Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dixon-Globe Opera House - Robinson-Schwenn Building - Hamilton, Ohio

Buildings have some amazing stories to tell. If the walls of the Dixon-Globe Opera House -Robinson-Schwenn Building in Hamilton, Ohio could talk, it would be a long and varied conversation. Opera house, saloon, drug store, skating rink, offices, department store, university classrooms and coffee shop have all called this building home. Even the long hyphenated name of this building, located in the heart of Hamilton's business district, suggests that it has served many purposes throughout its history.

Why You Should Visit:
The recent exterior restoration of the Dixon-Globe Opera House - Robinson-Schwenn building has given new life to this Italianate/Romanesque gem that now shines bright in the business district of this county seat city north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Considering the fact that this building was completed the year after the Civil War ended and still is being used is a testament to the City of Hamilton, Ohio. It is a wonderful part of the downtown Hamilton cityscape that can be appreciated while admiring some of the city's sculpture that is scattered around the downtown area.

What You Should Know:
The Dixon-Globe Opera House - Robinson-Schwenn building is probably best seen from across the street so that you can take it all in. The interior of the building has been completely repurposed from its original use and unless you are doing business with one of the tenants, the building is not open for public tours. This is a building to see and appreciate while you are doing business in downtown Hamilton, walking to the historic Butler County Courthouse or appreciating the many sculptures including the large bronze sculpture of Alexander Hamilton in the middle of High Street in front of this building.

Quick Facts:
  • Location: 221 High Street, Hamilton, Ohio
  • Constructed: 1866
  • Architect: Joseph Bender
  • Type: Commercial, Entertainment
  • Style: Italianate, Romanesque
  • Original Use: Opera House, Entertainment
  • Current Use: Office, Commercial

History, Background and Design:
Built in 1866, the building located at 221 High Street, Hamilton, Ohio has an interesting and varied history of use. Originally, the structure was known as Dixon’s Opera House. It was named for Walter Dixon, its original owner and probable builder, of Cincinnati, Ohio. However, throughout much of its 38 years as an entertainment venue, it was known as the Globe Opera House.
The theater was on the third floor and had a seating capacity of approximately 1,200. Productions ranged from traveling singers, comedians, jugglers, acrobats, dancers and magicians to noted speakers, dramatic readings, band and orchestra concerts, operas and plays. In June 1889, Dixon sold the theater to William C. Frechtling, a Hamilton retailer. Frechtling in turn leased the theater, starting July 1, 1889, to a series of operators. In 1904 the theater closed for safety concerns. The building also housed various businesses including a saloon, a drug store, a skating rink, and offices.
The building later became the Robinson-Schwenn Department Store which opened on September 1, 1907. In 1913, Robinson-Schwenn expanded from two floors to four floors as it became a popular downtown shopping destination, specializing in clothing, millinery and rugs.
A major expansion, remodeling and modernization was completed in 1948. The $200,000 project had been delayed several years because building materials had been restricted by defense demands during World War II (1941-1945) and by housing priorities in the immediate post-war years. The 1948 expansion included installation of air conditioning and a new elevator.
A two-year improvement was completed in November 1954. It included a new street face for the 88-year-old structure. The makeover involved placement of aluminum louvers over the original exterior, and erection of a new marquee and new display windows. In its final years, the operation covered 30,000 square feet of display and storage space and employed 100 people. After nearly 57 years, Robinson-Schwenn closed at the end of February 1964.
Effective March 2, 1964, the building became the Hamilton location of the Cincinnati-based Mabley and Carew Company Department Store. Mabley and Carew closed the High Street store in 1977. At about the same time, Harry Wilks acquired the building from the Frechtling family. In 1980, a portion of the property reopened as the Dollar General Store, part of a 23-state chain. That store closed in May 1992. The building currently houses offices, a restaurant, and the downtown campus of Miami University. The structure recently underwent a renovation and restoration under new ownership.
The building has a 72-foot wide facade on High Street. This north-facing facade serves as the main facade for the businesses on the first level. This level is composed of glass and cast iron with some modified classical detailing. The vertical elements on the first level do not align with the facade elements on the upper levels. This is in part due to a single door at the east end of the facade that appears to lead to a staircase to the upper levels. It is unclear if this staircase is used by the upper level businesses or may serve as a fire exit from that level. In comparing the current street-level facade with historic photos, it appears that this part of the building has been modified from its original design. The Robinson-Schwenn Building signage appears to be a part of the cast iron work which suggests that this was also a later modification to the original storefront design when the building became home to the department store of this same name.
On the second and third levels of the High Street (north) facade, are divided visually into five bays or vertical sections. These upper levels are constructed of red brick. The original design of the second level of the north facade included three sets of paired windows in the three central bays. Single windows flanked these central bays. The windows at this level were typical of the Italianate style. They were tall, narrow and capped by curved cornices with keystones. The central pair of windows appear to have been capped by half-circle arches. The remaining six windows were capped by flattened arches. At some point in the history of the building, the three central pairs of windows were modified. Today the central three bays contain wider windows with modified flattened arches. The flattened arches are composed of brick rather than the original limestone decorative cornices. The current three central brick cornices also lack a defined keystone. The outer two single windows still retain their original limestone cornices with large keystones. Visually demarcating this level on this facade are limestone horizontal elements that project slightly and are supported by limestone brackets.
The third level of the High Street (north) facade continues the lines of the five bays. The central bay contains a large rose window. When comparing the current window with historic photos, it appears that this large circular window's limestone frame has been modified slightly from the original design. The two bays either side of the central bay contain tall narrow arched windows with limestone cornices and large keystones. The two outer bays contain circular portal windows with limestone frames.
The gabled roof is designed with classical details including brackets and corbels. Below the central peak of the gable are three narrow arched windows. The central bay is topped by a brick parapet that includes the date of the building's construction and topped by classical finials. The parapet and the finials appear to have been modified from the original design.
The west facade extends 112 feet on Journal Square. This facade is visually composed of six original bays and one additional bay that was added at some point in the building's history. The first level of the west facade contains one arched entry at street level. This level also contains two arched windows that appear to have been modified from the original design. A limestone cornice delineates the first from the second level.
At the second level of the west facade, each bay contains paired windows with brick flattened arched cornices. One of the sets of paired windows has been modified and this bay contains a single window with a larger flattened arched cornice. Limestone horizontal elements demarcate the second and third levels. The lower limestone horizontal elements are supported by limestone brackets.
The third level of the west facade contains tall narrow arched windows with brick cornices and limestone keystones. Three of the windows appear to be in the original condition. The remaining three windows have been modified and lack their original arches. The western facade is capped by a cornice with classical details.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 14, 2000.

from northwest


High Street (north) facade

rose window detail - north facade

window detail - north facade
cornice detail - north facade
parapet detail - north facade
north facade detail
window detail - north facade
cornice detail - north facade
portal window detail - north facade
door detail - north facade

north facade detail
northwest corner detail
northwest corner detail
northwest cornice detail
door detail - north facade
north facade detail

west facade - Journal Square
west facade - window detail
window detail - west facade

west facade detail

window detail - west facade
west facade - cornice detail

historic photo

historic photo
Sources and Links:


  1. What a treasure! Thanks for sharing

    1. Jean - Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. This is one of my favorite buildings in Hamilton as well. It is a real treasure.