|By Mark J. Price, The Akron Beacon
Journal, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 17, 2008 --Akron businessman Fred S. Ozier discovered a groundbreaking way to remain in the good graces of his mother-in-law.
He built a fancy hotel and named it for her.
The 11-story, 112-room Hotel Howe was the tallest building in Akron when it opened in November 1915. Located at 11 S. Main St., the downtown inn was a handsome alternative to the 250-room Portage Hotel, which opened in 1912 at Market and Main streets.
Akron's population was in the midst of unprecedented growth -- rising from 69,067 in 1910 to a staggering 208,435 in 1920. Hotels couldn't keep up with the daily influx of newcomers.
"For years it has been evident to me that Akron was destined to become one of the greatest cities in the country," Ozier, 56, told the Akron Times in 1915. "Years ago, Akron was badly in need of a modern, up-to-date hotel. It was built and the traveling public gave a sigh of relief.
"Akron, however, has kept right on growing night and day, and we are just getting started. A year ago, it occurred to me that another hotel, modeled after the finest to be found in the East, one that would have every comfort, and with popular rates, would be appreciated. With such a hotel in mind, I set to work, and the new Howe is the result."
A native of Richland County, Ozier made his fortune in the tobacco business.
He and business partner Corwin P. McCready owned a chain of Ohio cigar stores, including five in Akron and two in Canton. Ozier learned the hospitality trade while operating cigar stands in Mansfield's Vonhof Hotel and Akron's Buchtel Hotel.
When he decided to start his own hotel, Ozier picked a tract on South Main across from O'Neil's, Polsky's, Yeager's and Federman's department stores, which all were situated on one block. The vacant site, a stone's throw from East Market Street, once housed the seed and grain business of L. Kryder & Sons.
With hat in hand, Ozier approached the wealthy landowner -- who just happened to be the mother of his wife, Hattie.
Buchtel Avenue resident Eliza J. Howe was the widow of Minor Howe, whose family lent its name to Howe Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls. She agreed to lease the property to her son-in-law, and he thanked her by naming the hotel in her honor.
The Carmichael Construction Co. served as general contractors on "Akron's skyscraper," which cost $150,000 to build (about $3 million in today's money). The red-brick building had a distinctive appearance because its top and bottom floors featured a white terra-cotta facade.
"The white top of the hotel is conspicuous in the landscape for miles to those coming towards Akron from almost any direction," the Beacon Journal reported. "And the big electric sign on its top at night can be seen from almost every section of Akron."
Working with his brother-in-law George Lowery, Ozier developed "a fine, modern hostelry, equipped with every convenience." All 112 rooms boasted such luxuries as telephones, baths and pure spring water. Rates were $1 or $2 a night.
"In the construction of the Howe Hotel, nothing has been overlooked that might add to the comfort of our patrons," he said.
Thousands entered the elegant lobby during a grand-opening celebration Nov. 22, 1915, the Monday before Thanksgiving. The Howe Orchestra played classical music on a floral-decorated balcony while the Cecilian Ladies' Quartet sang opera.
Hundreds of guests enjoyed a lavish banquet in the hotel's dining room. Employees in matching uniforms attended to the needs of patrons. An elevator operator took passengers for rides.
"It will always be a pleasure to have the people of this city visit the new Howe and see for themselves what we really have here," Ozier said.
The Howe was an immediate success. Each day brought trainloads of people looking for work in Akron's rubber factories.
One of them was Wendell Willkie, who arrived in 1919 to work as a Firestone attorney and stayed at the Howe. Willkie later made history as the 1940 Republican presidential nominee.
Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians spent a week at the Howe in 1923 when they were just starting out. The musicians slept in nine cots in one room.
Flanked by the eight-story United Building and four-story Nantucket Building, the Hotel Howe stood tall during the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s.
Its first-floor diner, Plymouth Lunch, gave way in 1928 to the original Clark's Restaurant, a popular hangout for everyone, from cops to gangsters to factory workers to students. Clark's held court there for 20 years before moving down Main Street.
In the 1930s, the Green Room cocktail bar opened at the Howe. Its live music and potent elixirs lured theatergoers after shows at the Palace, Orpheum and Forum. The Green Room was a jumpin' joint for more than 30 years.
Ozier gradually recused himself from the business while sons Robert and Stanley took more active roles. The patriarch was 82 when he died in 1941 while wintering in Los Angeles.
Over the decades, his family leased the hotel operation to companies from Minnesota, Chicago, Cleveland and Dayton. By then, the Howe's standing had fallen considerably. The 450-room Mayflower Hotel, an extravagant building that opened on South Main Street in 1931, turned all other Akron hotels into second-rate establishments.
Even the name became ordinary. The Hotel Howe caved in to common usage and became the Howe Hotel.
Falls into disrepair
As downtown began to deteriorate in the early 1960s, the Howe lost business and fell into disrepair. A Cleveland company purchased the lease for $100,000 with the idea of converting it into "a hotel specializing in sheltering senior citizens."
A scandal erupted in 1964 when the hotel's manager unexpectedly transferred 36 elderly people to the Howe from a Cleveland hotel. Without notifying families or caseworkers, the operator whisked the frightened seniors to Akron and then randomly assigned them rooms.
Police got involved when reluctant tenants wandered away from the building in a state of confusion. City officials shut down the hotel and ordered a room-by-room search.
It was a pitiful sight as frail, elderly people were removed from the building and shipped back to Cleveland. The manager was charged with operating an illegal convalescent home.
In 1969, brothers John and Russ Mazzola bought the building for $100,000 with the hope of turning it into an apartment complex with office space.
The Mazzolas remodeled the Howe, tore out the marquee entrance and added a two-story facade with huge rectangular windows. In its final incarnation, the Howe served as a 63-unit subsidized housing complex.
The city bought the building for $1.35 million in 1995 and demolished it three years later. As a wrecking ball smashed through its lobby, the Hotel Howe checked out forever.
Initial plans for a six-story office building at 11 S. Main St. were not developed. Today, the site is a courtyard between the United and Nantucket buildings.
Two massive columns stand on the sidewalk, but they aren't original. They belonged to the Anthony Wayne Hotel, which was razed in 1996 to make way for Canal Park. City workers moved the stones there to form a courtyard entrance.
The old ruins mark the site of a lost landmark, a shrine to an Akron mother-in-law.
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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