What did people do downtown in early 20th-century Dayton?

Historic photograph captures everyday moments of life


The American Building was designed by Frank M. Andrews, the same architect that designed the Dayton Arcade.

The structure was first named the Conover Building when it was constructed in 1900.

A photograph of the historic American Building has frozen a Dayton scene from the early 1920s in time.

William Lutzenberger, a Dayton photographer who documented area landmarks and street scenes, captured this bustling image of the intersection of Main and Third Streets from a vantage point on the front steps of the Old Courthouse.

» PHOTOS: Scenes within a scene, the American Building

Centered within his view finder was the 13-story structure, constructed of steel and concrete, first named the Conover Building when built in 1900.

With the click of his shutter, Lutzenberger captured a downtown scene filled with fascinating detail.

If you let your eye wander up the length of the left side of the building, you notice how much lighter it is compared to the rest. An identical third bay was added in 1921, so skillfully done that today the façade blends together seamlessly.

At the top of the elaborately decorated Renaissance Revival building, you will see crowned kings flanked by foliated rosettes.

The architect who designed this building, Frank M. Andrews, later designed the Dayton Arcade. Andrews worked on plans for the Arcade under an art glass dome in his architect’s studio on the 13th floor of the building.

Back at street level, cars are frozen in time while parked along Main Street in front of signs peddling “United Cigars,” “union made hats,” “Zonars Confectionary” and the “Metropolitan,” a downtown clothing store.

Glance to the right, and the marquee on the Apollo Theater advertises “With Stanley in Africa,” a 1922 film about a female reporter who helps a newspaperman search for the famous Dr. Livingstone in Africa.

Move to the foreground of the photograph.

A woman standing on the sidewalk in front of the Old Courthouse gazes at the photographer. Behind her, a loaded truck and two automobiles blur by as they speed through the intersection.

My favorite detail within this photograph is of three boys huddled together behind a pillar in front of the Old Courthouse, all three outfitted in knickers and caps.

The boy at the right looks directly at the photographer as the two others seem unaware. It’s hard to say what this trio of pals might be up to.

To the right of them is a vendor parked along the sidewalk, the head and shoulders of two men can just be seen above the wall standing next to the cart.

Glance above their heads to the lettered sign positioned in the intersection. Arrows point in the direction of Indianapolis, Dixie Highway and Cincinnati.

Today you can stand in the exact spot and take in the same view the photographer did almost 100 years ago.

Automobile and clothing styles have certainly changed during the past century, but many of the landmarks that make up this photograph remain the same.

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