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United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service

National Register of Historic Places
Inventory-Nomination Form
Ravenna Commercial Center Historic Resources

downtwon-ravenna-1911
Downtown Ravenna in 1911

The Etna House, the Phoenix Block and the Riddle Blocks #1, #5, #9 and #11 are landmark buildings of Ravenna's commercial center. Centered about both sides of Main Street between Sycamore and Walnut streets, the business center contains about sixty buildings, 27 of which have been listed on the Ohio Historic Inventory as a result of a comprehensive inventory of historic resources of this area in 1934. Many of the downtown buildings are old structures dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although the majority of these buildings suffer from storefront alterations. New buildings exist in the downtown area as-well, some of which are comparable in terms of scale and materials with their neighbors, while others are more disruptive in their impact by virtue of their contemporary design and lack of sensitivity to the pedestrian.

At present enough change has occurred in downtown Ravenna to disqualify the area for National Register historic district status. While the dominant commercial buildings are historic structures, the central building in downtown Ravenna is the county courthouse which is a modern structure dating from postcard1960. It establishes a competing theme of contemporary design which has been emulated by many downtown structures built or modified after 1960. These six buildings have been selected for nomination to the National Register as the best surviving examples of historic commercial architecture in downtown. These buildings all tend to be larger than their neighbors, more impressive architecturally and survive with a high degree of their exterior architectural features intact. Storefront alteration was a major reason for excluding other downtown buildings from this nomination. However, to some extent, all of these six buildings have storefronts which are modernized, although the Etna House storefronts will be restored in 1984. The difference with these buildings is that the storefront alterations are in most instances not structural and could readily be removed to restore the original appearance. The one exception is the bank storefront on the Riddle Block #1, but here enough of the original ground level character remains (over 50%) to justify its inclusion here; and of course the building is presently listed on the National Register. Several downtown buildings have been truncated by the removal of their top stories. Others have had their upper floor fenestration pattern changed, such as the Riddle Block #2, where projecting bays have been removed and replaced with flush windows. It is possible that in the future some of the downtown buildings excluded from this nomination because of a high degree of alteration might be added to this multiple resource nomination upon restoration of their storefronts and/or upper floor facades.

Tpostcardhe Phoenix Block (view 5, 1846) dominates the north side of East Main Street, stretching from Chestnut to Hickory Way. It is a long rectangular three-story brick building and is Greek Revival in style. The ground floor is devoted to storefronts while the upper two floors have identical rectangular windows grouped in a symmetrical pattern. The building is Greek Revival in style but has numerous alterations, the earliest of which have served to enrich the building. Large brackets were added beneath the massive cornice atop the building sometime after the Civil War. The central section was remodeled about 1880 to its present intricate Italianate appearance by the addition of flamboyant: metal ornament. The interior of this central section is used as the Odd Fellows Hall and features elaborate frescoed walls and ceilings. The westernmost portion of the block was enlarged in the late nineteenth century, but the third floor was removed about 1950 and other modernizations have been made such that the historic character is jeopardized and this part is excluded.

The Etna House (view 1, 1865-1868) is a three-story brick building which is "L"-shaped in plan and features sandstone trim and wood ornament. Designed postcardby Simeon Porter, the Etna House is transitional in style from Greek Revival to Italianate, featuring simple rectangular windows and a massive cornice characteristic of the Greek Revival period but also having such features as round-arch windows on the corner section which relate to the Italianate style. The building is crowned by a simple hip roof, which terminates in a gambrel roof on the western end and is high enough to house a partial fourth floor. Originally a wooden cupola rose from the corner section, but was removed years ago; its reconstruction is proposed within the next year. The building has been renovated into senior citizen housing within the past two years and its ground level storefronts are in the process of restoration based on historic photographs and site evidence.

The Riddle Block #5 (view 2, 1870) was originally an industrial structure built to house the Merts and Riddle Coach and Hearse Works. It has a postcardpostcardutilitarian skin of soft red brick enlivened at the top by a corbelled brick cornice with arcading and lentils. Its facade features regularly spaced double-hung windows with stone lintels and sills. It is an example of Italianate architecture. To the rear is a later section dating from the 1880's and featuring elaborate round-arched window openings and an abundance of stone trim. It is well integrated to the main building in terms of scale and floor levels, but is surprisingly well-detailed for an industrial building. The aluminum storefront facing out, East Main Street covers but does not fundamentally alter the original materials underneath. The new building owners have expressed an interest in rehabilitating this block, which would include the restoration of the original storefront.

The Riddle Block #1 (view 4, 1889) was individually listed on the National postcardRegister in 1976 and is the most elegant of the Riddle Blocks. It occupies a commanding location at the southeast corner of Main and Chestnut in the center of town. The building has four floors, the fenestration of which reflects Romanesque arcading on the second and fourth floors. It has corner towers with pyramidal roofs, steeply pitched mansard roofs with dormers arid a polychromatic brick and stone skin with multiple bays. The ground level storefronts are, largely intact along Chestnut but have been altered along Main. The second floor has office space while the upper floors contain apartments. At the south end of the building on the top floor is a large hall, no longer used, which once housed a ballroom.

The Riddle Block #9 (view 3, 1911) dominates the northwest corner of Main and Chestnut. Its upper three floors are faced with large pilasters supporting a massive entablature. The interior has a large light court with open stairways and balconies. The building is used for shops on the ground floor, offices on the second floor and postcardapartments on the upper two floors. This Neoclassical style structure is sheathed in hard yellow brick and its rectangular windows are grouped together vertically by paneled spandrels.

The Riddle Block #11 (view 6, 1914) features a central pediment and a parapet with stone coping atop a simple stone cornice. This square building, which stands at the northwest corner of Main and Prospect, has three bays on each facade which each contain a pair of windows on each of the upper floors. The windows feature flared stone voussoirs with keystones. Although they are modernized, the storefronts of this building are structural 1 intact. Stylistically the building displays Neo-Georgian influence.

The survey which identified these six buildings as potentially eligible for the National Register was conducted by the City of Ravenna in the spring of 1984 with assistance provided by a grant administered by the Ohio Historic 'Preservation Office. Active in this survey was the Ravenna Heritage Association, whose members performed hours of valuable research on these downtown buildings. Their names are listed on the inventory forms.

Statement of Significance:

This nomination comprises the eligible historic commercial resources of downtown Ravenna. The buildings selected embody the distinctive characteristics of mid-to-late nineteenth century and early twentieth century architecture and are representative examples of the major architectural styles of the period: Greek Revival, Italianate, Richardsonian Romanesque and Neoclassical. They reflect the fashions of American commercial architecture on a scale and of a degree of embellishment appropriate for this Northeast Ohio community.

Phoenix building

The historic buildings included in this nomination reflect the historical growth postcardof the city of Ravenna. The earliest building, the Phoenix Block, dates from the period when the downtown served an agrarian economy composed of prosperous farmers from the surrounding countryside and a limited number of townspeople who were largely occupied in professions which catered to these farmers. The Italianate buildings erected after the Civil War date from an era of growing industrialization, a time when the town grew rapidly. These include the Etna House and the Riddle Block #5. The later years of the century saw the construction of downtown buildings which specifically catered to the town's new immigrant laborers who worked in the Riddle factory and other local industries. These buildings, which include the Riddle Blocks #1, #9 and #11, had commercial establishments on the ground floor and apartments above. They provided much-needed new housing to immigrant laborers until they were able to become assimilated enough to afford single-family housing like the rest of Ravennans.

Henry Warner Riddle was a woodworker from Allegheny, Pennsylvania who came to Ravenna in 1860 to work in the Clark Carriage Works. He bought the company in partnership with his brother-in-law Charles Merts a year later. By 1875 the company had become a specialist in the manufacture of hearses and produced some of the finest and most elegantly finished hearses in the United States. Presidents Lincoln, Hayes, Garfield and McKinley were "carried to their resting places" in Riddle hearses. The hearses were produced in Riddle Block #5, an attractive Italianate style commercial building dating from 1870. Riddle channeled some of the income from his nationally successful business into local real estate ventures. Begun as a safer means of investing than placing his money in banks, Riddle's real estate ventures began to blossom into a downtown building boom by the end of the century. By the time of his death in 1920, Riddle was the largest landowner in town and his numerous blocks dominated the downtown. Few Ohio communities have downtowns which were largely shaped by a single individual. While the Riddle Blocks are not unified by a single architectural style, most were designed by P.L. Frank, a prominent local builder.

postcardThe Riddle Block #1, located in the center of town and dating from 1889, is the downtown's tallest building and is perhaps its most visiblepostcard landmark with its tall corner tower. It is the town's largest and most prominent example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. The Riddle Block #9 is located diagonally opposite Block #1 at the main intersection in town. It postcardwas built shortly after a fire in 1911 destroyed a row of frame buildings on the site. It is an unusually tall and large structure for a town of this size. The Etna House, dating from 1865-1868, is a rare surviving example of Civil War-era hotel architecture. Designed by the well-known Western Reserve architect Simeon Porter, this building features unusually fine and sophisticated detailing. The Phoenix Block is an unusually long row of Greek Revival commercial buildings and is perhaps one of the largest surviving commercial buildings of its era in the region. It is historically significant as Ravenna's first large-scale brick commercial building, replacing earlier wood frame buildings on the site. It is likely that this is the downtown's oldest building, as it dates from 1846.

Ravenna was established in 1799 by Benjamin Tappan and was named for Ravenna, Italy, a town that had been visited by Tappan's fiancee. Tappan laid out the new community in a fairly conventional gridiron; land sales were brisk and the community flourished. In 1808 the town became the county seat of newly-established Portage County and soon thereafter became one of the principal communities of the Western Reserve. The town was incorporated in 1853 but its industrial growth did not get firmly established until after the Civil War. By the end of the century Ravenna had four rail lines passing postcardthrough the city and several flourishing industries. The downtown was by this time a regional trading center. By 1920 all the major downtown landmarks (except those of the Postwar era) had been constructed and there was little construction from this time until the end of the Second World War. In the Postwar era Ravenna's downtown has undergone a steady erosion of its role as the region's leading trading center as newer strip shopping centers became established. However, it remains as the most visible and active commercial center in Portage County.

This nomination highlights downtown Ravenna because of this area's central role in the growth and development of the community. It contains the original platted village and therefore some of the oldest buildings in the city. The downtown area is also the sole location of historic commercial resources in postcardRavenna, although historic residences and churches can be found in other parts of the community. This area also enjoys identification with Ravenna unique in comparison with other parts of the community because of its status as the commercial center of the community and surrounding countryside, a destination for retail and business activity. The downtown has also been a focus in recent years for revitalization efforts. The city has commissioned this nomination of eligible commercial resources in the hope that it may encourage renovation of significant downtown buildings and help to stimulate a greater awareness of and appreciation for the downtown area on the part of local citizens.

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