The 77-year-old Frank T. Bow Federal Building, which once was a busy, bustling center of activity in downtown Canton, will become the area’s latest vacant structure after its last four federal agencies move Friday to the new Ralph Regula Federal Building.
For nearly eight decades, the downtown Frank T. Bow Federal Building served as the site of defining moments for thousands of Stark County residents.
With military recruiters’ offices based in the federal facility, young men and women walked through the edifice’s grand porticos to sign up to go to war. Debtors hitting rock bottom filed for bankruptcy at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on the first floor. Suspects underwent tough questioning by FBI agents in their offices on the second floor. Residents hauling thick files arrived there to endure audits by IRS agents.
In the building’s post office, young women would mail letters to their husbands and boyfriends fighting overseas. Families now gather outside every August to watch the Pro-Football Hall of Fame parade.
Once a center of bustling activity at 201 Cleveland Ave. SW in 1973 when Congress named it in honor of the late Canton-area congressman Frank T. Bow, the building is a shadow of what it was.
The imposing building with its columns was first open for the public to view on June 3, 1933. But on its 77th anniversary, the historic landmark will be vacant.
On Friday, its four remaining tenants — the bankruptcy court, the U.S. bankruptcy trustees, the IRS and the U.S. Marshal’s Service — will move to new quarters at the newly built Ralph Regula Federal Building on McKinley Avenue SW. Except for maintenance, the Frank T. Bow building will close. Its distinctive lobby murals will become inaccessible to the public. And for now, the building’s future is uncertain.
“I don’t want them to tear the thing down,” said Greg Sanford, 53, of Canton, who worked at the Frank T. Bow as a Navy recruiter in the mid-1980s. “I mean that’s a lot of history in that building. ... Why the heck do they want to abandon it?”
PLANNING THE MOVE
By 2003, the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages the building, had decided that properly upgrading the mostly vacant Bow building — including adding needed parking space, installing an elevator to the second floor to make it handicapped accessible, improving its security and other renovations — would cost too much. The GSA had already just spent about $500,000 on rehabilitating the Bow’s exterior.
Then-congressman Ralph Regula obtained $2.3 million in federal funding for Canton to buy property on McKinley Avenue SW for a new downtown Federal campus that would later bear his name.
The city would lease the land to a private developer, which would construct a new federal building and in turn lease the space to the four federal agencies in the Bow Building and the Social Security Administration, preventing the property from becoming exempt from property taxes. Regula proposed that the GSA turn over the Bow building to the city to use as a new municipal court or court clerk’s office.
Page 2 of 5 - Construction of the new federal campus began the spring of 2009 and finished more than a year later.
GSA spokesman David Wilkinson said it could take up to 16 months for his agency to determine what it will do with the Bow building. No other federal agency has expressed interest in using it. By law, the GSA has to consider whether the property could be used to help the homeless. Then it will invite state and local governments and nonprofit organizations to submit proposals on taking it over.
However, the Canton Municipal Court is no longer interested. Court Administrator Mike Kochera said the court’s consultant determined in 2008 that it would cost an unaffordable $7.8 million to renovate the Bow building to meet the court’s needs. City Service Director Warren Price says the city has no need for the Bow building. And Randy Gonzalez, who chairs the Stark Council of Governments’ 911 committee, said the facility was too big and too costly to convert into a new dispatch center.
Stark County Administrator Mike Hanke said the county commissioners would like to use the facility as the new home of the county elections board, the Regional Planning Commission, the county data center and county records center because those agencies’ buildings are deteriorating.
But Hanke said the cost of operating the Bow building would have to be less than the current building costs of those county agencies. And the cash-strapped county would have to be able to get the building at little to no cost.
According to the GSA’s handout, “Acquiring Federal Real Estate for Public Uses,” the agency can only turn over property to a local government at a discount or no cost if it’ll be used for certain purposes such as for education or as a correctional facility. The county’s plans would not meet those requirements.
If no public use can be found for the Bow Building, the GSA could then sell it to a private buyer.
The Depression-era Bow Building and its distinctive lobby murals enjoy some, but not absolute, protection from alteration and demolition because the edifice is part of the Upper Downtown Canton Historic District, according to the Canton Development Partnership.
The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places four years ago. According to Paul Lusignan, a historian for the National Register, federal law requires the GSA to ensure that the new owner will avoid changing the historical character of the building.
When the new Canton downtown post office was opened at 201 Cleveland Ave. SW in June 1933 to much fanfare, the Repository declared it the “New Postoffice Monument to City Growth,” the latest sign that the city, now a preeminent urban center, had come a long way since Canton’s first postmaster in 1808 stored the mail in a tavern keeper’s drawer.
Page 3 of 5 - Repository articles on June 2, 1933, said that 95 percent of the materials used to construct the new edifice came from within 100 miles of Canton, fulfilling a 25-year-old dream by Canton’s postmaster. The sandstone, at a cost of $45,000, came from Holmes County quarries. Local plants made the bricks placed in the foundation and exterior walls.
The new structure’s architect was Charles Firestone, who also designed the Hoover factory building, Timken High School and Fawcett Stadium. The plasterer who sculpted its walls and shaped its ornate molding, Clarence Mossor, was the same man who had shaped the walls of the Palace Theatre in the era before drywall.
“The floor is of terrazo, and the walls of cippolino marble, forming a wainscot nine feet high. Above the wainscot are ornamented plaster walls and ceiling,” one article said. A lookout gallery is “plentifully supplied with slits and peepholes to enable the (postal) inspector to keep under constant observation any (employee) at any time.”
Besides the post office, the U.S. Internal Revenue Department, the civil service commission, revenue agents, the agricultural extension service and Army and Navy recruiters were to occupy offices there. On Saturday, June 3, 1933, thousands of residents attended an open house at the new post office and marveled at its spacious lobby.
Over the years, several federal agencies moved into the Bow building including Selective Service, the railroad retirement board and the Secret Service, the GSA said, as the building went through a series of renovations from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.
Harold Weida, 89, was the resident agent-in-charge of the local FBI office when it moved into the more secure post office building around 1958 from the old Sears building on Third Street NE. The FBI had two connected offices on the second floor, where they often grilled suspects. Weida, who retired in 1977, said his agents who worked out of that office helped capture notorious bank robber Darl Dee Parker who later made a failed attempt to escape from Alcatraz in 1962.
Harry Campbell, now the Stark County coroner’s chief investigator, says he remembers the Bow building really well because that’s where he signed up to join the Marines in 1976 when he was a senior at Canton South High School.
“I remember those murals,” he said. “I remember all the granite. I remember all of the polished floor. ... you’re an 18-year-old kid going to join the military and you’re walking into this building with all this granite and columns and everything else and you’re about to sign your name to something that will change your life.”
In 1984, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court under Judge James H. Williams moved into the Bow building with what he called its “fortress-like appearance” from the court’s former cramped, less secure space in the old Citizens building on Central Plaza.
Page 4 of 5 - Sanford, the Navy recruiter, said he was in the Bow building on an autumn day in the late 1980s proctoring a standardized test for a recruit when he heard a commotion coming from the post office. He rushed over there and found out that a postal employee, with a reputation for rudeness, had angered a customer who left, returned with a brick and bashed the postal worker in the mouth before fleeing. The Marine recruiters were able to chase down the man, who was armed with a knife. The worker, who got stitches, was not severely hurt, Sanford said.
In retrospect, 1988 was the beginning of the end of the federal presence in the Bow building, when the U.S. Postal Service moved its downtown Canton post office from the federal building to the newly constructed Newmarket station on Market Avenue S. Then-Canton postmaster Fred Cordray said the Bow building had insufficient space.
In 1993, William Downey, who had succeeded Weida as the FBI resident agent-in-charge, oversaw the move of the FBI office to the Huntington Bank Building where the office’s four to eight agents could get more space and access to a handicapped-accessible elevator for witnesses. The Secret Service had already withdrawn its agents from Bow, and consolidated them with its Akron office. It was also in the 1990s that the military recruiters departed for Belden Village, which had better visitor parking and more convenient locations to attract recruits.
Today, John Bolovan, who’s been the GSA’s manager for the Bow Building since 1989, is preparing to close the building and keep it maintained until a new owner can be found.
“It’s a beautiful building, and we simply don’t utilize it to its maximum potential,” said Bolovan, whose father and two uncles enlisted there to serve in World War II. “We’ll find somebody that does.”
BANKRUPTCY COURT/IRS MOVING
On Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the U.S. bankruptcy trustees’ office, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Internal Revenue Service, will be moving their Canton offices from the Frank T. Bow Federal Building at 201 Cleveland Avenue SW to the new Ralph Regula Federal Building on McKinley Avenue SW and Third Street. The Social Security Administration will also move its office from 1370 Market Ave. N to the Regula building. The IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center will open at the Regula building at 8 a.m. June 2. The other agencies open in their new quarters on 8 a.m., June 1.
A subsidiary of the Westlake-based developer Carnegie Management and Development Corp. began construction on the 4.5-acre Regula building site in the spring of 2009. The campus, whose land is owned by Canton, is bound by McKinley Avenue SW, Fifth Street SW, High Avenue SW and Third Street SW. Another Carnegie subsidiary owns the new 45,000-square-foot two-building complex, which Carnegie constructed at a cost of about $14 million. The U.S. General Services Administration will pay rent to Carnegie on behalf of the five federal agencies.
Page 5 of 5 - BIRTHPLACE OF THE NFL
The block where the Frank T. Bow building is located today is historic for another reason independent of the Bow building. In 1920, the Oddfellows building, which had once stood at 205 Second Street SW, is where several football team owners met at Ralph Hay’s Hupmobile car showroom to form an association that would become the National Football League. The Canton Bulldogs football team, which was owned by Hay, was an initial member of the association. A marker on the Bow building’s north wall with images of Hay and Canton Bulldogs star Jim Thorpe commemorates that key meeting.
In 1936, the New Deal Treasury Relief Art Project, which aided unemployed artists, provided federal funding so Lakewood artist Glenn Shaw could paint 13 murals that were placed the next year on the walls of the lobby of the new post office building. The murals depict scenes showing the manufacturing of steel in local plants including Timken and Republic. The GSA paid about $100,000 in 1998 to restore the murals.