Rehabilitating Youngstown’s Tallest
There is a lot of commonality between Youngstown, Ohio and the Ohio River valley that I grew up within near Ironton. Both are areas that have experienced major employment losses, either due to a declining steel mill or other heavy industries; both are areas that have experienced population declines in the cities; both are areas that are impoverished. But the severity of Youngstown’s losses are hard to compare to.
When Youngstown Sheet & Tube’s Campbell Works abruptly closed in 1977, it left behind 5,000 workers who were taken back and wondering what their futures held. It was a “black Monday” that was followed up with the closure of the Brier Hill Works in 1979. The industry had been on the tip of an iceberg for much of the decade, as new technologies, such as basic oxygen furnaces and continuous casters, were not being adapted fast enough. The large steel producers wanted to wait the technology out to ensure that it could match production speeds and quality. To make the matters more worrisome, foreign competition began shipping significant quanities of steel to the United States, rising from 5.4 million tons in 1963 to nearly 20 million tons by the end of the decade. This led to fewer profits by the steel industry, which led to fewer investments in the plant’s facilities and equipment, which only led to a slow and eventual downward creep towards bankruptcy.
But it’s 2012, and no one single industry can drag down a city for that long. Youngstown has begun a rebound, brought on by Youngstown State University – conveniently located adjacent to downtown, and new heavy industries, such as VM Star. The rapid growth of the marcellus shale exploration, leading to a bonanza of contractors and companies flooding eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has led the charge in the redevelopment of the industrial “rust belt.”
Mirroring the decline of the city, from a population that once topped 177,000 and now has dipped to 66,000 is the Wick Building along West Federal Street. Designed by Chicago-based D.H. Burnham & Company in the Chicago School and Romanesque-revival architectural style, the 184-foot tall building was built from 1906 to 1910, and opened to tenants on April 1. The red-bricked, steel-framed building featured intricate terra cotta. Financing was derived from Youngstown native George Dennick Wick, who was a leading iron and steel manufacturer, and whose family were involved in banking and real estate interests. The Wick was the city’s tallest until the completion of the Metropolitan Tower in 1929. It housed the Wick Brothers Trust Company among other Wick enterprises.
In 1969, Burdman Bros purchased the Wick Building for $230,000. The company invested more than $1 million from 1988 to 1993 for mechanic and interior renovations in anticipation of selling the building to Phar-Mor Inc., but when a scandal plagued the company, Burdman looked at other options. In December 1993, Burdman agreed to donate the Wick Building and a parking lot to the city as gifts. The city planned to seek redevelopment proposals in the following year from private businesses to locate within the tower. The city would offer the building and its 50,000 square feet of space to a developer with the goal of adding 100 jobs to downtown. A number of law firms and accounting firms occupied only about 40% of the structure, of which the leases “more than covered” the occupancy costs.
In 1996, Stop 26 Riverbend Inc. attempted to purchase the Wick for $50,000. The company’s president, Attorney Percy Squire, stated that he had tried to purchase the building, but after Mayor George M. McKelvey took office in January 1998, he was told the city was no longer interested in the deal. Squire noted that the building was appraised at just $350,000 and needed repairs and ongoing maintenance.
Despite the downtown in Youngstown’s economy, the occupancy of the Wick stood at 72% by 2005, although the city rented 12,000 square feet in the building, including the third and ninth floors, and part of the eighth. Several city departments were housed within, including economic development offices. Other tenants included WRPB-FM, WGFT-AM, Youngstown Convocation Center, Henderson, Covington, Messenger, Newman & Thomas Co., L.P.A., a law firm and Superior Chemical Company. The Youngstown police street crimes unit moved into their offices in November 2003, and a nightclub operated on the ground floor in 2004 in a space that had been vacated 18 months prior by a women’s clothing store.
Lou Frangos, a Cleveland, Ohio developer, purchased the Wick Building from the city on May 20, 2005 for $125,000. The city had also been in discussions with Squire and Youngstown Wick Real Estate Partners when “an unsolicited offer” for the Wick was made. Squire had operated the two radio stations from the Wick, and wanted to spend up to $211,000 in improvements to the structure to add modern elevators and to renovate the building. Frangos’ plan was to convert the structure into upscale residential apartments or condominiums at a cost of $13 million. Work was scheduled to begin in late 2006, but with the downturn in the economy due to the Great Recession, the idea for student housing for Youngstown State University came about. But Frangos never developed upon the idea for student housing.
On August 24, 2012, Frangos sold the Wick to Dominic Marchionda for $150,000. Marchionda’s initial plan was to convert the Wick into a boutique hotel, which would be the first hotel in the city since the Wick-Pollock Inn closed in 1998, and the first in downtown since the 1970s when the Voyager closed. A later plan would be to convert the Wick into 40 apartment units. Construction could begin in the winter of 2012, with work taking one to two years to complete.
Another one of Youngstown’s tallest is the Stambaugh Building. The Stambaugh Building was designed by Albert Kahn of Detroit, and construction began in 1906 for a reinforced concrete office tower with a white brick facade and a neo-classical revival design. The eight-story, $1.5 million building was financed by John and George Stambaugh. By November 1907, work began on cutting the partition tile for the interior, and the installation of tile for the floors and side walls. Concrete was still being poured on the upper two floors during that time, with work proceeding in an expedited manner.
On September 28, 1912, the Stambaugh’s announced were considering the advisability of adding four stories to the structure due to the popularity of the building. The proclamation was made after the Vindicator had hinted at the possibly of an upward expansion. The building boasted a 100% occupancy, and the owners were optimistic that the new floors could be filled with offices for the large industrial firms located in the city.
A contract for the addition was let on February 17, 1913 to James L. Stuart of Pittsburgh for approximately $200,000. The plans included removing the present cornice and adding additional steel to raise the building’s height by an additional 60 feet. The steel was set to be placed by May 15, with occupancy by early November. The addition was finished in the following year, topping the Stambaugh out at 160 feet in height.
The grand structure, located within Youngstown’s central square, was headquarters of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, which occupied the top five floors. The Stambaugh also featured an Euwer’s Department Store that took up the first three floors and basement. The department store opened at 9 AM on August 7, 1908 and featured 25 departments with $200,000 worth of stock and equipment. Some of the features of the new store included a mahogany soda fountain on the first level, a complete telephone system with an exchange on the mezzanine floor, two ladies’ rest and waiting parlors with tea rooms, and a mammoth electric sign fabricated by the Ohio Sign Company that read “Euwer’s” on the top of the building.
In July 1915, Youngstown Sheet and Tube completed new offices at its East Youngstown Works, where its operating department relocated to from the Stambaugh. It continued to maintain its tenth through twelfth floor presence for its auditing, order and other city offices. In December 1925, the steel company took over the eighth and ninth floors, relocating its legal offices, traffic, claim and real estate offices into the Stambaugh. But in 1958, Youngstown Sheet and Tube moved its corporate offices to Boardman in 1958. The Standard Slag Company moved in shortly after, occupying the top three-and-a-half floors, as did Bessemer Limestone. In 1940, Morris Plan Bank moved from the Terminal Building to the first floor of the Stambaugh. The Terminal was a causality of the widening of West Commerce Street.
On July 18, 1967, it was announced that the Stambaugh, partially owned by John Stambaugh III among others, was to be sold to Youngstown Realty Corporation. The transaction, totaling $1 million, was completed on October 3. Major improvements were planned to the structure, although details were not disclosed. In 1983, the building was sold to the H.L. Libby Corporation. Howard Libby was a principal partner of Youngstown Realty, and expressed desire to restore the building. The original terrazzo floors were uncovered, cleaned and polished, the marble walls and stairs cleaned, and the brass restored. The window sashes, long painted over, were restored to their original grained walnut appearance. The mail chutes, built by the Cutler Mail Chute Company of Rochester, New York, were also restored.
On November 7, 1997, the Stambaugh Building was sold to a subsidiary of Cambridge Investment Group of Cleveland from H.L. Libby Corp. for $950,000. Boardman desired to restore the building to its original appearance, and lure in the businesses that once left for the suburbs for its free parking and highway convenience. Tenants at the time included KeyBank, BW-3 (later Buffalo Wild Wings), several attorneys and an accounting firm.
By the 2000s, the Stambaugh was not in the best of condition. The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber began exploring relocation options from its offices on the top floor of the building in 2002, and relocated in October 2003. The entity complained about the lack of heat from April 1 to November, which was needed at times, and the scattered residents that were allowed to keep pets. The building was operated by Stambaugh Associates and controlled by Jeffrey Moffie, but Stambaugh Associates had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Moffie began renovations to vacant floors in the summer of 2003 during the bankruptcy proceedings. A court order gave Stambaugh Associates eight months to buy the Stambaugh from Pacific Coast Investment Company for up to $2 million; in the meantime, Stambaugh Associates was allowed to lease the building from Pacific Coast and continue renovations. The Stambaugh was co-purchased by Lou Frangos, a Cleveland, Ohio developer and Platia Square LLC of New York City for $1.15 million on March 6, 2006. At the time, the lone-tenant was Buffalo Wild Wings. Frangos had planned to convert the structurally sound building into a hotel, but a cost estimate of $15 million led the project to be mothballed. Frangos called the building “a lost cause.”
During a heavy rainstorm in July 2007, four windows from the tower fell to the ground. Two fell onto an adjoining parking lot and two on the roof of Buffalo Wild Wings. Two additional windows fell from the rear on May 24, 2008. Four days after that incident, Frangos had employees remove windows from the Stambaugh, initially wanting to replace the windows with plastic. He then decided to use plywood. Frangos began the window removal without a city permit and approval from the city’s Design Review Committee, an oversight that Frangos admitted. On June 5, after more than 400 of the 531 windows were removed, another pane fell out of the structure and onto East Federal Street as a city official watched. The window removal process was immediately stopped by the city. On July 11, the city’s Design Review Committee rejected Frangos’ plan to board the windows up with plywood, citing aesthetic and safety concerns.
A letter, signed by 17 of Youngstown’s business leaders, questioned Frango’s long- and short-term plans on the Stambaugh, and expressed concern over potential mistreatment of the historical site. Two days later, Frangos met with city leaders and he agreed to improve the window frames so that the windows could be removed and replaced. If the frames were too damaged, he would be allowed to install Plexiglas or new windows. The city found that 99% of the windows were in good repair to be reinstalled. Work began to reinstall the windows on June 27 by the All American Window and Door Company of Cleveland.
In July 2012, Frangos sold his share of the Stambaugh to Dominic Marchionda, along with the adjacent parking deck for the building.
I look forward to the rehabilitation and redevelopment of both the Wick and Stambaugh Buildings in downtown Youngstown. With the success of the Realty and Erie Terminal Buildings, especially with their distance relation to Youngstown State University, the conversion of two of the city’s tallest will only amplify the ongoing redevelopment efforts within the city. There is much potential that has yet to be untapped, and Youngstown stands to be a model of not decline, but of rebirth.