Former shoe factory Downtown set for loft apartments

Jim Weiker, The Columbus Dispatch

A Columbus developer plans to convert a 92-year-old former Downtown shoe factory into loft apartments. The six-story building at the northeast corner of Main and Front streets was constructed in 1921 as the Julian and Kokenge Co., a maker of women's shoes that closed in 1975.

The L-shaped building, which has more than 120,000 square feet, including a 1932 addition, is designed in a classic Commercial style, with concrete framing and columns, high ceilings, wood floors and bands of large, square windows. Once refurbished, it will be called the Julian Building.

"Everybody wants a loft apartment," said Bill Riat, who oversees residential projects for the Casto development company.

"This is the real thing, with bell columns, big windows, tilt-out black mullioned windows. It's a huge project. When it's done, you'll see the windows occupy 80 percent of the whole building."

The windows were covered when the building was converted to a storage facility in the 1970s, but Casto has begun restoring the openings as part of the $12 million conversion. Otherwise, the company plans to hold off on renovation efforts until it learns whether its application to put the building on the National Register of Historic Places is accepted.

The designation would make the project eligible for tax credits.

The application rests on the significance of the Julian and Kokenge Co., which grew from the Alter and Julian shoe company, founded in 1893 in Cincinnati by William Julian, who served as U.S. treasurer from 1933 to 1949.

The company, a key part of Ohio's once-large shoe-making industry, moved its headquarters to Columbus in 1932, where it operated until its 1975 demise.

The building has sat largely unchanged since.

"The only significant alteration has been the removal of the original windows, but the openings themselves remain intact," said Peter Ketter of Sandvick Architects in Cleveland, which specializes in historic renovations and is working with Casto on the project. "It's extremely well-suited to residential use. You've got large window openings, so you've got nice daylight, tall ceilings. ... This one also lays out very nicely. Many of these tend to be very deep, with not a lot of light in the middle. That's not a problem here at all, with narrow floorplates in the L-shaped building."

The project would be one of several recent conversions of older Downtown industrial or office buildings into residences, and one of a few, such as the Buggyworks and Battleship buildings, to include traditional loft features.

"It's unusual to have an industrial building surviving in that part of Columbus," said Jeff Darbee, a partner with Benjamin D. Rickey & Co., a Columbus historic-preservation firm. "There used to be more, but with the changes in the Downtown area, many have disappeared."

Riat said a lobby and possibly a coffee shop would occupy part of the first floor, while the rest of the first floor and all of the second floor would be used for parking.

Assuming that the building is placed on the National Register, Riat said, Casto hopes to begin the renovation in the spring. He said the building will include a mix of one- and two-bedroom units. Other details, including rents, are not available.

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