July 29, 2014

Elyria
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63°F
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Long before it was condemned, old City Hall building was a thriving business

ELYRIA — The gaping hole on Broad Street that was once Elyria City Hall was not always a vacant, blighted building full of mold.

For more than 100 years, the address 328 Broad St. was synonymous with thriving businesses and retail success. A historical look at the property paints a better picture of the building than the recent one — a decaying building that was reduced to rubble in the past few weeks.

Lorain County Historical Society Executive Director Bill Bird said the building was never historical enough to be saved from the wrecking machinery that tore through it.

“But the building is historical in its architecture and because of the part these residents played in the history of the city,” he said.

It is unknown at this time what will become of the parcel, which poses some development issues as the building behind it, a shuttered First Place Bank, was not razed in the demolition. The back parking lot is also not part of the building’s footprint.

Mayor Holly Brinda said no concrete plans are set for the area.

In the meantime, City Engineer Tim Ujvari said after the demolition, top soil and seeding will turn the area into green space until it is developed.

The building was built in the late 1800s or right around 1900, Bird said. City directories listed it with several different addresses between 324 and 334 as it likely consisted of several smaller shops.

Over time, 328 Broad St. became the final address of record.

Around the time the building was built, a prominent Elyria businessman named Henry H. Smith moved his home furnishings company to the three-story portion of the building. Smith was known as a bit of a maverick businessman at that time and used several inventive marketing ploys to get people into his store.

He once married a couple in his front window and drew a crowd of hundreds to Broad Street. Another time, he hosted a baby carriage parade downtown with his young son leading the way.

During that same time, the other portion of the building was home to the Farm Implement Co. Bird could not determine the owner of the tool and hardware store.

The Smith company went out of business in February 1930 and Farm Implement followed in 1937.

The building did not stay empty for long.

Several events were held there including rummage sales, bake sales and it even hosted the Lorain County Rabbit Show and State Convention in 1940, welcoming more than 600 rabbits from all over the country.

But the building is probably best known as the home of the city’s Sears, Roebuck and Co. store. Exactly when the department store moved in is unknown, but the first ad featuring the 328 Broad St. address was placed in The Chronicle-Telegram in September 1941.

Sears stayed downtown until 1967 when it left for Midway Mall.

Of course, many assumed Elyria moved its city offices in soon after, but Bird said old city directories show that the county administration took up shop there for many years until the city moved in the building in 1974. It was the home of Elyria city government and municipal court until the city vacated the building in 2006.

All the history leaves Bird to wonder what could happen at 328 Broad St.

“It may have ended full of water and mold, but in the history of this town, there was a lot of merchants in there, and it was a very prominent place in Elyria,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.