The Dayton Arcade has sat empty and quiet for more than 25 years but may be on the cusp of a renaissance.
Developers working on new concepts for the complex of buildings recently opened the doors for a media tour through the historic downtown icon.
“This is the building I call the most emotional building in Dayton,” said Dave Williams, vice-president of urban development with Miller-Valentine Group, one of the developers involved with a plan for the future of the building.
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“Buildings can’t have emotions but whenever you talk to someone about the Arcade, they always tell you their story,” he said. “‘I went to Charlie’s Crab and had my first beer or My mom used to come down here and go shopping.’ “
Though deserted for two-and-a-half decades, wandering through the silent buildings is still a marvelous and mysterious trip back in time.
Inside the Fourth Street apartment building, which was continuously occupied for 74 years, terrazzo floors are lined with travertine marble baseboard.
Step through hand crafted doorways into the rooms and you will find built in benches and breakfronts made of mahogany, cherry or quartersawn oak. Most have been painted over.
Tattered curtains hanging on the windows filter the light into rooms last occupied in 1978.
The Dayton Arcade originally opened its doors to great fanfare in 1904.
A front page story in the Dayton Daily News sung its praises as “one of the country’s most modern and complete structures of its kind,” and described the interior as “a veritable bower of beauty and entertainment.”
Wooden carts once wheeled produce along the passageway leading from the main entrance on Third Street to a farmers market on the interior.
Today signs for Goldfinger, Excess Baggage and Shoe-Fixers are frozen in time in the same glass-covered walkway.
Time and water damage have created swaths of peeling paint and plaster but have also helped uncover unexpected hidden architectural treasures, according to John Gower, urban design director at CityWide Development Corp. Two elegant porticos leading off the walkway were discovered to be carved out of marble after the plaster camouflaging them melted away.
Frank Mills Andrews, an Iowa born architect, designed the Arcade as a home for shops and a farmers market as well as offices and apartments.
The centerpiece of his vision is the three-story domed rotunda.
Andrews designed the rotunda, which is 90 feet in diameter by 70 feet high, to be supported by 16 arcaded bays of iron pillars with semi-circular and semi-elliptical arches surrounding the space.
“This is an incredible place for people to be and I’ve always described it as a market cathedral,” said Gower.
Strings of Christmas lights hung in 1992 for Holly Days, a downtown seasonal event, still hang from the center of the glass dome.
Colorful turkeys with crested tails and brackets detailed with oak leaves and acorns made from sheet metal circle the rotunda.
Brightly painted cornucopias and rams heads look down on the space that was once filled with hundreds of stalls selling meat, baked goods, fresh fruit and live birds.
Today the Miller-Valentine Group and Maryland-based developer Cross Street Partners have a $70 million plan for revitalizing the Dayton Arcade that nods to the past while incorporating a “modern twist.”
Co-share space, innovation space, kitchen incubators and a boutique hotel just begin to scratch the surface of ideas for the complex “to help spur on new vibrancy and new users,” Williams said.
“Ironically the plan is the 114-year-old plan, it’s very similar to what happened when it was built,” Williams said. “It was built around housing, it was built around business, offices and retail.”
Staff writer Cornelius Frolik contributed to this story.