Artist Miller Horns wanted to see the monument he designed for the landmark Hotel Matthews one more time.
Mr. Horns, 63, had been in and out of hospitals and skilled nursing facilities for more than a year. Family and friends said he planned to take an ambulance ride Wednesday morning from Summa Akron City Hospital to the monument at Martin Luther King Boulevard and North Howard Street, knowing his time was limited.
Less than a half-hour before he was to arrive, however, he died at the hospital. He suffered from diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and other health issues, family members said.
“This was his whole heart,” an uncle, Otis Beecher, 70, said of the red-brick monument. He was waiting at the site Wednesday when he got a call from the hospital that Mr. Horns had died.
Beecher said Mr. Horns had been in the palliative care unit at the hospital and knew he did not have much time left.
“He wanted to see [the monument] one more time,” Beecher said.
Mr. Horns designed the monument, constructed last fall and early this year, to honor the African-American entertainment district that once thrived along North Howard Street.
Specifically, it is a memorial to the entertainment district and the hotel named after Georgia native George Washington Mathews, who ran the Hotel Matthews from 1925 to 1978. (Why the hotel’s name was spelled differently has been unexplained.)
Entertainers who visited the district over the years included Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, Count Basie and Cab Calloway.
The world-famous entertainers stayed at the Hotel Matthews because they could not stay at other hotels in town.
As a group of nearly two dozen arrived to see Mr. Horns on Wednesday, one by one, they learned of his passing.
University of Akron ceramics art professor Donna Webb hugged Beecher upon hearing the news.
“We have known Miller forever,” she said. “It took him 16 years of prodding, poking, talking and encouraging” to get the project going.
“Most of us wouldn’t know who Mathews was if it wasn’t for Miller,” Webb said.
Fixture at museum
Arnold Tunstall, collections manager for the Akron Art Museum, called Mr. Horns “a fixture” at the museum.
“He was at every opening and saw every show we had here. He was definitely part of the artistic community and the museum family. He will be missed for sure,” Tunstall said. “He was in the 2002 Ohio Perspectives exhibition on contemporary African-American art, which had works of artists from all over the state.”
Akron Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth said Mr. Horns came to see him a decade ago to promote the idea of the Hotel Matthews monument.
“No one has been more persistent in trying to see his dream come true,” Lieberth said. A long list of volunteers, community leaders, companies and others who had an interest in the monument helped finally pull it together, he said.
“He stayed with it until he motivated a coalition of people to get behind it,” Lieberth said.
Michael Owen, who calls himself an “urban recycler,” worked with Mr. Horns to make a presentation to Lieberth and helped to bring together the people willing to build the monument.
“His spirit will forever anchor the north end of downtown,” Owen said.
The lesson to learn, said Owen, is “if you have a really great idea, no matter how ludicrous it may seem, people will listen and they will fall in line and put their shoulder to the wheel and make it happen.”
The monument that Mr. Horns designed, Owen said, “is bigger than life and will be there forever.”
Great ideas, “come from the most beautiful places,” he said.
Numerous area companies, organizations and individuals either donated or sold at cost work for the $125,000 project. That list included G.W. Stephens Inc., Cavanaugh Building Corp., J.W. Didado Electric Inc., GPD Inc., Meyer Design, the Cardinal Group, Neidert Fabricating and Ameriseal & Restoration. The city and the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority also assisted.
Kenmore Construction donated materials and labor, and other companies that provided materials at cost were North Hill Marble, Ohio Beauty Cut Stone, CCM Welding and Botzum Brothers Hardware.
All that remains to complete the project is running electrical lines under the nearby Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad tracks so that the monument can be illuminated at night and audio equipment can be used at the site. Officials of the railroad could not be reached.
A dedication of the monument will be held at a date to be determined, Lieberth said.
While Mathews spelled his name with one T, the monument is spelled with two Ts, which conforms to some historic photographs of signs at the old hotel, where famous black entertainers stayed when they played at the various nightclubs on North Howard Street.
Charles Beecher, whose brother Miller Beecher was Horns’ stepfather, said the monument has great historical meaning “because of the fact that this is the only thing that is left of the history of Howard Street.”
Mr. Horns “had tenacity,” Charles Beecher said. “He persevered.”
With a group of nearly 20 artists and family members gathered around the monument, Barberton sculptor Terry Klausman read a letter he said Mr. Horns wrote this summer and wanted to share at the monument Wednesday.
“My work of art is a gift — a gift to the entire city of Akron,” Klausman read. “This structure is truly a monument to a time and place. Thank you all for sharing this day with me. The day my dream came true.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic Dottie Shinn contributed to this report. Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.