A gray-glazed brick 1961 building designed by Chicago-based modernist architect Harry Weese scenically overlooking Haw Creek in Columbus, Indiana, was never all that fitting of a match for its original use as a bank branch; now the structure has been repurposed into a locally-owned independent coffee shop. The completion of the banking-to-beans adaptive reuse project, which was first announced in early April, marks the opening of the second store for the Columbus-based Lucabe Coffee Co., which will continue to run in-house baking and food prep operations at its original location in downtown Columbus.
The transformation of Weese’s iconic Irwin Union and Trust bank building at Eastbrook Plaza into a Lucabe Coffee Co. involved the preservation of numerous signature elements of the 5,000-square-foot structure, locally known as the “dead horse” building due to the four crenulated towers that stretch high into the sky like stiffened legs. Original features, including the old bank’s drive-thru window, were restored by Lucabee Coffee Co.’s Tyler and Alissa Hodge. The couple purchased the building in March after it had sat vacant for more than a year with its last occupant, First Financial Bank, moving out after a 10-plus-year stint.
The couple, who consulted with the Landmark Columbus Foundation and other experts on the conversion, also restored the singular split-level building’s original flooring, which had been covered in multiple layers of glue over the decades. Per the Foundation, the interior of the revamped building was “inspired by the modern design of that era, featuring black, wood, and grey elements and a nod to the original interior with an open view to the vault.”
Featuring a large outdoor seating area at the rear of the building that directly overlooks Haw Creek, the Lucabee Coffee Co. outpost at Eastbrook Plaza takes full advantage of its location near a stretch of the Columbus People Trail, a network of paved pedestrian and bicycle paths that weaves throughout the city. The Hodges anticipate that in addition to car-bound customers giving new use to the midcentury bank’s drive-thru window, it’s an ideal spot for joggers, cyclists, and the like to pop off the trail, situated on the opposite side of the creek, for a quick refuel.
The reopening of the building also coincides with the third iteration of Exhibit Columbus, an annual event celebrating the city’s rich modernist design legacy. (You can read AN’s review of the 2021 exhibition of Exhibit Columbus, New Middles, here). During the run of Exhibit Columbus 2021, Weese’s bank-turned-coffee shop now has the chance to attract new admirers, and it’s far from the legendary architect’s only contribution to Columbus’s built environment. Other Weese-designed structures in town include Schmitt Elementary School, Northside Middle School, the Cummins Columbus Engine Plant, the First Baptist Church, and the Hamilton Ice Center.
“We are looking forward to opening during the 60th anniversary of the building and right as Exhibit Columbus is set to open,” said Tyler Hodge in a press announcement. “We are so happy to be welcoming all the community back into this iconic space to enjoy this architecture, the views of the creek, and good coffee together.”
As noted by the Landmark Columbus Foundation, the reuse of the old Irwin Union and Trust building at Eastbrook Plaza is one of several notable recent preservation-related triumphs in Columbus including the tower restoration project at Eliel Saarinen’s National Historic Landmark-designated First Christian Church and dual Keeping it Modern grants awarded by the Getty Foundation to the North Christian Church and Miller House and Garden, both designed by Eero Saarinen, in 2019.