In a dark, damp corner of the attic in Toledo’s Safety Building, images of more than 30 of Toledo’s top leaders were found, abandoned decades ago for unknown reasons.
Those 33 portraits, along with 16 others, have been digitally restored by the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, and will hang in the reception area outside the mayor’s office at One Government Center, denoting the political line of succession since Toledo was incorporated as a city in 1837.
“One of the things we would like to do … is re-instill a program where the new mayors have their portraits taken and it’s added to the ongoing collection,” said Nathan Mattimoe, art in public places coordinator for the Arts Commission.
While many of the official mayoral portraits have existed for years, no one knew where they were until two years ago.
Officer Phil Carroll, Toledo City Council sergeant-at-arms, and Julie Gibbons, assistant clerk of council, were in the attic area in 2015 searching for some old city council records, when they came upon the portraits, stacked upon each other.
“It was a pretty nasty place to go to,” Mr. Carroll said of the attic area. “There was a lot of dirt and dust, and things thrown about. Some of [the portraits] were in good shape, some were in terrible shape.”
From there, the portraits were moved in the summer of 2015 to a closet on the 22nd floor of One Government Center, until Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson’s chief of staff, Mark Sobczak, suggested they do something more with the photos, and they were turned over to the Arts Commission early last year, mayor’s assistant Carrie Hartman said.
No one seemed to be able to answer how long the portraits were stored in the attic, where they hung before they were stored away, or even if or why they were taken down in the first place. The best guess from city officials was that when the city moved its administrative offices from the current Safety Building to One Government Center in 1982, the portraits may have gotten lost in the shuffle.
“We think they were displayed in the safety building back when the safety building was city hall,” Ms. Hartman said.
The most recent portrait in the stack was that of Lloyd E. Roulet, who was Toledo’s mayor from 1942 to 1948, and helped build Toledo Express Airport, according to The Blade archives. The portraits were all photographs, some of them with painting over them, and of all different sizes, Mr. Mattimoe said.
Mr. Mattimoe enlisted the help of an Arts Commission intern, Cail Lininger, and with additional help from The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Main Library, more portraits were gathered to try to complete the collection.
The University of Toledo’s Art Department worked on the restored images, some with mold from roof leaks, scratches, and other marred spots, before taking new, digital photographs. That ensured that all of the photos were consistent in size and quality when they were displayed, Mr. Mattimoe said.
The project cost just more than $1,700, he said.
The collection includes a photo of Toledo’s first mayor, John Berdan, who was from New York and a member of the Whig Party. There was Emory Potter, elected in 1847, who also served as a state representative, state senator, and a U.S. congressman. Charles Dorr, who has a popular Toledo thoroughfare named after him, was elected to Toledo’s top spot seven times during an era in the mid-1800s when mayors only served one-year terms.
The first foreign-born mayor was Alexander Brownlee of Scotland; the first born in Northwest Ohio was John Manor; and the first Toledo-born mayor was Carl Keller, who was elected to serve in 1913.
Mayor Michael DiSalle, who served as Toledo mayor from 1948-1950, was the only Toledoan to serve as governor of Ohio.
Donna Owens made history in 1983 when she was elected the first female mayor of Toledo. Carty Finkbeiner became the first strong mayor of Toledo in 1993, and went on to serve terms in 1997 and 2005 as well. Jack Ford was Toledo’s first black mayor.
Mayor D. Michael Collins died in office after suffering cardiac arrest in February, 2015. Current mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson took over, and was elected to the post later that year.
When they were done with research, the Arts Commission was unable to locate photos of seven of the city’s mayors, most from the 1850s: Hezekiah Mason (1839-1840); Caleb Abbott (1850-1851); Dorr of Dorr Street fame (1851-1852); Daniel McBain and Egbert Brown, both who served in 1852 and both who resigned; Ira L. Clark (1852-1853); and Manor (1861-1863).
“We are still missing a handful of portraits, so I’m hoping when the story gets out … someone will either have them or know where to find them,” Mr. Mattimoe said.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.