Heinen's stained-glass skylight in the rotunda.

photo by: Sarah Heffern/NTHP

December 8, 2015

“Can It Work?”: Heinen’s Transforms a Bank into a Supermarket

  • By: Sarah Heffern
  • Photography: Sarah Heffern

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I worked in a purpose-built supermarket. It was around the corner from my house and every bit as uninteresting a building as could exist. A little less than a decade later, I worked in a bank that was remarkable only for the massive amounts of pink Formica it contained—so much that we referred to it as “Barbie’s Dream Bank.”

All of this is to say that, I feel like banks and supermarkets are both venues I understand pretty well, as they’re places I’ve spent more hours than I can even begin to count. And while I know some rise above the banality of my former workplaces, I was not prepared for Heinen’s in downtown Cleveland, which, as an adaptive reuse of a bank as a supermarket, encompasses both beautifully.

It’s impossible to not be blown away the first time entering the store. The main doors open—as so many stores seem to these days—into the “food court” area, which in the case of Heinen’s features a multi-story rotunda capped with an enormous stained-glass skylight at the top and a series of murals just below.

The very center of the room is marked with the medallion of the Cleveland Trust Company in the floor, surrounded by seating for diners, and the second-level balconies feature more seating—along with local beer and dozens of wines on tap (the latter of which can be enjoyed while shopping).

The store itself combines both the 1908 Cleveland Trust Company headquarters, designed by architect George Post, and an adjacent building. The buildings had been mothballed for a quarter-century when Tom and Jeff Heinen, current owners of Heinen’s and grandsons of the company’s founder, approached architect John C. Williams, the principal of Process Creative Studios Inc., about transforming it into their first urban store, their first question being, “Can it work?”

Williams believed it could, but characterized it as the “most stressful project” he’d undertaken, noting it was “incredibly important to do right by the building, the history, the clients, and the community.” And because the (successfully achieved) goal was to be eligible for historic tax credits, following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties was paramount: “We had three goals: maintain the historic fabric that remained, remove all of the awful renovations, and create new construction that was quiet and respectful.”

One of the more interesting adaptations was merging two small, side-by-side elevators into a single, ADA-compliant elevator, using the rest of the shaft for new ductwork. The original ceilings had long been damaged and covered and, in most areas, the original ceiling heights could restored, but Williams noted that “everywhere we could expose the fabric of the building, it was important to expose it.”

This led to some back-and-forth with the National Park Service team in charge of approving the project for the tax credits, as such things as exposing remaining vestiges of the original ceramic tile pattern—instead of covering it or replacing it—showed the layers of history in a way that felt authentic, but was not a traditional preservation technique.

The result is remarkable. Heinen’s flagship store is instantly, easily recognized as a 21st-century, amenities-laden grocery store, but it is just as clearly deeply rooted in Cleveland’s history, which Williams summed up this way: “This is our town. This is the building where our grandfathers banked.”

Sarah Heffern headshot

Sarah Heffern, the National Trust's former director of social media, embraces all things online and pixel-centric, but she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

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