A historic Columbus, Indiana, bank building designed by celebrated Chicago-based modernist and Cranbrook Academy of Art alum Harry Weese is being converted into a new location for a Columbus-based coffee shop.
Completed in 1961, the old Irwin Union and Trust branch bank on the Near East Side of Columbus at 2531 Eastbrook Plaza had operated as a branch of First Financial Bank since 2008. Last month, the gray-glazed brick building was purchased by Tyler and Alissa Hodge, owners of Lucabe Coffee Co., with plans to transform the midcentury landmark into the second location for their growing business. The original location of Lucabe Coffee Co., where the business will continue to base its in-house baking and food prep operations, is in downtown Columbus.
As detailed in a news release from the Landmark Columbus Foundation, the interior of the building has been renovated multiple times over the years and it will undergo further changes as part of the bank-to-coffee shop adaptive reuse project. However, many signature elements of the bank, including its original drive-thru windows, will be preserved. Per the Foundation, to ensure that “they use an excellent approach to adapt this property for their use,” the Hodges are consulting with the Foundation and other design experts.
“For the past 18 months we have been exploring opportunities to expand, and we’re thrilled to open a second location at this very special property,” said Alissa Hodge in a statement. “It will allow us to connect the design of our great drinks and customer experience to the internationally renowned design legacy of this Harry Weese-designed building in our hometown. It’s a dream come true.”
“Alissa and Tyler are design-minded and very thoughtful about their work,” added Richard McCoy, executive director of Landmark Columbus. “I’m really excited to see this Harry Weese-designed bank become a new kind of community asset.”
The building is situated in a particularly scenic spot overlooking Haw Creek along the Columbus People Trail, an ever-expanding network of sidewalks and paved pedestrian and bicycle paths running throughout the city. While Alissa Hodge recognized that the building’s past life as a drive-thru bank will attract car-bound clientele, its proximity to the People Trail could also prove popular with cyclists, joggers, and the like.
The conversion of former banks into restaurants and cafes is nothing new, although transforming car-centric financial hubs into coffee shops has a distinct appeal that has only grown over the past year. Although it isn’t necessary to convert existing buildings with drive-thrus into new stores, last year Starbucks announced a company-wide focus on opening more drive-thrus and fewer walk-in locations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drive-thru sales for the Seattle-based coffee behemoth grew by more than 10 percent, a trend that the company thinks will stick around for the long haul. (In its home turf, Starbucks does face competition from independently owned drive-thru parking lot espresso shacks, a distinctly Pacific Northwest phenomenon.)
The Eastbrook location of the old Irwin Union and Trust bank is far from Weese’s only completed building in Columbus, a city famously packed with public buildings designed by noted modernists. Other Weese-designed buildings in Columbus include Schmitt Elementary School, Northside Middle School, the Cummins Columbus Engine Plant, the First Baptist Church, and the Hamilton Ice Center among others. Outside of Columbus, Weese’s prolific career yielded the Washington Metro’s Brutalist subway stations, Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, and the Time & Life Building and Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, both in Chicago.
The second location of Lucabe Coffee Co. is scheduled to open this July, just in time for the August kick-off of the 2021 Exhibit Columbus Exhibition.