As one of the first buildings to be placed on the National Historic Register, Cleveland’s Arcade, which opened in 1890, had fallen into disrepair over the years.
When it closed in the late 1990s, the Arcade had evolved from a premiere Victorian-era, downtown-shopping destination to a mish-mash of tiny shops and gloomy office spaces lining the atrium’s corridors. Its former gilded Gay 90’s splendor had moved well beyond a charming patina, and city officials wondered if it was worth saving.
They decided it was; thus began a massive $60 million restoration and conversion project aimed at revitalizing an entire corridor of downtown Cleveland with the Arcade situated as the dazzling centerpiece.
Architects from Cleveland’s Sandvick Architects and designers from the Washington, D.C.-based Brennan Beer Gorman Monk (BBGM)/Architects & Interiors restored, renovated, and converted the space into a combination of 48,000 square feet for new retail space; a new 10,000-square-foot, 210-seat restaurant storefront; and a new, 293-room Hyatt Regency hotel.
Guestrooms, the restaurant, bar, and the lobby all provide views of the five-story atrium, which boasts a 300-foot, 1,500-pane skylight. The focal point of much of the main hotel level is the 8,500-square-foot restaurant, 1890 at the Arcade. Viewed through the Arcade’s elaborate, restored brass storefront, the restaurant’s interiors were inspired by Cleveland’s rich history as a key industrial and manufacturing center. The design team installed maps, instruments, and materials in order to pay homage to Cleveland’s hard-working heritage, adding to the building’s historic character.
The restaurant, it turns out, was one of the only areas to keep its originally inspired design scheme.
Designers originally drafted a plan that would install traditional Victorian styling in most of the hotel’s spaces, from guestrooms to public areas, says Kathryn Mickel of BBGM’s Phoenix office and partner in charge of the job. “It was all jabots, swags, heavy draperies, dark wood, and overstuffed chairs,” she says. “We tried to mimic the original era of the building.”
Midway through the endeavor, however, the clients changed their minds and forced the design team to rethink their concept. The end result is highly contemporary, yet still tips its hat to the Arcade’s restored design details of yesteryear.
For example, many of the brass and bronze architectural details have decorative leaf accents. Mickel and the BBGM team used this motif in the guestrooms in both the carpets and in custom-designed bedcovers. They also followed a color scheme that echoed the building’s ornate, antique structural detailing – terra cotta, black, cream, green, gold, and bronze – and echoed the old Victorian feel using African mahogany throughout public spaces.
The hotel’s 293 guestrooms, located on the atrium’s top three floors and in two adjacent nine-story towers, posed a serious design challenge. Because they occupied space formerly taken by various odd-shaped offices lining the sides of the Arcade’s atrium, there was no standard room layout, as is common in new hotel design. Instead, designers adapted the work areas into 57 different room configurations and creatively worked to make furnishings fit in odd-shaped spaces.
“Renovations always throw you that kind of curve,” Mickel says.
Due to the job’s status as a historical restoration project, the design team also faced the challenge of maintaining original details of anything facing out into the atriums. Such features as the original doors and the adjacent glass windows and wood walls that were part of office entries could not be changed – they could only be restored.
“But, anything beyond that was fair game,” Mickel says. “We could gut and redo anything on the interior behind the doors. We took advantage of that.”
Nestled into a decidedly Victorian shell, the modern-styled guestrooms have clean lines and a soothing, neutral color palette and offer the kind of amenities that today’s savvy travelers demand.
The clean design extends into public areas, yet pays homage to the facility’s Victorian roots. The lobby features African mahogany paneled walls surrounding a fireplace encased in African multi-color slate. A rich, marble transaction counter tops a custom-designed mahogany reception desk.
The nearby seating area, located in front of the fireplace, offers weary travelers a large sofa upholstered in chocolate-brown mohair upon which to rest. Custom metal chandeliers, down lights, and cylindrical frosted glass lights illuminate the space.
The meeting rooms, which encompass more than 12,000 square feet of space on the hotel’s lower level, posed another design challenge, Mickel says. The low-ceilinged basement houses four boardrooms, more than 2,700 square feet of pre-function space, and six meeting/banquet rooms that can be subdivided into a total of 10 breakout spaces. There’s no natural light. Because people often spend full days meeting in such rooms, the designers knew they had to keep the interiors light and airy. They installed a palette of beech woodwork and soft natural colors to compensate for the area’s lack of natural sunlight.
“We needed to make sure that you didn’t have a sense of being dark and closed in,” Mickel explains. “It was another disadvantage that the building gave us, but we worked with it.”
The design team’s hard work has paid off, garnering the facility national recognition. In October of 2002, the Cleveland Arcade won the National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The award recognizes the developers’ redevelopment efforts that returned the historic building to its past glory and created a new model for development and preservation that can be replicated in other cities nationwide.
“On any list of America’s great spaces, the historic Cleveland Arcade deserves a place of honor,” says Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. “The National Preservation Honor Award is bestowed upon the Arcade’s development team whose skill and determination have given new meaning to their communities through preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage.”
Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.