The Lofts at Shillito Place’s Atrium Is a Window to the Past

The rich history behind the largest department store in the country, and how it became The Lofts at Shillito Place.

Photograph by Hatsue

When Shillito’s opened at Seventh and Race in 1878, it was crowned the largest department store in the country and lauded as “the dry goods palace of the world”—a shopping wonderland that required 1,000 employees each day just to keep operations running. The brand eventually morphed into Lazarus, then Macy’s, but the old building still stands, repurposed in 1998 into 97 market-rate apartments dubbed The Lofts at Shillito Place. Renovating an old department store wasn’t without its surprises. While researching the building’s history, Towne Properties discovered a poster celebrating the city’s 100th birthday and displaying what looked like a massive glass atrium sitting right atop Shillito’s. “Nobody knew that there was an atrium in the building at all when we took the building over,” says Arn Bortz, former Cincinnati mayor and partner at Towne Properties. Sure enough, when contractors pulled back the plywood, they uncovered the skeleton of the skylight that architect James McLaughlin designed to resemble Le Bon Marche, an iconic department store in Paris. With help from artist Rick Janney, Towne Properties was able to completely recreate the hexagonal atrium, right down to the original Victorian paint colors and intricate floral patterns that breathed life and light into the Shillito’s of yesterday.

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