The history of downtown’s Liberty Tower, soon-to-be movie star in a Robert Redford film

Historic skyscraper an example of “when every little detail mattered”

The Liberty Tower, which recently posed for its Hollywood close-up, was a rising star when it was completed in 1931.

At 284 feet tall, the Mutual Home Building, as it was originally named when built for the Mutual Home and Savings Association, was the tallest in Dayton from 1931 to 1969.

A view of the Mutual Home Building under construction June 5, 1931. The Art-Deco skyscraper was built in Dayton by the Mutual Home and Savings Association. Today it is called Liberty Tower and was recently used as a film location for a Hollywood movie. LIBERTY TOWER ARCHIVES

“They wanted this to be a hallmark building for downtown,” said Jenna Kreitzer, the Liberty Tower building manager who said she “fell in love with the building” when she began her career as a bank teller in the lobby a decade ago.

There she worked surrounded by marble walls transported from Italy by steam ship, 30-foot-high plaster ceilings and teller line gates designed with intricate metal work.

Construction continues on the Mutual Home Building in 1930. The Art-Deco skyscraper was built for the Mutual Home and Savings Association. LIBERTY TOWER ARCHIVES

Last month, the building - Dayton’s only Art Deco setback skyscraper - was used as a location for filming “The Old Man and the Gun,” a movie starring Robert Redford, Danny Glover and Sissy Spacek.

The towering building is designed to have a “setback” at vertical intervals, giving it the look of stacked blocks, according to research provided by the City of Dayton Planning & Community department. The design style represented the “modern corporate” image businessmen in the 1930s wished to convey to the public.

Architects Schenk & Williams, whose projects included Hawthorn Hill and the Engineers Club of Dayton, designed the 23-story building with two basement floors and an elevator penthouse.

A group visiting Dayton from the Netherlands in 1953 took an architectural tour of the city which included the Hulman building, now called the Liberty Tower. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

The tower, built out of concrete and steel, is adorned at its street level base with 16-foot-high black marble and detailed with floral deco engravings. Limestone keystones top the arched windows, and decorative stone spandrel panels are placed at each of the three building setbacks.

Inside, the mechanicals were a marvel of the day. Advertising boasted a custom-engineered air cooling by humidification system. “Cool As An Evening Breeze,” read one newspaper ad. “The desirability of office hours is assured by cool, washed air.”

The Liberty Tower, originally named the Mutual Home Building, is adorned at the street level base with 16-foot-high black marble and floral deco engravings. Limestone keystones top the arched windows and decorative stone spandrel panels are placed at each of the three setbacks on the tower. LIBERTY TOWER ARCHIVES

Speedy state-of-the-art elevators whisked secretaries and businessmen up and down the floors at 750 feet per minute. The operators who ran them worked under strict guidelines.

“Elevator men should stand erect; they should never slouch,” was one of 30 rules of conduct.

Below street level, in one of the midwest’s first two-story underground garages, an automobile filling station was manned by garage attendants who could also wash the automobiles of the workers in the floors above them.

An early view of elevators and a mail box are located in the ornate lobby of the Mutual Home Building, now called the Liberty Tower in downtown Dayton. LIBERTY TOWER ARCHIVES

During World War II, Liberty Tower, the highest vantage point in the city, was used as an air raid lookout. Men in the United States Army Signal Corps were stationed in pairs 24 hours a day to keep an eye out through their binoculars. The Liberty Tower’s code name through the war was “Dog Easy 77.”

The building was purchased in 1945 by the Hulman family, the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, according to Kreitzer. In the late 1970s, the Cen-Day Office Company became the owner.

The Mutual Home Building in Dayton was completed in 1931. Today it is called the Liberty Tower. It is the city's only Art Deco "setback" skyscraper. LIBERTY TOWER ARCHIVES

Liberty Savings Bank purchased the building in 1998 and began a restoration process. Tennessee marble floors were revealed underneath carpet in the lobby, 1970s era lighting was removed and paneling was ripped off to expose original woodwork.

Today, 85 percent of Liberty Tower is occupied, according to Kreitzer, and Liberty Savings Bank is exploring new uses for the lobby, which may include event space or tenant use.

A walk through the building today is a step back in time. Letters can still be heard fluttering down the original mail chutes to a letter box in the ornately detailed lobby.

A view of the Hulman Building, now called the Liberty Tower, in 1969. When completed the Art-Deco skyscraper was called the Mutual Home Building and was built for the Mutual Home and Savings Association. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Light fixtures, designed in the angles of the period, illuminate the hallways, and stylized original metal hardware adorns the nameplates and banisters.

“Nothing else downtown looks like this building,” Kreitzer said. “It’s a look into how differently buildings were built back then when every little detail mattered.”

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