words by Mark Schweitzer, photos: by Charlotte Gintert
For years, most of Akron has known it as The Haunted Laboratory. The four-story Art Deco structure at the top of Triplett Boulevard, overlooking the Akron Municipal Airport and the Goodyear Airdock, looks like a cross between a small school and an office building. If you leaned toward school, you’d be right: This sharp old brick building, with its crisp details and beautiful terracotta reliefs, was originally constructed as the Guggenheim Airship Institute.
The institute was founded and funded by industrialist Daniel Guggenheim in 1929, in cooperation with the University of Akron and the California Institute of Technology. Much of the inspiration for the project was the fact that two huge Navy airships, the Akron and the Macon, were about to be constructed at the nearby airdock. With Goodyear recognized as a leader in lighter-than-air flight, a location adjacent to Akron’s airport only seemed natural.
Born in Philadelphia in 1856, Guggenheim’s family struck it rich in Colorado silver mines. By 1901, Daniel had assumed control of a multinational company that mined gold, silver, diamonds, copper and tin on three continents. Guggenheim and his family had amassed a fortune estimated at $250 million to $300 million by 1918 — around $5 billion in today’s dollars.
Retiring in 1923, Daniel turned to another interest — aviation technology — and embarked on a wide array of projects, including the establishment of the Airship Institute, an annual medal for aeronautics, and promotion of aerodynamics research.
The institute was created as the first and only facility studying the science of lighter-than-air flight, covering subjects like aerodynamics, meteorology, structural design and materials research. As a result, the building was created to house a number of unique test facilities, including a vertical wind tunnel capable of wind speeds up to 125 mph. Among other test stands were a whirling arm centrifugal test unit that rotated up to 175 mph, a wind gust tunnel, a water tank and a comprehensive metals research lab. See? It was a laboratory!
The building was designed by architect M.M. Konarski, who served as school architect for the Akron Board of Education from 1919 to 1938. More than 150 dignitaries were in attendance for the building’s dedication in 1932, including UA president Dr. George Zook and Carl Arnstein, president of engineering for the Goodyear-Zeppelin Co. It was used for research through 1949, when interest in lighter-than-air flight tailed off after WWII. APS then used it for high school aeronautics studies until Goodyear purchased the building in the mid-1950s.
My own experience with the building was in the 1970s, after the Akron chapter of Junior Achievement purchased it to house its educational programs. I can still remember my dad dropping me off — despite my protests — and telling me to get inside and join one of the student-run companies. At the time, it just seemed like an old industrial building of some sort filled with shop tools and old equipment. Despite my interest in architecture, I never explored the building much and even then it seemed kind of creepy, especially at night. That brings us to its current life, serving as a companion to its next door neighbor, The Haunted Schoolhouse, since 1980.
Today, a closer look at the building reveals its stunning Art Deco design, including intricate terracotta panels and, at the rear, a sweet bas relief sculpture of an angel cradling an airship in its arms. It’s scary awesome.
Mark Schweitzer is a word alchemist, a lover of things old and forgotten, and a lifelong Akronite. He enjoys beer and has begrudgingly adopted four cats. Want one?