The past and present of the historic Strauss Building

A Local Icon

Most Fort Wayne residents are familiar with Fortezza Coffee—the local business has quickly risen to become a favorite coffee spot, restaurant, work space, and meeting place for the community since it opened in 2014. Its iconic location compliments the specialty drinks and eclectic menu for which the shop is known, the stylized red brick exterior standing out vibrantly against the surrounding businesses.

But do you know the full history behind the building Fortezza calls home?

Photo Credit: Downtown Improvement District

Constructed in 1890, the Strauss Building (located at 821 S. Calhoun St.) is one of downtown Fort Wayne’s oldest and most recognizable structures. The building has served myriad purposes, housing a wide variety of businesses and institutions for the past 128 years.

Fort Wayne’s Downtown Improvement District describes the Strauss Building as having “a rich history spanning an era of many inventions, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.”

Then

Sandra Lahrman, the Strauss Building’s current property manager, is knowledgeable about the structure’s past as well as its present. But the building’s longevity also lends itself to mystery. According to Lahrman, the original purpose for the Strauss Building when it was first constructed is unknown.

“We don’t have the exact purpose of the building immediately after it was built, other than it was generally commercial use. But around the turn of the century it hosted a Western Union and various financial institutions,” says Lahrman.

Photo Credit: Downtown Improvement District

During its initial years, the Strauss Building was ahead of its time. It was one of the first locations in Fort Wayne to have early telegraph lines, the conduits for which can still be seen in the building’s basement.

The Strauss Building went on to serve as the first office for Lincoln Financial Group, a Fortune 250 company that still has a large office location and prominent community presence in Fort Wayne. Later on in the twentieth century, it hosted several different business including boutique retail shores, a chiropractic practice, and general office space.

Now

When Fortezza Coffee owner Sean Wang was searching for a location to establish his business, he knew the Strauss Building’s historic charm and location in the heart of downtown were the right fit.

“The landlords were able to save a lot of the original uniqueness, such as the ceiling and the brick walls, but also keep up with the updated safety code and functionality,” said Wang.

Photo Credit: Fortezza Coffee

In spite of its age and varied uses, the Strauss Building has fared incredibly well over time. Lahrman shares that some some long-forgotten signs of wear were discovered when the current management acquired the property.

“There were signs of small fires when we began sanding and renovating the wood floors that were hidden by years of carpet,” recalls Lahrman.

Its only major renovation in recent years happened in 2013-2015, when Lahrman’s company renovated the building into mixed residential and retail use.

In addition to Fortezza Coffee on the first floor, the Strauss Building currently has four renovated apartments available to be rented on its second and third floors. Like Wang’s appreciation of the building’s elegant design, residents of these units are attracted to the space’s classic features alongside modern updates such as private laundry, upgraded kitchens and bathrooms, and walk-in closets.

While some may be hesitant to take on the age-related challenges of a 128-year-old building for their place of business or residence, Wang encourages local business owners to take advantage of the beautiful original architecture Fort Wayne has to offer.

“Old buildings like this are unique in their own way.”

Check out Fortezza Coffee’s Facebook and Instagram pages to stay updated on their menu, hours, and latte art that looks (almost) too good to drink.

Additional information about the Strauss Building and apartment availability can be found via Downtown Fort Wayne.

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Jenn Kunkle

Author: Jenn Kunkle

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