Deal: First Ohio White Tower, take-out only, $1

  • Deal-First-Ohio-White-Tower-take-out-only-1

    If no one steps up to buy the building and then move it, it will be torn down. (THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH) <BR> <img src=> <font color=red><b>ALSO:</b></font color=red> <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080630/NEWS08/806300342/-1/NEWS" target="_blank "><b>Fireworks shortage sparking price explosion in Toledo</b></a>

  • The first and arguably the last official White Tower restaurant in Ohio has been put up for sale for $1, or less than the price of its famed ButterBURGER.

    The catch, though, is that whoever buys the tiny 1929 diner must also pay to remove and somehow transport it from the downtown Toledo corner of 10th Street and Jefferson Avenue.

    Such is the deal now being promoted by the YWCA of Greater Toledo, which has long owned the diner property and needs the land cleared for its planned $10.1 million expansion project of new living units for battered women and low-income mothers and children.

    If no volunteer steps forward, the 600-square-foot restaurant building complete with white porcelain enameled panels and bright gumdrop green counter tops could be razed this fall when construction is to begin on the expansion project.

    Ideally, someone who wants to move it would move it to a somewhat comparable location, said Nathalie Wright, a historic preservation consultantin Columbus who is assisting the YWCA.

    It wouldn t necessarily have to be used as a restaurant again. The goal would be that it still maintains kind of an urban presence.

    Mary Dingess worked periodically at the diner on Jefferson from the 1970s through the 1990s.
    Mary Dingess worked periodically at the diner on Jefferson from the 1970s through the 1990s.

    The griddle has been idle at the Jefferson Avenue corner since 2004, when the last owners of the Ohio White Tower chain, John Skip Fauver and his wife, E. Fauver, closed the diner after its 75 years of mostly 24-hour food service. For years the couple ran the Ohio chain with Barney Kniep.

    At the time it was one of two White Towers operating in Toledo, which was home through the years to more than a dozen White Tower locations, most of which were downtown.

    Along with the 1002 Jefferson Ave. diner, the Fauvers that year also sold the larger and newer White Tower restaurant at 1515 West Sylvania Ave. in West Toledo.

    That location remains open, and still serves several classic White Tower menu items. However, the family-dining restaurant with its Colonial Style architecture is no longer considered part of the original chain.

    None of the [present-day restaurants] really have a right to use the name White Tower, but there could be a few that slipped through, said T. Brock Saxe, son of Thomas Saxe, who in 1926 started the White Tower chain in Milwaukee with his father, John.

    T. Brock Saxe is president of Tombrock Corp., a real-estate management firm in New Canaan, Conn., which he said owns the license to White Tower restaurants.

    Staff of the White Tower in West Toledo said Friday that its owner was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

    There were about 230 White Towers at the chain s height in the 1950s.

    The restaurants have operated in at least 14 states, including Illinois, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.

    Ohio s White Towers were concentrated in Toledo, Dayton, and Cleveland.

    The Cleveland restaurants, however, were not owned by the Fauvers and had all closed by the early 1960s, Mr. Saxe said.

    White Tower did not own the Jefferson Avenue property, but rather paid rent to the YWCA.

    The $1 giveaway strategy is expected to fulfill the agency s responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which gives some protections to eligible historic properties that would be affected by projects using federal funds.

    The YWCA expansion calls for $400,000 in Housing and Urban Development funds via the city of Toledo, said Lisa McDuffie, its chief executive officer.

    Ms. McDuffie said that the agency briefly advertised the White Tower building four years ago, and started again in March as the expansion project gained momentum.

    The advertisement has received attention from a few local and national Internet blogs, including BrandlandUSA, which focuses on America s best-loved dead brands.

    The diner was opened in January, 1929, by J. Clement Lamb, Mrs. Fauver s father and the son-in-law of White Tower founder John E. Saxe.

    It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and had an all-male staff that sold 5-cent hamburgers with the slogan buy a bag full.

    The original structure was of white glazed brick and had castlelike roof turrets and stained glass windows in its tower. In 1941 the building underwent an enlargement and a major renovation into its present style. Seating increased to 14 stools.

    The shuttered diner today appears weathered, its once pearly white panels now grayish and streaky, but overall, it appears to be in decent shape.

    Longtime White Tower employee Mary Dingess, 61, remembers working periodically at the Jefferson Avenue diner from the 1970s through the 1990s.

    By then the White Tower slogan had changed to oasis in the night.

    It was very small inside, but it was busy. It really was, said Mrs. Dingess, now a manager for the West Toledo White Tower.

    Because your overhead was so much lower down there, you could staff it each shift with only two people. It made a lot of money in its days.

    She said the busiest time was the overnight shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., when the diner attracted its most colorful crowd.

    You had the prostitutes and everything. You had the good, bad, and ugly, Mrs. Dingess said.

    Sales dwindled at the Jefferson Avenue White Tower after it cut its overnight hours because of repeated robberies, she said.

    About 75 percent of the diner s sales were carry-out orders, and its two heavy sellers were the three-egg meal and the ButterBURGER, which sold for $1.85 in the early 1990s. The hamburger got its name because both buns were buttered and then toasted on the grill.

    And it s real butter, so it s cholesterol city, Mrs. Dingess said.

    Contact JC Reindl at:jreindl@theblade.comor 419-724-6065.