New life for old haunts: How historic buildings are adapting to modern concepts

“This place is haunted,” says Jay Demagall. “I’m not just saying that for your article. I’m saying that because I live here.”
If nothing else, the brawny structure at 2135 Columbus Road is haunted with the ghosts of Cleveland’s past brewing industry. Inside, Demagall and his team of four are preparing a return for what was once the thriving Atlantic Beer Garden. The pieces are finally falling into place for their forthcoming Forest City Brewery.

A trench drain, an imperative part of transforming a warehouse into a brewery, divides the room where he stands. The cavernous enclave with a soaring ceiling observes its centennial this year. In a building as such, it’s hard not to believe a glimmer of truth in jests like Demagall’s.

“Oldest beer garden in Cleveland, you’re standin’ in it,” he says from across the trench.

Repurposing historic spaces is no new feat in Cleveland. The Cleveland Aquarium now enlivens the FirstEnergy Powerhouse that was constructed in 1892 to generate energy for Cleveland’s electric railway and streetcar system. Students at the Cleveland Institute of Art work in studios that were once a part of a 1915 Ford factory. To gain access to our swankiest night club, The Metropolitan at the 9, you must first pass through a 1906 bank vault.
Demagall is only one of many small businesses owners who have claimed historic spaces for businesses of their own. For each, the path is different but the goal is the same: to use the foundation of antiquity as building blocks for modern ventures.
Forest City Brewery
Walk through the Fulton Road door to the forthcoming Forest City Brewery and you enter what was once a tavern built in 1865. Wind through the hallways and you’ll reach the 1915 addition that will soon become the brewing site.

If the Forest City Brewery name rings familiar, it’s because it isn’t a new one. There have been several iterations since the original on E. 69th Street and Union Avenue, the only brewery in Cleveland to obtain historical status. It’s one of the reasons Demagall and his team chose the moniker.
Demagall himself is a history buff with a degree in the subject from the University of Toledo. He can effortlessly spurt off facts about the vintage materials stored at the soon-to-be brewery: A 1905 walk-in cooler; a decorative Victorian-era birdcage; and mahogany engine block molds from Lorain’s early-to-mid 1900s automotive heyday that will be used as a base of a Viking table.

Forest City Brewery
“You can’t find wood like this anymore. You can’t find the craftsmanship,” Demagall says of the building’s timber frame structure surrounding him. “The things we’re going to put in here have the same craftsmanship.”
The original Atlantic Beer Garden that Forest City stands on was founded by a family who emigrated from the Alsace region of France, which resides along the Germany border, in the early 1860s. He shines a light on a sign he found in the rafters of a Lakewood home that reads “Waldorf,” the German translation of Forest City.
The second floor will be converted to a Beer and Breakfast for overnight stays. They’ll also grow their own hops and have a new beer garden.

“It’s not going to be full of picnic tables and gravel,” Demagall says. “It’s going to be a garden. We’re trying to keep everything old school.”
The building won’t be home to the brewery alone. Cal Verga’s Duck-Rabbit Coffee has already claimed one of the 1,000-square-foot spaces inside. He roasts, naturally, in a vintage machine imported from Germany. The coffee is already available at Tremont Farmer’s Market, the Root Café and the Local Coffee and Tea in Oberlin.

The neighboring space belongs to Western Reserve Meadery, the work of Douglas Shaw and Jason Andro. Of course, Demagall says there’s not only a possibility of collaboration with their neighboring brewers, it’s imminent.
Cleveland Cycle Tours, a mobile, pedal-powered brew tour, has also begun operating from the building and bringing in foot traffic.
Demagall hopes to be fully operational by late winter. Through the construction that lies ahead, their workmanship remains rooted in paying homage to the once-bustling land of 1865.
“We’re recycling and reusing as much as we possibly can. Most of the things here or in the brew house we just found here,” says Demagall. “We’re trying to bring it all back to what it once was.”
The Hildebrandt Provisions Company
Between 1886 and 1970, the Hildebrandt Provisions Company was a headquarters for meat processing. Today, its halls are lined with small businesses, from food companies to artists to mechanics.
In the hall leading to his office, operator Bill Hildebrandt admires the black and white photos encased on the wall that tell the story of the company’s earlier years. He points to the ones of him as a child, when he worked for his grandfather, the proprietor of the business that once inhabited 3619 Walton Ave.
“You’d never see anyone without a collared shirt,” he notes. He’s motioning to one of himself with a delivery truck used to transport the meat. One destination was the West Side Market, at which the company owned two stands. As a young boy, Hildebrandt would go daily to collect all the receipts. Today, where those delivery trucks once pulled in, popular food trucks now park.

The Hildebrandt Provisions Company
Unlike many warehouses that rent by square footage, the Hildebrandt is unique in that its past allows for more adaptive uses of spaces to accommodate different needs. As a result, the businesses operating there range from woodworkers to artists to food makers.

“Processing meat is very complicated,” says Hildebrandt of the building’s past. “We had receiving, processing, storage and shipping. So instead of being a traditional open warehouse, we have so many individual rooms that it was easy to convert to outfitting for individual tenants. You take each of the individual best attributes of the place.”

For example, the headquarters of Rising Star Coffee Roasters is in the plant’s old powerhouse, where steam-driven turbines played a role in the cooling system because they compressed ammonia. Or Wake Robin Foods, the fermented fare business that rents from the lower levels, where meat used to be kept because it was cooler. The temperature and dampness make a fitting environment for fermentation.
Walk into Skidmark Garage, an appropriately-named motorcycle shop, and you’re in the former central meat processing area. Sealed-off doors along the wall, which are now scattered with shelves, wrenches and toolboxes, signal where the meat was once rolled into the smoker.
Next to a dozen bikes lined along the back of the shop, a door opens to expose a back hallway. It leads to massive, thickly insulated rooms that will soon be home to one of the newest tenants -- former competitor Five Star Brand Meats -- who are assisting with refurbishing the coolers and will soon move in.
The Hildebrandt also houses artists like glassworker Michael J. Mikula, who has worked in sculptural glass since 1988. He’ll soon have a glass furnace in his studio, an expensive amenity he plans to offer to others in his trade.
“I’ve been talking to up-and-comers working in glass who are frustrated they can’t get steady, professional access to a studio,” says Mikula. “My intent is to build a small cadre.”
In its evolution, Hildebrandt’s strength is its ability – and openness – to change. Just recently, it hosted a movie night with works by local indie filmmakers.
“No two spaces are alike,” says Hildebrandt. “Everybody has a different need but we all share in a common cause.”
The Foundry Project
Yellow flowers burst from the empty windows of the gray building at 2469 East 71st St. that rests on an eight-acre piece of land directly across from the Woodland Cemetery.
In the hands of developer J. Duncan Shorey, the former Taylor & Boggis (T&B) Foundry site has plans for transformation into the Foundry Project. The project was inspired by art, is anchored in sustainable aquaculture, and ends in technology. And for Shorey, it began in childhood.
“I grew up in an urban environment in downtown Chicago and we were always taught to repurpose and reuse,” Shorey says at the entrance of a garage-like building piled with original foundry scraps. “I credit my mom. She said, ‘We’re not going to just move to suburbs.’ I spent most of my summers rehabbing houses, replacing roofs. I’ve done this since elementary school.”
The idea started as a way to use the structure as an art incubator. The consensus was to leave the upper levels for art while producing a revenue-generating crop on the lower floors to off-set the cost. Shorey turned to his colleague at Evergreen Cooperatives, who suggested an alternative to greenery: fish, much like Bell Aquaculture is doing in Indiana.

Developer J. Shorey inspects the interior of the Foundry Project bldg
Shorey settled on branzino, a sea bass, and designed the Foundry Project to house 16 grow-out tanks, nursery tanks and hatcheries. They’ve already signed letters of intent to purchase the fish, which is being handled regionally by Euclid Fish Company.
To bring the initiative full circle, Shorey is planning an underground data center on the west boundary. It will be linked by conventional geothermal systems. Excess heat will be captured and harvested to heat the aquaculture center and possibly even the building itself.
True to Shorey’s nature, many assets from T&B have been salvaged for use after he examined the contents on site. The iron of foundry patterns and wood of the structure will be disassembled and worked into the building itself. Ladles that carry hot iron and steel before they’re poured into a mold will be turned into tables.
“Some would look at these and say that this is just trash that should be thrown out,” remarks Shorey. “I look at this and see a piece of wood that’s 100-year-old oak. That’s what I love to do; to figure out ways to take that value and capture it.”
The Nash on East 80th
“Everyone my whole life has always said, ‘Hey, you going to the Nash this weekend?’”
“The Nash” rolls off the tongue so well that it was natural, at least to a young Anthony Trzaska, when he rebranded the Slovenian National Home in Slavic Village by calling it the name he grew up with, the Nash on East 80th. Trzaska wants to keep afloat a community cornerstone with updated ideas.
Just as the Nash was built in two parts – an old hall and lower-ground lounge in 1919 and a new hall and bowling lanes added in 1948 -- it also holds two sides of its history. A once bustling neighborhood mecca, Trzaska is working to revive its heyday.

Bowling Alley at The Nash
At mid-20th century, Nash membership numbered in the hundreds. The St. Lawrence neighborhood was densely packed with Slovenians growing up between E. 78th and E. 82nd Streets, with the National Home and the St. Lawrence Church a few doors down at the epicenter. The problem, of course, is that the population has been decreasing.
Trzaska stepped onto the board in 2011 and added his own spin on events -- like open bowling to the regular fish fries and tailgate themes to the clambakes. He watched attendance climb, but not nearly enough to have the momentum it fully needs. 
“That’s proof of concept, but figuring everything else out is what we’re dealing with now,” Trzaska says.

In February of this year, he stepped off the board to disengage with the organization and reengage with the building itself, he explains. Trzaska has been taking on his own share of work by founding Sonny Day Development, a real estate development aiming to bring in local businesses to Slavic Village, such as the addition of Saucisson butchery into the old Jaworski Meats location.
Past the Slovenian of the Year photos that line the entrance, the main hall built in 1948 opens up to an auditorium where 50/50 raffles are held and a polka band plays to the crowd. Trzaska points to a black and white photo from 1951, propped in the kitchen, showing how densely packed the hall at one time was. On one corner of the photo is his grandma, on the other his grandpa. The hall is so full that they never even brushed shoulders or knew one another existed at the time.
Next door, the old hall is candy-coated pink, like a scene stolen directly from Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Few rooms in Cleveland have nearly as much character and yet only two major events have taken place since Trzaska’s youth: a holiday movie screening and a stop of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Slavic Village residency, both of which he had a hand in planning.
Trzaska continues to invite organizations like Belt Magazine and the Cleveland Flea to explore the Nash by hosting events and brings in local food companies like Old City Soda and Saucisson to provide snacks in hopes to expose the charm of the Nash to a new wave of Clevelanders.
The fear and skepticism with these projects, of course, is always the unsettling feeling of a community losing a piece of its heritage and of those pieces losing their character. It’s a weariness Trzaska faces with reverence.
“Honor the past and plan for the future is something I say ad nauseam,” remarks Trzaska. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t shift to new ways.”