SHARON – Two glum engineering reports left the future of one of downtown Sharon’s most iconic office buildings in doubt.
As president of Gilbert’s Risk Solutions, which owns the former Protected Life insurance company building, its fate laid in Lew Kachulis’ hands. The four-story building is now called River Walk Place.
“At one point I wasn’t sure if I could save the building,’’ he said.
On Wednesday, Kachulis unveiled the final phase of a seven-figure renovation project by opening the remaining section of sidewalk along the building next to the Shenango River.
“We closed it a couple years ago because we were concerned a loose brick might fall on someone,’’ Kachulis said.
More than $1 million was spent in repairing and upgrading the building, including $100,000 the city of Sharon awarded to the project from its federal American Rescue Plan funds.
The 87-year-old building’s biggest problem was moisture settling behind its white, glazed-brick facade.
“A barrier had to be created to get the moisture out of the brick,’’ he said. “It repels the water, allowing the brick to breathe.’’
Engineers advised redesigning the tower atop the building’s roof to ensure that area wouldn’t leak in the future.
“We wanted to make sure to protect the integrity of the building,’’ Kachulis said.
Offices inside the building were modernized over the past couple years, including a lounge area for employees and a large conference room.
There are five operating businesses in the building owned by Kachulis, including Kismet, a professional employer organization that provides other businesses with services such as payroll administration.
Established in 1854, Gilbert’s is one of Mercer County’s oldest continually running businesses.
According to the Sharon Historical Society, the building at 30 E. State St. facing the Shenango River was the home office for Protected Home Circle, a nationwide, fraternal insurance company that was founded in Sharon in 1886. The company’s original, four-story, Romanesque brick building was gutted by one of the city’s biggest-ever fires, on April 20, 1936.
PHC scrambled to replace it, and one year later to the day it dedicated the current, four-story, art deco structure. It was designed by Walker and Weeks, one of Cleveland’s foremost architectural firms in that era. The firm’s other designs included the Cleveland landmarks Municipal Stadium, Severance Hall, Public Auditorium, Cleveland Public Library, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland as well as the Federal Reserve branch in Pittsburgh and the Indiana World War Memorial in Indianapolis.
PHC converted to a mutual life-insurance company in 1964 known as Protected Life. In November 2003, Protected Life merged into National Guardian Life Insurance Co. The Madison, Wis., firm moved all operations out of Sharon within two years, and Gilbert’s later acquired the building.
Kachulis acknowledged it’s unlikely he will ever recoup the investment he put into upgrading his building. But he has already realized a less-tangible benefit.
“This is our home,’’ he said, “We believe in Sharon.’’
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