Renaissance: Artists, restaurants lead Huron Street resurganceWritten by Morgan Delp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Fred Okun has been around the block a time or two. In fact, he has been around the Huron block between Monroe and Washington streets for 56 years. His company, Sam Okun Produce, sits on the Warehouse District block in Downtown Toledo.
Okun said he grew up on the block and has witnessed its ups and downs.
“I would say in the ’50s, ’60s, even ’70s and so far as to say probably the ’80s, this was a busy block. A certain number of years ago, I can quickly count out seven warehouses that were in this block and some of them were really large,” Okun said.
Because of a change in the system of farming goods distribution, those businesses started to go out of business, Okun said.
“That’s when the block started to, I don’t want to say deteriorate, because I don’t feel that we ever deteriorated, but it just wasn’t the best block,” Okun said. “But then when the Mud Hens’ stadium was built, that just kind of changed everything.”
Fifth Third Field, home to the Toledo Mud Hens, was built in 2002, but it wasn’t until a few years later that the area on the Huron Street side of the stadium began to fill with new restaurants and businesses.
Fifth Third Field dominates the south side of the street, from Washington Street to PizzaPapalis on Monroe Street.
The north side of the block is anchored by the offices of Toledo Free Press and The Blarney Irish Pub on Monroe Street and Ye Olde Cock n’ Bull Tavern at the corner of Washington and Huron streets. That eatery opened June 7.
The block continues to grow with the creation of multiple artists’ studios and the construction of a new Italian restaurant.
John and Madonna Fong have owned and lived in a building on Huron Street since 1983. The artistic couple were among the founders of the Warehouse District, John Fong said.
John used to practice commercial advertising photography in the building until about six or seven years ago.
The couple owns La Luna Salon & Spa in Sylvania.
The tradition of art has continued in his building, as John still takes photographs, including pictures of his orchids. The Fongs also rent a space to Leslie Adams, a nationally-renowned artist who specializes in figurative art and portraiture.
Adams has worked in Downtown Toledo for close to 20 years after growing up in the South End, she said. She worked out of another, smaller studio Downtown before moving to her current location on Huron Street four years ago.
Adams keeps a low profile, not allowing walk-ins to visit her studio, because she is working on her solo exhibit to be displayed at the Toledo Museum of Art from Oct. 19 to Jan. 13. Also, Adams said she wants to respect the privacy of her clients, many of whom are state senators, governors and judges. Adams has created portraits of corporate, religious and civic leaders, including works of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Bishop James R. Hoffman.
Each portrait requires an average of 400 hours of work by Adams and her assistants, Lindsey Wiseman and Jose Rodriguez. Adams employs a traditional technique of portrait painting, which consists of a lengthy process of drawing and painting multiple layers of flesh tones and light. Much of this process is spent really getting to know the subject, physically and on a personal level, Adams said.
“It’s a privilege to get to spend so much time with someone and give this gift to them,” Adams said. “I get to know who they are as a human being.”
For her portrait of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, Adams had him pose 15 different times for three to four hours at a time, in addition to the work she did with other models and photographs.
Despite the work she does in Columbus for the government, Adams said she is committed to the Toledo area. When friends ask why she doesn’t move to Columbus, since she spends much of her time working there, Adams responds that she loves being Downtown, she loves the neighborhood, the owners, the studio space and the synergy. Her family has also been a factor in her staying in the area.
Adams said the block of Huron is a fun place to work, especially with the emerging artists’ studios utilizing different types of art forms. Adams said the other artists on the block, Adam Goldberg, Douglas Kampfer and Jeremy Link, are hardworking and the four have a good sense of camaraderie.
“Here we all are on this little block in Toledo, but we’re international and reaching all around,” Adams said.
Graphite Design + Build
Kampfer and Link are designer-builders who co-own Graphite Design + Build. The pair has been renovating their new shop on the Huron block since November, when they began renting the building from Okun through a connection with Goldberg, Okun’s grandson. Goldberg is in the process of creating Gathered Art Gallery and Studio, where he will practice glass blowing and rent his upstairs space to other artists. Gathered is located between Graphite and Okun Produce.
“[Okun] said these buildings were completely empty and they’ve been empty for 40 years, so he said, ‘Let’s do something with them,’ so we’ve been all working together to make the project happen,” Goldberg said.
Link, Kampfer and Goldberg expressed gratitude to Okun for his belief in and support of their work.
“The Okuns were really nice to us; they took it easy with rent and everything because they wanted us to be here,” Link said.
“Fred Okun basically wants this block to be awesome,” Kampfer said. “A year ago this block was pretty much vacant. By the end of the summer, it will be at 100 percent capacity.”
Goldberg found Kampfer and Link through the Arts Commission and the Artomatic 419! program that tours potential art studio sites. Goldberg showed the designer-builders one of the smaller, upstairs studios, but because of the large-scale nature of their work, the large warehouse next door to Goldberg was a better fit.
“I was involved in helping to get the area all the way from Monroe Street to the Farmers Market as part of the National Registered Historic District,” said Paul Sullivan Jr., an architect who has been invested in the Warehouse District since its beginnings. “It certainly encourages and opens up opportunities for renovation once you are listed on the register.”
Renovating the 150-year old building posed challenges for the duo, as they had to build floor supports and install their own heating and electricity to make the space usable.
Link and Kampfer said their project is a work in progress and has been a learning experience. Graphite’s projects include work for the Metroparks of Toledo Area, the Indianapolis Zoo, a Columbus-based project for a zoo in Saudi Arabia and work for the Toledo Botanical Garden.
“I can’t believe we’ve gotten so much work from [the Metroparks] locally. It’s been pretty crazy. Hopefully, our grasp continues to get bigger and wider,” Kampfer said.
Graphite should be open by late summer, and while its main focus is not a gallery, the owners believe its location near the Fifth Third Field will benefit the business, Link said.
“There’s a lot of foot traffic through here. People always stop and look under our garage door,” Link said.
Kampfer said one of the biggest benefits of the Huron block location is the neighborhood it’s in. He said he and Link know everyone on the block, a huge advantage for their studio.
Goldberg, who plans to offer classes, sell glass work and open his hot shop to other artists’ designs, said that despite the long, hard process of renovating an old fallout shelter into a gallery, he is happy with the location.
Sullivan said there used to be a glass studio called Gallery B, which was owned by Ralph Behrendt, who now owns Flying Rhino Coffee & Chocolate at One Seagate in Downtown. Behrendt’s gallery was located at what is now third base at Fifth Third Field, Sullivan said.
“They lost that as part of the construction for the ballpark so I’m delighted to see a glass studio space opening up on the street,” Sullivan said.
“Having the Hens’ stadium obviously and being neighbors with Toledo Free Press is huge. We are real close to the other art studios, the Secor Building and The Art Supply Depo. Huron always has foot traffic, we can go to The Blarney every day or PizzaPapalis. It’s really cool and it’s only getting better. And the neighbors are cool, it’s great to work with Leslie, Doug and Jeremy,” Goldberg said.
Bill Thomas, Chief Operating Officer of the Downtown Toledo Development Corp., said businesses didn’t spring up immediately after the construction of Fifth Third Field.
“There wasn’t a good plan to assist people in developing around [the stadium] at first,” Thomas said. “Restaurants are a difficult business, and that was the first new major venue to come. Back then, people weren’t aware of Fifth Third Field, plus it’s only a five month venue; for seven months, there’s nothing.”
Thomas said it was the creation of the Huntington Center that gave restaurant owners the confidence to open up on the Huron block and at other Downtown locations.
“The arena is a 12-month venue and has a larger audience and draw in way of demographics,” Thomas said. “Not everyone may want to see a baseball game, but the arena has reintroduced a number of people to the Downtown area who now come down because of the arena. They realize how clean, safe, fun the area is.”
Jim Mettler, owner of Ye Olde Cock n’ Bull, was formerly the general manager of Table Forty4, on Monroe Street close to Huron Street. He said he lives in and loves the Downtown area and when presented with the opportunity to be a part of it as an owner, took advantage of the growing Warehouse District. He acquired the restaurant’s space in September 2011 and began construction in January 2012.
“It has taken longer than people expected (to build up around Fifth Third Field),” Mettler said. “People wanted to see others try before they risked their investment.”
The pioneer was Ed Beczynski, owner of The Blarney Irish Pub, who moved into the Huron block in 2006 when he and Tom Pounds, owner of Toledo Free Press, jointly bought the building on the corner of Monroe and Huron streets.
“People thought I was crazy when I bought the building six years ago, but not so much anymore,” Beczynski said.
When the owner of PizzaPapalis was looking for a spot in Toledo, he drove by The Blarney and saw that it was busy week after week, and decided to build his restaurant across the street, Beczynski said.
Aaron Polte, who has worked in management positions for PizzaPapalis since its opening in 2009, said more restaurants in the area will help his own. He said more competition helps his restaurant attain more visibility and that a growing arts scene contributes to a growing customer base for the Huron block restaurants.
“There is such a great arts community here in Toledo that brings a nice crowd in. They’re dedicated to restaurants,” Polte said.
“It’s awesome to see people using old buildings and converting them into different things. Awesome people are keeping the buildings and not tearing them down,” Beczynski said of Fred Okun.
“Goldberg’s building has been in the family for hundreds of years. Now they’re taking those buildings, cleaning them up, allowing the character of the building to show through,” Thomas said. “It shows that they can enjoy the space for what it is. It doesn’t have to be torn down. This is a good example of what can be done with old buildings.”
Fong said he wants people to realize that the area is a residential one, as well as commercial, and that the things happening in the area are great for the neighborhood.
“At first there were just empty warehouses. You could roll a bowling ball down the street and it wouldn’t hit anything,” Fong said. “Attracting artists is great for the neighborhood and will draw a lot of attention and activities, which I like.”
Tags: Adam Goldberg, Artomatic 419!, Arts Commission, Bishop James R. Hoffman, Blarney Irish Pub, Bob Taft, Douglas Kampfer, Ed Beczynski, Fifth Third Field, Fred Okun, Gathered Art Gallery and Studio, Graphite Design + Build, Jeremy Link, John and Madonna Fong, La Luna Salon & Spa, Leslie Adams, lying Rhino Coffee & Chocolate, Metroparks of Toledo Area, Mud Hens, National Registered Historic District, Paul Sullivan Jr., PizzaPapalis, Sam Okun Produce, the Indianapolis Zoo, Thomas J. Moyer, Toledo Botanical Garden, Toledo Free Press, Tom Pounds, Ye Olde Cock n’ Bull Tavern