Filed Under Architecture

Standard Building

Warren S. Stone's Crowning Achievement

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers had never before had a leader quite like Warren Sanford Stone. In 1910, with Stone at the helm as their Grand Chief, the Brotherhood built the 14-story Engineers Building on the southeast corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue in downtown Cleveland. It was the first skyscraper in the country built by a union. That might have been achievement enough for most men, but Stone was just getting started.

On July 20, 1925, its formal opening was held. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) Bank Building--known to us today as the Standard Building. That beautiful 21-story pale cream terra cotta building located on the southwest corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue, in downtown Cleveland. Built by the union whose name it originally bore and designed by the well-regarded architectural firm of Knox and Elliot, whose other works included the Rockefeller Building (1905), the Hippodrome Theater (1908), and the Engineers Building (1910) downtown, and the Breakers Hotel (1905) at Cedar Point. At 282 feet, it was taller than any other in Cleveland to that date, except for the Union Trust Building (in 2022, the Centennial Building), at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East Ninth Street. And even that building--also with 21 stories-- was only 7 feet taller.

The opening of such a building should have been a festive event for the BLE, which had been headquartered in Cleveland since 1870. The union claimed the distinction of being the oldest in the country and, with 80,000 members, it was also one of the largest. And, since 1903, it had been led by one of the most capitalist--yes, capitalist--union leaders ever, Warren Sanford Stone. In 1910, under his leadership, the union had constructed the 14-story tall Engineers Building just across Ontario Street from where the BLE Bank Building would go up 15 years later. It was the first skyscraper in the country built by an employee organization. Ten years later, in 1920, the BLE, again, with Stone at its helm, founded the country's first labor bank. Officially incorporated as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers National Cooperative Bank, it was from the start known to all simply as the Engineers Bank. And then, in the first five years following the founding of that bank, Stone, who also served as its president, opened 15 branch offices in cities all across the country, including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon. By 1925, the BLE was invested in banks, real estate, businesses and other holdings with a total value in excess of $150 million, a huge figure in that era. When asked why he had led his union into so many capital ventures, Stone responded, "When there is trouble the owners have been inaccessible to us. They were to be found on Wall Street, no matter where the [rail]road in question was located. So we decided to buy into 'Wall Street.' Now we can sit at the same table with these men and talk things over."

And now Stone's growing labor bank was preparing to move into its new headquarters in the second tallest building in downtown Cleveland. And so, by all accounts, July 20, 1925 should have been a festive day. But the mood that day was not, because Warren Sanford Stone, Grand Chief of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers since 1903 and the driving force behind all of these capitalist projects, had one month earlier, after returning from a business trip to New York, died suddenly on June 12 from kidney disease. His death had been mourned not just by union members, and not just in Cleveland, but, according to newspaper accounts, all across the country. So tragic a loss it was that the opening of the union's new bank building, which had been scheduled to open in June, was delayed to July 20. The crowd that turned out for the rescheduled event was still a large one as originally expected, but, as one reporter noted, many who attended first stood for a moment in the bank lobby of the building, gazing up reverently at the large portrait of Warren S. Stone, before moving on to see the rest of the building.

In the early years of the Engineers Bank Building's history, the bank itself occupied the two-story skylighted lobby and mezzanine in the center of the U-shaped building, as well as the basement. The next 18 floors held a variety of government and private sector tenants. The federal Treasury Department had offices on the sixth floor, and for several years Elliot Ness, who was investigator in charge of the Alcohol Tax Unit in Cleveland, had an office in the building before Mayor Harold Burton hired him to become the city's Safety Director in 1935. Other prominent tenants in the building over the years included Dyke College, Sherwin Williams, and the U.S. Army Induction Center. From the start, many lawyers also had offices in the building because of its proximity to the County Court House and City Hall, both located on Lakeside Avenue. (The number of lawyers in the building later grew even more when, in 1976, the massive Justice Center complex opened just across the street on the northwest corner of St. Clair Avenue and Ontario Street.) The 20th floor of the building originally featured a glass-enclosed garden and promenade, as well as a "sky-top" restaurant, ballroom and health club. Ness was known, even as Safety Director, to return to the health club from time to time to play a very competitive game of badminton.

It was in the 1930s that the building acquired the name by which it is known today. When the Engineers Bank merged with several other small banks in 1930 to form the Standard Trust bank, the building was renamed the Standard Trust Building. However, as so many other banks did during the Great Depression, the Standard Trust Bank soon failed, and the building then became known simply as the Standard Building. It was so known until 1974 when it was renamed the Northern Ohio Bank Building after the bank that opened offices there. However, that bank went out of business in 1975, and, on January 1, 1976, the building reverted to the name, Standard Building. It has been known as that ever since.

In 1989, the Standard Building became the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE-T), the successor organization to the BLE, the original owner of the building. The union had been headquartered in the Engineers Building across Ontario Street since 1910, but had been forced to move from that building in 1989 when the building was razed in order to make room for the Key Center complex. The BLE-T kept its headquarters in the Standard Building until 2014, when it moved to its new headquarters in Independence, Ohio, and sold the Standard Building to a subsidiary of Weston Inc., a local real estate development firm owned by the Asher family. Weston soon announced that it planned to convert the Standard Building, which was designated a Cleveland Landmark in 1979, into a luxury apartment building to be known as "The Standard."

Images

Standard Building, ca. 1921
Standard Building, ca. 1921 Originally known as the Engineers Bank Building when it opened in 1925, it was renamed the Standard Trust Building in about 1930 when the latter named bank was formed from a merger of the Engineers Bank with two other banks. Later, after Standard Trust Bank failed during the Great Depression, the building became known simply as the Standard Building. This sketch was prepared by the building's architect circa 1921. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Date: Ca. 1921
Warren Sanford Stone (1860-1925), ca. 1908
Warren Sanford Stone (1860-1925), ca. 1908 This photograph was taken of Stone five years or so after he became Grand Chief of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE), then one of the oldest and largest employee unions in the country. Under Stone's leadership, the BLE embraced capitalism like no other union of the era, building the first union-owned skyscraper in the United States in 1910 and then founding the first union-owned bank in 1920. Stone capped his career by spearheading the building of the 21-story Engineers Bank Building--now known as the Standard Building. It opened in 1925, one month after Stone's sudden and untimely death from kidney disease. Source: Library of Congress photograph collection Date: Ca. 1908
The Engineers Building, 1928
The Engineers Building, 1928 The first skyscraper built in the United States by an employee union. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, under the leadership of Warren Stanford Stone, erected this 14-story building in 1910 on the southeast corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue. There it stood for the next 79 years until it was razed in 1989 to make room for the Key Tower complex. This photograph of the building was taken in 1928. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery Date: 1928
Engineers Building Auditorium, 1928
Engineers Building Auditorium, 1928 Not only was the Engineers Building the first union-built skyscraper in the United States, but it also featured this beautiful three-story auditorium, shown in this 1928 photograph. The auditorium was used both for conventions and other union functions and for theater performances and other events open to the public. Over the years, it fell into disrepair, but was renovated and restored in 1982. Then, just seven years later, it was lost forever when the Engineers Building was razed to make room for the Key Center complex. Source: Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery
Date: 1928
American and British Labor Leaders in WWI
American and British Labor Leaders in WWI At a meeting held in New York on May 26, 1917, just months after the United States entered World War I on the side of the allied powers, British labor leaders provided counsel to American labor leaders on how American unions could best help the war effort. Among the American labor leaders present was Grand Chief Warren S. Stone of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. He is standing to the far right, directly above a sitting Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor. The war delayed Stone's plans to found the first union-owned bank in America until 1920, and thus indirectly also delayed the eventual building of that bank's building--the Standard Building--until 1925. Source: Library of Congress Photo Collection
Engineers Bank Ad, 1921
Engineers Bank Ad, 1921 This ad for the Brotherhood of Engineers Cooperative National Bank--known as the Engineers Bank-- appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on July 23, 1921. Founded in 1920, it was the first union-owned bank in the United States. The ad features a sketch of the proposed bank building that the union would later build on the southwest corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue during the years 1923-1925. Today, that building is known as the Standard Building. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Date: July 23, 1921
Temporary Quarters, ca. 1925
Temporary Quarters, ca. 1925 While the Engineers Bank (Standard) Building was being erected on the southwest corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue from 1923-1925, the Engineers Bank relocated from its offices in a former saloon on that site to the Spencer Building, just down the street on St. Clair Avenue, between W. 2nd and W. 3rd Streets. (If you look closely, you can see the bank's sign above the store front on the left.) The bank then moved from the Spencer Building into the new Engineers Bank building when it opened on July 20, 1925. This undated photograph was taken circa 1925. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photo Collection Date: Ca. 1925
New Bank Building Opens, 1925
New Bank Building Opens, 1925 The Engineers Bank Building, now known as the Standard Building, formally opened its doors to the public on July 20, 1925. The excitement of the opening was somewhat diminished by the death of BLE Grand Chief Warren S. Stone just a month earlier on June 12. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Date: 1925
The Bank Lobby, 1925
The Bank Lobby, 1925 This 1925 photograph of the interior of the Standard Building (then known as the Engineers Bank Building) shows the first floor lobby, the second floor mezzanine, and the skylight over both. This was the area of the building occupied by the Brotherhood of Engineers Cooperative National Bank from 1925 until 1930 when it and two other banks merged to form the Standard Trust Bank. Source: Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Archives Date: 1925
Glass-enclosed Promenade, 1925
Glass-enclosed Promenade, 1925 One of the more interesting features of the Standard Building, as originally designed and built, was the 20th floor glass-enclosed rooftop garden and promenade. This photo from the December 13, 1925 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows an unidentified man in the promenade enjoying a rooftop view of downtown Cleveland to the east. The building's glass-enclosed promenade no longer exists today. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Date: December 13, 1925
Turning Its Back on Public Square, 1926
Turning Its Back on Public Square, 1926 While the north and east sides of the new Engineers Bank Building (now known as the Standard Building) which fronted on major streets were ornate, featuring terra cotta facades, architectural ornaments, many windows, a skylight and a rooftop garden, the south and west sides were windowless expanses of uninterrupted yellow brick, providing a very unappealing view of the building especially from the south, as this 1926 photograph reveals. Only a clock and the Engineers Bank sign adorn that south wall in this photo. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital photograph collection Date: 1926
Engineers Buildings Serve as Backdrop, 1939
Engineers Buildings Serve as Backdrop, 1939 In this May 1939 photo, delegates of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, like the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, another of America's early transportation unions, parade down Lakeside Avenue toward Music Hall where their quadrennial convention was being held. Seen in the background are the Engineers Building and the Engineers Bank Building (today, the Standard Building), then the two tallest skyscrapers other than the Terminal Tower, in this section of downtown Cleveland. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Date: May 1939
The Standard Building, 1965
The Standard Building, 1965 In this photograph taken from Erieview Tower on E. 12th Street, the Standard Building on the corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue still appears as one the taller buildings in downtown Cleveland. That would change over the course of the next several decades when the Justice Center (1976), the 200 Public Square Building (1985) and the Key Tower Complex (1991) were built. To the right in this photo, the 31-story Anthony J. Celebrezze federal building--ten stories taller than the Standard Building, can be seen going up. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Date: 1965
Dwarfing the Standard Building, 1971
Dwarfing the Standard Building, 1971 In 1970, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County voters approved a bond to finance the construction of a massive Justice Center just to the north of the Standard Building. This 1971 photograph shows the original footprint for the Justice Center complex, which was built during the years 1973-1976. The Courts Tower building of the Justice Center complex is more than 100 feet taller than the Standard Building. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Date: 1971
The Standard Building today
The Standard Building today This 2013 photograph shows the Standard Building and the taller skyscrapers which surround it today. While originally built as a bank building, for decades has been known mostly as an office building and for the many law firms with offices there. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (now, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen), which had headquarters in the Engineers Building from 1910 until 1989 when that building was torn down, relocated to the Standard Building in 1989. It remained there until 2014, the year in which it sold the building and moved to its new headquarters in Independence, a suburb of Cleveland. The Standard Building is currently (2017) being redeveloped into a luxury apartment building. Date: 2013

Location

99 W St Clair Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113 | Access to the building is restricted following a conversion from office to residential use.

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Standard Building,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 14, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/789.