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  • Writer's pictureSandvick Architects

Current Project: Hilliard Block

An overview of the oldest building in Cleveland, OH - the Hilliard Block Building - a current project for Sandvick Architects that is very near completion. The Hilliard Block packs a lot of history and significance within its simple brick masonry...

Hilliard Block Overview

Location: Cleveland, OH (Historic Warehouse District)

Historic Use: Grocery & Dry Goods Stores

Original Construction: August 1849

Previous Restorations: 1920s, 1940s, 1984

Historic Significance of the Hilliard Block

The Hilliard Building is on its original site and was constructed between August 1849 and March 1850, making it the oldest building in downtown Cleveland. This portion of downtown Cleveland is a mixture of buildings dating from the late 19th to early-20th centuries, comprised of manufacturing factories and warehouses, forming the historic Warehouse District. As the earliest standing remnant of the wholesale and retail commercial and warehouse district of the city, the Hilliard Building is one of the few remaining examples of simple masonry bearing wall construction and the first type, besides wood frame, employed in the Registered Historic District which includes later Victorian cast-iron column and steel frame buildings. It is the earliest testament to the commerce that resulted in Cleveland from Great Lakes traffic, the canal system, and the early railroads. Richard Hilliard erected the building to house his grocery and dry goods business. Instrumental in helping to find the Ohio Canal, he was an early real estate developer of the area who served on the boards of multiple railroads, the first Cleveland Board of Water Works, and helped to found Cleveland University.

The building’s primary façade is its most decorative: it has Berea sandstone lintels, sills, and storefront. Storefront posts have crude, decorative chamfering cut into the stone. First-floor side windows were bricked up during the 1940s. Alterations to the storefront were made in the 1920s or 1930s when a sandstone column was removed and a picture window was added, but the original storefront configuration was restored during a 1983 rehabilitation. Hilliard’s storefront system consists of seven bays, three of which are doors: two on either side of the building, and one in the center, with two windows separated by chamfered columns between doors. Additionally, there is a back door set into the east corner of the southern wall.

The upper story windows are all contemporary replacements from the 1983 rehabilitation, which were installed in the rough masonry openings after the previous double-hung sash windows were removed. It is unknown whether these double-hung windows were original to the building. Fireplaces were located along the north and south building faces, unused for decades, and are now enclosed in the current interior walls. Basement walls are of stone, but also enclosed in gypsum wallboard in most areas of the lower level. All other interior walls are plastered or consist of drywall. Give the purpose of the building as a dry goods store and grocer from the 1850s, it is likely that the space was originally unfinished, with brick and wood construction exposed on the interior.

The 1983 rehabilitation of the Hilliard Block Building became a project greater than originally anticipated: after in-depth analyses were conducted on the structural integrity of the building, it was determined that the south wall would have to be dismantled and rebuilt in its entirety, as its integrity was compromised. This reconstruction replaced all windows in the south wall except for those bricked up on the first floor. During this reconstruction, which also consisted of the aforementioned storefront configuration, two new enclosed stairwells were installed near the south side of the building, as well as a small elevator abutting the south wall. The roof was also replaced, and incorporated as a skylight system with five bays set into the west of the gable. These skylights cannot be seen from the street, as they are hidden by the west parapet. The skylight area also has a hatch door, for roof access.

There is little significant historic integrity that remains on the interior: floors were replaced completely, the southern wall was rebuilt, and any decorative elements that may have been present at one point are no longer there. The brick exterior walls have smooth gypsum finishes on the inside, and multiple partition walls were installed during the 1983 rehabilitation to make the space a satisfactory office arrangement. The open floor plan of the dry goods store and grocer has been subdivided for past tenants.

Scope of Work

The scope of the Hilliard Block restoration was limited to the building’s second, third, and fourth floors, which were converted to 18 residential units. The exterior has undergone extensive restoration, including the careful reconstruction of the southwest corner, and the roof replaced. Existing non-historic replacement windows have been replaced to match the historic appearance. There were no significant exterior alterations. On the interior, all existing non-historic finishes and partitions will be removed from the upper floors, with the stairs and elevators retained and reused.

The Hilliard Block Building utilized State and Federal Historic Tax Credits to finance the project. This project also met the standards used by the Green Communities program.

Hilliard Block Building - Sandvick Architects

Stay tuned for more updates on this project!


The Sandvick Team

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