated along Akron’s main bus lines. Safe and structurally sound, it recently earned a HUD Inspection Score of 93 out of 100 for its solid physical condition.
Juxtaposed two city blocks south of the energetic Akron Civic Theatre and across from the RubberDucks’ Canal Park, the Mayflower’s diminishing demeanor is troublesome. As such, the city proposed a deal in 2013 to buy the property for renovation with the help of a $14.5 million Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan.
The proposed renovation would require “re-homing” the roughly 230 tenants to HUD-approved housing before turning the aging beauty into “a mixed-use development of office and housing.” However, there are questions now about whether the residents can or should be moved.
If it were to proceed as planned, the project’s total costs were estimated two years ago to exceed $38 million, which would include more than 290 jobs created.
Those are just numbers on paper right now because the project has lost forward momentum, seemingly stuck in limbo after the abrupt May resignation of Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who had championed the project as vital to the vibrancy of the downtown business district.
The vice president of Owner’s Management Co. in Bedford Heights, which owns and operates Mayflower Manor, Jeffrey Breha says, “Discussion has been limited over the past six months.”
A spokesman for Tober Building, the architectural firm that originally proposed the project, says no action is being taken at this time.
Glory Days of the Mayflower Hotel
On May 18, 1931, the Mayflower Hotel took her place among the glittering gems of Akron’s burgeoning downtown, underscoring the city’s prosperity. That same year, the FirstMerit Tower and CitiCenter (Akron’s former YWCA) were built.
CHECK IT OUT: The complete, scanned copy of The Official Souvenir of the Opening of the Mayflower Hotel
The opening of the Mayflower Hotel set off ripples of approval that fanned out across the nation. Although Akron was a booming manufacturing mecca, hotel, banquet and convention accommodations were so inadequate their lack had been noted by the corporate elite across the U.S. who made frequent visits to Akron’s manufacturers.
As a result, many prominent businesses were enlisted to take part in building a grand new hotel. Representatives of those companies came to witness their efforts at work, through such amenities as the Mayflower’s state-of-the-art HVAC, fire protection, elevator and phone systems.
The hotel’s modern refrigeration system was a system to behold, and made possible a cuisine that appealed to “the sophisticated, urban appetite” prevalent in travelers of the time. The Mayflower also featured a Rutledge Drug Company store, a Postal Telegraph Cable Company office for world-wide communications, a florist and a barbershop.
Women entrepreneurs also found space at the new hotel. A hat store was opened by Roxy G. Lavery, an “exclusive milliner” who designed hats for her clients after careful study of their personalities. A dress showroom by Paula Leve Inc. was described similarly, with Leve exhibiting “an innate sense of the beautiful and uncanny knack of visualizing each and every woman’s particular style in dress.”
All were on display when the Mayflower opened its doors for business. What more could a traveler want?
“Official Souvenir” Captures Celebration
The Mayflower Hotel’s opening was attended by executives from around the country, who were flown to Cleveland and transported by Firestone’s Tri-motored Ford known as the “Tin Goose” to the Akron Airport.
Akron’s most enduring leadership also was in attendance that day, including U.S. Congressman Francis Seiberling, Firestone founder Harvey Firestone, Goodyear President P. W. Litchfield, General Tire & Rubber Co. President William O’Neil, Goodyear Co-founder Frank Seiberling, publisher and U.S. Representative Charles Knight and Akron Mayor G. Lloyd Weil.
For attendees, the hotel created a nearly 50-page booklet titled, “The Official Souvenir of the Opening of the Mayflower Hotel,” which included the hotel newsletter, “Fore and Aft of Mayflower Hotel.” The booklet is indeed a keeper, as its pages are filled with drawings of the hotel, from offices and kitchens to dining and dance halls and the main ballroom. Also displayed are 24 portraits of the directors of each service area within the hotel.
To further engage the world, the booklet chronicles the tremendous effort that made the Mayflower Hotel a reality. Illustrating enormous pride in the construction, the booklet details the project, from securing a loan of $1.5 million by the Prudential Insurance Company to excavating rock and establishing footings for the foundation to installing window casings and hanging sashes. All contractors involved, many from Akron, are listed in the program, along with photos of the construction progress.
Theo DeWitt , then vice president and general manager of the Hotel Hollenden, a luxury hotel in downtown Cleveland, became president of the Mayflower Hotel. C.J. Fitzpatrick, a distinguished Ohio hotelier, was named general manager. DeWitt, whose biography is included in the booklet, was “considered one of the most capable and well informed hotel operators in the country.”
He issued the written salutation:
I believe that in the Mayflower, Akron has an hotel which for its size is second to none in the United States. Its location is excellent, its layout, furnishings, decorations and equipment are the last word in modern hotel construction. Its personnel, from the start, will be experienced and capable. I feel that the pride which Akron feels in its new Mayflower Hotel will grow steadily as the years pass.
The Airship Center of the U.S.
The name Mayflower is a nod to the fabled ship that brought settlers to the New World. The hotel’s logo is a ship and its Puritan Room and Colonial Grill were restaurants. However, entertainment at the opening gala reveals the spirit of Mayflower Hotel developers to be more closely aligned with airships of all types rather than the nautical.
The opening celebration lasted the entire day with “Fore and Aft” declaring Akron “the airship center of the United States.”
To prove it, at noon, roses were dropped from a fleet of airships and airplanes onto the Zeppelin Observation roof of the Mayflower. A dedication of the Pilot’s Room followed, while the Mayflower Log’s first two signatures were those of “two of America’s leading airmen.”
That day, the blimp “Akron” was nearing completion and guests were treated to a visit to the Zeppelin Dock to see the airship. While there, they enjoyed “suitable carnival activities” including an airshow featuring a demo of the “autogyro plane.”
Later, back at the Mayflower, a greeting by Ohio Governor George White kicked off a dinner featuring fresh shrimp, salted almonds, “clear green” turtle soup, Mayflower Salad, new asparagus permasane and breast of capon.
As the night wore on, dancing was intertwined with concert selections, and guests were treated to performances by Dick Fidler and his Neil House Orchestra, a national band and a favorite of Ohio State University students.
When the opening day of the Akron’s new Mayflower Hotel came to a close, it was clear the Mayflower staff had indeed made Monday, May 18, 1931 what was proclaimed “a red-letter day for Akron.”
The Mayflower Legacy
Mayflower Manor remains a pillar in the South Main Street Historic District.
In 2008, the hotel was a valuable contributor to the district’s designation on the National Register of Historic Places. The Mayflower still stands as the fifth tallest building on the Akron skyline.
Whether providing shelter for Akron’s urban dwellers or undergoing renovation to bring back her glory, the Mayflower once contributed well to Akron’s growth and still, to its character.