A few years back I decided to celebrate the grand history of Cleveland. A dear, dear friend of mine – Thomas Mulready had launched a new, vibrant website called Cool Cleveland (www.coolcleveland.com) that found all the hip, new events around town and began to change the mindset in Cleveland, especially among the Gen X and Y generations, that Cleveland is damn cool. Thomas was a great inspiration to me. Well, I figured if we could celebrate all the cool things happening now in Cleveland why should we not celebrate our rich and fascinating past? Hence I decided to launch the Cool History of Cleveland (www.coolhistoryofcleveland.blog.com) blog that offered little stories about past Cleveland events, personalities, buildings and other historical miscellanea.
For years I toiled in, what I thought was, obscurity with Cool History of Cleveland – but slowly a unique ground swell began to take shape. I started to receive emails from people who had read the Cool History blog and offered new story ideas. During my professional career I would connect with other professionals, whom I never assumed read the Cool History blog, but would offer praise about the stories I highlighted on the blog. People were beginning to be indoctrinated with the idea that Cleveland’s history was so cool. And it is! In my own way I was trying to show Clevelanders that they should celebrate their home. This is, indeed, an amazing place to be.
Well, imagine my surprise when Joe Gartrell of History Press (www.historypress.net) connected with me one day to offer some cool praise for my blog, of which I greatly appreciated. He then offered me a book deal. For someone who is never at a loss for words – I was momentarily rocked. Of course, I agreed immediately. I have to give Joe and all the good people at History Press super kudos for their support during the writing of this book. The book will be called Lost Cleveland and I thought I would give you a quick taste of come of cool Cleveland history we will be detailing. Book should be coming out in early November – right in time for the Holidays. (I urge you to buy the book as a stocking stuffer.)
Did you know that at one time Cleveland was home to the world’s largest indoor skating rink – which was owned by the man who invented the precursor to the modern day popcorn popper (and who also owned Euclid Beach)? The Elysium was opened in 1907 at a cost of $150,000. It was a fabulous entertainment venue in an area renowned for its theaters and parks. Doan’s Corner, at the time, offered the good people of Cleveland vast entertainment with the Circle, the University, the famous Alhambra, the Park and the Keith’s 105th Theaters. Also within walking distance of the Elysium was the Bailey Department store, various nightclubs and respected restaurants. The Doan’s Corner area was widely considered Cleveland’s “second downtown.”
What do you do when John D. Rockefeller fires you from Standard Oil? Build a house bigger than his – that’s what. In 1882, with his family’s blessing, Samuel Andrew hired the well-intentioned architect George Horatio Smith to build one of the most egregious and ill-planned houses ever built on Cleveland’s famed Euclid Avenue.
What is rarely discussed is how many theaters Cleveland once had gracing its streets. Few people ever talk about, or even remember, the Alhambra Theater (Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street), the Alpha Theater (Central Avenue and East 33rd Street), the Colonial Theater, the Garden Theater, the Embassy Theater (located on the site where the PNC Tower is today at East 9thStreet and Euclid Avenue), the Grand Vaudeville, the Castle Theater (once majestically located on Wade Avenue), the Stillman (which sat regally on Euclid Avenue next to the famous Statler Hotel; the theater site is now a parking garage), the Opera House (located on Euclid Avenue near East 4th Street) and, of course, the granddaddy of them all: the Hippodrome Theater. The “Hipp” was the largest theater outside of New York – and could seat 4,500 people for some just amazing stage performances.
The only building detailed in Lost Cleveland still in existence. There is no other structure in Cleveland that symbolizes excellence to the degree of Severance Hall. The Hall’s Georgian exterior boldly exclaims the prestige and power that Cleveland once afforded so easily. Its daring positioning along Euclid Avenue cemented the street’s former claim as Millionaire’s Row.
The Superior Viaduct
Anyone who has seen, visited or lived at the StoneBridge Apartments in Ohio City has literally walked on top or below the Superior Viaduct. It is simply the last remaining portion of a stunning marvel of engineering. The viaduct was originally conceived as a northern connector between the then competing cities of Cleveland and Ohio City. These two highly competitive villages never saw eye to eye on the development of the bridge. Residents were adamant about the construction of two bridges to ease traffic and commerce between the two cities. In fact, there was the infamous month-long “bridge war” during the hot, sultry month of June in 1836.
Yet at one time, the city of Cleveland was blessed with five major amusement parks. Five! (And a number of smaller parks as well). Luna Park was perhaps the most surreal and beautiful park of them all.
The Great Lakes Exposition
If there was one definable, self-evident golden moment for Cleveland, it might well prove to be the Great Lakes Exposition. Many consider the exposition the bright spot of the Depression, not only for Cleveland, but also for the entire Great Lakes Region and, indeed, the United States. It was a national affair that created enormous excitement and brought millions of people to Cleveland. It was the brainchild of Cleveland’s elite, and it was executed so brilliantly from concept to opening that it only took eighty days to ready the lakefront and create one of this city’s lasting memories.