The Missing Link for the Dayton Arcade

The missing link for the Dayton Arcade                    May 18th 2013
By Christopher Joseph  

As the Dayton Arcade has sat mothballed for decades, debated about suitable usages, incurred continuous insurmountable tax debt and the probable structural damage for the centuries old building, one thing remains certain; it’s still empty.   An enormous hollow shell of its once formal grandeur of old, as ghosts of its glorious past whisper through the deserted eves.   

This glory is what keeps this abandoned maze of buildings alive.  It not only connects to Dayton’s history, its an amazing architectural feat only fully realized wandering through its vast corridors leading up to the fabulous middle arena under the rotunda.  The decor in this room is one to behold and truly missed in the current revitalization of the inner city core.  The maze of connected buildings cloaked behind a city block of normal downtown mediocrity is an amazing skill the architects don’t get enough credit for.

While the debate slugs along; What to do with this worthy classic building and who’s going to pay for it?   

Ideas abound from returning shopping to it (never would compete with modern malls), office space (boring and un-needed), relocating the public library (nobel cause but not likely), maybe a downtown grocer (not logistical), a museum would be idea but with the excellent Dayton Art Institute nearby and other worthy museums wouldn’t gather much steam, a hotel, a flea market, blah blah they all wouldn’t have enough support or money.   

The reason nobody can find appropriate funds for the desperate building; there isn’t a great idea to back up the fledging dream logistically.   

The missing link is envisioning one usage that could fill all five halls.  Something that would be worthy of the classic building, contribute to the inner-core of the city, have the funds to pay off the burgeoning debt, spark a huge revitalization unprecedented in all of the current ongoing projects.  

Ideally, this usage would be something wanted and needed in our city, our region, our state.   Something that would attract people from surrounding areas to travel here to again marvel in this unique center-point of Dayton.  

Surprised this idea has not surfaced in the twenty years since closure, you ready for this?  It hit me like a sack of bricks and I just had to shout it out to everybody.  
Envision this; a university.  

Not any university, Dayton is richly filled with excellent centers of higher learning such as The University Of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, Wright State University and many in the surrounding area such as Wilberforce University, Antioch College, Central State University, Wittenberg University and more in the countryside.  Not talking the pay for education Kaplan, Southwestern or Miami-Jacobs either.  

This university would have to be unique in stature, a niche school of high quality higher learning.  A school that would attract students from a wide range of cultures, regions, backgrounds and skills convening in unison for one specific goal.  A school that would fit into the current revitalization of downtown Dayton and more accurately the urban renaissance blossoming mere blocks away.  

Get ready for it.  

An ART university.  

Imagine with me the prestigious glamour of a top rated art school occupying the Arcade.   On the third street side colorful banners flowing from the impressive Gibbons front with students spilling out into the street showcasing their wares to the general public.  Courtyard square filled with painters, musicians, dancers working for their grade.  

Think of the concept of an Arcade besides the arches, its usually a group of stores or merchants displaying their wares (or video games etc.)  Our school would use this central advantage as part of the students grade.  On certain days the school would be open to the public to meander through the square as students dance, perform, display their craft in a festive atmosphere.  With enough students, the performances would spill onto the sidewalks around the four openings, out to Courtyard square.  This would enhance full downtown events such as Urban Nights, Art hops, holidays and celebrations.  

Dayton, for a technology and manufacturing hub, has one of the healthiest art centers for a mid-size city. The area has always had a healthy music and performing art scene.  The strength of the Victoria Theatre Association – including the Schuster Center, Culture Works, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton Visual Arts Center, Dayton Playhouse, and many art galleries and museums abound.  Dayton was home to the Land of Funk music scene of the 1980‘s which dominated nationwide, while the indie rock scene bubbles healthy underground.  The local village of Yellow Springs is an art haven.  Graphic arts, the most promising game-changer of the genre, is growing by leaps and bounds.  The local film scene is supported by gracious state-tax cuts and by local organizations such as FilmDayton and Cinema Arts Society.  Stivers and K12 churn out groomed students seeking opportunities.  Famous and upcoming writers, painters, poets, sculptors, etc; etc; call Dayton their home or started here.    Not to mention the many talented inventors hailing from here, these game changers altered history, their contributions are indeed a form of art.  

On the list of top art schools in the nation, Cleveland Art Institute is the only exclusive school devoted to the arts in Ohio. (Source US News, Top Fine Arts Programs) Other respectable entries include nearby Miami University and The Ohio University.  Nearby Indianapolis has a top rated art school.  Our school would represent southwest Ohio.  

Of the delinquent taxes, upkeep of an one-hundred plus building, upgrades (within an historical building), what public oriented function is able to receive heavy funding from government and wealthy contributors?   Education and art connoisseurs are high on that list.  Benjamin and Marian Schuster gave life to the landmark art and cultural center.  Ervin J. Nutter’s heavy contribution birthed the impressive Nutter Center Arena.  People gladly give their hard earned money to education and art, its the perfect combo.  Being secondary education, the government will have available funds as well.     

This would benefit our area greatly, fill an empty void in our hearts as the grandeur of the Arcade has deteriorated under our watch.  An arts school would not only restore this, but fill our lives with a new cultural center to cherish, educate our talented youth who may have instead venture to meccas such as New York or Los Angeles to reach their goals, infuse more money and interest into our downtown economy.  A healthy school brings with it, students who live work and play within the area, business that open up to support this.   

The original Arcade had apartments available to residents, these would be the initial dorm rooms.  As the school grows, other vacant buildings in the area could be changed over to dorms.  This would grow the downtown population by hundreds every school semester.  Others could fill in more lofts and apartments across the area.  

Of the great halls that face each block, the school would be easily divided into sections for performance/dance, visual arts, tech/film/broadcasting and music.  The centerpiece would again be under the rotunda where they all convene for student performances and showcases, art, sculptures, or open to the public for events.  The arcade concept again for students.  An architectural gem such as the Arcade is a match made in heaven with art, so surprising again this has never been considered.   

Not to take away anything from local art programs at Sinclair, UD or WSU they could collaborate on projects for support.  Possibly, general educational programs would be done at Sinclair before completion of a Bachelors.  They would be both downtown and in proximity.  Smaller niche schools such as the International School of Broadcasting could be incorporated into the curriculum.   Building an art school from scratch is a daunting but exciting collaborative effort I believe would be hugely substantial.   The Victoria Theatre Association, Dayton Art Institute and other respected establishments would all be invited to be on the board of directors.  Co-ops between downtown business and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could intern Graphic Arts, Web designers and other technological art students.  The Arcade would be upgraded into a digital hub benefitting the new renaissance of art.   

A prestigious art school churning out top-notch students would be valued worldwide and a new city achievement to add to an impressive list.  The time is now to get the ball rolling as the building deteriorates, taxes and funds stack up, interest is lost.  Academic funds and support is out there.  Antioch College recently came back from oblivion when its parent Antioch University pulled the plug from the fledging school.  The support was massive to bring it back to life.  While Antioch had alumni and supporters, arts does also and always needs new movers and shakers.  I feel strongly this idea will garner stream and could become reality with the right team pushing it through.  

I could say I’m an idealist and budding artist myself (writer, new book Road Kill out now!  Can Google it!) and when something that feels right hits me, I run with it.   After the recent push of a dedicated few to address the possibly of the Dayton Public Library moving to the Arcade, inspiration hit as I’ve always thought an art school would be excellent in our area.   These ideas come to me from time to time and I share, people like my ideas, but oddly they get approved and implemented quietly and I may only get a ‘thanks’.  I had recently suggested the city should link the Oregon District with the Third Street Cannery by buying the lot at the corner of Wayne and Fifth.  I wrote over a dozen movers and shakers in the area, only one responded with a ‘thanks’.  A few months later I see in the news how the land was bought for this service, no mention of who came up with it.  I also dreamed up an idea for Aviator Park to complement Dayton’s creation of the airplane with an educational amusement park that could be built on McCook field.  Only one person thanked me and silence.   

This time, this idea is so large and beautiful I had to take it public.  Inspired by the articles in the Dayton City Paper about the library/arcade I am sharing this with everybody.  The magnitude of this is large and life changing and I would love to be a part of it.   

I even have a perfect name.  

Get ready for it.  

THE ARCADE ACADEMY OF THE ARTS UNIVERSITY or Triple AU for a nickname.  I can see the banners and flags draped over the grand entrances and skywards to the awesome rotunda.  The name is classy and prestigious while honoring the history of the arcade.  I believe the arcade founders would be proud.  The Arcade Academy would be a historical landmark educational facility for art and cultural life, leaving a legacy for students and generations to come.   What else could you do with this historic one hundred plus year old building?   I hear cicadas.  Let’s make it happen!   

Christopher Joseph


One response to “The Missing Link for the Dayton Arcade

  1. Christopher, your idea is excellent. I have many questions for you. I don’t know how old you are, but I am older. For some years I resented not being allowed to use my God given gift for designing buildings, though I have a few to my credit. A cousin (not first) of mine had this same problem, but he went full steam ahead anyway. That Wright branch of our family came from Georgia to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1812. I was born in Dayton as were Orville and Wilbur. I have been attenptng to get it together to start a school in Youngstown, like Frank’s in Arizona. A close kin, was active in Dayton for many years. He was an organist and played piano for the Dayton ballet, etc.. He is now gone, but I always looked so much like him that our teachers and town merchants often called my by his name. I was a very successful design engineer, as well as a fairly successful character with Barbizon’s Pro Model & Talent agency in Fairlawn. Way back when I was part of McNeal’s Troup, doing Red Cross benefits in the Dayton area. Actually Jonathan Winters used to room at Mac’s house on Wyoming Street. I too wrote a book, that is even on Amazon. I am still very active and in good health. One summer many years ago while in college I took a job with Walker-Norwick on west Monument. It was then only a one story building. I started school at Huffman in Dayton but finished at Milton-Union. However when I was in the second grade, the Dayton School Board financed my attending the Dayton Art Institute, till I moved to Miami County. I was the only little kid there. I would like to talk with you. I have lots of contacts but no funding to speak of after loosing a fortune when my wife was terminally ill back in ’02. I just might consider returning to Dayton. Gary 330-333-3399
    p.s. I still remember the furniture store that occupied the Arcade upper floors and the police station that was across South Main street next to the Home Store.

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