If I asked you to picture a city skyline, you’d probably imagine skyscrapers upon skyscrapers, each seemingly competing to be taller than its neighbors. You may even picture a specific city’s skyline, most likely New York City, but maybe even Chicago or Cleveland. Often a city’s identity lies in its physical image—and most notably, its skyline. “The skyline is a defining characteristic of Toledo,” said historic preservationist Ted Ligibel. While Toledo’s skyline may not be featured on many t-shirts or postcards, the city’s riverfront skyscraper collection isn’t lacking in history, beauty or originality, as evidenced by zooming in a little closer.
Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Toledo my entire life, I personally didn’t know much about our city’s skyline. Through research, I discovered that many of the buildings taking up riverfront space have been around for quite some time, standing tall through bustling business and disuse, shining glass and crumbling bricks, and a multitude of occupants. I decided to follow in the footsteps of past photographers of Toledo and retake some of these images. While exploring the city on foot and taking pictures, I enjoyed learning about how downtown revitalization efforts have come and gone. We are currently in the midst of a period of growth, much like the one that gave us the Fifth Third building and Fiberglas Tower, and we are all waiting in anticipation to see what’s next. Read on to learn more about some well-known Toledo buildings and to discover how much our city has changed—and continues changing.
Steam Plant Smokestacks
This image was a bit of a challenge to recreate as the downtown riverfront near the smokestacks is perhaps one of the most transformed areas in recent years. The original was taken in 1984 by Ligibel. Walking along the sidewalk, I first noticed the streetlights have been moved several feet away from the river, yet the black chain fence on the riverfront hasn’t moved. With the different sidewalk scene and the new smokestacks at slightly shorter heights and widths than the originals, this image was probably the hardest to line up to get the correct angle.
Designed by the chief architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the steam plant originally provided power for downtown. Its smokestacks have been a quintessential part of the skyline since 1896, although the plant hasn’t been used since 1985. As part of their renovation beginning in 2015, ProMedica rebuilt new (functional!) smokestacks to preserve the skyline. This preservation “saves the nicest historic features,” shared Ligibel. “You can’t expect buildings to stay just the way they are…if they don’t change with the times.”
I headed through Promenade Park and down toward the waterfront to recreate this photograph. The original was snapped by Ligibel circa 1975. Standing at the Western-most corner of Promenade Park, I was easily able to stand in the same spot and get the same angle of the building, with the PNC bank building peeking out behind it. Little has changed, save for key name changes on the surrounding buildings and the completion of Promenade Park that now graces the foreground of the photograph. Once the tallest building in Toledo’s, it now ranks fifth in height on our skyline.
Built in 1916 for the Second National Bank, this building is currently home to over 100 apartments. The structure was previously known as the Toledo Trust building, a name dating back to a different era of a bustling downtown. The current apartments opened up in 2000 exclusively for low-income tenants. “I think that’s a great reuse for it” said Ligibel. As building maintenance costs have risen on the century-old structure, approximately 20% of the apartments remain exclusively for low-income people.
PNC Bank Building
This was the first image I recreated as I toured downtown to create this series. Heading straight down Madison Avenue, I found the same tile roof occupying the bottom of the original image from 1983. The building itself remains largely unchanged, its facade and appearance nearly identical after more than 30 years. The row of buildings you see to the right of this tile roof, however, is gone. It took a bit of tweaking to find the correct angle, and I ended up running into the middle of the street to snap this one.
This iconic building is one of the oldest, most well-known structures in Toledo. “[The PNC Bank Building’s] really a monument to the modern era in Toledo” said Ligibel. It was built in 1930 as the original headquarters for Owens-Illinois before they moved into the Fifth Third Building. When this building was constructed, it was designed to incorporate several architectural styles, hence the gargoyle-like figures on the sides of the building.
Tower on the Maumee, AKA Fiberglas Tower
Retaking this image proved to be quite challenging. The original photograph, taken in 1970, was taken where the current ProMedica parking garage sits. I took several pictures in front of and around the parking garage, and even traveled up to the fourth floor. Unfortunately, I struggled to get the correct angle with the entire building in the shot. I ended up standing directly next to the parking garage to get the correct point of view, which is why you can see it in my retake. It seems that in 1970 cars were also housed in the area, then in an open parking lot in what now constitutes Promenade Park.
The second tallest building in Toledo, Fiberglas Tower (yes, with only one ‘s’), was originally constructed as the Owens Corning headquarters, and is an “international-style landmark,” as Ligibel put it. After the company moved out, the building remained vacant for over 20 years. A few years ago, Directions Credit Union moved in, adding to the collection of downtown banks. Around the same time, renovations began to create 100 luxury apartments. The building is beginning to thrive again, and is a physical representation of successful downtown revitalization efforts.
Edison Plaza, AKA the Key Bank Building
I originally planned to retake a different image of Edison Plaza, but upon arrival, I realized it would turn into a photo of Imagination Station. Nothing against the science museum, but I opted to include this 1975 skyline photo taken by Ligibel instead. You can clearly see here how the structure has remained essentially the same, but signage and tenants have obviously changed.
Key Bank has occupied several buildings downtown, Edison Plaza being perhaps the grandest. Owned by FirstEnergy Corp of Akron and housing ToledoEdison since 1972, its most recent sale was to ProMedica in 2016. “Edison Plaza was sort of an interesting project from its day with all the glass reflectivity,” shared Ligibel. With several restaurants and other businesses occupying the ground level, this building is certainly one of the more modern-looking structures in the city.
Fifth Third Building
The original image was taken in 1984 by Hazen Keyser. The layout on the riverfront walkway has changed, but the little building you see on the right in the original photo still exists. Upon arriving to recreate Keyser’s picture, I realized I could only take the photo from this angle if I moved further right, moving out into the Maumee River. I discovered some rather unstable docks that helped me extend my photo angle. Unfortunately, based on the location of these docks on the river, I was still unable to include this cute little riverside structure in the image. The area around this building now makes up some of Promenade Park.
Also known as One SeaGate, this building was originally built in 1979 as the world headquarters for Owens-Illinois, a Toledo-based Fortune 500 company. At 411 feet and 32 stories, it’s the tallest building in Toledo. The top floor hosts a lavish, unused office space with dark wooden paneling, chandeliers and a grand marble staircase. In 2006, O-I moved out and Fifth Third Bank moved in, adding the iconic signage on the building. Today, Fifth Third Bank is only one of over twenty tenants in the building.
Veterans Glass City Skyway, AKA Toledo Skyway
This bridge was built in 2007, meaning no “vintage” images of it exist. Instead, I decided to retake a photo of the Maumee River from before the bridge was built. I believe the original, taken around 1955 by Norman Hauger, was snapped from a helicopter or an airplane, and I had access to neither. Luckily, a drone was available! In the original image, you can see the Craig Memorial Bridge, which still exists underneath the Skyway.
This bridge is the largest project ever completed by the Ohio Department of Transportation. It took eight long years to gather public opinion, design the bridge and construct it, but the city skyline would be incomplete without this iconic structure. During construction, a large crane fell, killing three iron workers. As a result, the bridge represents more than just a bridge for Toledoans; it’s also indicative of the hard work of laborers who built our city.