The historic Dayton Daily News building began with ‘build me a damn bank’

The Dayton Daily News building, a longtime centerpiece of the community at the corner of Fourth and Ludlow streets, is a stunning example of architectural elegance.

Wander along the site today and you will be amazed at the exterior detail. Roman Corinthian columns rise into an ornate entablature detailed with lions’ heads, dentils and intricate moldings.

Arched stone with decorated intrados frame the main doorway on Ludlow Street — the entry for journalists and the community for decades.

James M. Cox, a newspaperman who became publisher of the Dayton Daily News in 1898 and later governor of Ohio, was drawn to that progressive area of the city, in part, because of the newly built Arcade.

He bought the corner lot at Fourth and Ludlow in August 1908 from the C. Schwind Realty Co. The deal involved a trade, with Schwind winding up with 52 feet of frontage further north on Ludlow.

Ready to construct a new building for his newspaper, Cox approached local banker Valentine Winters for a loan and was turned down.

“Why, I didn’t think you were making your salt,” Gov. Cox recalled the banker saying according to the book “Dayton Ink,” which chronicles the first 100 years of the Dayton Daily News. “Newspapers have never been known to earn money. Of course we can’t accommodate you.”

“Mr. Winters, I do not want to be disagreeable,” Cox told the banker, “but I have such faith in the future of our business that I wouldn’t trade it for your bank.”

Legend has it that Cox angrily instructed architect Albert A. Pretzinger to “build me a damn bank,” as the architect began drawing up plans.

Pretzinger, a Dayton-born and trained architect who was influenced by the School of Fine Art in Paris, built a monument to the Fourth Estate for Cox.

Designed in the Beaux Arts classical style, the rectangular building also features fluted Doric columns and an elaborate acanthus scroll frieze.

Though drawn by Pretzinger, the Dayton Daily News building is a near-replica of a New York City bank, the Knickerbocker Trust Co., designed by architect Stanford White and built in 1904. The building that Cox seemed to mimic, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, was demolished 20 years later.

The Dayton Daily News building’s elaborate design, combined with a lack of signage, created confusion for the public, which often mistook the building for a bank or post office.

Staff in the newspaper’s lobby kept stamps on hand for an elderly woman who would repeatedly come to the newspaper believing it to be the post office.

“It’s one of distinctively beautiful buildings in America and certainly in design and construction one of the most attractive structures in Ohio …” wrote John A. McMahon, the leader of the Ohio Bar, in the 1912 Publishers Guide.

“Cox is today the sole owner and possessor of one of the finest newspaper properties in the country, now located in the most beautiful home in the West. What it is he has made it.”

Additions to the building were made over the years, and the presses eventually stopped running at the site. In 2007, the newspaper offices moved to a former NCR building south of the former Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

The newspaper building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

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