Friday, January 29, 2010

Cleveland's Identity

Last week we challenged you to sum up Cleveland's identity in 200 words or less. Before we post your responses, here is my own contribution:

Cleveland’s identity begins with the Western Reserve -- and may end with it, given recent talk of regionalism and “Cleveland+”. Without the Connecticut Land Company surveyor Moses Cleaveland, we wouldn’t have a name. Without that link to New England, we wouldn’t have a Public Square.

Cleveland’s identity is inextricably connected to the Cuyahoga River, which made us ideally suited to be the main port linking the Great Lakes to the Ohio River via the Ohio and Erie Canal. Like the East, we experienced an influx of European immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like the rest of the North, we experienced the Great Migration of African Americans from the South during the years 1910-1940.

We prospered and grew and developed world-class cultural institutions.

We built a lot of things here, and now, not so many. Like it or not, Cleveland is part of the Rust Belt, but it’s important to remember that unlike many of the small towns that popped up as a direct result of the American manufacturing boom, we were already sitting on nearly 200 years of history when things started to fall apart. If we have to fall, we’ve got good cultural bones to fall back on.

Still want to submit your own 200-word interpretation of Cleveland's historic identity? Email us at clevelandareahistory [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lost: Hathaway Brown School and Laurel School

Image courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project

Yesterday, the Cleveland Clinic demolished one of the last vestiges of the once great Euclid Avenue, an impressive dark sandstone building at 1945 East 97th Street, designed by architects Hubbell and Benes for Hathaway Brown School in 1905. The school used this building as its home until 1927, when it moved to Shaker Heights. Some of the firm's other notable commissions include the West Side Market, the YMCA, and the Ohio Bell Building.

Laurel School

The Clinic will soon, probably today or tomorrow, demolish another building in the complex, the home of Laurel School from 1909-1928.

Hathaway Brown School Site

This is all that remained yesterday of the Hathaway Brown building. It is shameful that the Cleveland Clinic was unable to find an adaptive reuse for this historic structure. They've done an excellent job of repurposing the 1901 Henry P. White house, at 8937 Euclid Avenue. Surely they could have found a use for this structure of similar character.

It has become clear that the Cleveland Clinic has little regard for the history of the area that has supported it and helped it grow. The last major building the Clinic demolished, the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine, is now surface parking. While the need for parking is clear, I, for one, would be in favor of zoning variances allowing larger parking garages if it would guarantee the Clinic would save some of these buildings.

Take another look at the Cleveland Play House. Is there any doubt that the Cleveland Clinic will demolish the structure as soon as they take ownership of it?

I encourage you to contact the president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, Delos Cosgrove, M.D., to let him know your feelings on this subject. He can be reached by phone at 216-444-2300 or by mail at:

Delos Cosgrove
Cleveland Clinic Main Campus
Mail Code H18
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195

Monday, January 25, 2010

The First of Cleveland's Follies?

It’s true. Throughout our history, Cleveland has made some mistakes. Maybe a few more than our fair share. So could this elaborate mansion built by Samuel Andrews and vacated by his family after having been lived in for only three years, have started it all?

In 1874, during Cleveland’s most prosperous time, John D. Rockefeller bought his partner Samuel Andrews out of the Standard Oil Company for $1 million due to their irreconcilable differences. Andrews had been hailed as an extremely capable mechanic and chemist. He developed the method to extract kerosene from crude oil, which is how he came to be in business with Rockefeller and subsequently assist in the formation of the Standard Oil Company.

Andrews rose from near poverty into his newfound stature of wealth. Apparently he took the wealth and ran with it, living a rather grandiose lifestyle. He and his family lived on Euclid Avenue at East 28th Street when he made a deal to switch properties with William Bingham Sr. and planned the construction of his massive 18,000 square foot English Gothic mansion at the northeast corner of Euclid Avenue and East 30th Street. Today this is the site of the WEWS property.

Each of Samuel Andrew’s seven children had their own room, and the home was apparently the first in Cleveland to have an elevator, which ran from the basement to the third floor. The home took three years to build, was lived in for three years, and then left vacant but fully furnished for 30 years. Apparently the logistics, layout, and maintenance costs of the home were not properly planned for and became quite a burden on both the family and staff of the home. Andrew’s dream of entertaining Queen Victoria (England was his country of origin) never came to be. This photo on the Cleveland Memory website shows the home up for sale in 1917.

The city’s Landmarks Commission website notes Walter Blythe as the architect for the structure, which coincides with Jan Cigliano’s Showplace of America: Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue, 1850-1910. This book is a must read if you enjoy learning about Millionaire’s Row. However in one sentence of this book, George H. Smith is noted as the architect, which matches the notation in The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. I plan to research this further to find the correct information.

Overall it appears that this structure and its fate was a result of the desire for maximum opulence. Form and function, however, must work hand-in-hand.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What Cleveland Needs in 2010: An Identity

Cleveland Memory Project director Bill Barrow has suggested that what Cleveland really needs is an identity. Something that incorporates its historic roots, its evolution, and its potential. A tall order, to be sure -- one that can’t fit onto a bumper sticker. An identity shouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker, anyway. An identity is fundamentally different from a marketing slogan, such as The Best Location in the Nation, or a brand, such as CLE+.

Now don’t get me wrong -- marketing is vital to a city’s economic success. But Cleveland can’t find itself solely through the trumpeting of its positive attributes -- no matter how positive they are. It’s like casting a blind eye to your kid’s obnoxious nose-picking habit because, well, he’s your kid, and isn’t he precious? In pop psychology terms, it’s the difference between building up self-esteem and encouraging self-actualization.

Understanding the city’s past is vital to constructing its identity. So the next logical step after a good, hard round of civic self-exploration is the construction of a cohesive civic identity. Something that won’t exactly fit on a bumper sticker, but could be summed up in 100-200 words.

Anyone care to give it a try? Email us at clevelandareahistory [at] gmail [dot] com and we’ll post some of our favorite responses. (We’ll try our hand at it, too!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Edward F. Dyer residence

Edward F. Dyer residence

Back in November I posted a piece on the East 89th Street Historic District, a National Register of Historic Places Historic District, in Cleveland, Ohio. I lead with a picture of this house. At time, I referred to it simply as 1834 East 89th Street. Imagine my delight when I came across the following photo in Art Work of Cleveland (1911) in the Cleveland Public Library digital image collections.

It is surprising how little the house has changed in the past hundred years. Usually, it is difficult to maintain a house with this level of detail. If we look closely at the photograph, there are only two areas where significant changes are obvious.

Over the front entryway, an ornate railing was originally present.

A more simple railing was also present on the third floor, over the "tower".

It seems likely that these two railings were removed due to difficulty of maintenance and decay.

Edward F. Dyer residence

Overall, as mentioned above, the house is remarkably well preserved. Even the downspouts for the gutters are in the same location as the originals.

The above citation, by listing the owner at the time of the pubication, gives us a start in learning something of the history of the house.

According to the Cleveland Necrology File, Edward F. Dyer, born in 1859, died in this house at 9 AM on Monday, May 7, 1923. He is buried in Lakeview Cemetery. He was the father of Herrick (or Harold) H. Dyer.

Edward F. Dyer was the son of Ebenezer Herrick Dyer, who established the first commercially viable sugar beet mill in the United States. A historical marker in Union City, California, commemorates the site of the factory, on Byer's farm. Edward would go on to be an inventor and engineer for his father's company.

The Builders of a Great City: San Francisco's Representative Men states "To the perseverance and pluck of Mr. Dyer, and the efficient assistance rendered by his son, Edward F. Dyer, who by his scientific and practical knowledge has made valuable improvements in the method of treating the juice of the beet, the industry in this country owes its existence to-day."

As of 1880, Dyer was still living with his parents, in Alameda, California and working as a secretary for the Best Sugar Co.

The E.H. Dyer Co. had moved to Cleveland by 1901. Their offices were in the New England Building, on Euclid Avenue. The Sugar Beet Gazette refers to them as "the pioneer builders of beet sugar factories."

Edward authored the 1903 book Designing, engineering, contracting, operating complete beet sugar plants.

The 1910 Federal Census indicates that they had two live-in maids. As of February, 1917, he was listed as being a liftime memeber of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The History of the Veterans Memorial Bridge

Image courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project Poscard Collection

I confess I was a bit skeptical when Bill Barrow offered me a review copy of William E. Beyer's The History of the Veterans Memorial Bridge: 90th Anniversary Edition. "How can there possibly be 600 pages worth of material on the Detroit-Superior Bridge that anyone would be interested in reading," I asked myself. Further, I thought, "how the heck will I slog through it?" I quickly learned that my fears were unfounded. The 600+ page, 3.5 pound tome is mostly pictures - "profusely illustrated" is the polite term, I think.

William E. Beyer became interested in the history of the bridge while working as project manager for Howard, Needles, Tamen & Bergendorf on its 1995-1996 rehabilitation. He assembled a massive weath of information which was originally distributed in 2001, in a very limited edition, run off on the office laser printer. This reprint is on nice, heavy, glossy stock, with a sewn hardcover binding.

Rather than a book, imagine The History of the Veterans Memorial Bridge as an impressive, well documented archival collection. All of the photographs that you might find in an archive, all the historical documents, everything. Further, it's explained by someone who clearly knows the subject.

Byers begins by documenting the need for a high level bridge, describing the frequent traffic jams and malfuntions suffered by the old Superior viaduct. He goes on to describe the purchase of the real estate, the bidding of the contracts, and more. In addition to photographs, the illustrations include many editorial cartoons depicting the political battles surrounding the construction of the bridge.

When we get to the actual construction of the bridge, it becomes quite obvious that Byer is an engineer. The discussion becomes quite technical in nature, though still readable to the layperson, for the most part. The photographs of the actual construction are impressive. They show, in exhaustive detail, the work on the bridge. Each and every step in the building process is docuemented in detail.

Byer continues, providing photographs of the use of the bridge by automobiles, streetcars, and pedestrians. Streetcars ran on a second level, underneath the bridge. The construction and design of this and the approaches are documented fully. Readers will also be interested to see in the photographs various buildings in the flats and at the ends of the bridge that are no longer present.

In the 1950s, streetcars lines under the bridge were shut down. A feasability study was conducted to determine whether cars could run on the lower level. It was determined that they could not, and the access wells on each end of the bridge were filled in.

The documentation includes the two major rehabilitations of the bridge, in 1967-1970 and 1995-1997. That the damage was allowed to get as far as it did is concerning at times. It is impressive to see how it all went back together.

Byer also provides brief biographies of some of the engineers on the building of the bridge and some of the involved a companies. A massive fold-out technical drawing of the bridge is also included. Appendices contain bridge contracts, bid quantities and prices for the original construction, both rehabilitations, and the 2004 promenade. Additional appendices contain correspondence relating to the bridge, sample design calculations, and some basic computations of the geometry and stresses on the bridge. Beyer finishes the book with an exhaustive bibliography.

This is not simply a book for the bridge nut. It's one of the better photographic collections that I've come across dealing with the history of the area. It's priced right, too, at $40, shipped. While that isn't exactly cheap, for a 600 page book of photographs, it's a good deal. You can fill out the order form and mail it in or save $10 by picking it up in person at the Cleveland State University Michael Schwartz Library.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book reviews

In the near future, we will start reviewing books relating to local history on this blog. We know that there are a lot of interesting titles out there that haven't received the exposure they deserve. If you have a book that you would like to send us a copy of, contact us at for our mailing address. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review, nor can we promise that you will like what we have to say.

That said, we'd like to start sharing some local books. Please, send them our way!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The demolition of the Cleveland Cadillac Company building

The recently demolished Corlett Building on the campus of Cleveland State University (1935 Euclid Avenue) was originally home to a vehicle showroom constructed by The Cleveland Cadillac Company in 1914, a local distributor for the Detroit automaker. There were several other tenants in the building at the time that the location was used as a car dealership, including R.G. Miller Coal Co. and City Ice and Fuel Co.

It later became known as the Corlett Building due to the land originally having been the site of the home and office space of Dr. William T. Corlett. Dr. Corlett was a dermatologist and physician in the early 1900’s, in the time of Millionaire’s Row.

The building for the Cleveland Cadillac Company was designed by well known Cleveland architects, Knox and Elliott. It had an art deco feel to it, complete with gargoyles and sleek geometric lines and shapes. According to the former Cadillac Museum manager, Greg Wallace, the Cadillac branch offices were fairly similar in their basic design. It is unknown if Knox & Elliott served as the architect for all of the branch locations.

As noted here, Downtown Chevrolet (or Luby Chevrolet) occupied the site after the Cleveland Cadillac Company from 1925 to 1965. In the 1970's, the Cleveland Recording Company moved into the building and even received an award from the Plain Dealer for their renovation of the space. In 1977 Cleveland State University purchased the property.

Unfortunately now, the building remains no longer.

In past issues of The Cleveland Stater, there were several different ideas of how to utilize the building, but at the same time it was noted that the building could eventually meet its demise. In 2000, CSU's newspaper reported that the Corlett building could be demolished at some point. This seems confusing because in the same article it was also noted that the structure was part of CSU's master plan of development.

In 2001 the structure was being looked at as a potential site for the partnership between CSU and WVIZ for the Advanced Digital Technology Center as well as the site for the bookstore.

In 2003 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, this does not protect against demolition.

One year later in 2004, the future of Corlett was addressed in the Cleveland Stater again. The Cleveland Municipal School district had a lease on the building through the end of 2005, and cost estimates for renovations for use by CSU were estimated at around $10 million.

Nothing else appears to be noted by the campus newspaper about the building until the July 8, 2009 issue when the demolition announcement is made. The article indicates some of the architectural features were salvaged for use on the property in the future. For now, parking and a green space are slated for the site, followed by a farmer’s market, with eventual plans for a visual arts center.

In the first three pieces I’ve contributed to this blog, coincidentally two of them are about buildings designed by Knox & Elliott. One of them has been demolished and the other is on the brink of disintegration. Taking into account the Northeast Ohio buildings credited to Knox & Elliott on the Landmarks Commission website, right now only 43% of the structures are still standing. This leads me to pose the following question; how many buildings do we demolish before we allow an architect’s imprint on our region to disappear?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

About the Editors: Christine Borne

Who am I? I am an independent writer, editor, and archivist living in the Cudell-Edgewater neighborhood of Cleveland. From 2010-2011, I'll be working as a Project Archivist at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's new Library and Archive, located on the Metropolitan campus of Cuyahoga Community College. Some of my past projects include the Howard M. Metzenbaum Congressional Papers Project and the Austin Company Records at the Western Reserve Historical Society. I have also worked for the Shaker Heights Public Library as a Teen and Adult Reference Librarian, and the Department of Special Collections and Archives at Kent State University, where I earned a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science in 2002. Besides Cleveland, I’ve lived in western Montana, beachfront New Jersey, and New York City, where I wrote, copy edited, and indexed content for Facts on File’s award-winning American History Online. (Available @your library.)

My professional interests include American cultural history and heritage preservation; Rust Belt fiction; the music, folklore and culture of the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada; and connecting Rust Belt expatriates to their roots. I am also available for hire as a writer, editor, and archival consultant.

How did I get involved with Cleveland Area History? Well, Christopher first brought up the idea of starting a new Cleveland history blog on a road trip to Buffalo ReUse, the near-legendary architectural salvage yard, in September 2009. He’d just been in the Plain Dealer for helping to save the Langston Hughes house, and was so full of opinions about preserving Cleveland buildings that he didn’t talk about anything else for the whole three and a half hour trip! Did I want to contribute to this blog? Sure, I did. How could I not?

Why do I think Cleveland Area History needs to exist? Because there’s a growing mass of bright, creative people who really want to see Cleveland succeed. We need to connect these people to Cleveland history, to make their enthusiasm work toward the survival of our architectural and cultural heritage. After all, “knowing local” is just as important as eating local or buying local!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

About the Editors: Christopher Busta-Peck

Who am I? I am a librarian and artist living in the Onaway neighborhood of Shaker Heights with my wife, one year old son, a cat, and three turtles. I've worked as a youth services librarian at the Hough Branch of Cleveland Public Library for a little more than a year. (Update: July, 2010: now at the Langston Hughes branch of Cleveland Public Library.) Before this, I spent three years as a librarian in the African American Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the public library serving Baltimore, Maryland. I worked as a library assistant at Wickliffe Public Library while working on a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University, which I completed in 2005. While in grad school, I transferred and began the initial processing of the Performance Art Festival archives, a collection that I believe will come to be seen as the single most important archival collection in the fine arts for the 1990s. I earned a B.A. in studio art from Hiram College in 2003.

As a librarian, my interests are many and varied. I could be happy in just about any subject area. Pressed for specifics, I'd cite art, history, rare books, special collections. My free time is divided between my son and working on my house, at least in theory.

How did I get involved with Cleveland Area History? It began with a summer daycamp visiting the library for programming. An interest had been expressed in topics related to African American history. I quickly learned that local history programs worked well. Many of the kids hadn't been outside the neighborhood much, if at all, so stories about the things that happened on the other side of the city or in other parts of northeast Ohio might as well have been on the other side of the country. When I talked about things that happened right there in their neighborhoods, there was a glint of recognition. There was interest.

The first significant program involved two African American writers, Charles W. Chesnutt and Langston Hughes. One important element in any program for children is strong visuals. I knew the Cleveland Public Library had an excellent collection of photographs of Chesnutt, his family, and his Cleveland residences, but I didn't have anything for Hughes.

Colleagues at the Main Library were able to provide me a list of addresses where Hughes had lived in Cleveland, thanks to Arnold Rampersad's authoritative biography. I learned that of the five sites, all but two had been demolished. One was where Hughes had lived during one of the most formative times in his life, his sophomore and junior years of high school. It was at this time that he really began to write, as well as to forge important connections. The property had been foreclosed upon and sold at sherriff's sale. It was sitting vacant. If action wasn't taken, the house would eventually be broken into and vandalized. Water get in, and the house would come to be seen as beyond repair. Before long, it would succumb to the bulldozer.

After a while of trying to convince others to save the house, I contacted a friend at the Plain Dealer, which ran a nice story on the house. This led to the eventual purchase of the house by Fairfax Renaissance Development Corp., which will rehab it and offer it to a low to moderate income family. All Things Considered ran a piece celebrating our efforts.

My programs were successful in part because local history isn't done well in the schools or in the communities. People knew Hughes lived in the area, but not exactly where. I knew that there had to be plenty of other important old buildings and sites waiting to be identified.

On a trip to Buffalo ReUse, an amazing architectural salvage yard and model we might do well to follow, I brought up the idea of a Cleveland history blog with Christine Borne Nickras. Though I blathered about it the whole way there and back, she didn't run away screaming. Two like-minded idiots on a mission.

Why do I think Cleveland Area History needs to exist? I hope to change the way we percieve local history. I want to find better ways to share existing resources and present new ones. There are plenty of wonderful buildings in both the city and the suburbs that need our attention and that can be had for a song. I want to see more important old houses saved and fewer demolished. The pent up demand for local history information is clear. I see this as the venue through which it can be channeled.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What Cleveland Needs in 2010

Civic pride can be a wonderful thing.

At its best, civic pride means shoveling your sidewalk and throwing your trash into the trashcan instead of onto the street. But Civic pride should be just the first step on a more far-reaching journey toward civic engagement, civic understanding, and finally civic wisdom.

What Cleveland needs in 2010 is not a simple boost in civic pride. What Cleveland needs is to start looking at itself with the interpretive eye of the literary critic, the art critic, or the historian.

In other words, Cleveland needs all of us to ask, “how did we get this way?” To willingly look back through the long lens of history at the ugly eras, and resist the urge to cherry pick the triumphs. We need to rid ourselves of blame, denial and the well-intentioned desire to “just stop dwelling on the past and move forward.”

But why can’t we just stop dwelling on the past and move forward?

Here’s why: if you’ve got a big gap in your resume, you've got to be ready for when the job interviewer asks you about it. And I’ve been on both sides of the interviewing table so believe me - interviewers can spot a disingenuous, muddle-mouthed, bullshit answer a mile away.

Let's say Cleveland is a guy who's arriving at a recruiting agency for a job interview. The recruiter takes one look at Cleveland's resume and says, "Hmm. Says here you haven't worked in 30 years. Your skill set is pretty outdated. Tell me how you plan on turning these failures into successes."

Now, our friend Cleveland could fidget and sweat in his chair and mutter, "Can't we just forget about all that?"

Or Cleveland could say, "I'm a survivor - although the last 30 years have been tough, I've never given up. I've seen lean times, but I've come out smarter because of it. I'm using our rich ethnic heritage to promote a burgeoning food scene, and our vast amount of vacant land to promote urban agriculture. Sure, it's taken awhile, but I've got the gumption and the motivation to make the leap into a new economy."

This is the sort of answer that shows an interviewer that you are a thoughtful, self-aware person. It suggests that you'd be an employee who would own up to your mistakes, rather than hide them in shame until it's too late.

Cleveland needs to be able to demonstrate that, too. We are poised at a unique, sink-or-swim moment: the time for civic self-exploration is now, and in the coming months, we at Cleveland Area History aim to facilitate that conversation to the best of our ability.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Public Square in 1873

I recently came across this historic print of Public Square in the American Memory collection at the Library of Congress. The hand-colored print, from 1873, shows a view of this piece of downtown Cleveland that few would recognize. The only building still standing today is the Old Stone Church, seen to the left.

There are plenty of historic photographs and drawings of Public Square. Most of them either show the early history of the city, from the 1830s and 1840s, or are later and show the space encased by buildings. This space has been part of the layout of the city, since the original design.

As new plans for the square are discussed, it seemed a good time to bring up this bit of history. The downtown area is sorely lacking in parkland. Perhaps this greener version of the square is worth reconsidering.