The Mann Building has stayed true to its historic purpose as a business hub

6 min read1,247 views and 122 shares Posted January 23, 2020

Along the row of regal-looking buildings overlooking Cumberland Street between 8th and 9th Streets, there are few as distinct as the Mann Building. The five-story structure at 815 Cumberland Street is recognizable thanks to its continued use as a business and office space, as well as its impressive French Renaissance facade.

The Mann Building on or near completion. Laborers who worked on the building can be seen at the entrance, along with a sign that names them as “D[avid] Buffamoyer & Sons.” One worker, second from the left, appears to be holding a hod, a tool used for lifting bricks and materials. (Lebanon County Historical Society)
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Over a hundred years later, the Mann Building looks much like it did upon construction. Though one of its neighboring buildings, which housed a law office, has been demolished, its western neighbor is still intact. Note the filled-in windows on the upper floors and the expansion midway across the roof.

The Mann of the hour

In 1902, local architect A. A. Richter was commissioned to design a five-story structure for father-and-son clothiers Isaac and Emanuel Mann. Richter designed a number of other structures in the region, including Alpha Hall on the campus of Elizabethtown College, erected in 1901, and the Northampton National Bank of Easton, erected in 1908.

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The similarly tall and narrow Northampton Bank of Easton, designed by Mann Building architect A. A. Richter. (Waymarking)

At 76 feet high, with the first two floors stretching back 200 feet from the street, the Mann’s new building was planned to be one of the most impressive in Lebanon. A sturdy steel structure, sandstone trimmings, cypress woodwork for the interior, and the promise of “all modern conveniences” drummed up excitement among Lebanon residents.

The vision of Emanuel Mann, who officially owned the property, was as such: the first floor’s two large showrooms would house the family clothing store (Mann’s “The Big Store”), the second, third, and fourth would host various third-party offices and businesses, and the fifth floor would be residential.

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Previously, the site was the property of the Greenawalt family, who were operating the George Washington Hotel (then known as the Central Hotel) at the time of the eponymous founding father’s possibly-apocryphal visit. After this property was demolished, contractors Samuel Bell Sons and David Buffamoyer & Sons began work on the project. Structural supports were begun in May of 1903, and over the ensuing months, the masonry was completed and the various amenities of the building, including an elevator, were installed. The facade trimmings, described in a 1903 edition of the Daily News as “terra cotta”, arrived in 143 pieces in July.

The course of the building’s construction was something of a spectacle for Lebanon residents: a horse used for material hauls escaped and roamed the streets of Lebanon until it was caught; a young man named Edward Saltzer was “struck on the back by a large stone and buried in a heap of debris” in the alleyway (though he was seemingly not severely injured); and the steam-powered elevator used to lift barrels of mortar up to the bricklayers broke down and crashed to the first floor, startling some of the workers (luckily, these men were not injured either).

The Mann Building in a undated postcard made in the period following its completion. The ground floor is comprised of showrooms and stores, and more businesses and offices reside in the middle three floors. (Lebanon County Historical Society)
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The Manns’ new store opened on January 15th, 1904, following a “removal sale” at their old property on 834 Cumberland Street, which had itself been established in 1864. Aside from a February flood of the entire building (thanks to a busted pipe on the top floor), the enterprise was off to a great start, and businesses and organizations were eager to move into the new spaces.

The Farmers Trust Company moves in

In late 1914, the property sold from Emanuel Mann to the Lebanon Trust Company, who held onto the property for just over five years before selling it to Boyd Lee Spahr, an attorney representing what would later be revealed as the Farmers Trust Company, in March 1920. The building sold for $150,000, roughly equivalent to two million dollars in current money.

The year of 1920 was a notable year for the building. Aside from the sale, the building was also host to a popular auto show in March and an electrical appliance exhibit in April. In July, Harry H. Gardiner, “climber and maker of thrills,” attempted twice to scale the building for spectacle, though he didn’t make it all the way to the top.

The main banking room of the Farmers Trust Company in Lebanon, housed inside the Mann Building. (Lebanon County Historical Society)

The Farmers Trust Company made its mark on the building–literally–with a large engraving and signs at the front, side, and back still visible today. The company moved into the ground floor, splitting it up into several departments for savings, general commercial business, safety deposits, and the trust office itself. Sturdy vaults were installed, which have stood the test of time.

For many decades, the Farmers Trust Company operated in what was, at the beginning, claimed to be one of the largest banking rooms in the state. The company had begun in 1892, and at the time of its move into the Mann Building, consolidated with the Valley National Bank. The Farmers Trust was itself later consolidated into Fulton Bank, and, by 2002, had left the building it had occupied for over 80 years.

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Aside from Mann’s ‘The Big Store’ and the Farmers Trust Company, a number of notable institutions have called the Mann Building home since its inception:

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  • The Lebanon Club – One of the first tenants; which moved onto the second floor, and for several decades hosted regular smokes, dances, meetings, and other events.
  • Casino Bowling Alleys – Operated in the basement beginning in 1904. The proprietor, Ferdinand Gremminger, actually gained his citizenship in the building, according to a report in the April 23, 1912 edition of the Daily News. Gremminger also owned and operated the beach at Mt. Gretna’s Conewago Lake.
  • Eastern School of Telegraphy – Operated on the fifth floor for a short period of time beginning in 1904.
  • Lebanon Conservatory of Music – Operated by Lebanon Valley College’s Professor H. A. Oldham for only a few months from 1908 to 1909 on the fifth floor.
  • Temp Force and Futures Unlimited – Operated from 1981 until moving out in 1993.
  • Business Men’s Association, Lebanon Business College, Traveler’s Protective Association, etc.
  • Many law offices, several doctors, architectural firms, and more

Today, still a building of business

The latest occupant of the ground floor is Herbology. (Full Disclosure: Herbology is an advertiser with LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising status and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about LebTown’s advertising program here.)

The Mann Building began as a businessman’s dream and that dream has remained remarkably intact over the course of nearly 12 decades.

A 2016 retrospective in the Lebanon Daily News by Fran Odyniec recounts the 2014 purchase of the property by entrepreneur Jeffrey Usner. The building sold for $191,400. In the years since, the newest occupant of the building is medical marijuana dispenser Herbology, though other occupants include the addiction recovery nonprofit RASE Project, Beers & Hoffman Architects, Feeman Law Offices, and the law practice of the late C. Walter Whitmoyer Jr.

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Usner, as noted in the article, also owns a number of other prominent Lebanon landmarks, including the Brasenhill Mansion, the Bachman Mill near Fontana, and, most recently, the Marty’s Music building.

Though the kinds of businesses inside have changed significantly, it’s remarkable that the Mann Building has stayed true to its original vision as a hub of Lebanon business activity, and seems poised to occupy that role for many years to come.

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Read More: A salute to the Samler Building, Lebanon’s downtown icon

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