Huntington Bank will close its Kent branch, no immediate plans for the building

The Kent, Ohio, Huntington Bank branch in 2021. Image via Google Maps

Huntington Bank’s main Kent branch at 101 E. Main St. will shut its doors for good Jan. 23.

Bank officials gave no reason for the planned closure. Huntington is consolidating 31 branch offices in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Minnesota, according to a press release from the Columbus-based bank. All employees will be offered jobs at nearby branches.

The bank sent letters to customers recommending they visit the Kent branch at 1729 State Route 59, which is 1.38 miles from the downtown location.

Huntington did not say whether the ATM in downtown Kent would remain active.

Tom Wilke, Kent’s economic development director, called Huntington’s decision to close “unfortunate,” but said the prevalence of online and drive-through banking made it inevitable that under-utilized facilities would close.

Only four people were working in the building, Wilke said. All employees, including those assigned to work remotely, are being offered jobs within five miles, he added.

Kent Bank Investors LLC, a local real estate holding company that is part of an international real estate investor trust, located in Columbus, owns the building.

The future of the building is yet to be determined, Wilke said, noting that Bar Chester, Kent Bank Investors’ parent company, has indicated that it prefers single-tenant buildings. Given the size of the structure, though, Wilke said it may be more attractive if it’s marketed as a multi-tenant building.

Wilke said he will work with Bar Chester, a family-owned business, to find a suitable buyer or tenants.

Local historian Howard Boyle said he hopes the building will go to a group interested in preserving the building’s original architecture. Restoring the second floor, which Boyle believes still has the original windows under the green glass panels, would be “relatively easy,” he said.

The structure could be capped off with cornice work and could be “very attractive,” he said.

“I would hope that the new owners recognize that they’re getting something tremendously unique in the downtown area, and they treat it with tremendous respect. I hope that’s going to be the case,” he said.

Should a restaurateur move in, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many of the original storefronts they may want to use, Boyle said.

“It’s going to be fun to see what happens with the adaptive reuse. How much will the first floor tenant want to use?” he said.

Boyle, now chairman of Hometown Bank’s board of directors, has watched Kent change throughout his 47-year tenure with the bank, which is located across North Water Street from Huntington. And he speaks from experience about dollar signs attached to historical preservation: He oversaw the transformation of his bank’s 1888 structure.

“It’s going to be difficult,” he said. “It could be a beautiful building. It’s right on the corner of Main and Water streets, but it’s a very old building, and I’m sure the adaptive reuse is going to take a substantial amount of money to put that back together again. I’m not saying they didn’t do a good job of maintaining it. It’s just the fact that it is what it is.”

Agreeing with Wilke, Boyle said he does not fault Huntington’s decision to close the main office. The drive-through on state Route 59 will fit the bank’s needs, he said.

The history of the Huntington Bank building

In 1849, Zenas Kent chartered the Franklin Bank of Portage County, and either worked there himself or at least had an office there, Boyle said. In 1863, U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, an Ohioan, realized the Union needed to sell bonds to finance the Civil War. That meant establishing a national banking system, which he did.

Zenas and his son Marvin converted their bank to Kent National Bank in 1864 and presumably sold the much-needed bonds. The bank was named for the Kent family, not the village, which then was Franklin Mills, Boyle said.

The structure at Main and Water streets was built in 1868 as a downtown commercial block, Boyle said.

Built of stone, the second floor housed offices, and the third floor (which no longer exists) was Kent Hall, used for theatrical performances and meeting places for local organizations.

It’s actually two buildings: the bank on the corner and William Kent’s dry goods store, which took up two storefronts directly to the east. 

In 1872, Joseph Bethel built a tinsmith shop directly to the east of Kent’s store, designing it to match the bank and dry goods building. Bethel was able to extend his upper story over William Kent’s store, and that third story became an early lodge for Kent’s Masons.

In the 1950s, Kent National Bank bought an independent bank in Garrettsville. Not wanting to be identified as a Kent bank, the company changed its name to Portage County National Bank,  which in later years was shortened to Portage National Bank.

Bethel’s building later housed Kent’s Princess Theater. Dance instructor Bill Franklin owned and operated a dance studio there but sold it to Portage National Bank in the 1970s. That bank merged with Huntington Bank, and Kent Bank Investors, LLC acquired the building at Main and Water in 1998.

Decades of remodeling

That third story? Portage National Bank tore it off in 1960 and installed the green glass panels. In the 1970s, the bank remodeled the front of the Bethel building with a concrete front. Its concrete and brick entrance was a direct response to the Kent State riots.

“They wanted to make sure nobody could break things,” Boyle said. “Up to that point they had storefront windows.”

Portage National Bank also installed the green glass panels and aluminum forms on the upper stories of the Bethel/Franklin building, making it match the bank building. The panels were popular architecture at the time. The marble facade could have been added in the 1960s, though Boyle says it may have been earlier.

“If you look at the marble part of it, you can clearly see where the bank was,” he said. “You can see that the bank part of it had a stone front. I would assume the stone is still underneath there. They just put marble on the whole thing to signify that the whole part of it was the bank. 

Reverting the storefronts to separate buildings would be difficult, Boyle said.

“The bank has been changed around so much, the first two storefronts are basically the lobby of the bank. It’s not as if those storefronts are still there the same way. When it comes to adaptive reuse, probably the first two or three storefronts are all one unit. It would be difficult to separate them,” Boyle said.

The bank originally did not operate the entire Water Street section. The Kent Tribune and its successor, the Kent Courier, were both housed there, Boyle said.

No amount of remodeling may uncover the original bones of the Water Street side.

“You can’t even see where the door was. They completely redid it when they put that marble on the side of the building,” Boyle said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.