Historic Hamilton building to be demolished but facade saved, stored

Preservationists were disappointed with a board’s approval Tuesday evening allowing for the demolition of a historic building at 216 S. Third St. near Ludlow Street.

In a compromise, however, CORE Fund Director Mike Dingeldein said that before the building is destroyed, a crew will take apart the stones that make up the front of the building and mark them, so the facade can be reassembled someday — preferably in the same location, above a newly built storefront.

Even members of Hamilton’s Architectural Review Board, which approved the building’s elimination, were saddened by the choice. But they agreed with Dingeldein that there were few economical options to keep the building standing.

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The stone-clad Romanesque-style building, constructed about 1890, was known as the Treble Building and formerly the Third Street Department Store. Some who wanted to keep it had argued the CORE (Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts) Fund successfully restored the Mercantile Building, which they said was in worse shape than the one on Third Street.

Dingeldein agreed with that, but has noted the building’s location, blocks from the more commercially attractive High Street, and small size made it far less feasible to restore into a building that could be economically viable.

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Butler County-based Citizens for Historic And Preservation Services (CHAPS) and the Cincinnati Preservation Association had asked for more time to explore ways to save the building. Since then, “we got lots of phone calls, we got lots of interested parties who wanted to ask questions about the building,” Dingeldein said.

One call even came from Larry Strauss of Plano, Texas, a great-grandson of Ben Strauss, who was part of the building’s development.

“But, in response to all those calls, we received zero requests for visits to the building and we received zero formal proposals for any kind of redevelopment,” Dingeldein said.

He said it would quadruple demolition costs, for insurance reasons, to tear down the back of the building and leave the facade standing.

“But the price to mark it, and map it, and to label it, and to stack it and to actually shrink-wrap it on pallets was really reasonable, an additional 10-15 percent of the demolition costs,” Dingeldein said.

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The board voted 8-2 to allow demolition, with one abstention.

Board member Steve Beckman, who voted yes, said, “I understand the reason behind it, but it kills me that that can’t be saved.”

Board member Todd Palecek, who also voted yes, added, “For Mike to step up and be willing to salvage the front facade is just incredible.”

Board member and council member Robert Brown added, “With the demolition, nobody on the board likes this, but with economics, safety, things like that, that’s when we need to move forward.

CORE bought the buildings at 216 and 220 St. Third, intending to renovate both, Dingeldein said. The 220 building is being developed by a Hamilton couple that’s creating a street-level commercial space with two flats upstairs.

Last summer, an 18-acre area of the downtown was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the Treble building was among the 39 buildings that were found to “contribute” to the area’s historic significance. That designation also brings with it the possibility of historic tax credits for carefully restored structures.

Dingeldein noted floors were falling in at the building, which had essentially suffered “demolition by negligence” by prior owners.

Hamilton resident Brian Lenihan, who hoped the building could be saved, said he was pleased the facade would be spared.

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