Filed Under Architecture

Cleveland Trust Company

The southeast anchor of Cleveland’s most prominent downtown intersection is a work of art that—in the true spirit of capitalism—began with a competition. In 1903, the Cleveland Trust Company (established in 1894 with $500,000 in capital) merged with the Western Reserve Trust Company. The combined entity could not function effectively in rented office spaces, so it launched a contest to decide who would design a new headquarters. The winner was George Browne Post, a renowned architect who had previously designed the home of the New York Stock Exchange. Post may have been the 19th century’s king of “architectural firsts.” The Equitable Life Assurance Society in New York, which he designed in 1868, was the first office building to use elevators. Post’s Western Union Telegraph Building (1872) was the first office building to reach ten stories. And upon its completion in 1890, Post’s 20-story New York World Building (also known as the Pulitzer Building) was the city’s tallest structure.

Post’s winning design became the Cleveland Trust Company headquarters. Completed in 1908, it remained a banking cornerstone for 88 years. In 1919 the bank unveiled a plan to add an 11-story tower atop Post's original building, but it took another half century before a major expansion occurred–this time in the form of an adjacent 29-story tower designed by Brutalist architect Marcel Breuer. The late-1960s plan actually called for twin towers framing the old rotunda, but the second tower was never built. By 1977, Cleveland Trust had 120 branches and $5 billion in assets. By 1987, the entity now known as AmeriTrust was the eighteenth largest bank in America. However, the collapse of the real estate market in the late 1980s hurt the institution badly and, in 1991, AmeriTrust accepted a buyout bid from Society Corporation (now Key Bank). The complex, including the adjacent tower, thus became superfluous and closed in 1996. It remained shuttered for almost two decades, emblematic of fading, neglected cities everywhere and a victim of poor management decisions by its overseers: the commissioners of Cuyahoga County. 

Through all its changes, the building’s glorious exterior (three stories of white granite facing) and marble interior rotunda survived largely intact. According to The Guide to Cleveland Architecture, “The central pediment displays sculptures by Karl Bitter, which depict, allegorically, the primary sources of wealth in the United States (land and water) with their concomitant occupations: industrial labor, agriculture, mining, commerce, navigation and fishery. The interior of the rotunda features a dome, 85 feet high, with stained glass panels 61 feet in diameter. (In 2016, through the efforts of local graduate student Karl Brunjes, it was learned that these glass panels were not designed, as earlier believed, by Louis Comfort Tiffany, but instead by Italian immigrant Nicolas D'Ascenzo.) The fluted columns, Corinthian pilasters, bronze doorways and grilles, marble floors and walls are reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance.” High above the main floor are a series of 13 murals created by Francis Davis Millet, an American painter, sculptor and writer. Entitled “Pioneer and Discovery,” the panels chronicle America’s colonization, cultivation and development. Each panel measures 5 x 16 feet.

The building’s business accoutrements may not be works of art, but they are nonetheless impressive. The safe deposit vault was built of 200 tons of metal encased in eighteen inches of concrete. The vault’s door weighed seventeen tons. The facility also had a “telautograph,” which could copy a message in one part of the building at the same time the original message was being written.

The Cleveland Trust Company’s current incarnation began in 2013, when Geis Companies purchased the structure, along with the adjacent tower, which they converted into a hotel and apartments. Cleveland-based grocery store chain owners Tom and Jeff Heinen then invested $10 million to transform the bank rotunda, and an adjoining building at 1010 Euclid Avenue, into a 27,000-square-foot supermarket, which opened its doors on February 25, 2015. The first floor of the rotunda houses the deli, bakery, meat and seafood, and prepared foods departments, and includes a seating area where patrons can enjoy their food. The second floor houses beer and wine departments where patrons can try samples. Seats throughout this level provide excellent views of Millet’s masterpieces. The 1010 Euclid Avenue portion of the store contains produce and packaged and frozen foods.

The Heinen’s remake of the Cleveland Trust Company has catalyzed a resumption of the importance of Euclid-East 9th intersection. However, rather than being the heart of the financial district with banks on three of four corners, the intersection now has three of its four corners directed toward lifestyles: in addition to Heinen’s transformation of Cleveland Trust into a flagship supermarket, a hotel occupies the old Scofield Building, and luxury apartments are in development in the old Union Commerce Bank Building.

Images

Cleveland Trust Rotunda, 2015 Although it is often attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany, the magnificent stained-glass ceiling's actual creator was Nicolas D'Ascenzo, an immigrant from Italy. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: April 6, 2015
First Methodist Church, 1904 The church, erected in 1874, appears here just before its demolition in 1905 to build the Cleveland Trust Company Building. The congregation moved to a large, new Gothic edifice at Euclid and East 30th that same year. Note that this section of Euclid Avenue's famed "Millionaires' Row" had completely transformed into part of city's central business district by this time. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery Creator: Livingston Fewsmith Date: 1904
George B. Post's Stock Exchange, ca. 1908 Designed in 1903 by George B. Post, the New York Stock Exchange Building includes a pediment sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward called "Integrity Protecting the Works of Man." In Cleveland, Post seems to have drawn some inspiration for the Cleveland Trust Company Building from his earlier work in New York. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Creator: Irving Underhill Date: ca. 1908
Exterior Construction of Dome, 1906 Completed in 1908, the Cleveland Trust Company Building was erected on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street. In the late 19th century, the site had been home to several structures associated with the First Methodist Church. One of the greatest challenges faced by architect George B. Post was the lot's irregular shape. Post overcame this problem by designing the building with a soaring rotunda supported by an odd number of unevenly spaced columns. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery Date: 1906
Dome Looking East on Euclid As this photo makes clear, the cityscape east of East 9th Street was not nearly as intensively developed in 1907 as it would become over the ensuing fifteen years as upper Euclid department stores, theaters, hotels, and office buildings rose to hide any of the pictured buildings that remained on the diagonal Huron Road. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection Date: June 25, 1907
Cleveland Trust, ca. late 1920s The exterior of the bank during its early years, most likely the late 1920s. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Rotunda Banking Room, 1938 The building's rotunda reaches 85 feet in height, crowned by stained glass panels 61 feet in diameter. Note the heavy brass rails along the balconied floors. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery Date: 1938
Cleveland Trust Exterior During Cleaning, 1964 For years Cleveland Press columnist Milt Widder conducted what historian John Vacha called "a one-man campaign in print for Cleveland Trust to clean up its sooty facade, often addressing his squibs publicly to bank president George Gund." The soot, of course, was a signature of a city–and a bank–built on heavy industry, but by the 1960s, with the first major wave of downtown revitalization underway, Cleveland Trust's seeming obliviousness to the appearance of the city's leading bank and its most prominent crossroads drew fire. In 1964, Gund ordered a thorough cleaning of his bank. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Clay Herrick Date: 1964
Cleveland Trust Tower Rendering, 1967 This artist's rendering shows the bank's plan to construct twin 29-story towers immediately south and east of the original Cleveland Trust Company Building. Only the south tower was built. Marcel Breuer, who designed the towers, was a noted Brutalist architect, and the one resulting structure represents his only skyscraper project. The tower was recently converted into "The 9," a complex of luxury apartments and a hotel called the Metropolitan at the 9. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1967
Bas-relief in Exterior Pediment, 2015 The Cleveland Trust Company Building’s outer pediments were designed by Karl Bitter. The ones facing Euclid Avenue represent land- and sea-based means of acquiring wealth, such as mining and fishing. Seated between the land and sea halves is a figure that represents banking—the point where resources and accumulation of wealth come together. Creator: J. Mark Souther Date: December 17, 2015
Opening Day at Heinen's, 2015 Six of Francis Millet's mural panels can be seen in this photo. According to a 1910 article in the Plain Dealer, President William Howard Taft was so moved by the painting of Niagara Falls (at right) that he pushed to reinstate a commission that would protect the Falls from development. Sadly, Millet died when the Titanic sank in 1912, four years after he completed the Cleveland Trust murals. Source: Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/edrost88/16648036925/, CC BY 2.0 Creator: Erik Drost Date: February 25, 2015

Location

900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115

Metadata

Charlotte Nicole Toledo and Chris Roy, “Cleveland Trust Company,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 15, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/761.