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Preservation pays. Between 1995 and 2006 more than 541 million dollars in investment in the city was generated by the historic rehabilitation tax credit. This figure does not include the large investments made through low interest loans, the Storefront Renovation Program, or other financial incentives available to property owners. Throughout Cleveland, investment in historic neighborhoods has resulted in tangible physical improvements, the preservation of irreplaceable landmarks, and a stronger sense of neighborhood identity. But it is also an understanding of historic and architectural significance that gives true meaning to preservation. Whether it be an individual house, commercial building, or neighborhood, economic incentives and a strong landmarks ordinance are only meaningful if we recognize the rich heritage and architectural qualities that they are designed to protect. This chapter seeks to outline ways in which we must recognize historic preservation as a vital component of city-wide planning in Cleveland in the 21 st century.

Cleveland ’s first buildings were log cabins, and among them was the house of Rebecca and Lorenzo Carter, the city’s first permanent residents, built in 1797. The Carter log cabin was probably long gone by the time Cleveland’s oldest standing downtown buildings were built in the 1850s: the Hilliard Block on West 9 th Street and Old Stone Church on Public Square. There are buildings like the Dunham Tavern on Euclid Avenue, the West House in West Park, and the Rodolphus Edwards House on Buckeye Road that date from the first half of the 19 th century, but it is the period of 1870 to 1930 from which most of the city’s existing rich and remarkable building stock dates. And as we proceed into the 21 st century, more and more buildings and building types of the recent past will become eligible for designation and preservation.

A panoramic view of Public Square, looking east, taken c. 1912

In July of 1796, Moses Cleaveland and his band of surveyors landed on the east bank of the river the local Indian tribes called cuyahoga (“crooked”), blazing trees to mark off the village green and the major thoroughfares of this would-be capital of Connecticut’s Western Reserve. The downtown street pattern and the public square reflect the typical town plan found throughout New England.

The settlement grew slowly until the opening of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1832, when, situated as it was at the northern terminus of the canal, it found itself advantageously positioned to capitalize on the soon booming two-way commerce, expanding rapidly over the next couple of decades as a trans-shipment center. This era was the origin of the commercial warehouses that would line the Flats and the high ground immediately east of the river we now know as the Warehouse District. The Irish and Germans who came to work on the canal settled into the neighborhoods in walking distance of their jobs, adding their folkways and cultures to those of the original Yankee population. As the village continued to grow, another settlement on the west side of the Cuyahoga, known as Ohio City, also prospered. When it was annexed to Cleveland in 1854, the population of the city mushroomed overnight to more than 20,000 people.

The opening of the Soo Canal in upper Michigan in 1856 made iron ore from the north readily available in the lower Great Lakes region. Once again, Cleveland’s location was ripe—this time for the development of steel manufacture. With access to both the southern Ohio and West Virginia coal fields, and to the iron ore of the Mesabi Range on the northern shore of Lake Superior, Cleveland was poised for opportunity—and seized it. The first steel mill, the Cleveland Rolling Mill, was opened in 1857 in the Newburgh neighborhood centered around Miles Park on the city’s southeast side.

The city’s industrial growth continued during and after the Civil War, when the discovery of oil in Western Pennsylvania led to the founding in 1870 of the Standard Oil Company. Cleveland quickly became the center of the nation’s oil industry, and one of the most diversified of the nation’s industrial cities.

Industrial growth spurred the development of wealth, and a growing population of Eastern Europeans, Southern Europeans and African-Americans from the South flooded into Cleveland in waves to fill the jobs being created. The Victorian-era homes that today give Ohio City, Franklin-West Clinton, Prospect Avenue, Ingleside, Brooklyn Centre, and Broadway much of their distinctive character were built during this prosperous era. Tremont and Little Italy are still chock-a-block with the dwellings of immigrants who worked in the city’s factories. Commercial districts also developed to meet the needs of the growing population, stretching out along the streetcar lines that served Lorain, Broadway, and St. Clair Avenues, and around Lorain Station and Gordon Square.

West Boulevard was planned as a parkway between Lake Erie and Brookside Park as part of the City Beautiful Movement in the early 1900s.

As the 20th approached and the city experienced the growing pressures of economic, population, and industrial growth, civic leaders sought a new great vision for Cleveland, one that strived to improve the social, governmental, and aesthetic conditions of the city. Inspired by the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, they enlisted a Group Plan Commission, including the planner and architect Daniel Burnham, in 1903 to plan what would become the city’s Mall and new civic center. Over the next 30 years it would become one of the most completely realized expressions of the national movement known as the City Beautiful. The City Beautiful Movement also left its mark on park and parkway development throughout the city: East Boulevard was planned as a connection between Lake Erie and Garfield Park; West Boulevard as a parkway between Lake Erie and Brookside Park. Notable for their planning and landscaping, the boulevards (and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) are still lined today with notable residential architecture from the early 1900s. The cultural grouping of buildings known as University Circle also came out of this era. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall, and many of the Case Western Reserve University buildings were built with fortunes made in Cleveland industry.

The city continued rapid industrial and population growth through the first two decades of the 20th century. The city also continued to grow through annexation, notably adding the villages of Glenville, Collinwood, and West Park during this period. Cleveland saw an explosive growth of commercial office space in the downtown area. The Terminal Tower, completed in 1930, was a ground-breaking development that included commercial retail, hotel, offices, and a railway station. When it opened, it was the tallest building outside of New York City. Its developers, Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, were also responsible for the residential development of Shaker Heights and Shaker Square. Building and population growth slowed dramatically during the Depression and World War II.

The Cleveland Union Terminal, which was the tallest building outside of New York City when it was completed in 1930, was a ground-breaking development that included commercial retail, hotel, offices, and a railway station.

After World War II, urban renewal, a national movement that sought to revitalize America’s urban areas, produced in Cleveland plans like Erieview which envisioned a new modern office center for the downtown. It was also a period of intensive expansion of the interstate highway system, which resulted in better transportation connections. Both aspects of this movement, however, produced effects which were less auspicious. Urban renewal justified the demolition of blighted areas of the city, ignoring buildings and neighborhoods with historic significance. Interstate highways caused the elimination of older neighborhoods or split and isolated neighborhoods like Tremont. The continuing rise of the automobile and the growth of suburbs and suburban shopping malls all had an impact on the character of commercial streets.

Growing concern for the loss of historic buildings nationally resulted in passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. In Cleveland, the early 1970s saw the establishment of the Cleveland Restoration Society and the creation of an historic preservation board within City government, the Cleveland Landmarks Commission.

Even during Cleveland’s civic renaissance in the 1980s and 90s, preservation was often a central issue. Projects like the Sohio Building, Tower City, the Gateway sports complex, and construction of the Society Tower and Marriot Hotel raised concerns about the loss or potential loss of historic fabric. New commercial shopping strips and the growth of new neighborhood drug stores in the 1980s and 1990s meant the loss of many historic buildings that characterized Cleveland’s urban commercial nodes.

In recent years there has been an explosion of downtown housing and the restoration and adaptive reuse of historic buildings throughout the city. The Union Gospel Press Apartments in Tremont is an exciting residential re-use of a unique complex of buildings long awaiting a deserving resurrection. The restoration and expansion of Park Lane Villa Apartments is the fitting renewal of a stately residential hotel.

Today, as suburban developers attempt to create “life-style centers” and cul-de-sacs lined with neo-Victorian houses, we are reminded that the vision they are seeking to create derives from the elements that have grown from and define the city: real Victorian neighborhoods like Ohio City, truly urban shopping areas like Shaker Square, and the historic architecture that reflects the heritage of a still great city. It is the historic and architectural resources already found in the city that give Cleveland neighborhoods their identity and appeal, and which we must continue to preserve.

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