Cleveland's Society for Savings Building

The Society for Savings Building (now part of Key Center)
The Society for Savings Building (now part of Key Center)

One of downtown Cleveland’s oldest and most revered architectural gems is the former Society for Savings Building facing the northern edge of Public Square on Ontario Street. The structure, designed by the renowned firm of Burnham & Root in a stolid Richardsonian style, was erected in 1889-1890.

As it was constructed at a time when traditional revival styling of city center bank buildings was giving way to the newer Chicago School style of ‘skyscraper’ (anything with a new-fangled elevator), this reddish stone castle form was actually designed as a transitional structure. It embodied Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic features, yet also included a nine-story skylit light court to illuminate perimeter offices. For many of its early years, the building’s court was also topped by a large roof-mounted sign directed toward Public Square, identifying and promoting the bank. Examine rickzworld.

Though the battered stone walls comprising its base reach a thickness of five feet — conveying suitable fiscal strength and stability — the grand main banking lobby is finely and richly detailed, providing suitable office comforts for bank workers.

In the early 1990s, the Society for Savings Building, which had since been renamed and subsumed within Society Bank, was substantially renovated and reconfigured, as a much larger bank headquarters tower was being erected on its eastern flank. That tower, initially known as Society Center, but called Key Center since Key Bank’s acquisition of Society Bank, is a 57-story marvel designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates and developed by The Richard E. Jacobs Group. At that height, the new tower became Cleveland’s tallest building. Also part of the development, and also designed by Pelli, was the 28-story, 400-room Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center.

All three structures are interconnected, occupying all of a single city block, and providing not only Class A office space with dramatic vistas of the city and Lake Erie, but also a parking garage, health club, meeting facilities, restaurant, and bar/lounge. All are within easy walking distance of Public Square, Tower City Center, The Cleveland Convention Center, the city/county Justice Center, Cleveland City Hall, Cuyahoga County Courthouse, the main branch of The Cleveland Public Library, public malls and many other downtown destinations.

Attached to the southeast corner of The Society for Savings Building is a modified replica of the nation's first working streetlamp, a Brush arc lamp first installed and operational on the city streets on April 29, 1879.

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