Lucabe Coffee Co. honored with Modernism in America Award for transforming former bank into a new use

When Tyler and Alissa Hodge first moved to Columbus in 2012, a building on the east side of town caught their eye. Being new to town, they weren’t sure what it was, but they had the inkling that it would make a “really cool coffee shop.”

“Coffee wasn’t even on our radar at that point, coming up here to work for Cummins,” said Tyler Hodge. “Coffee didn’t come onto the radar until four years later, and never in our imagination did we ever think that the building would actually become available to purchase or to renovate into a coffee shop.”

Today, the very same Eastbrook Plaza building — formerly Irwin Union Bank and Trust, later First Financial Bank — is now the second location of the Hodges’ Lucabe Coffee Co. and one of the 12 recipients of the 2022 Modernism in America Awards.

“It is a valuable example of passionate recognition of historic modernism by entrepreneurial residents, that was realized largely outside of academics and specialist professionals,” said jury chair Henry Moss.

The awards are presented by the nonprofit organization Docomomo US, which stands for “Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement.” It is the United States chapter of Docomomo International.

According to Docomomo US, the Modernism In America Awards showcase “the best of modern preservation, documentation and advocacy work.” Winners will be honored at an in-person ceremony on Nov. 3 at the Design Within Reach Third Avenue Showroom in New York City.

Lucabe’s Eastbrook location, which opened in fall of 2021 following renovations, has received a Commercial Design Citation of Merit.

The 5,000-square-foot structure was originally the Eastbrook Branch of Irwin Union Bank and Trust. It later became First Financial Bank until spring of 2020.

“Designed by Harry Weese in 1961, the building exemplified the considerations of the Motor Age, featuring four drive-through windows and a large parking area just outside of a major arterial road,” Docomomo US stated in a release. “Owners Alissa and Tyler Hodge fell in love with the building when they first moved to Columbus, and with the recent proliferation of biking and pedestrian paths in the area, they saw an opportunity to adaptively reuse the unique structure as a new coffee house and gathering space for the community.”

The organization noted that the project included removal of carpeting and multiple layers of glue to reveal and restore green-tinted slate floors, restoring drive-thru functionality, and transforming a bank vault into a children’s play area.

Docomomo credited several individuals and organizations for their work on the project, including the Hodges and the Landmark Columbus Foundation, which offered guidance on transforming the bank to a new use while preserving its design integrity.

Hodge said that they didn’t expect this level of recognition when they started the project.

“We simply wanted to do a tribute to the building and its inherent value, both from aesthetics and architecturally,” he said. “We just wanted to give it, basically, the credit it was due in the restoration process.”

It’s exciting, he said, to have their efforts recognized in this way. He added that they’re working to have the bank location added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

Interestingly, Lucabe’s bank-turned-coffee-shop isn’t the first local landmark to be honored by Docomomo — or the only one connected to Irwin Union Bank.

The Cummins Irwin Conference Center and Office Building received a citation of merit from the Modernism in America Awards in 2015. The two-building complex served for decades as the headquarters for the former Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co. Eero Saarinen, widely considered one of the masters of 20th century architecture, designed the original 1954 office building and part of the office annex, which were commissioned by J. Irwin Miller.

After the bank closed in late 2009, the buildings were purchased by Cummins, Inc. and leased for a few years to First Financial Bank. Cummins announced in 2012 that it planned to remodel the complex for a corporate conference center and meeting space.

Landmark Columbus Executive Director Richard McCoy said that having two award-winning buildings in Columbus is a testament to “great work” and the number of important modern sites in town.

“This is really a national jury looking at a countless number of submissions and really rating Lucabe’s project at the former Harry Weese bank as the best in the country, at this moment,” he said. “And so it’s really kind of amazing to think that this is a husband and wife duo, a classic mom-and-pop that’s working their butt off to try to do right by the design and getting recognized for that work.”