Historic Smith Bros’ Hardware Building Continues Ongoing Rebirth
The Smith Bros’ Hardware Building hasn’t been home to its namesake hardware business in over thirty years, but the building is still easily recognizable to locals as the namesake remains adorned atop this historic Italian Village structure. With one of the better sight-lines of the Downtown skyline, the Smith Bros’ building is home to both offices and event spaces where the view can be enjoyed by workers and guests alike.
To better understand this iconic building, we spoke with Stacy Miller Moock, Marketing Manager at Capitol Equities to find out how the company invested in the restoration of this building in the 90’s and how that preservation effort has paid off. Our Q&A with Stacy can be found below:
Q: First, can you tell us a bit about the history of the Smith Bros Building?
A: Our building and rooftop water tower have been a distinct feature on the Columbus city skyline since it was constructed in 1929 as home for the Smith Bros’ Hardware Company. Over the past ninety years Smith Bros’ has gone through ups and downs, but it has always resonated as a vital part of the community.
When first constructed, the features that now make Smith Bros’ such a cool, loft style office building were practical necessities for a growing hardware business. This includes the 10-foot reinforced concrete floors built to handle the immense weight of the hardware parts and supplies and huge windows to bring in lots of natural light. It was built on the current site for its central location as well as immediate access to the Big Four Railroad line. In fact, the two story annex building, now home to the Venue and Loft event spaces managed by dock580, served as a pipe storage and staging area to the railroad. Even the iconic rooftop water tower served a practical purpose as part of a then modern sprinkler system.
In its prime, during the 40’s and 50’s it was one of the largest hardware distribution companies throughout the Midwest. Eventually the hardware business shuttered in the early 80’s and the building sat vacant for 15 years while they tried to come up with a way to utilize at least the site if not the building structure.
In fact, the building came very close to total destruction in 1994 when a two alarm fire broke out on the fourth floor of the building, burning through the top three floors of the facility. Todd Kemmerer, the founding principal of Capitol Equities Realty, had already been working with local officials and potential owners for years to sell his vision of what the building could become. By the afternoon of December 12th it seemed that all of this work would come to nothing. However, Smith Bros’ is resilient. In the end, the very features that made it the perfect hardware facility – all brick and reinforced concrete – brought the building through structurally unscathed, but with some serious scorch marks.
Two years later, Todd located a buyer willing to bet on his vision and purchase this abandoned, burned out building, most recently used as an impromptu skate park and homeless shelter. By 1998 the building reopened as you see it today. Over the past 14 years this building has attracted companies like Lextant Corporation, Wells Fargo Insurance, Level 3 Communications, Northlich Advertising and State Auto Insurance.
This is a building that just keeps going forward. At the end of every chapter, some of which have looked incredibly grim, the story continues with each phase being more exciting than the last.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the 1997 restoration of the building?
A: Todd held a strong vision for the Smith Bros’ Hardware building years before the renovation actually began, but this didn’t go forward without its fair share of complications. In the late 1980’s and 90’s city officials became concerned with the image problem of having such a highly visible structure in apparent disrepair so close to the Columbus Convention Center and I-670. Ideas of what to do with the property ranged from an apartment building to a parking garage to service a hotel built on the adjacent ground. But for Todd, the facility always made sense as a dynamic, loft-style office building.
Even after locating the right buyer, it still required a joint effort by the city and RPA as a signed tenant to make the vision a reality. The city brought to the table a ten year real estate tax abatement, a land lease to secure additional parking and planned street improvements along North Fourth Street.
Q: What would you say the Smith Bros building offers that is unique to its tenants?
A: In a nut shell, Smith Bros’ Hardware provides a dynamic, one of a kind environment with all of the modern amenities of a class A office building. The building went through a multi-million dollar renovation to update all of the systems, but we retained and incorporated as much of the original building as possible – exposed brick walls and concrete pillars; huge, divided light windows wrapping every floor with sweeping views of the downtown skyline; the Smith Bros Hardware sign band around the top of the building and the grand entry arch over the main entrance.
We also have a great location. The Short North Arts District is one block from our front door; the Arena District is just seconds away and we are a part of the ever evolving Italian Village. Our facility has all of the amenities of being in downtown Columbus without the headaches of parking and accessibility.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the recent rebranding of the “Dock580” event spaces?
A: Dock580 began operating out of the Smith Bros’ Hardware annex building in 2005 as Zuppa Catering, providing wholesale and catering services and its first event space known as “The Venue,” part of the former pipe storage facility. Requests for this dynamic space flooded in and in 2009 they opened their second event space, “The Loft.” Eight years later demand for dock580’s services and event facilities continues to grow.
Q: Anything else we should know about the building?
A: Through its almost 100 year history, this building has been an icon tied to the heart of Columbus. It seems like everyone we meet has some visceral memory of Smith Bros’. We constantly have people sharing their stories, their connections, with us – memories of picking up nuts and bolts with their father in the first floor lobby, seeing parts of their first bicycle come sliding down the delivery chute from the top floor, people meeting future spouses while working for the Smith Brothers Company, youth skate boarding through the building and tagging walls during the years it sat vacant, to artists who incorporate the building into their cityscapes. And it’s still a place where people’s most significant events happen – new careers, retirement parties, engagements, weddings, holiday events.
More info about the Smith Bros’ Hardware Building can be found online at www.capitolequities.com.
Photos by Jennifer René of Jennifer René Photography.