Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series previewing the Urban Loft Tour.
Saturday will feature the fourth annual Urban Loft Tour in downtown Urbana from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Below is the first part of a list of locations on the tour. The remainder of sites will be profiled in Friday’s edition.
2017 Urban Loft Tour Locations: Part 1
Gloria Theatre – 216 South Main Street
216 South Main Street has been a major focus for entertainment in Urbana for more than a century. The Clifford Theater built by nationally-famous vaudeville entertainer and Urbana native, Billy S. Clifford, opened its doors in 1905. As vaudeville declined and movies became the popular entertainment of choice, Urbana inventor and entrepreneur, Warren G. Grimes, rebuilt the Clifford as an art deco movie palace in 1941. The theater opened its doors as the Gloria on Christmas Day 1941. 2017 Loft Tour visitors will be able to see the progress made since the GrandWorks Foundation began its revitalization. For the first half of the day they will tour the second floor where they will still see vestiges of the old Clifford Theater as well as the projection room and the Grimes’ family private viewing room with its custom-designed Gloria Theatre carpeting. When the Urbana Cinema closed, Dave Smith and a group of volunteers at the Urbana United Methodist Church were intrigued with the potential role the theater might play in the life of the community. They formed the GrandWorks Foundation. In 2014, CCPA made a $5,000 grant toward the renovation of the theater. In the past year, GrandWorks has continued its work on the building. Since the theatre reopened in December 2014, it has welcomed thousands of guests and sponsored more than 100 events. It now offers regular motion picture showings and has recently added big screen viewings of sports events. These developments attest to the fact that the Gloria is once again becoming a community gathering place.
22 Monument Square
Like several downtown buildings, 22 Monument Square is actually a component part of a larger structure. While the ground level spaces are clearly divided into separate entities, the upper floors share staircases and often have connecting doors. 22 Monument Square is the center section of what was once the Union Hall Block. Looking at the exterior of the structure, it is clear that the three units in the southwest corner of Monument Square began life as a single structure. In the middle of the 19th century the building was perhaps best known for the meeting space on the third floor known as Union Hall. It was the site of theatrical performances of all types, church bazaars and dinners, and political speeches. In June 1853, the African-American community in Urbana worked to arrange a speech at Union Hall by Frederick Douglass, one of the foremost abolitionist leaders of the day. The superstructure of the building also provides a hint of the industrial history of Urbana. A cast iron support column is embossed with the name “Willcox & Gwynne.”
By 1869, the era of performances at Union Hall was over and the Urbana Citizen & Gazette announced that it was moving its headquarters to the old Union Hall which would then be known as the Union Printing Company. A variety of retail and professional businesses have occupied the ground floor at 22 Monument Square. Early in its history, it was home to the newly-formed Clark, Baldwin & Co. dry goods which used poetry in its newspaper advertisements: “Their Goods are right, their prices low/Go and see and then you’ll know/Goods to one and all the same/without respect to class or name.” At various times a grocery and a cigar manufacturer occupied the first floor. Robert Graves Nationwide insurance was headquartered in the building for many years. His daughter Linda Cosby joined the agency in the 1980s and in 2014, Jamon Sellman acquired both the business and the building. Sellman has moved his agency to the former Uhlmans building across the square which was featured in the inaugural Urban Loft Tour. At the time of the 2016 Tour, Sellman was in the process of converting the second floor into a loft apartment.
This year the apartment is the home of Jeff and Judith Taylor who have just relocated to Urbana from New England and are affiliated with Urbana University. With only the bath and large closet space demarcated by walls, the Taylors are using shelving units to help define various spaces. They have also selected unique furniture pieces to help maximize storage.
Like many lofts, this space has exposed brick walls. Look carefully on the apartment’s rear wall and you will see evidence of an earlier building configuration that may be the indicator of an earlier roof line. The large Victorian windows in the front of the building provide a beautiful view of Monument Square.
12 Monument Square
The federal style building at 12-13 Monument Square has witnessed most of Urbana’s history. Although it has been divided in two, it was originally a single building and the upper floors share a central stairway. Like many structures, its exterior has been modified over the years. It now has a decorative Victorian cornice, an embellished central dormer on the Square façade and decorative tin window lintels. The five-bay front and Palladian style north-facing attic window speak to its early 19th century origins. The second floor center window overlooking the Square still has its original six-over-six pane configuration. The ground floor has had far more drastic changes in its windows.
Over the years, the building has housed a variety of professional offices and businesses as well as residential units. From the late 1900s through the 1950s, 12 Monument Square, the section closest to Scioto Street, was literally the corner drug store. It operated under the names Anderson and Cramers, Cramers, Wilson and finally Mills Pharmacy. Many Urbana natives will think of 12 Monument Square as the home of Howard Evans Jewelers. When the Evans store opened there in 1958, it promised “two floors of gifts from all over the world.” For many years, the second floor of this section housed the offices of dentist Arthur Bible. Darcy R. Bacher purchased 12 Monument Square in 2009.
In the post-Civil War era, the top floor of this building was known as Anderson Hall and was the meeting place of the William A. Brand Post #98 of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans. In fact, if you look closely at the Champaign County Historical Society’s photographic display in the front windows, you can see the shadow of the G.A.R logo between the upper two third floor windows. Tour participants may be feeling a degree of sympathy with the veterans. More than a half-century after the end of the War, writing in 1917, Champaign County historian Evan P. Middleton noted that:
… for several years W. A. Brand Post has had its headquarters in Anderson Hall, 12 ½ Monument Square, where meetings are held on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Recently, however, the members have been seriously considering a change of meeting place. To reach Anderson Hall, the members of the post, whose steps are not nearly so elastic as they were some years ago, have to climb three long flights of stairs. This condition as well as the physical disability of many members, has made it possible for only from six to ten to attend meetings.
Your climb will be rewarded with great views of the square and Scioto Street. The room is now in the raw awaiting new mechanical systems and a ceiling. However, its current state gives the visitor the opportunity to see the massive support beams and even the light from the attic’s Palladian window! See if you can decipher the inscription left on the south wall by a long ago builder or visitor from Pennsylvania!
127 Scioto Street
At the end of the 19th century, a building’s name was perhaps more important than its street address. Postal delivery was still evolving. Street numbers and even street names might change but if an advertisement gave the building’s name, the local citizens would surely know the location. So when James Easton built a commercial structure at the corner of Locust and Scioto Streets in 1894, he made sure that the name “Easton Building” was prominently displayed at the top of the main façade. The building’s first tenants were Easton’s in-laws, the Cones, owners of N. P. Cone and Sons who promised a “Mammoth Stock of Implements and Buggies” for the store’s opening on January 1, 1895. The business and its successors would continue at the same location for seven decades. It had some rocky years to start with when, just a few years after the buildings’ construction, James Easton died in 1901. The legal challenge to his will lasted years but the Cone’s business prospered and was indeed a Champaign County institution. It expanded from agricultural implements, to seed, paint and later to hardware, home goods and toys. Longtime manager W. J. Knight became the owner and the business was called Knight’s Seed Company which remained in operation until 1965
Beginning in the early 1970s, 127 Scioto Street was home to a variety of pool halls, lounges and night clubs. Local residents might remember the Cue and Carpet Club, the Scioto Lounge, Night Moves, the Cedar Pub and finally Rumors Nite Club which closed in the late 1990s. In 1998, Miller’s Office Supply moved to the Easton Building. It was followed by A OK Realty. In late 2010, the building became the Salvation Army Store. When the Salvation Army decided to close the thrift store in 2014, a group of local citizens took action and opened the Community Thrift Store. The store continues to offer a wide selection of vintage and previously owned merchandise ranging from clothing to furniture and decorative pieces to house goods, toys and craft items. It has recently added a “flea market” in its basement. Be sure to stop in the store after you explore the second floor loft space.
The second story of the Easton Building is now a cavernous open space. The ceiling and internal partition walls have been removed. Enormous windows once let in light from all four directions. At first, the upper floor had elaborate professional offices specializing in homeopathic medicine but eventually it was divided into as many as 6 small apartments. While much has been removed, the bullseye woodwork is still in evidence as are wide baseboards and corner moldings. A close look at the floor reveals the shadows of the partition walls including a center hall way with a now covered skylight. The locations of the apartment kitchens are evident by the outlines of sinks on the plaster walls and the locations of the hanging hardware. The potential of this space is limitless.
206 Scioto Street
This classic federal style structure is one of the oldest buildings in Urbana’s downtown core. It is clearly residential and has for most of its history been a single family home or apartments. However, at times it has also served as office and retail space. The building dates from the late 1820s at a time when Urbana was a village of 1,000 or so residents. It was the family home and sometime office space of Dr. Joseph S. Carter.
Carter was a surgeon with the Kentucky militia when he first came to Urbana early in the war of 1812. He returned in 1814 and established a medical practice which continued to his death in 1852. His son, J. S. Carter, Jr. was also a physician and continued the medical practice until 1870. The younger Carter was an investor in Urbana’s Mutual Fire Insurance Company which has associations with two other locations on this year’s Tour. The Carter family sold this home in 1866. The Jacob Aulabaugh family who ran a dry goods business in Urbana owned the home until it was purchased in 1896 by Sarah Ayers when it became known as Ayers Apartments. The Ayers Apartments must have been a convivial place to live. Over the years Urbana newspapers recorded many visits by friends and even a surprise party for a new resident in 1921. However, there were less happy times in 1918 when the “community ice box” located on the back porch was robbed of “fine fresh country eggs and a roast.” Longtime resident Mrs. Ella Portman put the thieves to flight when she “made her presence known by sounds.” A. E. Neff and Milton and Hazel Wetzell owned the building along with their son Robert in the pre-WWII period. It continued as apartments under several other owners until Rich Colvin began an extensive two-year renovation which was in progress in 2015 when the home was on CCPA’s Home and Garden Tour. Rich operated Scioto House Antiques in the first floor space until the building was sold this year to Marilyn and Steve Brune.
The Brunes are putting their own unique stamp on this stately building. They are making their home on the lower level. The second floor still offers two apartments including the fully furnished executive apartment on the 2017 Loft Tour. This beautifully restored and decorated one bedroom unit is worthy of a glossy magazine spread. It features an eclectic mix of antique and modern styles. Visitors will note the original chimney wall cabinets and fireplace in the living room. The couple has a real knack for selecting unexpected items as design elements in a way that makes a statement while also encouraging the viewer to find the beauty in items that might otherwise be overlooked. What looks like a pass-through to the kitchen was originally an interior window that brought light to what was once the back hall and stairwell. An original painting by former building resident Carol Freeman helps define the dining area.
The building is once again an exceptional residence. It speaks to the vitality of this historic structure whose exterior would be completely recognizable to Urbana residents of the 1830s when it was newly built. The home at 206 Scioto Street still reflects the 19th century style that made Lexington, Dr. J. S. Carter’s home town in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, known for gracious living.
Tomorrow: The remainder of the Urban Loft Tour sites, along with information about historical photos.
Anne Mayer submitted this information on behalf of the Champaign County Preservation Alliance’s Urban Loft Tour.