News & Events

By: Peter Ketter and Martina Takac
National Register of Historic Places

The Origins of The Bowery and South Main Street

The Bowery, a historical 12-story, 158-foot-tall landmark luxury apartment building, attracts residents with rushing waterfalls along the Ohio-Erie Canal, a walkable neighborhood with nearby businesses, restaurants, retail, the University of Akron, Akron Civic Theater, Lock 3, Rubber Ducks Stadium, and other cultural/entertainment venues. But do you know the history of South Main Street and the building, originally known as the Akron Savings & Loan Company, which served  as the cornerstone to downtown Akron?

When the Bowery District project began, the team’s goal was simple: to retransform Akron’s South Main Street back into a LIVE, WORK, PLAY destination. However, a larger goal also took shape: preserve and celebrate downtown Akron’s past. With these goals in mind, the buildings have all been adapted for modern usage while keeping historic details in place.

The origins of Akron’s Main Street are tied to the early development of the city’s canal system. In 1831, a small hydraulic canal was constructed through Main Street (formerly known as Water St.) to provide water power for future mills on the canal.

In the early 20th century, rapid growth in the U.S. transportation industry fed the economic growth of the rubber industry in Akron, which would come to be known as the “Rubber Capital of the World.” The rubber industry brought a diverse population of European immigrants and migrants from the Appalachian region and other states to Akron. Between 1910 and 1920, the rubber industry’s demand for employees increased Akron’s population by over 200%, reaching a total of 208,000 people. During this time period nearly $70 million in construction activities were recorded, including the mammoth year of 1919, in which 6,894 buildings were constructed at a cost of $27,219,436. Significant portions of this growth were concentrated in the city’s commercial district, which continued to expand to the south, with new offices, hotels, residential and retail establishments constructed along North and South Main Streets.

Following the end of World War I, a short but sharp national depression had a significant impact on the city’s rubber industry starting in the summer of 1920. This setback was reflected in downtown’s construction activity, which slowed considerably. Only one building in the South Main Street Historic District was constructed between 1920 and 1925, although it would have a significant impact on the street. The Akron Savings & Loan Building was designed by Alfred Hopkins (1870-1941) of New York and constructed in 1923.

Completion of the Akron Savings and Loan Building signaled the end of Akron’s brief lull in economic growth and building construction, and the city came roaring back in the second half of the 1920s. In fact, the city’s second major building boom – from 1925 to 1929 – would prove even larger than the first, with 28,417 structures constructed at a cost of $93,078,903.

By the end of the boom, four more buildings had been erected in the South Main Historic District and two additional buildings were under construction. These six buildings include some of the most significant in the district – O’Neil’s Department Store, Loew’s Theatre, A. Polsky Co., and the Mayflower Hotel – and would significantly transform the appearance and character of the district, as South Main Street developed into the primary center of Akron’s commercial activity.

During the city’s building booms, new methods of construction changed Akron’s skyline. The district evolved from narrow, deep commercial buildings four or fewer stories in height to include large-scale mid-rise buildings and one 16-story tower. The district’s buildings include several examples of vernacular commercial style buildings from the early 20th century, as well as highstyle Art Deco, Classical Revival and Renaissance Revival buildings designed by prominent local and national architects.

South Main Street has a rich history of both prosperity and decline, but we are happy to see the district once again vibrant and thriving!