In the early part of the century, awnings served as air conditioning and they were also a sign of prestige. Awnings shaded the house in the summer, and in the winter they were taken down to let the sun in. Independent Awning & Canvas Company was one of the first companies in the city of Dayton. 

In front of the shop the letters F.A. were drawn in the cement porch in 1886 by F.A. Requarth. He was the founder of Requarth Lumber Co. Requarth once owned the house that now is the site of the awning company. He is the great-great-grandfather of the current owner, Fred J. Utzinger, III.

F.A.'s daughter, Lydia, married Daytonian George Utzinger in 1899. In 1915, they opened Independent Awning and Tent Co. The business was started at the site of the old Requarth home, which Lydia had inherited. As the family has passed the store down, she sold her shares in the family's lumber company to help her husband start up his business.

Lydia did the sewing in the basement of the house, which also served as the office for the company. A bookkeeper would come into the house once a week. In the late 1930s, a new and larger shop was built and the sewing was moved from the house.

When the current owner, Frederick J. Utzinger, III and his wife, Shirley (who does the company's bookkeeping) went through old account books from the business, Shirley counted the customers in 1929 and found that there were 502. Entries in the account books, which include sketches, dimensions and prices, read like a who's who of Dayton history. Today Independent Awning has over 500 customers, many of which were listed in the old account books...they just keep coming back!

In 1929, Bonebrake Seminary on Harvard Boulevard (now United Theological Seminary) purchased 12 pairs of canvas shower curtains for $30. In 1932, the company had a large contract from the War Department, and Shirley recalled that a family member once told her that `they made a lot of money off of parachutes made from nylon and silk, and Grace (Lydia's daughter) used to make her kids pajamas out of the leftover nylon.'

In 1940, a merry-go-round cover was made from remnants for Lakeside Amusement Park on Gettysburg Avenue. Also that year, Walnut Grove Country Club - still a regular customer - paid $13.18 for an awning and frame, and the Montgomery County Board of Elections purchased canvas bags for ballots. Independent Awning & Canvas Company still makes those bags for them.

Frederick J. Utzinger, Sr.
Frederick J. Utzinger, Sr.

With accounts such as these, it was obvious that George and Lydia Utzinger's business venture had been successful, and it has remained so through four generations.

 

 

After George died in 1941 his son, Frederick Sr., took the helm. He bought out Citizens Tent & Awning Company. Frederick Sr. died in 1969, leaving the business to Utzinger's father, Frederick Jr.

 

Frederick J. Utzinger, Jr.
Frederick J. Utzinger, Jr.

Lydia, who lived into her 90s, had watched the business survive into its second generation, but died a year before her grandson became a third-generation owner.

Frederick J. Utzinger, III
Frederick J. Utzinger, III

Utzinger, who inherited Independent Awning & Canvas Company when his father died in 1990, grew up around the business, although he didn't officially begin working for his father until he was 14. In the summers he would help work on the trucks, sweep and clean awnings, and do whatever needed to be done.

Although he didn't begin working full-time for the company until he graduated from high school, Utzinger has seen many changes and trends in the business since his childhood. Aluminum awnings became popular in the '50s, but Independent Awning & Canvas never handled them...they stuck with canvas.


The company does handle acrylic awnings, which came out about 30 years ago. They last longer than canvas, don't rot, and hold their color better than canvas. And, although the advent of home air-conditioning slowed the business for a while, during the '70s, awnings began coming back. In addition to canvas and acrylic awnings, commercial back-lit awnings were added to the company's inventory in '85 and have become quite a fad.

Two years after he took over the business, Utzinger inherited the house in front of the shop, where Lydia had continued to live until her death. He and Shirley moved in and became the first couple since his great-grandparents to live and work at 324 Jones St. In a sense, the business that had begun in the house and its garage has come full circle. 

Independent Awning & Canvas Company remains a small business that employs 11 workers, probably not many more than Utzinger's great-grandfather employed. Even with the changes in awning materials since 1915, canvas awnings - which Utzinger contends look the best - are still the company's staple. As in George's and Lydia's day, employees make the canvas awnings, hang them, take them down and store them for customers.