words and photographs by Charlotte Gintert

143 W. Market St. must have a guardian angel. While all its neighbors have been demolished, it is still standing. 

Records indicate that a multi-family dwelling may have been built on the property around 1875. But a January 16, 1889 Summit County Beacon article states that T.H. Farrand was building a new “brick storeroom” at the location. It is unclear if the current building was a remodel of the original or if the previous construction was demolished and this one replaced it. 

Either way, from 1890 until 1960, it housed a store on the first floor and the owner’s apartments on the second. 

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The first major renovation to the building took place around 1910. The steepness of the hill on this section of West Market Street had always been a challenge, even for horses, but it was almost impossible for the early automobile. So the city adjusted several of Akron’s steeper grades, including Market Street, to accommodate the new form of transportation. In order for the entrance of the grocery store to remain at ground level, the Farrands dug the basement to a lower depth and then lowered the first floor floorboards by about 3 feet. Today, the original floor height is indicated by a noticeable ledge on the interior east wall. 

After the Farrand family vacated the space, it was home to a Great A&P Tea Co. store, and then the Mastruzo family, immigrants from Italy, opened another grocery.

In 1960, the building was purchased by John P. Mazzola. Mazzola was an entrepreneur and an early advocate for historic building reuse, as well as the founder of the Wally Waffle restaurant chain. Mazzola also owned the neo-gothic Historic Arts District anchor now home to Crave and the recently demolished Werner Publishing Office.

In 1965, Mazzola went about transforming 143 W. Market St. from its 19th-century appearance into something more contemporary for his Mazzola Interiors studio. He almost completely removed the front of the building, replacing it with glass. He added stairs and a “floating” loft between the first and second floors, plus an exterior balcony overlooking West Market Street. Some of Mazzola’s quirkier additions included a fountain under the showroom stairs, a wall made of sewer pipe and a hidden shower in the upstairs bathroom.

Akron artist Don Drumm added some personal touches to the redesign. Some of those touches remain there to this day, including hardware on closet doors and a sculpture in a cement patch for the basement floor.

While Mazzola occupied the building, the neighborhood began to change. All the row buildings between Bates and Walnut Streets. were demolished, becoming surplus parking for Dave Towell Cadillac. The houses along Walnut Street fell too. 

In 1991, Mazzola sold the building to Kevin Royer and his business partners, founders of Norka Futon. He told Royer that getting involved with this building was one of the best things he ever did because it launched him into historic preservation. Royer told me that the building’s position on the road made it a natural billboard and it drew the eye no matter which direction you travelled on W. Market. 

“We just liked the fact that it stood out. It felt like it worked,” he said.

Norka Futon closed in 2010. A few months later, the building became home to Karen Starr and Jon Haidet’s Hazel Tree Design Studio, due to a chance meeting in a parking lot between Royer, Starr and Haidet. Royer was looking for a new tenant for the building and the Hazel Tree team had just decided to move their business out of their home and into a studio space. 

Hazel Tree has become a favorite landmark of West Hill. The west side of the building supports a tree sculpture and the east side of the building hosts a mural. Although murals are becoming more and more common in Akron, this was one of the first. For 10 years, Kelly Tighe’s tree with “Akron” spelled in the roots greeted passersby as they climbed the hill out of downtown.

After some brick retucking work was completed this year, Starr wanted to have a new mural installed instead of refreshing the old one. Thanks to a Great Streets Akron Facade Grant, the building received a new entrance awning and a new mural in October: Matt Miller’s version of a tree spells “West Hill” in the branches. Starr hopes to have a new tree painted every decade. 

While Hazel Tree has made other changes to the building, many of Mazzola’s modifications remain. His original lights hang in the first floor showroom and the zig-zag awnings and lighting still line the west exterior of the building. Hazel Tree is also carrying on Mazzola’s passion for preservation and reuse. Many of the pieces in the showroom are created by local artists from repurposed objects. Salvaged remnants from buildings lost to the wrecking ball, such as West Hill’s Studebaker building and the Werner building, are also on display. They are labeled “priceless” and are not for sale.

The Hazel Tree building is one of the last survivors of West Hill’s 19th-century commercial district, standing tall and bright against Cadillacs and St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. For now, all signs indicate that it will be with us for many years to come.

Charlotte Gintert is an archaeologist and a photographer.You can check out her photos at www.capturedglimpses.com. Follow her on Instagram at @capturedglimpses for more old Akron building content. She encourages everyone to keep on wearing masks and washing hands!

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