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Old Lady Gets a New Face

This article appeared in the Journal Herald on August 27, 1966

 “Old Lady” Gets A New Face

By Herbert Meeker


     Purists in matters of architectural restoration may blink a little at the paint job and some of the other fixing up of the century-old Victory building, but I think the fresh make-up on the old lady has done her some good.

     Tastes change, and contemporary eyes adjusted to Technicolor and neon hues failed to register the cold gray façade of this once-elegant Victorian structure.  Furthermore, the habits of remodeling in the past few decades have taught us that buildings don’t really exist anyway.

     The all-important ground stories of most downtown commercial structures have disappeared behind a wild patchwork of “modernized” store fronts, leaving the upper stories suspended in forlorn irrelevance.

     Now the building is coming back into focus for the modern eye, first by the nutmeg brown and cream paint job bringing new warmth to the old face and accentuating something of the design and, most recently, by the remodeling of the ground level at the corner for a new restaurant.  All the “modern” paneling was torn off, exposing the original columns and bays, thus restoring the structural integrity and visual sense of part of the building


OTHER BUSINESSES using the front of this building have remodeled in recent years, too, but with no relationship to the original architecture.  Now that the Old Vic stands at the corner as an example of what can be done, one sees the advantages of utilizing the special charm of the original building rather than trying to cover it up with something irrelevant and contradictory.

     One might carp at the anomaly of an “Old English” décor restaurant in a Victorian building.  A restaurant that revived the atmosphere of the building in its heyday would have been more appealing, as well as more expensive.  But there is nothing offensive with mixing periods, since buildings do exist over long periods of time, if it is done with sensitive care for the basic architectural values already established.

     The fixing up of the building, including the new restaurant, has been the work of the Keyes brothers (Schwind realty) since they bought it two years ago to complete their holdings in that quarter of the block, including the Victory theater, in the family since 1913, and the building now occupied by the Metropolitan company. 


    “It was in very bad repair when we bought it, “ said Jack Keyes. “We had to do something with it.  We felt the building had a lot of style to it, and it was pretty well intact under all the crap that had been pasted on, so we thought the best thing to do was to go back and utilize the natural attractions of the original.”
     The Keyes family is about two-thirds finished with extensive remodeling of the theater as well as opening the new restaurant and redecorating the old façade. Keyes said it is planned to restore most of the façade in time.  “We’d like to put it back in its original condition gradually.”
     OF COURSE the major problem of putting new life into an old building is the rentability of its space.  The 18 to 20-foot ceilings are a bit too grand for many purposes, and the lack of an elevator is a drawback.  But a dance studio and the Dayton Civic ballet have taken over the top floor and found the big rooms ideal.  A cocktail lounge occupies part of the second floor.
     The rest is unrented, but there is apparently some interest in putting an art gallery in there.  In fact the building seems to be gravitating toward the artistic, and its possibilities for performing arts groups makes for interesting speculation.
     It’s hard to tell how much life the old building’s got left in her, but at least its later years are going to be a colorful addition to the cityscape rather than a drab one.
     “There’s a lot of these old buildings that are really beautiful,” comments Keyes.  “Those architects had a lot of style, if you can just get a look at what they were originally.  It’s a pity more of them aren’t taken care of.  It makes you wonder, these landlords who haven’t put any money in these buildings for thousands of years it seems, and now we have to pay through the government to come in and rebuild our cities.”
      HE SAID the sprucing up of the victory building’s exterior was a comparatively minor cost, “only a few thousand dollars, and most of that went into a new roof.”
     It doesn’t seem much to maintain a venerable building’s respect and dignity in its old age.  Since it opened as the Turner Opera house in 1866, the days of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” it has had a long and exciting career as a combination theater and commercial building.
     The original opera house burned to the ground, all but the stone-faced façade, in 1869, and was rebuilt two stories lower that the original.  The 1913 flood pushed up under the wooden floor, popping floorboards and sets up into the balcony.  After flood, there was fire again in 1918, and William A. Keyes reopened on Thanksgiving eve of 1919 with the stage play, “Betty Be Good.”
     Among the long list of traveling productions that played there, none reached such spectacular heights as “Ben Hur.”
     “There was so much scenery the police had to close off the whole block when they brought it in,” Keyes said, passing along the old family story.
     “For the chariot race they had real chariots hitched to teams of horses galloping on a treadmill.  It’s said you could hear the machinery cranking up before the curtain was opened, but it must have been quite a show.”