Downtown Woman's Center


Downtown Women’s Center

After years of languishing, what William Douglas Lee had designed for a shoe company gained new life as the Downtown Women's Center, earning a Conservancy Preservation Award.

This 1927 building was developed by a woman, Florence C. Casler, working with architect William Douglas Lee. The 67,000 square-foot, six-story structure with Gothic Revival details originally housed the Elias Katz Shoe Company, the largest footwear factory west of St. Louis.

It was later known as the Renaissance Building. In 1983, CRA/LA found it eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2005, the Downtown Women’s Center found itself at a crossroads. The renowned provider of housing and services for women in need had outgrown its space, and a private development was slated for the entire block. The City offered the Center the now-underused former shoe factory for one dollar.

Transforming the industrial building for residential use was a major feat in and of itself, but the team went far beyond the basic needs. The effort, dubbed “Project Home,” qualified for LEED Silver certification and set very high standards for design.

The result is an inspiring blend of old and new. Seventy-one permanent residential units feature private baths and kitchenettes, high ceilings, large windows, and elegant surroundings.

The day center provides an equally inviting environment for meals and supportive services. Enlivening the street presence is a storefront café and boutique featuring items made by clients.

The new Center’s design directly serves its mission of fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability. In a fitting example of positive transformation, a former shoe factory now helps women get back on their feet.

The project earned a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2011.