Sunday, September 9, 2007
Code Breakers of the Past History to Be Erased
Here Sat a Ghost of Code-Breakers Past By BOB DRIEHAUS Published: September 10, 2007 CINCINNATI, Sept. 9 — Efforts by preservationists and history enthusiasts to save an Art Deco building in Dayton where a secret program broke Nazi codes have failed to stop plans to relocate some architectural flourishes and raze the rest. Contractors are scheduled to begin removing the building’s crown molding, limestone window sills, stone lintels and bricks on Monday. What is left will be demolished next year to make way for a 50-acre redevelopment on land bought in 2005 by the University of Dayton. University officials ruled that a steel skin that was wrapped around the original 1938 brick and sandstone structure has stripped it of its historic value and made it too expensive to renovate. A study conducted by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office did not find the building to be eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. All sides agree that what occurred inside the building was groundbreaking. In 1942, the National Cash Register Company, working with naval engineers, began work on an advanced version of Polish and British code-breaking machines that unscrambled the German Enigma codes but that became obsolete after German technological advances. A team led by Joseph Desch, an NCR engineer, developed the new code-breakers by early 1943, enabling American forces to decode messages nearly as fast as the Germans who received them and to reroute ships imperiled by German submarines. After D-Day, the machines helped track German troop movements. The university said there would be a permanent exhibit about the code-breakers in Carillon Historic Park, where other Dayton feats are commemorated, including the Wright brothers’ development of the first successful airplane. Salvaged pieces of the NCR building will be incorporated in the exhibit, which will be created by Dayton History, a collaboration of area historic societies and preservationists. Loss of the building was a disappointment to some. “I’d rather walk through Independence Hall than read a plaque that tells us what our Founding Fathers did there,” said Jeff Wray, a Dayton architectural firm owner. Mr. Wray, who specializes in renovating historical buildings, said that peeling away the steel facade could show that the building was worthy of designation on the National Registry of Historic Places. The designation would qualify the project for tax credits that could reduce renovation costs to 40 percent of new construction. Deborah Anderson, a daughter of Mr. Desch, said, “I will be happy to support that exhibit, but I don’t really believe in my heart of hearts that U.D. ever seriously considered keeping the building.” Once the building’s fate was cast, Mrs. Anderson joined a committee to create the exhibit. Brady Kress, president of Dayton History, said his organization had pressed the university as recently as last week to save the building but will now support the exhibit. “At least we want to work with them to save the story,” Mr. Kress said.