Over the last five years, the number of abandoned and demolished buildings in the Akron area has exploded. Many of these structures are pre-World War II homes, some even century homes with historic or architectural worth. Others are schools or apartments.
Every time one of these structures is torn down, a piece of local history is lost to the landfill. This is what motivated two local men to start an architectural salvage business called Retread, Akron.
Micah Kraus and Jason Horinger work together at Hoban High School: Kraus is an art teacher and Horinger is director of Service and Outreach. Retread, Akron’s mission is to salvage and save architectural and other artifacts from houses being torn down and buried in the landfill.
Kraus said they got the idea for Retread, Akron when they saw Buchtel High School shuttered and waiting for demolition. “I knew that the building was full of architectural and historical treasures. So I called the city and asked to be let in to save some of the interior.”
But the city officials that he talked to laughed and wondered why anyone would want to save pieces of an old building. Kraus says he was told, “Our job is to tear down buildings and take them to the landfill, not save things.”
And so, last December Kraus and Horinger formed Retread, Akron and began finding buildings and sites being torn down to salvage. At first they found buildings via word of mouth. “Rich (Richard Tschantz) from West Hill Hardware gave us our first leads,” Horinger says. “Rich has been a real supporter.”
The pair has been working in their spare time, but as full-time educators, their business picks up in the summer when they are off school. They still find most of their jobs via word of mouth, and are slowly building a network of builders and rehabbers that are giving them references.
A recent referral led the pair to salvage parts of an 1896 Victorian home on Cuyahoga Street being demolished for a sewer expansion project. The duo said the home’s owners, Gwen and Roger, were excited to have Retread, Akron save parts of their home, which was built by a sister of the Mustill Brothers.
”Gwen had lived there 70 years,” Horinger says, shaking his head. “One of the wonderful benefits of this business is the great people you meet. They are as passionate about saving these pieces of history as we are, maybe even more and that’s why they want us to come to their homes and save parts of it from being trashed.”
These objects can be anything from doorknobs and cabinets to sinks, field stone, pillars and doors. From the Cuyahoga Street home, the pair salvaged nine-foot-high hand hewn oak pocket doors and columns. Once salvaged, the duo stores their finds at a warehouse on Carroll Street.
“We will sell some of these piece as is,” Kraus says, “ but we’ll put a label on each piece noting where it came from,” so that the history won’t be lost.
Other objects will be up cycled into new things. For instance, Horinger says that the team recently salvaged Douglas fur wood bleacher seats from Hoban’s gymnasium. “Those boards will be cut down and made into picture frames.” The company is also looking at crafting the vintage wood into new furniture that will be useful but still be a part of history.
“We might make money doing this,” Kraus says, “but mainly, it’s about having fun, meeting people like Gwen and Roger and saving history from the landfill.” Horinger agrees. “There are thousands of houses ready to be razed in this area. It’s just a shame to let them be destroyed without collecting their pieces” for posterity.
If you know of a house that is scheduled to be razed and would like to see parts of its saved from the landfill, you can contact Retread, Akron via its website, www.retreadakron.com.