The Liberty Tower, which recently posed for its Hollywood close-up, was a rising star when it was completed in 1931.
At 284 feet tall, the Mutual Home Building, as it was originally named when built for the Mutual Home and Savings Association, was the tallest in Dayton from 1931 to 1969.
“They wanted this to be a hallmark building for downtown,” said Jenna Kreitzer, the Liberty Tower building manager who said she “fell in love with the building” when she began her career as a bank teller in the lobby a decade ago.
There she worked surrounded by marble walls transported from Italy by steam ship, 30-foot-high plaster ceilings and teller line gates designed with intricate metal work.
The towering building is designed to have a “setback” at vertical intervals, giving it the look of stacked blocks, according to research provided by the City of Dayton Planning & Community department. The design style represented the “modern corporate” image businessmen in the 1930s wished to convey to the public.
Architects Schenk & Williams, whose projects included Hawthorn Hill and the Engineers Club of Dayton, designed the 23-story building with two basement floors and an elevator penthouse.
The tower, built out of concrete and steel, is adorned at its street level base with 16-foot-high black marble and detailed with floral deco engravings. Limestone keystones top the arched windows, and decorative stone spandrel panels are placed at each of the three building setbacks.
Inside, the mechanicals were a marvel of the day. Advertising boasted a custom-engineered air cooling by humidification system. “Cool As An Evening Breeze,” read one newspaper ad. “The desirability of office hours is assured by cool, washed air.”
Speedy state-of-the-art elevators whisked secretaries and businessmen up and down the floors at 750 feet per minute. The operators who ran them worked under strict guidelines.
“Elevator men should stand erect; they should never slouch,” was one of 30 rules of conduct.
Below street level, in one of the midwest’s first two-story underground garages, an automobile filling station was manned by garage attendants who could also wash the automobiles of the workers in the floors above them.
During World War II, Liberty Tower, the highest vantage point in the city, was used as an air raid lookout. Men in the United States Army Signal Corps were stationed in pairs 24 hours a day to keep an eye out through their binoculars. The Liberty Tower’s code name through the war was “Dog Easy 77.”
The building was purchased in 1945 by the Hulman family, the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, according to Kreitzer. In the late 1970s, the Cen-Day Office Company became the owner.
Liberty Savings Bank purchased the building in 1998 and began a restoration process. Tennessee marble floors were revealed underneath carpet in the lobby, 1970s era lighting was removed and paneling was ripped off to expose original woodwork.
Today, 85 percent of Liberty Tower is occupied, according to Kreitzer, and Liberty Savings Bank is exploring new uses for the lobby, which may include event space or tenant use.
A walk through the building today is a step back in time. Letters can still be heard fluttering down the original mail chutes to a letter box in the ornately detailed lobby.
Light fixtures, designed in the angles of the period, illuminate the hallways, and stylized original metal hardware adorns the nameplates and banisters.
“Nothing else downtown looks like this building,” Kreitzer said. “It’s a look into how differently buildings were built back then when every little detail mattered.”
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.