LIMA — Lima was still drying out from the great flood of March 1913 when, on April 13, the first shovel of dirt was turned on Frank Harman’s furniture store on the southwest corner of Market and Elizabeth streets.
Five stories tall, the building boasted Lima’s first electric freight elevator and a European style private elevator.
“He used Frank Lloyd Wright principles of concrete construction which is special structural interior design, makes the concrete stronger, better, more durable, which was what intrigued me about the building,” said William Walter, president of Walter Development Enterprises, the building’s current owner. “Structurally, it’s like a giant fortress, it really is.
“It cost approximately $250,000 to build,” Walter said. “In those times that was a lot of money.”
Although Frank Harman’s “dream store” became a casualty of the Great Depression in 1933, the Harman Building, now known as the Enterprise Building, still stands, refurbished inside and out, by Walter’s company, which purchased it in 1995.
Between Harman’s bankruptcy and Walter’s purchase, the building has been under several owners and housed a variety of tenants.
The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., better known as A&P, occupied the ground floor until 1938. According to a story in The Lima News in July 1947, the Penn Mutual Insurance Co., which owned the building until 1945, offered the then unoccupied building to the city in 1941 as a possible city hall “but the city solons, believing remodeling costs were prohibitive, gave it the cold shoulder.”
For five years in the early 1940s the building was used for storage by Westinghouse Electric Corp. In 1947, Federated Department Stores, of which Lazarus is a subsidiary, struck a deal put a store in the building, but at the last minute, that lease was bought out by Gramm Trailer Corp., which took possession of the top three floors on Jan. 1, 1951. Lazarus, now Macy’s, opened a store in the Lima Mall in 1971.
In the 1950s, the building, now known as the First Lima Building, was home to WLOK and WIMA radio stations. The Readmore bookstore would later occupy the ground floor. By the 1990s, however, the building, which had acquired an aluminum façade in the 1950s, stood empty.
Enter William Walter.
“I was challenged by some business people to become involved in kind of reactivating downtown Lima. It was not a good real estate investment,” Walter said. “It was a very poor real estate investment because there was not a future, no visible future. And that’s why it has the name Enterprise, because an enterprise is a long journey of hard work to which there is no guaranteed end. So, I called it the Enterprise Building, because that pretty well fit the situation.
“Turned into more of a job than I thought it would be,” he added. “We ended up putting about $3.5 million into the project.”
Walter said the building was totally rebuilt, inside and out. The aluminum façade came off. “Everything is new, everything is modern. All we started with was the concrete floors and wall and brick. … We took the old windows out because they were rotten, beyond use. And each window was custom fit because each window hole is a little bit different size.”
In 1998, the restoration was complete and Walter’s company began leasing it out. New tenants included Lutheran Social Services, A.G. Edwards, Mount Vernon University, Progressive Insurance, MetLife and others.
Unfortunately, the end of the leases coincided with the beginning of the recession in 2008, Walter said. “So, the building is empty now. However, what is happening right now, there is a great buzz going on in the downtown. There are a lot of things happening. … We’ve begun getting inquiries again from people who want to lease the property.
“The main thing is it is a class A type of office building. You’ll find equivalent in any large city, but which is something there is very little of in Lima. Usually, it always gets the first look if someone is looking for good office space in Lima. Office spaces range in size from 1,500 to 5,600 (square feet), depends on what you need.”