The Akron Skywalk System: A Hidden Pleasure

Intro:

You’re in downtown Akron, looking for somewhere to park. You head to the garage under the contemporary Cascade Plaza, you walk out of the garage and into an underground walkway you stumble upon this.

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What do you do? If you walk by without even a passing glance at the beauty of this walkway, then you are in the wrong place. If it drops your jaw, and you can’t help but take over 15 pictures of this wavy walkway then you’re right where you belong. If you’re in the latter, read along as I’m about to show you a void of humanity, a mecca of liminal space, a glass block tunnel, and overall, a hidden pleasure.

Backstory:

For 4 years I spent more of my life living and being a student at the University of Akron than I spent living in my hometown of Cincinnati. However in that timespan, I’d never checked out some of the coolest lesser known spaces in downtown Akron. It was my impression that Akron’s skywalk system (aside from the Polsky skywalk which I used for getting to class) was only for efficient travel between government buildings, but thanks to my girlfriend Grace’s knowledge of the 5th largest city in Ohio I now know that this is not the case. Thanks honey, time for me to walk through empty architectural art walks every time I’m in downtown now.

Skywalk Information:

The above image might not describe every little detail of each skywalk’s architecture, but it sure is a helpful guide for navigating Akron’s useful skywalk system. Thanks to the Downtown Akron Partnership (otherwise known as DAP) these handy little guides can be found throughout the skywalks and in different buildings around town. Even if you aren’t coming from one of the buildings connected to the skywalk, you can easily hop onto it using one of the numbers on the map and head to where you need to go to avoid the brutal northeast Ohio winter.

Tour:

We will start this tour where we entered at level 2 of the CitiCenter parking deck. Number 6 if you’re following along in your map, this is the Main/High st. Skywalk.

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I was a big fan of this old CitiCenter sign with the “Atlantic Club” part in that distinctive 1980’s script reminiscent of the Risky Business cover font. If you continue following around the bend you will cross Bowery st. and on your left you will have the option to enter the Ocasek skywalk. This is arguably the coolest skywalk I have ever seen in my life. Here’s a quick Google Street View of what the exterior looks like.

I always wondered if there really was an escalator in this skywalk and it turns out i was right. ABOUT TIME I finally saw it in all its glory.

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The red accents on the exterior continue through to the interior and it’s even better than you could imagine. They went all out including red rubber rails for the escalators, something you don’t often see in a color other than black. By the way, the purple accents on red are rare but a surprisingly good color combination in my opinion. Overhead you will see red pipes that are to my understanding fluorescent lights and heat lamps for the winter, which are my favorite feature other than the fact that this skywalk is also a FUCKING escalator. (Most are level.) If you go up, you will arrive at the Ocasek building, but we’re going to go back down and check out the rest of the skywalk.

Continuing across the Main/High st. skywalk, you will cross Church st. in this old maybe 1950’s one. A big transition from the modern ’70s/’80s skywalk feel from before. This skywalk covers stops 8, 9, 10, and 11.

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I found this skywalk to be cool in its own way, not that it was futuristic looking or anything, but that it had a beautiful white, mint, and pink terrazzo floor, and maybe even an electrical problem or two (hence the temporary construction lights). Around the bend you are met with this absolutely stunning lengthy skywalk. The mecca of liminal space that I was mentioning, and a Star Wars’y vibe for sure.

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Come on, the resemblance is uncanny.

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Unfortunately, my favorite scruffy looking nerfherder was not on the Akron skywalk this day, but as you continue there is a nice view of the skyline on your right, including Lock 3, and the rooftop bar to the Lockview Restaurant.

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This picture also nicely displays the beautiful brand new mural painted on the side of the Akron Civic Theater. At the end of the Main/High st. skywalk you will meet the Polsky building. While school is in session it should be unlocked for all but on the weekends you might not be able to get through all of the buildings because some are only open during school/business days.

On a later date, (a weekday) Grace and I checked out the coolest part of the skywalk system, however I don’t even know if I can call it a skywalk. In fact it’s quite the opposite… First thing’s first, you have to get through Main Place which in itself is an ’80s lover’s wet dream. This is spot 4 on your map.

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“I mean look at all that pink marble Doc! That says it all.”-Marty McFlame

Julian Casablancas may ask “Is This It?” and I would reply, “No Jules, not even close.”

The pink marble fans out in a very unique manner through the floor and into a cute cafeteria.

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Above you, some excellent post-modern skywalk signage.

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With an upside down Delta logo too! If this thing is ever taken down, it will be mine. We continue into the cafeteria and come upon the most Akron mural I’ve ever seen.

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We marvel at blimps, rubber, the oat man, and whoever is the oat man’s amish comrade or maybe it’s a really poorly painted Abraham Lincoln. Nonetheless, we continue down the stairs. Stairs like this I beg were still at Kenwood Towne Centre.

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And what do you see when you turn around after staring at the stairs? This incredible subterranean skywalk that has more glass block than a 1980’s mansion.

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I was not kidding you when I said my jaw dropped, it was love at first sight. Everything about it is just the shit, the artwork on the wall is a nice addition too. (Though I’m assuming was added at a later date to make the tunnel more vibrant.)

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They didn’t stop with just having the huge glass blocks either, there’s even cute little mini ones on the bottom as well.

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Pardon the tearing floor. I appreciate that they illuminate the blocks from behind too, really using a building material as a piece of art. That’s how glass block should always be treated in my opinion.

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There’s a subtle incline heading under Main towards Cascade Plaza as well. You can notice this by the ledges on the glass block and the brick work. When you reach the end, you are at the parking garage and are surrounded by somehow even more glass block in what could be an ’80s Jedi council meeting room.

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What’s that Grace is looking up at?

A view of Northeast Ohio’s Dayton. I had seen this skylight before, but I never knew how to get in.

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And we’ve headed out, that my friends is the Cascade Parking Deck/Main Place Tunnel! The coolest skywalk ever, that isn’t even a skywalk. I hope this tour can help guide you through your own adventure in the ‘ol rubber city.

Conclusion:

The Akron skywalk system may not have many people on it, and it may not be kept in the best of shape but it is perfect for Akron and perfect for someone like me. It has some incredibly cool spots like the escalator in the Ocasek skywalk, the A New Hope tunnel in the Main/High st. skywalk, and last but certainly not least the Cascade Parking Deck/Main Place Tunnel. To be honest, I loved the void of people that I felt walking through these, along with the liminal spaces I saw, it really reminded me a lot of the dead malls which I love to review. Skywalks have got to be up there for me with dead malls among my favorite niche spaces. While I love the feel of the empty spaces, the fact that very few people use the skywalks puts them in danger of being eradicated. In many other large cities like my home of Cincinnati, the majority of our cool skywalks have hit the ground. Much of this is due to cities wanting people to roam the sidewalks and shop along the way, but I honestly am not convinced that it makes much of a difference whether they’re there or not. I hope that people use these because not only are they architecturally awesome, they’re very helpful, and like I said before, they’re very nice to have in the brutal northeast Ohio winter. So I’m calling on all my Akronites to use these bad boys and appreciate them as I do.

Skywalk Rating:

10/10 No questions asked

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