Monday, January 7, 2008

Breuer Tower (AKA The Cleveland Trust/Ameritrust Tower): A Reprieve?

The Breuer Tower has been the subject of some controversy. You may not know that the building is even there, because it sits so nonchalantly behind its smaller, yet architecturally more obvious neighbor, the old Cleveland Trust rotunda.

What’s the big deal about this building? Well, it’s a prime example of the ignorance, the shortsightedness, and the blind spending of local politicians. More importantly, it has architectural significance. It was designed by modernist Marcel Breuer, in the “brutalist” style, which involves the generous use of raw-looking formed/molded concrete. (One other local design by Breuer was the 1971 addition to the Cleveland Museum of Art.) Breuer is considered a great 20th century architect, and one of the fathers of modernism.

A few years ago, Cuyahoga County paid $22 million dollars for the building, plus 4 other buildings in the complex. The County Commissioners wanted the area for their new headquarters; a project that they promised would revitalize downtown, bring new jobs, and improve government efficiency. None of this is even close to happening.

In June of 2007, the County Commissioners decided to demolish the building to make way for a new administrative center. Uproar ensued. They continued to pour money into asbestos removal, and by December of 2007, spend almost $6 million dollars into removal, and for architectural design. During the asbestos removal process, the lobby window, one of the key architectural pieces of the building, was destroyed. The architectural world was somewhat outraged that this building would be so easily discarded by the city and county, and the county was openly chided by many.

Now the County Commissioners realize it doesn’t have the money to complete the project and wants to sell the building, and focus county money towards the proposed Medical Mart and other projects. The Commissioners also seem no farther along in their plans for a new headquarters.

The building is not a beauty, I’ll admit. And it’s not even 50 years old (it was completed in 1971). From an architectural standpoint, though, it is a significant structure and can have great value for the city over time. It is also listed on the National register of Historic Places, and while part of the Euclid Avenue Historic District, it is considered technically outside the period that the district covers (early 20th-century structures). Being on the register, however, doesn’t prevent the owner of the property from razing the building.

So while the County Commissions do what they do best – spending taxpayer money without foresight and vision - the Breuer Tower waits patiently for someone to adopt it and care for it. Lets hope someone with deep pockets and a real, long-term vision for the city will step forward.

Update January 15, 2008
From The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“K&D only bidder for former Ameritrust property
January 15, 2008

The K&D Group was the only bidder this morning on the former Ameritrust complex at East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue. The Willoughby company bid $35,005,000 for the property, $5,000 more than the minimum bid set by Cuyahoga County.

The county bought the property for $22 million in 2005, intending to turn it into government offices. K&D proposes turning it into a mixed-use facility.

K&D said it would keep the Ameritrust Tower and the historic rotunda intact. The lower floors of that building would become a boutique hotel with 160 to 170 rooms. The upper floors would hold about 200 residential units. K&D said it hopes to line up a tenant for office space in the building during the next year.

The company also plans to build a new Class A office building on the site. The entire complex will become the centerpiece of the Euclid corridor, K&D said.”

Links to Cleveland Plain Dealer articles from January 14th and 15th,

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