The only constant in life is change. Children grow up, fads come and go, and places that once seemed utterly permanent crumble, burn or get demolished. Such is the way of progress.
Mark Price’s latest book, “Lost Akron,” looks at 50 places in Summit County that fell by the wayside of progress over the years. Schumacher Cereal Company, the Armory, the Palace Theater, World of Rubber Museum: all of these places were important to Akron’s position as a thriving hub of the Western Reserve. Until they weren’t anymore.
Born and raised in Akron, Price has been writing about the history of the city for over 20 years, largely in his popular weekly Akron Beacon Journal column, “This Place, This Time.” The History Press compiled many of his columns into Price’s first book, “The Rest is History: True Tales from Akron’s Past,” in 2012.
The history bug bit Price early, when he picked up a copy of Dr. George Knepper’s “Akron, a City at the Summit” (1981, Summit County Historical Society) sometime in the ‘80s. “It had never occurred to me, being young, that there had been giant buildings on lots that were now vacant downtown,” he says of the inspiration Knepper’s book brought him.
The chapters in Price’s latest effort are organized chronologically, allowing a reader to get a comprehensive sense of the area’s evolution. They’re also short, with an emphasis on documented first-hand observations and rare photos. Price buried himself in research for the book for several months at the Akron-Summit County Library’s Special Collections and The University of Akron Archives in the Polsky building—itself a chapter in his book. But he wasn’t starting completely from scratch.
“ I was always lucky that my parents and grandparents were from this area and passed down stories about the way things used to be,” he says. “So I kind of had an idea of where old buildings, theaters or stores used to be.”
His favorites are the places he had some personal memories of, like Rolling Acres Mall and the Polsky and O’Neil’s stores in downtown. Those, of course, still exist physically, though their purposes have changed. Many of the features in Price’s book are exactly what the title suggests: lost forever.
The Richfield Coliseum, for example, once shook with the baseline of such groups as Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen and Rush. The huge, squat, poured-cement arena was razed in 1999 by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, leaving behind a grassy meadow largely populated by songbirds of a more wild pedigree.
“ I worked at the Coliseum, had an internship there, so that’s probably one of my favorite places,” he says. “A lot of my memories are of places being knocked down because that’s what they were doing during my childhood.”
Price’s book is an easy, nostalgic read that will remind long-time residents of the area’s rich history and introduce newcomers to some of the places that helped develop Akron’s quirky vernacular. One chapter mentions how Central Garage, built in 1919 to accommodate the burgeoning automobile craze, had giant hooks installed on its roof in the ‘30s in anticipation of parking airships there. The six-level complex came down in 1968 to make way for the Akron Innerbelt of State Route 59—itself currently under consideration for demolition.
Young or old, new here or native, most readers will enjoy Price’s concise yet colorful language in detailing the places Akron has lost. As the author himself says, “If people are interested in nostalgia or history, they’ll like reading “Lost Akron”; it has a lot of interesting facts about the past.”
The best thing about the book, though, is how it will change the way you see the city. Instead of just seeing what’s there, Price’s stories will help you see what used to be here and imagine what is yet to come.
Lost Akron, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and The history Press at www.Arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.