Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ameritrust Rotunda Opens For Wednesday Holiday Concerts


When downtown lunch-goers scramble up Euclid to grab a quick bite, many of them pass an architectural treasure on the corner of Euclid and East Ninth Street. Closed since 1996, the Ameritrust bank rotunda caught the attention of passers-by last Wednesday. As the music of pianist Robert Cassidy from the Music Settlement drifted out of the rotunda, intrigued Clevelanders stepped in for a rare glimpse of the granite building’s breathtaking architecture.

The golden Cleveland Trust Company seal on the banking floor shined among the filled seats. The massive Tiffany-inspired stained-glass dome, above two mezzanine levels, twinkled in the sunlight. Guests, grabbing hold of the iron and bronze railings, ascended the dome’s staircases to view Francis Millet’s vivid murals depicting the rise of Midwestern civilization. For Millet, who later died on the Titanic, these paintings were his lasting legacy.

The Cuyahoga County government, University Circle Inc. and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance opened the rotunda’s doors for their Circle in the City series of midday holiday concerts, which continue Wednesdays through Dec. 19.

Despite its rich historic value and architectural beauty, the Ameritrust complex has been shuttered for 16 years. Cuyahoga County purchased it in 2005, but plans to connect the rotunda to a new government administration building fell through.

County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is looking for a buyer for the complex, was inspired to open the rotunda’s doors after taking a tour.

“When I left the building, I said that we must do something to open this up to the public,” FitzGerald said Wednesday. “It just isn’t right that a jewel of interior architecture has been locked away from the public and is covered in dust and wasting away.”

FitzGerald called Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., and invited him to showcase the circle’s cultural institutions during the Wednesday concert series. Ronayne seized the chance. It’s the first University Circle event in downtown Cleveland, he says.

”At University Circle Inc., we’ve had an intentional strategy to reach out beyond our borders to neighborhoods within the community of Cleveland and beyond,” said Ronayne. “Cleveland is a world-class city with world-class institutions and architecture like this at the Ameritrust building. We just have to open our doors to it.”

The Circle in the City series at the Ameritrust rotunda continues tomorrow with holiday music by the Tony Koussa Holiday Trio, sponsored by the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The rotunda will be open 11:30 am to 1 pm for concerts on the next four Wednesdays. Food trucks outside the rotunda will sell lunch.

“We focused on music in part because of the holiday season, but also because it’s really thematic to who were are as a city and what we do in University Circle,” said Ronayne. “Be it classic music or rock ‘n’ roll, we’re a music city.”

(Photos by Jennifer Schlosser, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture)

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