By: Katie Sobiech
Sitting in an art gallery above Mocha Maiden with portraits of pop culture splashed across the walls, I had the chance to get a glimpse of the thoughts, visions and dreams of Tony Troppe.
Troppe, a renovator and architect, breathes life into old, “dead” buildings, creating new masterpieces without losing their flavor and deep historic roots.
It is here in this room, like a time capsule, surrounded by musicians and legends, including Sonny and Cher and the Beatles, that Troppe shared his heart for the city of Akron.
Troppe’s vision includes transforming the city of Akron into a vibrant community. His work in Akron began at Main and Market Street in 1996, starting with the “People’s Federal Bank”. He’s renovated 11 buildings since then.
“We’ve created an arts district that accommodates all different types of professionals that want to be in a mixed use, pedestrian friendly, environment,” Troppe said of his work.
The Time is Now
Troppe’s renovation of the Everett Building proclaimed a new time for the city of Akron.
“The idea was that we were at the front door of a city that was trying to reinvent itself, and when people come to a city they look for indications of some type of revitalization, or they look at the historic fabric to see how it’s been preserved. And a lot of that was missing,” Troppe said.
He remembers seeing the coldness of plywood, broken glass, and graffiti covering the walls of the old building.
“It was just a sign of lack of care, and neglect,” he said.
While working on the Everett building he attached a large clock to it, with a tarp covering it until the work was completed.
“Unveiling it let everyone know that it was in fact, time for downtown. It was time to quit swimming out to the suburbs and to swim upstream back to the summit, where the real center of town is,” he said.
“Great ideas would emanate from this place once again,” he said.
Akron’s Historic District
“Our quest was to turn the front door of a tired, old rubber town into the front door of the city of the future. We were looking at it as a crossroads of commerce and culture, where the two converge,” Troppe said.
Following the Everett he went across the street to fix up the Nantucket building, turning it into a home for legal professionals.
“We realized that one building wasn’t going to do it. We really needed to be a part of an assemblage and needed to create a district, originally a historic district,” he said.
He called it “Akron’s Own Historic District”.
“Look at all of the buildings right here at Main and Market. You’ve got a second empire. You’ve got high Victorian, Venetian, and gothic buildings. You’ve got Italian Renaissance, Neoclassic Revival. There’s this collection of all of these great forms of architectural styles, exemplary of a city beautiful movement in form, scale, and proportions,” Troppe said.
City of the Future
Visionaries are hard to find, but Troppe definitely plays the part, capturing the antiquated essence of old buildings, while sprinkling in a touch of the future.
Troppe enjoys sharing his thoughts on “new urbanism”.
“New urbanism is really just old urbanism. It reflects on great design,” he said, “What you look for in an urban environment is a place that is a mix of uses. In an urban core you expect places where people can be close to work, where they live, where they learn, where they perform their arts, where they play,” he said.
This, he says, minimizes the necessity of the automobile and is built around people..
“If you’re really cool you can live upstairs in a loft, walk down to where you work, walk across the street to get something to eat, go meet your banker, your insurance guy, your attorney, your music instructor, your dance partner…All of these different things occur in vibrant environments and when you have that type of model set up then you really have what I say is the ‘City of the Future’,” Troppe said.
“It’s rooted primarily in a city beautiful movement that occurred at the turn of the century,” he continued.
Troppe believes that strategic location creates a great place. His inspiration comes from reflecting on the 1880’s and 90’s where people sought to create interesting places in the public realm, seeing the big picture, including how people feel comfortable with the proportion, scale, and architecture.
When looking for a building to makeover, Troppe searches for brick and mortar, which means longevity to him.
“We target those buildings to make sure they will serve another generation,” he said.
The buildings he finds are often in a state of deterioration and falling to pieces.
“They could be considered blighted by some, they’ve become an eyesore, something that’s less than desirable,” he said.
Continuing, “People’s solutions are to tear these buildings down because there’s graffiti on them, or plywood on the windows. What they fail to remember is the story that building had told. That really becomes my mission, to go in and peel the plywood off.”
His next step is to pour through old periodicals and newspaper clippings to glean information on the place.
“Maybe it had a great story at one time, and it’s a story that needs to be told again to a whole new generation,” he said.
Renovating older buildings keeps them from filling up a landfill.
“It’s really environmentally sensitive. It’s probably the greenest thing you can do,” he said, “The greenest thing you could do is recycle an old building because you’ve got the infrastructure in place.”
It’s a great opportunity, in his eyes, to do state of the art mechanicals so it runs more efficiently.
“The idea is to start with a solid shell,” he said, reminiscing on the fact that buildings today aren’t built like they used to be, with hand cut stone, wonderfully adorned cornices, and other special details.
“You’re really looking at a lost art,” he said.
Troppe is passionate when reminiscing on the architecture of “yesteryear”.
“It needs to be thought of as three dimensional art. It has to protect you from the elements, but function mechanically with temperature control. It has to be interestingly lit so it highlights the features, the high ceilings, the hardwood floors, the exposed brick,” he said.
With influences from the past, Troppe brings a unique combination of flavor and talent to the city.
“There’s nothing new under the sun in that we learn lessons from yesteryear,” he said.
After having a conversation with Troppe you will leave inspired. Instead of complaining about Akron, you will visualize its potential, and be grateful for the treasures there now.