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‘Jewel box’ bank designed by Louis Sullivan to be restored

NEWARK, Ohio (AP) — A trip to the bank these days is often little more than a task begging to be crossed off a to-do list. If it can’t be done with a zip through the ATM or on a smartphone, it’s nestled somewhere between buying light bulbs and getting an oil change.

But a trip to the Home Building Association Company in downtown Newark in the early 1900s was more than an errand. It was an experience.

The building, on the west side of Courthouse Square, was guarded by a vigilant lion, carved into the gray, terra cotta exterior walls. The bright mosaics on the building’s façade drew customers in to a rich interior, with marble floors and ornately painted ceilings. Light passed through opalescent windows to cast a warm glow on colorful geometric murals that covered the walls.

All this to cash a check.

That’s exactly how architect Louis Sullivan planned it.

“He wanted public spaces to be grand,” said Connie Hawk, director of the Licking County Foundation, which was given Newark’s Louis Sullivan building as a gift in 2014.

The building sat empty for nearly a decade, but now the foundation is teaming up with Explore Licking County to make Sullivan’s bank an inspiring public space once again. Restoration work on the iconic building is underway, and the tourism group plans to make the building its headquarters once the work is completed in late 2018.

One of eight “jewel box” banks built by Sullivan between 1906 and 1916 throughout the Midwest, the Newark building opened its doors as the Home Building Association Company in 1915. The jewel box buildings were constructed toward the end of Sullivan’s career and were only part of his legacy. Born in 1856, he was a Chicago architect who believed America should have its own architectural style. He was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor and is considered to be the father of modern skyscrapers.

Commonly known as the Old Home, Sullivan’s Newark creation housed a number of banks since its construction, as well as a meat market, jewelry store and ice cream parlor.

The first phase of the renovation will focus on the building’s basement, which extends beneath the sidewalks on Main and Third streets.

The foundation hoped to do the building’s restoration all at once, but because Newark’s downtown sewer and street overhaul work is now taking place on the northwest quadrant of Courthouse Square, it made sense to begin work on the basement now while the streets and sidewalks on the ground level are already being dug up.

The basement portion of the project will involve replacing the existing sidewalk structural deck, adding waterproofing, insulation and drainage, and installing new steel beams and concrete slab. This portion of the project is estimated to cost more than $636,000. Much of the funds have been raised, but the foundation is still looking to raise about $205,000.

Once the basement work is completed, a master plan and estimate will be put in place at the end of this year for completing the restoration of the rest of the building, and another fundraising campaign will begin in 2017 to raise the rest of the money for the work.

Newark native Stephen Jones, who hoped to see Sullivan’s bank restored, purchased the building for $225,000 in 2007. But restoration work was slow to progress, and after attempts to sell the building failed Jones donated the building to the Licking County Foundation, hoping restoration efforts would continue.

Since then, the foundation and a team of volunteers have worked to develop the plan for restoration. That meant finding a purpose for the building that added value to the community, Hawk said.

“It is a one-of-a-kind building. It’s a national treasure. It’s a jewel box,” Hawk said. “But unless it has a purpose and has people enjoying it, it is just that.”

Explore Licking County, which currently has offices at the Newark Earthworks in Heath, seemed the perfect tenant for the Sullivan building, she said.

It was a no-brainer for the travel and visitors organization, said Explore Licking County Executive Director Dan Moder. The building is in the county seat and serves as a gateway to Courthouse Square, which is getting a rejuvenation of its own with the ongoing street overhaul project and renovations to the Licking County Courthouse.

“What a great piece of real estate to do what we do,” he said. “We can’t wait.”


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