At Work: Transforming an old industrial building in the Brewery District

The revival of the Brewery District received another spark last November when WSA Studio moved into The Jack building.

A 42-year-old legacy firm, WSA Studio began in Grandview Heights on December 7, 1970 as Wandel & Schnell Architects by founders Bob Wandel and Tom Schnell. Investing in studio space that improves the city has always been important to the firm and The Jack building is its fifth major renovation.

The team at WSA Studio. Photo by Melissa Hess.

Timothy Hawk, the current firm leader, became president of the studio in 2005 and has seen the studio through several office renovations. Before The Jack, the firm was located at the Berry Boltworks Building at 350 E. First Ave. Prior to Berry Boltworks, they were at 130 E. Chestnut, behind what is now the Flatiron Restaurant, along with quite a few other leading design firms.

“At 130 East Chestnut, we were part of a movement to make that portion of the city a design district,” says Hawk. “Our firm was the lead tenant in the development of Chestnut Square by the Wittmann Companies. We felt that collectively, our commitment to that part of town would create a critical mass to spark development in the area.”

The firms’ efforts were successful as that area of town is still bustling with activity.

WSA Studio enjoys saving old and battered buildings. After the Chestnut Square was humming along, they were approached by JR Kern, who introduced them to the Berry Boltworks Building, located near the Jeffrey.

“The Berry Boltworks offered a perfect opportunity to contribute to the Jeffrey Mining redevelopment effort,” Hawk says. “We knew that the area would eventually perk up, and we wanted to establish a spark. Additionally, the Berry Boltworks building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and we thought we could prove the building was worthy.”

WSA moved into the Berry Boltworks in late 2004, a time when the area did not even receive snow removal services from the city of Columbus. Since then, the area has seen radio stations, a leading accounting firm, a church, and the state of Ohio commit to the neighborhood, as well as further development with the Wonderland project and the potential of the Jeffrey site.

“We feel proud to have been a contributor to that neighborhood,” Hawk says.

When the lease on the Berry Boltworks space expired, the team decided their efforts there had been successful and decided to refocus their commitment to the success of the Brewery District.

“We found another old building, with really good bones, that needed some tender love and care,” Hawk says.

Even though WSA Studio moved to The Jack, they continue leading developments in Italian Village. It recently completed the new AIDS Resource Center at 1033 N. High St. Todd Boyer, WSA Studio leader and architect, has served as a commissioner for the Italian Village Design Review Commission since 2007, which helps the firm be involved in the neighborhood.

“We enjoy saving old, beat up buildings,” Hawk says. “The quality of spaces partnered with the patina and richness of materials are impossible to duplicate with today’s materials. The old buildings have nothing to hide and have an informality which fits our personality and the way we approach design.”

The Jack was built in 1909 as a motor parts foundry for Ford, and later housed the Columbus Jack Company, a maker of hydraulic lifts.

Before photos of The Jack taken by Todd Boyer:

A look at what the entrance to the building used to look like.
The Jack after completed renovations. Photo by Brad Feinknopf.
A view of the entrance. Photo by Brad Feinknopf.

The development and design of The Jack lasted about nine months and then there was almost a year of construction. The building had been empty for about ten years and water damage from a deteriorated roof destroyed the original wood floors.

The firm also removed two existing stairs to open up the space, which allowed flexibility in the renovation for their workspace. The freight elevator was inoperable and removed. Peeling paint also was removed.

The building has large windows to allow lots of natural light and ventilation, and those were all replaced to mirror the original qualities of the building. Other than that, the firm made as few alterations as possible.

“We chose to let all of the building’s raw character show through, even leaving the existing concrete floor exposed,” Hawk says. “It feels very warm and comfortable.”

WSA Studio also designed its space to feel residential, adding a shower for cyclists. The space is about 4,500 square feet. At 25 feet wide and 180 feet long, it’s long and skinny with a variety of rooms throughout.

An photo of the interior before renovations began. Photo by Todd Boyer.

The firm’s decorating style is classically modern with minimalist touches. Over the years, they have collected pieces that are timeless.

They sit in Herman Miller task chairs, have clean and minimal work surfaces, and have a collection of wooden tables purchased in 1970 that still look new. A new conference table was built for The Jack space using wood salvaged from a barn near Granville. And a couple of fire doors from the original Jack building have been reused to create interest throughout the space.

Completed interior. Photo by Melissa Hess.
Another view of the completed interior. Photo by Melissa Hess.
A conference room inside WSA Studio. Photo by Brad Feinknopf.

“Utilizing these buildings is the most sustainable approach to architecture, and we are pretty passionate about green design,” Hawk says. “There are layers of meaning and history which help to enrich the character of these buildings. We think that this history and the stories associated with each layer is what makes the buildings special.”

Work areas filled with natural light and pops of color. Photo by Brad Feinknopf.

Above the first floor studio are two floors of apartments managed by The Day Companies.

[For a look into one of the apartments, read this At Home story on Columbus Underground.]

“We love the fact there are people in the building when we go home at night,” Hawk says. “It just feels right that the building is occupied 24 hours a day. We believe in, and can see, the benefit of mixed-use buildings. They increase the density of the city and bring life to the neighborhood.”

Since the move to The Jack, they have found the area is much busier than their space at the Berry Boltworks building. Stewart Alley has many joggers, walkers, and neighbors walking their dogs passing past the firm’s windows. WSA Studio employees enjoy having easy, walkable access to the area restaurants and to Schiller Park.

The Jack is owned by 1000 S. Front Street, an investment group. Devere LLC managed the project and WSA Studio was the architect. Both companies own an interest in the property.

“We feel good to know that the firm is invested in the location,” Hawk says. “We don’t plan to leave this location for a long, long time.”

To learn more about WSA Studio, visit

Do you know of, have, or work in, a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, please contact Anne Evans.