Monday, May 24, 2010

Reusing schools slated for demolition: a proposal

Willson School

A little while ago, I published a photo essay illustrating the 25 schools that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD)wants to demolish. Five of these schools will be rebuilt on the existing sites. But the other twenty will just become vacant land, which the CMSD believes will be more attractive to buyers. I would hope we would have learned from our downtown that when land is vacated to become more attractive to developers, it often just stays vacant.

Some of the buildings are deep in residential neighborhoods. For these, reuse proposals must take into account their surroundings - perhaps they'd be appropriate for artist lofts or light commercial space, as has been done with the Hodge School and Murray Hill School.

Some, however, are on major commercial arteries, such as the Willson School, shown above, on East 55th Street. Some that fit this description are South High, on Broadway; East High, on Superior at East 79th; Miles, on Miles Avenue; and Mount Pleasant, on Union. These buildings might be repurposed as commercial structures.

How can this be done, if these buildings are too expensive to renovate as public schools? Quite simply, the standards required for commercial structures are much lower than those required of schools.

We're tearing down a lot of buildings right now. Some are in such condition that they ought to be torn down. Many of these still have lots of great architectural detail that could be saved - but it isn't being saved - it's being bulldozed and destroyed.

Architectural salvage, on the most basic level, required little initial capital. There's a market for the doors, trim, and other interior fixtures in these buildings. Yes, there are some stores on Lorain Avenue, on the west side, that deal with such materials. Their prices tend to be expensive - a couple hundred dollars for an interior door - prices that are outside the reach of most people. There's also the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, but they don't tend to have that much material in stock and it, too, is on the west side.

We might learn a lot from Buffalo ReUse, a salvage operation in Buffalo, New York. I've visited their salvage yard and followed the great stuff that continues to come through their doors on Flickr. At any given time, they have two or three times as much material in stock as in all the stores in Cleveland put together.

Their prices tend to be close to what a big box store charges for the cheapest version of a similar item - solid wood interior doors sell for $25-50, for instance. At prices like this, the material moves quickly. As a result, average people are able to maintain and repair their homes, keeping up the aesthetic and historic quality of their neighborhoods.

A program like this would be an excellent use for one of the schools that is to be closed. A structure like of one of these schools would allow for organization of materials by type and size, and, as many of the schools in question are on the east side, it would be closer to a largely unserved market.

In the current fiscal situation, it doesn't make sense to keep destroying building materials for which there exists a strong market. If we're not going to fix up these houses or schools, the least we can do is to repurpose their materials elsewhere.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lost: Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on East 55th Street

Pythian Castle / Prince Hall Masonic Temple

This brick masonic hall, at 1624 East 55th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, was destroyed by fire on Wednesday. It was a Cleveland Landmark. Demolition began on Thursday. According to this Plain Dealer article, the fire has been ruled arson.

The structure was built 1907 as the Pythian Castle, for another group. The architect was Frederic William Striebinger. Another notable building by the architect is the the Second Church of Christ, Scientst on Euclid Avenue.

It served as a B'nai B'rith lodge from 1912 through the 1940s. This period of the structure's ownership is detailed on Cleveland Jewish History.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Union Gospel Press building

The Gospel Press building in the Tremont area of Cleveland, Ohio is located at the intersection of West 7th Street and Jefferson, and borders Thurman on the west side. It is actually a complex made up of multiple buildings. The origins of the site date back to the Pre-Civil War era.

On June 3, 1850 The Herald, which was Cleveland's second newspaper founded in 1819, announced a "Splendid Project" and explained that a national university was going to be built in Cleveland that would be patterned after Brown University and called Cleveland University. 275 acres were purchased and Tremont at that time came to be known as University Heights because of this planned institution. In 1851 the first educational building and the President's home were built on the site. This is why the streets in this area were named College, Professor, University, and Literary.

According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, eight degrees were awarded in June of 1852, however in December the president resigned and within months Mrs. Thirza Pelton, the school's leading benefactor, died in February of 1853. The plans for the school quickly evaporated. Six years later in 1859, Ransom Humiston ran the school as a co-ed college preparatory school for eleven years. During the Civil War disabled soldiers were offered free education there. That school closed, and in 1870 the site then became the Homeopathic Hospital College. In 1874 the Homeopathic College bought property on Huron Road (that would eventually become Huron Road Hospital.) The Huron Road Hospital opened in 1880, and the property in Tremont was no longer needed.

It's noted in The people are the city: Three Cleveland neighborhoods, 1796-1980 that the few buildings connected with the university were razed in 1917.

1912 Hopkins Map

In 1907 the Herald Publishing House and the Gospel Worker Society moved from their headquarters in Pennsylvania to this site. They produced religious magazines and literature. The following map shows the property including the complex of buildings that made up the Herald Publishing House in 1922. Also in 1922, the missionaries changed the name of the group to the Union Gospel Press. You can see that the Gospel Press buildings did not stretch to Thurman yet, as they do now.

1922 Hopkins Map

The group continued to renovate the complex to fit their needs. This is most likely how it came to be such a labyrinth. The following map is very detailed and even indicates a 1940 addition at the northern-most point of the complex.

1952 Sanborn Map

Eventually the Union Gospel Press decided to move their current site at Brookpark and Broadview in Cleveland. They constructed a one-story building and moved there in 1950. In the next 50 years the property in Tremont fell into several different sets of hands. In 1952 it was sold for $180,000 and it was noted that at that time it was being used for offices and light manufacturing. A later appraisal indicated that part of the buildings were being used as a rooming house/hotel.

According to this article in the Free Times, the father of a local realtor named Tom Sammon, owned the building from the 1950s to the early 1970s. The article notes that three shifts of union pressmen printed books for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese in the buildings. In 1967 various uses were listed on an appraisal form including a thermo electrical company, a lithography school, a church, and a rooming house. It was noted that only 10,000 square feet was being rented at that time, and the rest was vacant.

In 1987 the complex was purchased by a former boxer named Joe Scully. During the next couple of decades many artists and homeless persons squatted in the buildings.

The following photos were taken pre-renovation in September 2006.

This property, unlike so many others discussed on this blog, has a happy ending. It was purchased in 2003 and renovated into apartments and hotel suites. It was recently featured by the Cleveland Restoration Society on one of their SNOOP tours.

If you are interested in living or staying at the Union Gospel Press property (now known as Tremont Place Lofts) visit their site.
You can see all the photos I took of the Union Gospel Press building in September of 2006 here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Want to Contribute to Cleveland Area History?

Cleveland Area History ( is a blog dedicated to engaging readers with those people, places, and events that tell the story of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. With emphasis on the word “engaging." We believe that local history is the next natural offshoot of the locavore movement. In other words, eat local, buy local, know local!

What we’re looking for:

We’re looking for short (approximately 500 word), thought-provoking pieces on the following topics in Cleveland history:

  • Fine arts and pop culture, including: TV; comic strips; amusement parks; music, from the Cleveland Orchestra down to the indie rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s and everything in between; film and theater, historic movie houses, drive-ins, film festivals, etc.; history of various local cultural institutions, both well-known and lesser-known
  • Historic neighborhoods and suburbs
  • Local folklore, folklife, regional tales and legends
  • Food culture and memories
  • History of various ethnic groups in Cleveland (Eastern European, Irish, African American, Jewish, etc.)
  • Sports, recreation, parks
  • Politics and civic organizations
  • Industry - steel, auto manufacturing, etc.
  • Transportation
  • Historic figures (both well known and lesser known), and their contribution to shaping Cleveland area history
  • How-to articles about doing your own local history research (including profiles of various local history organizations)
  • Profiles of local history organizations and people doing interesting things with local history
  • Other topics will also be considered

Ideal posts will make Clevelanders think deeply and reflectively about their city, region, and heritage. Readers might say, “Hmm. I never knew that. Cleveland is a more interesting place than I thought!” It is also important that our contributors don't limit themselves to writing only about the "positive" aspects of Cleveland history. We believe that our city and region need to explore the less savory parts of our past, such as racial tensions and white flight, in order to move forward. For all intents and purposes, we define the "Cleveland area" as Cuyahoga County, with occasional exceptions made for neighboring counties that were part of the historic Western Reserve. In general, for our purposes, anything prior to 1995 can be considered historical.

What we’re NOT looking for:

We’re not looking for marketing-speak or blatant civic boosterism; occasional opinion pieces are generally fine, but they should demonstrate knowledge of themes in local history, not just trumpet the virtues of Cleveland and environs. We’re also not looking for a lot of nostalgia or personal memories without historical research or historical perspective attached, although the occasional oral history is acceptable.

Who we’re looking for:

You don’t have to be an academic, but you should be an excellent writer who knows the ins and outs of local history research, and the importance of citing your sources. You should be someone who is fascinated with what makes a place unique. You should also be familiar with the basics of blogging, and should be able to express your point succinctly. (Again, ideal post length is 500 words or less.) We like pithy, witty, and punchy (when appropriate); we want to be hooked by your writing, not put to sleep by it. We encourage you to use high-quality original images when possible. We also highly encourage the creative use of YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps, etc.

We especially want to provide an opportunity for librarians, archivists, and library school students to show off their research prowess.

If you are interested, copy and paste the following within the body of your email: (no attachments, please!)

  • A brief (no more than 2-page) resume or CV; OR a short paragraph summarizing your background and qualifications,
  • A writing sample (no more than 500 words),
  • A brief statement (100 words or less) about why you want to write for us and what topics you are interested in writing about
Proposals and questions should be sent to:

Christine Borne
Managing Editor, Cleveland Area History

Please include “Call for Contributors” in the subject line of your email.

We regret that we cannot offer payment.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Interesting houses that aren't falling down

If you read my blog regularly, you might come to the conclusion that certain parts of the city are filled with nothing but falling-down buildings. While there are definitely some problem structures, there are also lots of interesting homes that have owners who really care about and take care of them.

Why, then, do I tend to focus on the ones that are falling down? They're the ones that need the help, attention, and work. The ones in good condition don't need anyone to write about them to keep their part of our built history from disappearing.

This photo essay is a somewhat random selection of some of the more interesting houses in a small part of the Hough area. Most were built in the 1890s. It's but one small part of what I one day on my lunch break, and as such, is a but a sample of what's out there.

1411 East 85th Street, Cleveland, Ohio

Even a bit of vinyl siding and replacement windows can't hide the character of this house. Note the front porch, the great detail over the front door and, of course, the tower.

1319 East 85th Street, Cleveland, Ohio

Note the detail in the shingles and in the second floor windows. It's not as fancy as some, but it still has a great street presence.

1380 East 85th Street, Cleveland, Ohio

Look at the great windows on the second and third floors of this house. They give it so much character and presence. This is why replacement windows are a bad idea - how could you ever replicate that level of detail?

Robert Butler Residence
1415 East 85th Street, Cleveland, Ohio
Built 1894. John R. Shengle, architect.

I really like the way the front porch is integrated into the structure, and the way its columns are mirrored on the second floor.

6110 White Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio

There's something about the simplicity of this stick-style house that's really appealing. The front door, which feels like it should be on a house that is either earlier or later, somehow brings it all together.

There's much more visual history to look at, often not in such plain view. In a future post, I'll address some houses that surely have great detail, but the question is as to just what that detail is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A pleasant surprise: the Schofield building

Many of the skyscrapers built in Cleveland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have received steel and glass façades that make them appear to be more recent structures and hide any clue as to their historical appearance. The Schofield Building was one such structure.

The building, at the southwest corner of Euclid Avenue and East 9th Street, was built in 1901. The architect was Levi Scofield, who was also responsible for the Cuyahoga County Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, on Public Square.

I can't say the building ever made a significant impression on me. It looked like a non-descript skyscraper built in the 1970s or 1980s.

Schofield Building

Imagine my surprise when I saw the scene above while walking down East 9th Street to a recent Landmarks Commission meeting. Most of the façade has been removed, revealing the historic structure. A small part of it is still visible on the side of the building at the left of the photo, facing an alley.

Schofield Building

Note the level of detail present originally. There are Corinthain columns on the corner. Considerable detail is present around the windows.

According to this article, published on on June 8, 2009, the investors who own the group received a $1.25 million loan from the city of Cleveland to remove the façade and determine the original appearance of the building. The article notes that this would be the first step in applying for state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

This thread on Urban Ohio includes an excellent historic image of the building. I sincerly hope that the exterior hasn't been damaged too much, and that it can be returned to its original appearance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cleveland schools slated for demolition

Thomas Ott reported in the Plain Dealer on May 5, 2010, that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District plans to demolish 25 buildings. With one exception, these are school buildings that are or will no longer be in use. (The exception is the Woodhill Quincy administration building.)

The population of the city of Cleveland has declined considerably from its peak, and as a result, they simply do not need as many school buildings as they used to. Which specific schools were chosen is an issue best addressed elsewhere by those more familiar with the issue.

According to Mr. Ott's article, five of the schools will be rebuilt on the existing sites. These include the Cleveland School of the Arts, Dunbar, and Orchard. The remaning 20 lots will likely be offered for sale.

There are also several surplus buildings Mr. Ott identifies that will be offered for sale as-is. I will address those structures in a future article.

In the past couple days, I've photographed most of the schools on the list. I hope that this provides some idea as to the visual character of the properties that our community will be losing. Those I've been unable to photograph, I've linked to photographs elsewhere.

The architects responsible for the strucures have been noted, when possible. It is also noted when a structure is a Cleveland Landmark, or if a structure has been nominated for Landmark status and the application is pending.

Phase I

Alexander Hamilton School
Alexander Hamilton
3465 East 130th Street
Built 1928. George Martin Hopkinson, architect.

This school has some truly wonderful architectural detail. It seems a true shame that it hasn't been maintained, and that it hasn't been properly secured, allowing further damage to occur to the property.

3380 West 98th Street
Built 1916. Walter McCornack, architect.

Charles Dickens School
Charles Dickens
3522 East 131st Street
Built 1927. George Martin Hopkinson, architect.

Cleveland School of the Arts
Cleveland School of the Arts
2064 Stearns Road
Built 1901.

The terra cotta on this building is some of the most impressive architectural detail on any of the Cleveland schools. It is also home to one of my favorite pieces of public art in Cleveland, this 1998 mural by Mark Howard. Here are more photos of the structure. This is one of the schools that will be rebuilt.

Louis Pasteur Elementary School
Louis Pasteur
815 Linn Drive
Built 1959.

This school, while not as ornate as some, still has good lines. It has a main entrance on Linn Drive.

Miles School
11918 Miles Avenue
Built 1912. Third floor added 1918. Rear wing added 1971.

This is another school that, while likely in poor condition, has suffered due to a failure to secure the property. This includes both the original building, and the 1971 addition.

Mount Pleasant School
Mount Pleasant
11617 Union Avenue
Built 1913. Frank Seymour Barnum, architect.
Third story addition, 1918. Walter McCornack, architect.

Mount Pleasant features an interesting, if perhaps not quite so grand as some others, entrance facing East 116th Street. It also includes a later brick addition.

4200 Bailey Avenue
Built 1962.

Orchard was one of several schools built quickly and to a low standard during the 1960s. It is set to be replaced by a new building. I hope, at the very least, that the wrought iron fence designed by artist Brinsley Tyrrell, which surrounds the playground and garden, can be saved.

Paul L. Dunbar
2200 West 28th Street
Built 1965.

Dunbar, also built during the 1960s, has suffered similar structural issues to Orchard. It is also set to be rebuilt.

Woodhill Quincy Administration Building
Woodhill Quincy administration center
10600 Quincy Avenue
Built 1921. Hubbell and Benes, architects.

This structure, built for National Malleable Castings, served as an administration center for a time. It has long been vacant and is in deteriorated condition.

Phase II

Audubon School
3055 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.
Built 1922. Walter McCornack, architect.

This school features Gothic revival details, including around the doorways.

Empire CompuTech School
Empire CompuTech
9119 Parmalee Avenue
Built 1915. Walter McCornack, architect.
Landmark application pending

Councilman Michael Polensek called this structure "A magnificent building." He added that "It's one of the true gems in the system." It posesses significant architectural detail.

Henry W. Longfellow School
Henry W. Longfellow
650 East 140th Street
Built 1924. Walter McCornack, architect.
Landmark application pending

This school, with its heavily wooded front lawn, faces East 140th Street. The owls over the doorway look out onto the sidestreets. The rear wing and smokestack are especially impressive.

Mount Auburn Elementary School
Mount Auburn
10110 Mt. Auburn Avenue
Built 1922. Walter McCornack, architect.
Cleveland Landmark

This school, with its arched doorways is both a community and city landmark.

Robert Fulton Elementary School
Robert K. Fulton
3291 East 140th Street
Built 1929. George M. Hopkinson, architect.
Cleveland Landmark

This school, in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, appears on the exterior to be in good condition. A later addition shares some detail with the original.

Image used courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University
Watterson-Lake [unused section]
1422 West 74th Street
Built 1906. Frank S. Barnum, architect.
Cleveland Landmark

The unused section that is referred to here is the entire old wing. This would be especially difficult to repurpose as it is physically attached to the school building. I've elected to use this historical image as vegetation makes it difficult to see the school right now.

Willson School
1625 East 55th Street
Built 1903. Frank S. Barnum, architect.
Cleveland Landmark

Willson was named for the street it faced, before the 1905 renaming changed it to East 55th Street.

Phase III

Albert Bushnell Hart Junior High School
Albert B. Hart
3901 East 74th Street
Built 1932. George Martin Hopkinson, architect.

Albert Hart is one of my personal favorite structures on the demolition list. The art deco details around the main entrance are especially noteworthy. Also of interest are the metal panels between floors separating the windows.

Forest Hill Parkway Elementary School
Forest Hill Parkway
450 East 112th Street
Built 1967.

The Forest Hill Parkway campus features two round buildings overlooking a massive expanse of green. It appears to be a well designed structure, one that could be repurposed by another party that wanted to take advantage of the great location.

Gracemount Elementary School
16200 Glendale Avenue
Built 1947.

The most notable feature of Gracemount is this multi-colored glass block wall.

John W. Raper Elementary School
John W. Raper
1601 East 85th Street
Built 1963.

John W. Raper is the only one of these schools that I've been inside. While possessing limited architectural detail, it appears to be a solid structure that might be easily reused by another party.

Joseph F. Landis Elementary School
Joseph F. Landis
10118 Hampden Avenue
Built 1963.

This structure may likely have similar issues to some of the other structures erected by the CMSD in the 1960s.

Mound School
5405 Mound Avenue
Built 1904. Frank Seymour Barnum, architect.

This school was built on the site of a prehistoric earthwork, which I covered a while back.

Phase IV

East High School
East High
1349 East 79th Street
Built 1975.

This structure, as work of the time goes, isn't that bad. Further, it's on a 13 acre site, which ought to be quite an asset.

Kenneth W. Clement Elementary School
Kenneth W. Clement
14311 Woodworth Road
Built 1976.

This school is an interesting structure.

South High School
South High
7415 Broadway Avenue
Built 1968.

As with East High, one of the big advantages of South High is large lot that it was built on.

It is hard to fault the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for demolishing the schools that are to be rebuilt. The state requires that if the estimated rehabilitation cost exceeds 75% of the cost of new construction, that a new building must be built. This is because, as you surely know if you've ever fixed up an old building, costs are always higher than estimated. The school is in a difficult financial situation, and can't afford to give up the state portion of the funding for these projects. If we find this to be problematic, we need to work for change at the state level.

For the 20 schools that will not be rebuilt, the CMSD will spend $4.2 million dollars on demolition, about a third of the cost. The state will pay for the other two thirds. This works out to $210,000 per school.

Many of the schools need considerable work to be safe and healthy learning environments. I don't dispute that. As these assessments show, many of them haven't received the maintenance that they need for years. However, there are many ways that they could be reused that don't require the expense that the state sets for new learning environments.

CMSD Chief Operating Officer Patrick Zohn has stated that the buildings will be demolished so that they don't become eyesores and so that the land can be redeveloped. Have we not learned this lesson from our downtown, where parcels were assembled for redevelopment, only to end up as surface parking? Even if the district has to spend $150,000 on each of these buildings to get someone to take it, they still come out ahead.

Further, at the very least, there needs to be a comprehensive architectural salvage plan. Many of these buildings posess great exterior detail. Further, due to the lack of maintenance, they have often retained many of the original interior fixtures - this includes marble-lined bathrooms in several of the schools. Salvaging the material and reselling it, likely through a third party, would offset the cost of the demolition.

There are plenty of great buildings here, buildings that could be reused in any number of ways. Later in the week, I'll address one of these. We can't simply assume that the best use of these properties is as vacant land. Some probably are too far gone to be useful. This doesn't mean, however, that they should all be bulldozed without a good faith effort being made to find new owners for them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A bit out of place?

Genesee Savings & Bank Company

When I first saw this apartment building, at 8115 Wade Park Avenue, in Cleveland, Ohio, I thought it looked a bit out of place. The beautiful façade seemed out of place with the ordinary structure of the apartment block behind it. I knew that there had to be a story behind this.

The block was built in 1901 for Genessee Savings and Bank Comany. The architects were Steffens, Searles and Hirsh. The Ohio Savings Bank building on West 25th Street in Ohio City is one of the firm's notable commissions.

The bank occupied one half of the first floor. Another commercial enterprise rented the other half. The second and third floors contained apartments. The entire side of this block was built this way - apartments blocks, most with retail on the first level. The exception was the fire station immediately to the east of this building.

The design of the block explains the construction of this structure - the sides wouldn't have been seen, because they would have been close to touching the adjacent buildings.

Immediately west of this building was a bowling alley. At the east end of the block, there was a drug store.

Genesee Savings & Bank Company

For an apartment building, the level of detail is impressive. It was clearly geared toward a more affluent renter. Note the level of detail in the windows, or here, in the railings on the balconies.

To answer the question that surely has been on the eyes of many of the people who have driven past this structure, yes, this was originally an apartment building. I can only imagine how interesting the interior might be.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cars, Beer, and the Law

The Peerless Automobile Factory, the Carling Brewery, and the new Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center

By now, you've probably heard about the new Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center, under construction at the southeast corner of Quincy Avenue and East 93rd Street, in the Fairfax neighborhood of Cleveland. Little has been said, however, about the previous uses of the site.

In 1906, the Peerless Motor Car Company, one of the finest manufacturers of automobiles in the country, built a factory on this site. Architect J. Milon Dyer designed the factory. Dyer was also responsible for the Cleveland Coast Guard Station, the Cleveland City Hall, the Tavern Club, and the Brown-Hoist building.

The factory, seen here in an early 20th century view, stretched all the way to Woodland Avenue. While the portions of the factory between Quincy and the train tracks have been demolished, some structures remain between the tracks and Woodland.

The following photographs, created by the Historic American Buildings Survey, illustrate the history of this complex.

1979, Jet Lowe for the Historic American Buildings Survey

The factory's office building, shown here, faced Quincy Avenue. Dyer's work on the structure received considerable praise.
Its "front of attractive design" showed the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright in its geometric stone ornament and globe-capped pylons and of the Art Nouveau in its metal and glass entrance canopy and doors. Architecturally, the office building was "25 years ahead of its day."

February 28, 1966, Martin Lindsey for the Historic American Buildings Survey

The aesthetic quality continued to the interior. The Art Nouveau influence is especially visible in the railing on this set of stairs.

In 1931 Peerless closed its business, unable to find a market for luxury cars during the depression. The business was reorganized and eventually became the Carling Brewing Company. The automobile factory was repurposed as a brewery, which operated until 1971. C. Schmidt & Sons, purchased the brewery and ran its operations from the plant from 1972-84.

Most of the complex was demolished in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The Historic American Buildgs Survey has two sets of documentation regarding the factory. Their documentation addresses the history of the structure and of the Peerless operations in Cleveland in detail.