“We’ve been successful in Lima, and I wanted to give Lima something,” businessman Fred W. Cook told the Lima Citizen on Nov. 13, 1962.
Earlier that day, Cook had given the city a 14-story “something” – the building at 121-123 W. High St. which bore his name. When it was built in 1926 the building (today’s Chase Bank building) was the tallest in Northwest Ohio and is still the tallest building in Lima. It came close to becoming what the Toledo Blade at the time reckoned would be the state’s tallest city hall.
“I don’t want any bouquets,” Cook told reporters gathered in his Cook Tower office that day. “I’m happy to be able to do it. We don’t have anyone else to leave it to, and Lima’s been good to us.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, E.W. Cook, who had moved his family to Lima from Bryan around 1879, the younger Cook had done well. Born May 9, 1876, he grew up in Lima, attended the city’s public schools and as a boy began working in the Globe Machine Works at 106 E. Elm St., a business his father had founded a half dozen years before oil was discovered in Lima. In 1896, he married Lula Penney, of Convoy, and the couple had one child, a daughter named Marvel.
In 1891, the Globe Machine Works, which made equipment used in the oil fields, also began manufacturing wooden boxes for the city’s flourishing cigar industry. About 1908, around the time the younger Cook became a partner in the company with his father, Globe turned to manufacturing cigar boxes full time.
Globe Cigar Box Company merged with three other Ohio cigar box manufacturers late in 1927, becoming the Globe Box Company with its headquarters in Globe’s new plant at 327-329 S. Main St. In April 1928, the company’s founder, Cook’s father, died at his winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Because the Globe Cigar Box manufacturing company on South Main Street offers an opportunity to witness some of the most modern and efficient equipment for the manufacturing of cigar boxes, representatives from approximately forty cigar box factories in the West and Middle West will be in Lima … for their annual convention,” The Lima News reported in October 1928. “The annual conference was to have been held in Chicago, but the meeting was transferred to Lima because the Globe company has gained renown as having one of the best factories operated by members of the association.”
Two years later, on New Year’s Day 1930, the News revealed that the Globe Box Company had consolidated with eight other box manufacturing concerns. Lima “will become headquarters for a $2,000,000 corporation” with factories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri and Kentucky as well as Lima and Cincinnati, the newspaper reported. “The name of the new company is the Autokraft Box Corp, and an annual production of 25,000,000 boxes is planned.”
Cook became vice president and chairman of the board of the new corporation, “which it is understood,” the News wrote, would establish executive offices in the Old National City building.
Cook also had ties to the Old National City Bank, where he was a member of the board in 1926 when the bank constructed a gleaming new home in the 100 block of West High Street. Considered an architectural triumph at the time, the 14-story building was being completed about the same time as the 12-story Lima Trust building was nearing completion in the northwest quadrant of the Public Square.
The building was a source of civic pride and a favorite of photographers. A photograph in the News from Oct. 26, 1926, shortly after the opening attracted a crowd of 10,000 people, shows a night view of the building, its façade illuminated, towering over a mostly two- and three-story downtown.
In April 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression, the Old National City Bank went into receivership, and its building was purchased by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., which held the mortgage. In February 1936, more than a quarter-century before Cook tried to give it to the city, the insurance company offered the building, which cost $1 million to build, to Lima for $300,000 for use as a city hall.
However, a deal was never reached, and, on Jan. 1, 1937, Cook became the building’s owner. The Old National City Bank became the Cook Tower.
Cook was doing well. In February 1939 he was elected president and treasurer of Gro-Cord Rubber Corp., a firm he had been associated with for 20 years. The company at 817 N. Jackson St. manufactured heels and soles for shoes. Two years later, Cook announced that he, in partnership with a York, Pennsylvania, industrialist, had taken over ownership and management of Memorial Park Cemetery.
In January 1949, the Autokraft Box Corp., with roots reaching back to the Globe Machine Works founded by Cook’s father 70 years earlier, announced it was ending operations in Lima the following month. The plant employed 64 people.
Cook had retired from active participation in the cigar box company in 1945. He did, however, still own the building at 327-329 S. Main St., which would be leased out for office and warehouse space to North Star Woolen Mills, the American Field Seed Company, Westinghouse and Duff Truck Lines, among others.
By 1962, Cook was in his mid-80s and semi-retired, overseeing his Lima interests from an office in the Cook Tower. He and his wife, Lulu, had been married more than 65 years. Their only child, Marvel, who was born in September 1897, had died childless in January 1961.
Lima, meanwhile, was planning a downtown makeover – and continuing its seemingly endless quest for a city hall site. Six weeks before Christmas, Cook played Santa Claus, seemingly fulfilling the city’s wishes with a plan to turn over the Cook Tower by December 1964.
“The gift comes at an advantageous time,” the Blade wrote in its Nov. 14, 1962, story. “The present city building, rebuilt in 1948 from an interurban station is in the heart of Lima’s planned $5 million downtown urban renewal program.
“One of the question marks on the urban renewal adoption by the city has (been) reluctance to decide on what method to use to replace the city building or where to build a new one,” the newspaper explained, adding that “The action by Mr. Cook took care of the problem.”
Except it didn’t. Although plans were announced to move city offices and artist’s drawings of what Ohio’s tallest city hall might ultimately look like (one featuring the tower with a long, low annex attached to its west side running along High Street to Elizabeth Street), it all fell through.
In December 1964, instead of completing turn-over of the building to the city, Cook announced he wanted it back, describing municipal officials as “a bunch of kids with a football,” according to the Dec. 10, 1964, edition of The Lima News. Cook accused city officials of failing to bolster downtown. “I am for downtown. And the city is to blame for downtown going to pot,” he told the News.
“He further contended Lima has failed to live up to its agreement with him. ‘I donated the building so it could be used for (city) offices, and they don’t want to use it for offices.’”
Cook later apologized for the remarks but said he still wanted the building back. He eventually paid the city $100,000 to reclaim his gift and sold the building to Tower National Bank, where he sat on the board of directors.
Cook died at the age of 92 on July 3, 1968. His wife died in 1971.
Cook Tower became the Tower Bank Building in 1973. Today it is the Chase Bank building. Shortly before his death, the city changed the name of Michael Park, bounded by Michael and St. Johns avenues in southeast Lima, to Cook Park in honor of the businessman.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.