In 1990, the building located at 33 Public Square, then officially yet non-descriptively known as the “Public Square Building,” was demolished to make way for what was to be the new, high rise headquarters for Ameritrust, successor to the venerable Cleveland Trust Company. The Ameritrust tower was to be the signature development on the northwest side of Cleveland’s Public Square.
However, by 1991 Ameritrust merged with Society National Bank and the combined bank, now known as KeyBank, became the namesake tenant of what is now officially Key Tower. Ironically, Key Tower was under construction on the north side of Public Square at the same time the Public Square Building was coming down on its west side.
Ameritrust Tower was not built. Nor has anything else been built along the northwest quadrant of Public Square. The site remains vacant.
The former 13-story fireproof brick building at 33 Public Square was constructed in 1895 and initially called the Mohawk Building, a name it retained for only a short period. By 1900, the American Trust Company moved into the building and it was renamed the American Trust Building, a remarkably coincidental name given the site’s intended use in 1990. That name, however, would change again two decades later.
In 1920, an investment house in the business of buying and selling real estate mortgages and bonds acquired the building and gave it its name. The business was S. Ulmer and Sons, Incorporated and the building became known as the Ulmer Building. Prominently displayed on the top of the building was the company’s stock in trade, “Ulmer Mortgages.” A vintage Cleveland postcard depicting the building and its signage accompanies this blog post.
Ulmer was Solomon Ulmer. He began his mortgage business in January 1895 in the Harrington Block on the southwest corner of Public Square. His son, W. L. Ulmer joined him in business the following year. In about 1905, his other son, J. M. Ulmer, joined the business.
By 1920, when the American Trust Building was renamed the Ulmer Building, S. Ulmer and Sons had been incorporated and J. M. Ulmer and his brother-in-law, J. M. Berne, were the treasurer and secretary, respectively, of the company. The firm footing of the company was evident by its $5 million capitalization consisting of 7% cumulative preferred stock and 50,000 shares of common stock.
Of course, J. M. “Yank” Ulmer and J. M. “Joe” Berne had another business interest which consumed their time, namely their law firm founded in 1908 which today, as then, remains known as Ulmer & Berne.