If you go downtown to the Levitt Pavilion to take in an outdoor concert this summer, look up at the surrounding buildings. From the street level they seem like typical high rises, but on top of Centre City building on the corner of Main and east fourth street, there’s a seven story tower that looks a little like a house. Listener Earl Moyer asked WYSO Curious: What IS that structure on top of the Centre City building?
At one time, the Centre City Building was the tallest skyscraper in Dayton. That odd little structure on top was originally capped by a chapel when the building was owned by the United Brethren church in the early part of the 20th century. The building’s changed hands a few times, and in 1975 Albert and Essie Vontz of the Heidelberg brewing company bought the building and downsized from their suburban home in Oakwood, converting those upper floors into a penthouse apartment, with another apartment for their grown son Albert Vontz on one of the lower floors.
"I think my parents thought it was time to try and start people to come back to downtown Dayton. Any successful city needs people living in it," says Albert.
10,000 people lived in downtown Dayton in the 50s, but when the Vontzes moved in, according to an article in the Dayton Daily News, the population was down to 800. Nevertheless, Albert Vontz says he has some good memories.
"One of the nice things when I was living there, was at that time they had renovated the Arcade," he says. "And there were several restaurants in there, there was a food store, there was a bakery. So to be able to just walk across the street and get a carton of eggs or a croissant from the bakery, or something, that was a pretty nice bonus. But then downtown continued to die and the old arcade building closed up and so forth and there wasn’t a lot to do down there."
The Vontz family liked the old building and wanted to be downtown, despite the challenges.
"There were a few obstacle we faced because it was an old, old building, to get up to the tower portion were manually controlled elevators."
There were some tenants on the floors below, but eventually they all moved to the main portion of the building, and the Vontz’s became the only occupants, and the last, to use that upper part of the building.
"It’s probably my favorite downtown building, I would say. It’s just a really cool, old, vintage skyscraper," says Andrew Walsh, author of Lost Dayton, Ohio.
So cool, in fact, that it was put on the National Historic Register in 1993. Walsh had a chance to see the penthouse a few years ago.
"Squatters had been in there so there was some graffiti here and there, and some damage, but there’s an amazing view out those windows. So it doesn’t take much imagination to picture what a cool space that could be again."
And the Centre City building just might have another rebirth because it’s part of what’s called "The Nine", a revitalization project which includes the Levitt Pavilion across the street. The new owners, Virginia- based Centre City Partners LP, say they will spend 46 million dollars to renovate the building into a mix of retail, office – and yes, once again, living space.