From: Design/Culture/Cleveland

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From: Design/Culture/Cleveland

July 11, 2012

Transformer Station: A Collaborative Effort


Every once in a while, a project comes along that captures one’s imagination.
In this case, it involves twins.


If you happen to be in Ohio City, drive past the intersection of West 29th and Church Street and you’ll be witness to the collaboration of private and public sectors that has resulted in a gift to the citizens of the Cleveland area: the Transformer Station. Fred and Laura Bidwell have been collecting works of art for at least two decades. They favor contemporary art, focusing on photographic works from all over the world. After accumulating for years, storing the pieces in their shipping crates and wishing to bring them to the light of day, they began to look for the right place to hang them. A gallery of sorts, but not just any four walls. Keeping their eye on this old building that was not for sale in Ohio City, they finally contacted the owner who had operated a bronze-casting foundry for fine arts there for years. After purchasing the building, and eventually the industrial building next door (which they tore down for a parking lot), the Transformer Station is well on its way for an early 2013 opening.


The 1924 building was built as one of sixteen substations (with a twin building on West 25th Street) to house the large transformers needed to convert power for Cleveland’s streetcars. The building is built like a tank with 16″ masonry walls and a large crane (used only twice) capable of lifting fifteen tons. The interior’s soaring walls and 22′ high ceilings, with high windows in the brick walls offering plenty of natural light, will offer ample hanging space for future gallery exhibitions. TheBidwell Foundation will partner with the Cleveland Museum of Art in a most unusual arrangement: the Bidwells will curate and exhibit works of art from their own collection for six months of the year and the Cleveland Museum of Art will finally reach out beyond their University Circle borders and offer exhibitions of contemporary art west of the Cuyahoga river. A win-win for all.



Presently the original building is being restored concurrently with the addition of a new, attached gallery space. The break through of the west wall to the new contemporary addition will eventually lead to a total of a 7,944 square foot facility with 3,500 square feet devoted to gallery space. There will also be an extensive library, a catering kitchen to support special events and offices for the Bidwell Foundation.




The building’s opening show will be an international collection of contemporary photography along with a tribute to the city of Cleveland with “Bridging Cleveland,” an expressionistic display of Cleveland’s bridges by noted fine arts and landscape photographer, Vaughn Wascovich, a Cleveland area native and present resident of Texas. It will be interesting to see how the Cleveland Museum of Art will celebrate their new location in 2013!


Closeup views of the building’s intricate brickwork- a testament to the dedication of the times to design and execute beauty and quality even for the lowly transformer station:



The “twin” building located on West 25th Street, just south of Clark Avenue:



Wonder what is inside…



Transformer Station seems to represent the present state of Arts in the northern Ohio area: a wonderful example of blending the old with the new, of embracing its architectural history while moving forward and doing things just a bit differently. Bravo!