If you think of an Akron landmark, odds are the Huntington Tower comes to mind. Akron’s first skyscraper remains the focal point of the downtown skyline 90 years after its completion. When it was built, it was the pinnacle of modern construction. Today, it represents a time when Akron was at its peak.
The tower replaced the Hamilton Building, the original home of the Central Savings and Trust, which was built in 1900. The Hamilton Building did not have the panache the owners felt their business and Akron needed. The city was booming financially and had become known as a home for innovation and progress. During that decade, Akron was the fastest-growing city in the United States.
The bank organized a separate Akron Central Tower Company to oversee the project and they hired Cleveland architects Walker & Weeks in 1929 to design the new structure. Walker & Weeks was one of the most important architectural firms in the Midwest. They also designed the original Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company headquarters building, now known as the East End and Goodyear Hall.
Carmichael Construction was chosen to erect the skyscraper for $2 million. Shortly after the firm was hired, the old Hamilton Building was razed. Construction began in July 1930 and was completed in July 1931.
The building was designed in the popular Art Deco style. Art Deco elements can be easily seen on the Huntingtown Tower in the floral parapets, the eagles above the entrances and wavy zigzag details about the plate glass windows on the street level.
The female figure above the Main Street entrance is holding a chest and is known as “Security.” Inside, the aluminum and glass entrance to the safe deposit vault two male figures pulling a rope around another chest. This is also meant to represent security.
The building is composed of two main elements: The 28-story tower and an eight-story structure known as the west annex at the rear of the building. This annex was originally constructed as an office space for the bank while the rest of the tower was built. The construction of Cascade Plaza in 1967 significantly altered this portion of the building. It originally had an entrance on South Howard Street, which was covered over during the construction of the plaza. The eagle was moved from over the door of the old entrance to above the new one on the plaza.
The main tower is constructed in “setbacks” or tiers. The main street facade is one continuous face without any setbacks until the 24th floor, to make it look more imposing. The setbacks are intended to make the building look taller as it tapers up. It was faced in limestone up to the fourth floor. From there, it is faced in white glazed brick. The decorative parapets are terra-cotta.
When completed, the tower was twice as tall as any other building in the city. The banking area was on the first floor, which also had a modernized design and open floor plan. The upper floors were available as office space, and an arcade of shops was located at the basement level. This area was accessed from South Howard Street before the construction of Cascade Plaza. A restaurant was located at street level.
The Tower opened to great fanfare on July 23, 1931 with a celebratory lunch at the Mayflower Hotel and musical performances. Thousands of people attended the opening, mostly to gain access to the roof and its magnificent view.
In the 1950s, a large broadcasting antenna was installed on the roof. For a time it was used to broadcast for WAKR.
For most of its history, the building was known as the First National Tower. In 1997 it was purchased by FirstMerit Bank and the name was changed to FirstMerit Tower. It was added to the National Register of Historic places that same year. According to the application, “the construction of the Tower was vital in establishing Akron not just as a manufacturing center, but a financial one as well.” The name changed yet again in 2017 when FirstMerit was acquired by Huntington Bank.
In 2019, Huntington announced they were planning to sell the tower. As of yet, no asking price has been listed. The old WAKR antenna came down that same year.
Despite a possible sale, the tower is still home to Huntington Bank, a barbershop, a newsstand and other offices.
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.
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