When the doors to the Dayton Arcade opened in 1904 it became the crowning jewel of the city.
Described as “one of the country’s most modern and complete structures of its’ kind,” in a Dayton Daily News story published March 3, 1904 marking the event, the front page story went on to describe the interior as “a veritable bower of beauty and entertainment.”
The splendid structure was designed by Frank Mills Andrews, an Iowa born architect.
As a young professional Andrews honed his skills in Chicago and New York before setting up offices in Dayton’s Conover Building at Third and Main Streets. During his career he designed compelling homes, the Kentucky state capitol and the National Cash Register factory buildings.
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Construction of the two distinct Arcade buildings designed by Andrews took place from 1902-04. It was built as a home for shops and a farmers market as well as offices and apartments. In following years additional buildings were added to the complex.
A grand three and a half story Flemish style facade signifies the main entrance on Third Street.
Stone corbels, carved lion heads and the mask of a Dutch girl in the keystone position over the entrance are among the architectural details tucked among the turreted four story projected windows overlooking Courthouse Square.
At the opposite side of the Arcade the centerpiece of the five-story Fourth Street building designed in the Renaissance Revival style is the glass domed rotunda.
The three story dome, 90 feet in diameter by 70 feet high is supported by 16 bays of iron pillars with semi-circular and semi- elliptical arches that spanned the original indoor market.
“Words fail to convey a perfect idea for the wonderful beauty of the gentlemen who in this Arcade have given to Dayton a building which for completeness, elegance, and artistic as well as practical value, cannot be duplicated in this country and probably not in the world,” crowed the Dayton Daily News article.
Vendors sold a variety of goods from over 200 stalls under the glass dome according to “The Dayton Arcade: Crown Jewel of the Gem City” written by Dayton historian Curt Dalton. Exotic Jamaica bananas, Messina lemons as well as parakeets and canaries were sold along side coffee, pies, breads and ice cream.
The Arcade was the heart of the community for decades. It survived the 1913 flood and the Great Depression.
The dome was painted over during World War II because of fear an invading enemy would be drawn to the illuminated beacon during possible night time air raids according to Dalton’s narrative.
As inner cities nationwide began to decline in the late 1960s the Arcade also began to slump as the brand new Salem and Dayton malls were opening.
A $15 million renovation in 1980 lured Daytonians back inside for another decade to shop at Waldenbooks and the Oak Sampler or to get a table for lunch at The Menu and dessert at Lil’ Rinaldo’s Bake Shoppe.
The renovation wasn’t enough to sustain the Arcade and the doors closed Jan. 31, 1991.
Today, after a number of fizzled blueprints for rehabilitation, there is renewed hope.
The state of Ohio has committed $20 million to help redevelop the Arcade. Developers have been awarded low-income housing tax credits to help convert portions of the complex into housing for artists and creative people. The hope is the housing project kick starts redevelopment for the rest of the complex.
“This is huge for the Arcade,” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said after the June announcement. “I think it represents a turning point and an opportunity to bring back and build on a historical legacy for downtown.”
ABOUT THIS FEATURE
HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley’s rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at Lisa.Powell@coxinc.com.