To look at these striking twin terra-cotta buildings—now a focal point of the 18-block Grafton Hill Historic District in downtown Dayton, Ohio—one would never suspect that they were once nearly in ruins.
Originally built in 1926 and 1927, the Grand Place Apartments were originally known as the Grand Deluxe Apartments and the Miller Commercial Block building. The Miller structure later became known as the Salem Grand, so called for its location on the two avenues, Salem and Grand. In its Jazz Age heyday, the building provided commercial retail space, not residential housing.
Both buildings fell into disrepair following World War II. After decades of decline, a 1987 fire almost completely consumed the Salem Grand, taking parts of the roof and completely demolishing its interior. Given the building's fire, water, and weather-related damage next door, the neighboring Grand Deluxe Apartments were subsequently abandoned. By the 1990s, they existed only as a boarded-up eyesore.
But the two buildings were brought back to life only a few years later.
In 2001, St. Mary Development Corp., a faith-based community nonprofit based in Dayton, brought the Grand Deluxe and the Salem Grand together for a single purpose: affordable residences for seniors. It was a challenging project. Contractor Miller-Vallentine Group had to rebuild the permanent structural elements from the inside up, while steel supported the exterior walls. A ramp connecting the two buildings compensated for the elevation change between them, and newly installed elevators now allow access from the parking garage below. Today, the restored 97,000-square-foot complex includes 70 independent living apartments and amenities such as a community center, laundry facilities on each floor, and a beauty salon/barbershop.
As modernized as the Grand Place Apartments are on the inside, the outside retains its 1920s look. While a handful of new terra-cotta tiles did have to be cast for the renovation project, close to 45,000 of the original bricks and tiles were painstakingly removed, preserved, and replaced on the structure. The two buildings are some of the few in the city with this unique treatment.