Architect Turns Old Cleveland Bank Into Heinen's Supermarket
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Many American cities are trying to keep their downtowns vibrant. In Cleveland, some of the grand old office building have been repurposed into hotels and apartment complexes. And now a gilded-age structure that resembles the Pantheon in Rome has been turned into one of the nation's most unusual shopping experiences. Here's Mark Urycki from member station WCPN.
MARK URYCKI, BYLINE: In 1908, the Cleveland Trust Bank opened in a new granite neoclassical building in the city's financial district. Inside is a round lobby surrounded by marble columns and a stained-glass dome looming 85 feet above the main floor. Last year, architect John Williams was given the assignment of his career - turning that space into a grocery store - yep, a grocery store.
JOHN WILLIAMS: It's incredibly exciting and incredibly terrifying to be responsible for this - one of the most important buildings in the region - and that has been closed to the public for over 25 years.
URYCKI: The grocery chain Heinenâs Fine Foods operates 21 suburban stores in Cleveland and Chicago. But this is their first downtown store. Jeff Heinen admits it's a lot like pounding a square peg into a round hole.
JEFF HEINEN: The grocery business tends to think in terms of squares and rectangles and not so much in terms of being round. And so trying to fit the shape of the building - it's been an interesting challenge.
URYCKI: Yeah, the architect would agree with that. The rotunda is inside a pentagon-shaped room with no two walls the same length.
WILLIAMS: It's been a bloody nightmare.
URYCKI: It also has two ornate balconies and way too many entrances. But those obstacles were overcome. And last week, it opened for business.
(SOUNDBITE OF GROCERY STORE BAKERY)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Mini cannoli please,
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: OK, what flavor? I have pistachio, cherry, regular and chocolate.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Pistachio and pink.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: OK.
URYCKI: Shoppers can't help but look up and take photos of the stained-glass dome and the 13 murals surrounding it. Fred Geis and his brother own the building and just renovated an adjacent office tower into a hotel apartment complex. Geis says it's important for downtown residents to have a place to buy groceries.
FRED GEIS: There's not a day I walk in the store I don't rub my eyes because I can't believe I own the facility, right? And then I rub my eyes even more that we've got a real grocery store here.
URYCKI: For a grocery store, this building has plenty of stories to tell. It was designed by George Post five years after he designed the New York Stock Exchange. The man who painted the murals, Francis Davis Millet, not only had Mark Twain as his best man. But years later, he went down with the Titanic. And people here are still trying to find out if that stained-glass dome above the meat and cheese coolers was designed by none other than Lewis Tiffany. For NPR News, I'm Mark Urycki in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.