National Cash Register Co. night school in Dayton,
Ohio, as it looked when it opened in 1939. Today,
the Art Deco design is no longer visible and may have
been removed in a 1960's expansion. Despite the building's role in ending World War II, new owner
may demolish it.
Art Deco Building Tied To WW II Victory
Expected To Lose Out To Wrecking Ball
By STERLING BADER
An internationally significant Art Deco landmark building, the birthplace of a secret code-breaking project that helped allies during World War II, appears doomed, its original Deco architectral facade covered over, possibly destroyed by numerous
A 1960-style glass and metal facade hides the remains of the original concrete building, used first as a school, then as a secret factory for the development and assembly of devices that cracked the enemy codes, leading to the end of World War II.
expansion projects. NCR Building 26 in Dayton, Ohio, where 800 civilians and Navy personnel, including 600 U.S. Navy WAVES, designed and built cutting-edge machines to break the Nazi and Japanese code, can’t be restored to the way it was during the war, say representatives for both NCR Corp. (formerly the National Register Co.) and the University of Dayton, which recently purchased 49 acres of former NCR land that includes Building 26.
“A lot of people would like to see it stay, but cosmetically, no one wants to go to the expense and evidently it was never placed on the National Register of Historic Places and won’t be now that it has a modern façade,” said Jim DeBrosse, a writer for the Dayton Daily News who authored a book in 2004 and a series of newspaper articles on the significance of Building 26 in the defeat of the enemy in World War II.
The book, The Secret in Building 26, DeBrosse, Random House, N.Y., 2004, tells the story of the U.S. Navy and the manufacture of more than 100 giant code-breaking machines. The work which was done by the National Cash Register Corp., has been credited with bringing World War II to an end, but remained classified information and an untold story until recently.
The brainpower behind the effort was an NCR engineer and University of Dayton graduate, Joseph Desch.
Desch’s daughter, Deborah Anderson, found original 1930s-era photos at the Montgomery County (Ohio) Historical Society’s NCR Archive and made them available recently to artdeconews.com, just as the story broke that the University of Dayton had purchased the building and adjoining 49 acres and was considering demolishing the building to make way for stores and restaurants near the campus.
"From what I have seen, it was a superior structure in its heyday. It is very sad that it was so extensively remodeled,” said Anderson, who operates a web site, www.daytoncodebreakers.org, in honor of her late father’s work.
“We are considering removing the building and are going through the planning process,” said Teri Rizvi, a spokesperson for the University of Dayton. “We want to maintain the significance of the site and are working with the daughter (Deborah Anderson) and others."
Built by NCR in 1939 for use as a night school, the original Art Deco structure, designed by Schenk & Williams, Dayton, was reportedly one of the first reinforced-concrete structures in the United States. Its sturdiness and isolation from the main NCR campus made Building 26 an ideal choice by the Navy to build code-breaking machines.
Each of the 120 mammoth NCR Bombes, designed by chief engineer Desch to break the Nazi Enigma codes, weighed 5,000 pounds.
By the 1960s, when the building was used for sales training, NCR expanded it by adding a glass-and-panel exterior around three sides of the building. The original building is still visible from the rear.
The building has been remodeled extensively and bears little if any resemblance to its code-breaking days, said John Hourigan, corporate media relations director for NCR.
Building 26 has been mothballed since late 2001 when it was last used as office space. Hourigan has walked the interior with original blueprints in hand, observing that numerous original exterior and interior walls have been knocked down to expand the office space.
“There were massive and extensive renovations to expand the building internally and externally,” Hourigan explained. “The front (Art Deco) façade was removed. It’s not as if we can lift off the additions. Walls that used to be are no longer there.”
One man passionate about preserving the area’s history, and who has taken an interest in Building 26, is Brady Kress, executive director of the Carillon Historical Park, www.carillonpark.org, a 65-acre, open-air transportation museum with a prominent Wright Brother’s theme.
“I have no first-hand knowledge of what’s remaining of the original building, but that building may have been lost 40 years ago and the loss covered up by the ‘60s-style exterior,” Kress said. “I’m disappointed, but what do you do at this point. I want to find the answers before I get too worried about it. There may not be anything left to preserve and restore.”
Kress does not see the loss of the Art Deco edifice as corporate insensitivity on NCR’s part. “From a ‘60s perspective, NCR was exchanging one architectural style for another. If I step back, NCR put up the money, then made a business decision to enlarge the building, and now made another decision to release the property. They have a duty to their stockholders,” commented Kress.
Though Building 26 is no longer NCR’s, Hourigan said his company is “looking at ways to provide a fitting tribute to Joe Desch and his work. We are working with the UD (University of Dayton) alumni for an even more fitting memorial.” In 2001, a stone plaque identifying the significance of the location was placed at the corner of the property during a ceremony. A documentary was also produced as a lasting legacy.
The National Cash Register Co. changed its name to NCR Corp. in 1974. It now produces point-of-sale checkout equipment, is the largest provider of ATM machines, and also provides data warehousing.
From top left, Joseph Desch, commemorative plaque, and 1939-era photo of rear of Building 26 where Art Deco architectural features flank horizontal glass block grid windows. Rear wall of original structure is still visible.
All photos courtesty of the Montgomery County (Ohio) Historical Society’s NCR Archive with assistance by Deborah Anderson.
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