Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The first Cleveland Clinic building

Original Cleveland Clinic building

You might be surprised to learn that this off-white four story brick building, on the south side of Euclid Avenue at East 93rd Street, was the original home of the Cleveland Clinic. The building, opened in 1921, was the first of many built by this world-class hospital.

This postcard, from the Cleveland Memory Project, illustrates many of the early buildings. The view is from the east, looking west. They following legend is provided on the reverse of the card:
1. Garage
2. New Surgical Pavilion
3. New Assembly Room
4. New Hospital Addition-Private Rooms
5. Existing Hospital-1924
6. Power Plant
7. New Hospital Addition-North Wing
8. Existing Hospital-1928
9. New Main Entrance to Hospital
10. Research Laboratories
11. New Pharmacy
12. New Clinic Building
13. Original Clinic Building-1920.

It is worth noting that most of these early buildings are still standing, the exceptions being the parking garage (1), the "New Surgical Pavillion" (2), and the "New Assembly Room" (3).

This photo of the original Clinic building, also from the Cleveland Memory Project, depicts the Cleveland Clinic Fire. The fire, which occurred on May 15, 1929, killed 123 people. The fire was caused by an incandescent light bulb igniting nitrate-based x-ray film. Most of the deaths were the result of poisonous gasses released by the burning of the x-ray negatives.

The Cleveland Memory Project has other resources on the fire, including the report from the National Board of Fire Underwriters addressing the disaster. The fire led to stricter regulations regarding the construction of such buildings and the storage of film.

The Cleveland Clinic has long been a leader in medical research. It is one of the top hospitals in the country, and in some fields, the world. From this beginning they grew to the giant they are today.

The Clinic clearly has some respect for historic buildings, contrary to what recent events might suggest. They have the ability and the resources to repurpose 80+ year old structures to fit contemporary needs.

In the near future, once I am able to take some more photographs of the exterior of the Philip Johnson Cleveland Play House building, we will be asking for design proposals for the site, to illustrate how the Cleveland Clinic might utilize the existing structures. It is my hope that this will illustrate that we, as a community, care about this complex and its history and are committed to repurposing the Cleveland Play House in a way that serves both the Clinic and the City.


  1. The Clinic most definitely has a checkered past when it comes to preservation.

    And I'd have to give the new heart center a D on any measurement.

    As for the Play House. This I've been thinking of for some time. I actually did a rather lengthy real estate project on this site for a CSU class. The best idea that I heard for the original building is to repurpose it for something like occupational therapy or some other low key out patient use. The Clinic could use it or rent it. It could easily be tied to the garage next door to allow for development of the rest of the block. The Sears building in particular should be easily and efficiently be converted. And the Clinic gets to be the good guy and get some good press from the likes of critical preservation hawks.

    To throw in a pie in the sky wish, I would also use the land in front of the Play House for a public space/park. It would be a nice soft transition from the more neighborhood area at the commercial/residential section of Euclid to the institutional goliath that is the Clinic. I really can't think of a public space in that immediate vicinity.

    After all this is a building worth saving. And could be saved and put to good use.

  2. John, that's very interesting - I'd like to hear more.

    I agree that using the space in front of the Play House as a park would be quite nice. Visually, I think that it needs the space in front of it, and from a pedestrian standpoint right now, it's not terribly comfortable.

    I wonder how much of the problem here is parking - it seems like all available space goes to surface parking, which is less than efficient. Perhaps what we need are some innovative solutions in that field. Perhaps the parking garages could have some real visual character that would bring them together with the complex as a whole. I'd be in favor of zoning variances allowing taller parking garages if it meant providing some greenspace or saving an interesting building or two and if said garages could be built to look like something other than concrete monoliths.

  3. I think the design of the new hospital is pretty fantastic, and I love the way they connected it to the building pictured in the postcard.