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A Midcentury Masterpiece

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Hylant Building | 811 Madison Avenue

We shared the story of how Libbey-Owens merged with the Edward Ford Plate Glass Company in 1930 to form Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company (L-O-F) and become the uncontested leader in U.S. automotive glass in our post about the Ford Club in Rossford. By the 1950s, L-O-F had earned a global reputation as innovators in the production of architectural glass. In 1957, LOF hired Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill to design its new International Style headquarters to showcase their pioneering glass products.

To build the first significant office building in downtown Toledo in three decades, L-O-F chose a two-block site bounded by Michigan and Ontario Streets and Madison and Jefferson Avenues. Construction began in 1958 and the tower was completed in 1960. The fifteen-story L-O-F headquarters building rises up along Madison Avenue—surrounded by a plaza originally surfaced in terrazzo tile covering a system of underground pipes that circulate heated oil to keep the plaza snow-free during Northwestern Ohio's brutal winter months.

Bunshaft made generous use of glass throughout his design of this Miesian Modern building. The ground lobby walls are lined with half-inch, polished plate windows standing twenty feet tall and five and a half feet wide. The outer covering of the building, or curtain wall, is 90 percent glass, originally consisting of 1,120 Thermopane insulated windows covering nearly 70,000 square feet. Even the spandrels below the windows are made of LOF's Vitrolux glass. The pioneering open-plan interior of the building was also designed to parade LOF's architectural glass in office partitions and doors—and even wastebaskets and ashtrays.

Given that Toledoans had not seen the raising of a modern "skyscraper" in thirty-two years, and the Glass City had never seen the construction of a glass curtain walled building, interest in the assembly of the L-O-F building was high. So high, the construction team mounted a closed-circuit TV camera on the upper girders so spectators on the sidewalk could watch a giant crane with a 230-foot boom move steel beams in place on the tallest floors.

When finished, some say the building resembled a glass box on pillars. Clearly, it stood out in the 1960 Toledo skyline. The Toledo Blade published an editorial praising the new building as an "outstanding symbol of this city's preeminence in the glass industry." Another piece in a Blade October 16, 1960 souvenir issue carries the headline, "Building Is Striking Symbol as Glass Capital of World..."

While this avantgarde building was being constructed, L-O-F reached a business zenith in 1959 with sales of $307 million. By 1961, sales would drop to $222 million and remain well below expectations into the late 1960s. Today, the L-O-F headquarters building is known as the Hylant Building, as it is now owned by the Hylant Group and Hart, Inc.

By the way, Gordon Bunshaft designed many impressive company headquarters in addition to this remarkable tower, but he is also remembered for several grand public spaces, including the LBJ Presidential Library in Houston and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.

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