Historical Akron: FirstMerit Tower

by Katie Jackson

As the brightest jewel of the Akron skyline, the FirstMerit Tower is easily identifiable from any downtown vantage point. Standing tall at a coincidental 330 feet, the Art-Deco style building was completed in 1931 by the architectural firm Walker & Weeks as headquarters for the Central Depositors Bank and Trust, and remains Akron’s tallest skyscraper to-date.

On its opening day on July 23, 1931, the building hosted nearly 40,000 visitors who were awestruck at its grandiose limestone exterior and Tennessee marble interior. Visitors had the opportunity to be whisked up 27 stories to the observation platform to enjoy an awe-inspiring view, reported to reach “six counties away.” For those who could not make the trek to the Empire State Building in New York City, this was surely the next best thing. The observation deck was open to visitors at any time, day or night, where floodlights from the 24th-floor terrace created a glowing halo around the top four levels of the building.

When the rose-colored romanticism wore off, the reality of the observation platform was more often clouded in poor visibility due to smog created by local factories and uncooperative Ohio weather. As other building tenants filled the floors, the observation deck became less and less of a tourist attraction and was quietly closed in the early 1940’s. The observation platform walkways were permanently removed in 1952 when WAKR installed giant broadcasting antenna.

The building has stood as the cornerstone of Cascade Plaza and has housed many professional businesses over the years. Most notably it has been home to the largest local regional bank, FirstMerit, throughout its history in the area. With the acquisition of FirstMerit Bank by Huntington Bank, scheduled to be completed this month, some had speculated what would become of the building. Huntington states the tower will remain the bank’s regional headquarters, furthering the legacy of this building and its position as a keystone to Akron’s horizon along King James Way and East Mill Street.