Thursday, February 25, 2010

100 most important Cleveland Landmarks

The Terminal Tower

Cleveland State University Special Collections Librarian Bill Barrow made an important point recently - we need to identify our most important buildings before they are threatened with destruction - otherwise, we are constantly playing catch-up. To that end, I'm working on a list of the 100 most significant landmarks in the city of Cleveland. Mr. Barrow suggested the Terminal Tower and the Detroit-Superior Bridge, so I'll start from there. The following are some of my ideas as to what properties might fit on such a list.

What do you think? What would you add (or remove from) this list? What would you miss most if it was gone?

Please post your suggestions and I'll update the list as I get them.

  1. Arcade - probably the best interior space in the city
  2. Baldwin Reservoir
  3. Brookside Stadium
  4. Brown-Hoist building
  5. Anthony Carlin house
  6. Center Street Swing Bridge
  7. Cleveland City Hall
  8. Cleveland Clinic - original building
  9. Cleveland Museum of Art - both the original building and Marcel Breuer wing
  10. Cleveland Play House
  11. Cleveland Public Library - Carnegie West branch
  12. Cleveland Public Library - Main Library
  13. Cleveland Trust Building
  14. Coast Guard Station
  15. Colonial Arcade
  16. Cozad-Bates House
  17. Detroit-Superior Bridge
  18. Detroit-Superior Viaduct
  19. Dunham Tavern
  20. Rudolphus Edwards house - probably oldest house on the east side
  21. Erie Street Cemetery
  22. Fenn Tower
  23. Franklin Castle
  24. Garfield Memorial
  25. Jeremiah Gates house - oldest house in the city
  26. Gray's Armory
  27. Greyhound Station
  28. Guardian Bank Building
  29. John Heisman birthplace
  30. Hulett Ore Unloaders
  31. Huntington Bank Building
  32. Italianate house on Superior
  33. League Park
  34. Lorain-Carnegie Bridge
  35. William G. Mather steamship
  36. Luther Moses house
  37. Ohio Bell building
  38. Old Stone Church
  39. Jesse Owens house
  40. Robert Rhodes house
  41. Rockefeller Park Bridges
  42. Rockefeller Park Greenhouse
  43. Rose Building
  44. St. Colman's Church
  45. Nelson Sanford house
  46. Schellentrager House
  47. Schweinfurth House
  48. Severance Hall
  49. Shaker Square
  50. Society National Bank building
  51. Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument
  52. Terminal Tower
  53. Wade Chapel
  54. West Side Market

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Importance of "Knowing Local"

Here at Cleveland Area History, we believe that locavorism doesn’t stop with eating local and buying local. We believe that taking the time to study local history, to understand what makes us who we are (warts and all!), is just as important.

"Knowing Local" is about brokering that essential truce between the good news and the bad news. At Cleveland Area History, we aim to interpret the present through the lens of the past, preserve our cultural memory, always ask questions, and look critically at the local issues of the day.

And we encourage you to do the same: having a solid background in local history can make you feel better if you are miserable, and can also help you to better understand where we can go from here. To take a lesson from Ebenezer Scrooge, Knowing Local is about learning to “live in the past, present and future,” with the spirit of all three striving within our civic consciousness.

Because we all want to see Cleveland live to fight another day.

The Dunham Tavern

Dunham Tavern

Have you ever noticed this building on Euclid Avenue, standing next to a massive old industrial building, and wondered what it was doing there? The building is the Dunham Tavern museum. Located at 6709 Euclid Avenue, the Tavern is the oldest building still standing on its original site in the city of Cleveland. The oldest part of the tavern, seen here to the right and rear, was built in 1824 to serve travelers, at a time when Euclid Avenue was the major east-west thouroughfare. The main part of the building was built in 1842.


Entry to the museum is through a door on the side which opens into the oldest part of the building. This space contains a large kitchen with living quarters on the second floor.

Front staircase

Guests would have entered through the front hall. Note the wood paneling lining the hallway and stairs.


The tavern itself is furnished with antiques that are generally of the period, and usually of the style that would have been present originally. Very few of the actual original furnishings remain.

Dining room

The dining room is located between the tavern and the front hall.


The parlor, on the opposite side of the front hallway, provided a space for guests to sit and relax.


The second floor includes several bedrooms, all furnished with period antiques.


The library is also located on the second floor. The cabinets are said to be from a ship, and to have been built in the 1760s.

Original wallpaper fragment

Many interesting artifacts are displayed on the second floor as well. One is this framed fragment of the original wallpaper.

Dresser (original to house)

Another is this dresser, built circa 1825-1840, which is one of the few antiques that is original to the house.

The museum is surrounded by impressive grounds, which include gardens and a barn. I will share photos of the gardens come spring.

I have posted many more photos of the interior of the house on Flickr. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) has extensive drawings detailing the house as well as the stables, which are no longer present. One may note that the HABS photograph shows a porch that is no longer present. The porch was a later addition which has since been removed.

It's amazing that the Dunham Tavern was able to survive as long as it did at this location, in the heart of the city. It is made even more impressive by the massive brick and concrete structure next door to it. I hope that that structure remains, because it provides some context as to just what this museum has survived through.

At $3, the Dunham Tavern Museum is an excellent deal. It is open Wednesdays and Sundays, 1-4 pm.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do you feel miserable? Another perspective

I wrote a post detailing the problems with measures Forbes used to call Cleveland the most miserable city. In most respects, we aren't that bad. I thought about the reasons I came back to Cleveland from Baltimore. Of these, housing was foremost.

The median house in the Cleveland area, as of March, 2009, sold for $134,680, as compared with $202,300 nationally. At the same time, the median income in the Cleveland area was $47,501, compared with $44,684 nationally.

Housing is usually the biggest portion of any family budget. Here, we have incomes slightly higher than the national average, yet our houses only cost 2/3 as much. This leaves more money for us to spend on other things - and isn't that what makes the real difference between misery and happiness? Would you rather live someplace with better weather, have a smaller house, and worry more about making the mortgage payments?

Below is the post I wrote originally.

When I saw that Forbes called Cleveland the most miserable metro area in the United States, I was surprised. I don't feel miserable. In fact, I feel a lot less miserable than I did in the last city I lived in, Baltimore, Maryland, which didn't even make the list. This puzzled me.

My first thought was to wonder what criteria were used to create the list.

Unemployment is a problem in Cleveland, as in the rest of the United States. As of December, the unemployment for Cleveland, 8.9%, was actually less than the U.S. average, 10.6%.

Taxes (both sales and income)
Our taxes are high. This isn't necessarily bad. Taxes pay for public services - if we want to spend more money on these things, that's our choice. It's why Ohio has the best public libraries in the country.

Commute times
According to the American Community Survey, as of 2008, the Cleveland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had an average commute time of 23.8 minutes, slightly less than the national average of 25.3 minutes.

Violent crime
According to this table, as of 2007, the city of Cleveland had the 13th highest rate of violent crime among the large cities selected. According to Sperling's Best Places, violent crime in the Cleveland MSA as a whole is below the national average.

Professional sports teams
This metric was based on the records of these teams over the past two years, not on ticket sales or amount of enjoyment received from watching the games. If the sports teams made us miserable, we'd stop buying tickets, right?

The weather here does leave quite a bit to be desired. It's worth noting that the average January and July temperatures are, according to Sperling's Best Places, relatively close to the national average. The big differences are that we get more precipitation and have more cloudy days.

Superfund sites
The word can strike fear in some hearts. There's a good side to Superfund program - it gets the most polluted sites cleaned up and forces the polluters to pay for it. This is better than the sites either remaining polluted or having to spend local taxes to clean them up.

Forbes based this on the number of convictions of public officials for corruption. Thus, this isn't so much a measure of corruption as either getting caught or of the strength of the local criminal justice system.

Why the Forbes Rating Shouldn't Bother You

I’ve been known to suggest that the best way to deal with a broken heart is to read the love poetry of the ancients. You will quickly find that your misery is not unique, not new -- in fact, it’s so old and so universal that it’s almost blasé.

And that is surprisingly comforting.

So let’s just say that Cleveland is the most miserable city in America in 2010. So what? We've undergone at least a generation of job and population loss. We’ve got legitimate reasons to be miserable! I imagine that Troy and Carthage could have been voted the most miserable cities of the ancient world after they were sacked. (Hey, at least we’re still here!) The port city of Alexandria was probably pretty miserable after the greatest library in the ancient world was destroyed. Rome? Not so festive after it burned. Medieval Edinburgh was a squalid, disease-ridden place where people attended public executions for fun. New York in the 1970s? Fuhggedaboudit. Are Rome, Edinburgh, and New York popular tourist destinations today? I don’t really need to answer that, do I?

The point is that if you’re looking at things through the long lens of history, one moment in time doesn’t mean much. Triumphs -- and miseries -- come and go.

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this. You know who’s not bothered by the Forbes rating? Dick Feagler. On last Friday’s episode of Feagler and Friends, he and his colleagues laughed it off. Journalist Mike Roberts said we should have a sense of humor about it -- and then he suggested sending Shaquille O'Neal up to Mr. Forbes's office to straighten him out.

Now you might think Feagler is just an old dinosaur, you might not agree with him politically, but you can’t dispute one thing: that Feagler has seen a lot of Cleveland history.

Dick Feagler has seen those tides of misery and triumph ebb and flow, and if he doesn’t think the Forbes rating means we’re going to hell in a handbasket, then we shouldn’t either.

Giant Steel Sphere used to treat diabetes patients on Lakeshore Blvd.

It was called Cunningham’s Sanitarium or referred to by many locals as Timken's Tank, and it was located at 18485 Lakeshore Blvd. in Cleveland on the north side of Lakeshore Boulevard. I’ve lived down the boulevard a couple of miles for nine years and had never heard of it until I recently stumbled across some photos on the Cleveland Memory website.

In 1928, Henry Timken (of the Timken roller bearing company) commissioned this 64’ steel sphere and adjacent hotel to be built on his lakefront vacation property for hyperbaric therapy, after his close friend was treated with this method by Dr. Orval Cunningham of Kansas City.

It cost $1 million to construct and was already being criticized by the American Medical Association before construction was even complete. There does not appear to be any documented evidence that the treatments actually worked. The steel ball contained bedrooms for the patients, as well as a dining hall and a recreation area.

The building next to it that remains was called the Georgian Hotel and was where the patients would rest after being treated in the pressurized tank.

According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Dr. Cunningham managed the facility until 1934, when it was sold to James H. Rand II in 1935. He renamed it the Ohio Institute of Oxygen Therapy and used the air-pressure facilities for research projects. In 1936 the facility became a general hospital called Boulevard Hospital, but that closed the following year. The steel sphere itself was dismantled and sold for scrap during World War II.

The site remained unused until purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. The diocese operated a youth center, an orphanage (St. Joseph-On-The-Lake), and a retreat center on this site. Since 1947, St. Joseph Christian Life Center was the Diocese of Cleveland’s retreat center. In 2008, it was put up for sale.
The Hospice of the Western Reserve property runs perpendicular along the lakefront to the Cunningham property. They are now the owners of the site and unfortunately according to this article, it does not appear that they intend to keep the Georgian Hotel. They have quoted $11 million as the cost to renovate the structure. It's disappointing that the hospice center cannot find a use for it.

Here you will find some fantastic photos including a great aerial photo of the property taking in approximately 1928. Note the home just behind the facility. This may have been the residence of Dr. Cunningham, which is believed to have been on the property.

There’s also another mansion off to the left side (to the west) in the aerial photo, but when I look at the View Larger Map satellite view on google maps, I only see the remains of the road next to the mansion, and not the structure itself.

A risky venture like this one could only have been constructed during Cleveland’s heyday and before the Depression. It’s too bad that pressurized oxygen treatment didn’t actually cure diabetes, but hopefully the beautiful views of Lake Erie (albeit through the porthole windows) eased the patients’ discomfort, if only just a little bit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reinventing local history: background

We at Cleveland Area History want to do our best to connect you to the many rich local history resources this community has to offer -- such as these fine examples:

Case Western Reserve University - Cleveland Books (130 titles) and the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Cleveland Landmarks Commission - Cleveland Architects Database, landmark listings

Cleveland Memory - Books, photographs, other documents

Cleveland Public Library - books, photographs, maps and the Cleveland Necrology File

Cuyahoga County Recorder - property transfer records 1812-present

Google Books - full text of many hard to find books and periodicals

Library of Congress - photographs, many at very high resolutions

Rails and Trails - historic maps, including a full set of turn of the century USGS topos for northeast Ohio and Google Earth overlays for historic maps.

Western Reserve Historical Society - various databases

But sometimes our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness. There are so many resources out there, both online and in print -- how do we bring them all together in one place?

It’s a challenging prospect, but what we would like to see is a massive database that links all of our online local history resources in one place.

Imagine being able to do one search, and your online research needs would be taken care of ... all without the pain of slogging through page after page of Google hits.

Imagine a database that would link together all of the many contributions made not just by institutions, but by individuals as well. Local history blogs such as this one might be included, as well as many wonderful Flickr sets, such as this one, taken ca. 1929.

And then imagine what would happen if we pushed for online access to those collections that are currently only available offline! For example, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) nomination forms, which provide a detailed background on the significance of the site (including historic documentation). There are 353 such properties in Cuyahoga County. Or what about the Ohio Historic Inventory forms, which are kept by Cleveland Landmarks Commission? These forms, a couple thousand of them, could provide a very useful data set. Or the property cards kept by the Cuyahoga County Archives? This list is endless.

What form might this project take? A wiki might be a good means to this end. Take a look at the Paul Revere House. We could show exactly where, on a map, the house is, provide contemporary and historic photographs, and provide text describing the house. Further, we could categorize the architecture by style, age, neighborhood, street, and city.

Now this would take some planning, but it’s completely within the realm of the possible. Would such a resource be of value to you? We want to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Answering your questions: Exterior colors

Recently, a reader purchased a house built circa 1900-1910 in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. When she removed the vinyl siding that had been installed by a previous owner, she discovered a considerable amount of original detail hidden underneath. Some areas had clapboard siding, while others had wooden shingles. Trim was present around the windows that had been covered by the siding. Overall, the house had quite a bit more detail and character than one might have initially recognized.

The wood underneath the vinyl siding was in good shape, so she decided she would paint it. She came to us because she wanted to know what historically correct colors for the neighborhood or the city would be.

For most of the neighborhoods in the greater Cleveland area, there aren't any resources that give a good idea as to what historically appropriate colors for the houses of a given style would be. There are resources, however, that will tell you what would be historically for a given style, but just not specific to the Cleveland area. Different colors would have been historically more popular in different parts of the country, just as now you'll see a different concentration of automobile colors in, say, Miami that you will find here, even though the set of color choices available from the automobile manufacturers is the same.

The easiest thing to do is to figure out which colors your house was originally. Unless your house is in really bad shape and all of the exterior paint has peeled away, this should be relatively easy to determine. Take a utility knife or razor blade and cut through the paint at an angle. This will reveal the various layers of color on the house. The bottommost layer will be the original color of the house - it might just be a color you would like.

Some neighborhoods do have guides that provide some ideas as to historically appropriate colors. Shaker Village Colors lists appropriate original colors for Shaker Heights houses. One might be surprised to see how intense some of the colors are - the "emerald green", suggested for trim for some houses, or the "Tudor brown" suggested as a trim color, which is much darker than the brown one often sees on Tudor-style houses. For Ohio City and some of the neighborhoods of a similar age, the book Those Wonderful Old Houses : a Handbook for Homeowners can provide some very useful information as well. Cleveland Public Library has several copies that can be checked out or sent to your local branch at your request.

For other styles and areas, Cleveland Public Library can often supply books that provide some idea as to historically accurate colors, even if that information is not specific to this region. Paint in America: the colors of historic buildings by Roger W. Moss would be one example. Books on individual styles, say, Victorian or Queen Anne or bungalows will provide many ideas about possible color palettes.

The librarians in the Fine Arts department of Cleveland Public Library can help you locate books about houses in styles similar to yours and send them to your neighborhood branch. The Fine Arts department can be reached at (216) 623-2848.

We would like to compile a more complete set of information regarding historic home colors. If, when you learn what color your house was originally, you could share this information, through a photograph or other means, we would appreciate it.

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.

Book Review: Misfits! Baseball’s Worst Ever Team

Today's guest post is courtesy of James Nickras, author of The Ohio Book Review.

Hetrick, J. Thomas. Misfits! Baseball’s Worst Ever Team. Clifton, Va: Pocol Press. (1991). 100th Anniversary Edition.

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders were the ultimate Cleveland sports team. The owners (the Robinson brothers) were loathed. It seemed like the league was against the team. The players were mostly sub-par -- and those players that were not, were traded away. 1899 was a watershed year in early baseball history in that the season led to the end of the National League-only system of “major” leagues, and opened a door for the American Association, which started in 1901. (These two leagues eventually were joined, and the only noticeable difference now is that the American League uses a designated hitter.) Every day of the Spider’s 1899 season is chronicled in Misfits!

In case you have forgotten, I will give you a brief synopsis of the 1899 season. The Spiders were a moderately successful franchise throughout the 1890s, with numerous future Hall of Famers, including Cy Young. After the 1898 season, the Robinsons purchased the St. Louis Browns and proceeded to move the more successful Spider players to St. Louis. (Yes, they owned both teams. Brooklyn and Baltimore had the same arrangement going into the 1899 season). As the season progressed, any quality players (including the Spider’s manager Lave Cross) were traded away to St. Louis, and by the end of the season, any player on the Spiders still making money was released.

Cleveland fans quickly lost interest in the team, and the Spiders (commonly referred to as the Misfits), played most of their games on the road. As could be expected, the Spiders put together a historically bad record, losing 40 of their last 41 games. To put this into perspective, let me compare the Spiders with some well knows losers: the 1962 New York Mets and the 1991 Cleveland Indians (who had the worst record of any post-WWII Cleveland team).

1899 Spiders: 20-134 (.130)

1962 Mets: 40-120 (.250)

1991 Indians: 57-105 (.352)

As a redeeming note, the St. Louis team (called the Perfectos) had a disappointing 5th place finish. At the end of the season, the National League contracted 4 franchises, including the Spiders.

I will compliment Hetrick on the painstaking research that went into Misfits!. Though much of the day-to-day information was obtained from the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporting, he verified much of the information from the opposing teams local newspaper and from other national publications. This led to many humorous observations on reporting styles or discrepancies. In an ongoing joke, the Plain Dealer mistakenly gave a loss to Frank Bates for the Spiders, though he did not pitch in the game. This error defined Bates in Misfits!. In fact, the cheap shots used by other newspapers to describe Bates’ performances make up some of the book's best humor. Poor Frank Bates! It should also be noted that the newspaper coverage was much more opinionated and harks back to a time before there was a school of journalism. Well worth checking out.

Through following the day-to-day travails of the Spiders, several stories develop. We learn of the last major league games of Louis Sockalexis, whose name is thrown around much, though he had a very brief career in Cleveland. There were also a few above-average eccentrics on the Spiders, and the book details the daily antics of Tommy Tucker and Frederick “Crazy” Schmidt. I would recommend the Participant’s Careers appendix, which includes a brief (or not so brief) biography of every player on the team.

That said, Misfits! is not for the faint of heart. Even with Hetrick’s playful humor throughout, you are still reading a day-by-day account of a team that lost almost 9 out of 10 games. How many jokes can be made about losing? Read this book and find out.

In my opinion, the book's greatest asset is the detailed portrait of how the game was played in the late 19th Century, prior to the era of the World Series. Misfits! is a document of how teams traveled, their schedule (many double headers, sometimes involving three teams), fan interaction, and how the game was covered by the local news. Yes, these aspects may have been more compelling when following a winner, but the Spiders were a historic team. And historic teams are what get remembered.


The edition of Misfits! I read was published by Pocol Press. (The original publication from 1991 was by MacFarland). In doing some background research, I found Pocol Press had a wonderful bibliography of books on 19th Century Baseball. -JN

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cleveland's Identity: Your Contributions!

For your Friday reading pleasure, here are two of your contributions to our ongoing call to Help Define Cleveland's Identity.

First, reader Roy Larick takes the long, long view:

Cleveland’s identity shapes and reflects our place in time. Regional landscape (place) is always in flux. The forces of change play out in historical cycles (time), each with a beginning, climax and end. Each new cycle remakes the place.

Deep History. As pioneers, Cleaveland et al. stepped into a naturally structured place: a glacial cycle had recently remade an older sea bottom bedrock landscape. To the old rocks the glacial remake brought complex new ridges, valleys, lake and biota.

Present. Cleaveland et al. imported a contemporary Industrial Revolution (IR) identity. With it, Clevelanders could ‘exploit place resources’ in support of manufacturing: bedrock for building platforms, ridges and valleys for transport, lake for transport and sewerage, etc. The cycle is essentially played out; the landscape is now Rust Belt; identity is adrift and searching.

Future. In forcing a more biocultural cycle, Clevelanders may identify more with place and time. We may learn how to ‘live with place/time features.’ Emerging place/time-conscious institutions are positive identity shapers: CVNP (environmental/historical preservation, local agriculture), GCBL (bioregion awareness/innovation), CAH blog (identifying forgotten early IR buildings). The task is to identify in learning about and living with our place in time.

In contrast, reader Jason Popis gives Cleveland a much-needed pep talk:

I think, for too long, large projects have been emphasized in an
attempt to slap a band-aid or a quick fix on the region's identity
problem, and people have grown increasingly jaded and hardened.
Cleveland's identity problem goes much deeper than something that a
simple band-aid can fix.

Self-actualization is absolutely key to Cleveland's future. I think
we're beginning to see a small surge of this awareness through an
increased emphasis on things like education, but it needs to happen
more. More people need to make an investment in the city, and I'm not
talking about developers. I'm talking you and me. We need to start
dreaming. We need to start thinking about what our individual place is
in the grand scheme of Cleveland (and, dare I say it, NATIONALLY and
GLOBALLY), to realize that we are all pieces of a whole, and that
whole is bigger than all of us, but ALL have a part to play. There is
absolutely no reason any of us shouldn't have a part to play, and the
only reason we wouldn't is because we tell ourselves that we don't.

I guess, in summary, my desire for Cleveland is to become a city of
dreamers in 2010. To stop succumbing to the negativity that can so
pervade this town and shackle it like a man in bondage (just look at
the cynical comments on for proof), to realize that the
assets available to us are incredible, and there is no reason
whatsoever the future can't be absolutely bright. The problems are
great, and the task is daunting. But if we keep pointing to the size
of the mountain as an excuse to not climb it, not only will we never
reach the top, but the only reason we won't is because WE choose not

Want to take a stab at defining Cleveland's identity in 200 words or less? Email us at clevelandareahistory [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recap: Western Reserve Heritage Feasibility Study, Town Hall Meeting, 2/9

Yesterday I attended the Western Reserve Heritage Feasibility Study’s town hall meeting at the downtown office of Positively Cleveland. Rory Robinson of the National Park Service gave a clear and concise presentation on the ins and outs of what it would mean for the Western Reserve to be designated as a National Heritage Area. Here’s the lowdown in a nutshell.

What’s this feasibility study all about?
In 2009, Congressman Tim Ryan introduced legislation to conduct a study on whether the historic Western Reserve should be designated a National Heritage Area. A steering committee made up of representatives from the National Park Service, as well as more than two dozen Northeast Ohio organizations, formed last summer. This steering committee is now in the public comment phase of the process, asking the public if they want the Western Reserve to be designated as a National Heritage Area. They'll spend the next year gathering and synthesizing this information into a report, which will then go before a Congressional committee in the winter of 2010/2011 for a final decision.

What exactly is a National Heritage Area (NHA)?
Put simply, a National Heritage Area is a geographic region that tells a nationally important story. A region whose unique culture has contributed to U.S. history in a lasting way. And since the Western Reserve was, as CityProwl’s Jennifer Coleman recently put it, the Silicon Valley of the 18th century, I’d call that pretty nationally important!

Why should the Western Reserve be designated as a National Heritage Area?
Frankly because it’s a win-win situation for everyone! Communities that care enough to protect and preserve their history and cultural traditions are strong communities full of dedicated, involved, and knowledgeable citizens. This kind of civic pride can help contribute to economic stability and revitalization. With all the buzz about regionalism in Northeast Ohio, this certainly can’t hurt!

How can I participate?
You can participate by telling your story! What do you value most about where you live? What unique cultural opportunities, food or drink, or historic traditions are important to your community? You can do this by attending upcoming town hall gatherings or by participating in the discussion online at

Book review: Yet Still We Rise

One of the most important publications of the Cleveland Artists Foundation is Yet Still We Rise: African American Art in Cleveland 1920-1970. The 1996 exhibition opened at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery and then traveled to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown and the Riffe Gallery in Columbus.

The exhibition catalogue discusses African American art in Cleveland and provides national context. It also includes brief (usually about a page) biographies of most of the artists included in the show. The artists covered include Edith Brown, Elmer W. Brown, James T. Brown, Malcolm W. Brown, George Bryant, Fred Carlo, Lewis and Andrew Chesnutt, Allen E. Cole, William W. Crawford, Matthew Dunlop, James "Jimmy" Gayle, Harold Louis Golden, Charles Elmer Harris (a.k.a. Beni E. Kosh), Josephus Hicks, Charles Ingram, Zell (Rozelle) Ingram, Hughie Lee-Smith, Virgie Paton-Ezelle, Clarence Perkins, Douglas Phillips, Charles Jackson Pinkney, Charles Louis Sallée, William E. Smith, Ernest William Trotter, Henry Williamson, and W. Hall Workman.

The book, quite simply, is the best source on African American art in Cleveland.

WorldCat lists 59 library systems as owning copies of the book - more than twice as many as the next most popular Cleveland Artists Foundation publication. The 1996 catalog has long been out of print. The asking price for Yet Still We Rise has climbed such - now usually $50-150 - that I've considered selling my own copy. The copy listed on right now at $11 is an outlier and a great deal.

Why do I make a point of the rarity of the title? As part of the 2009 exhibition Each in Their Own Voice: African-American Artists in Cleveland, 1970-2005, the catalogue for Yet Still We Rise: African American Art in Cleveland 1920-1970 was scanned and made available. The 165mb PDF may be downloaded from the Cleveland State University Art Gallery website. The Cleveland Memory Project features interviews of some of the artists involved in Each in Their Own Voice as well as photographs of some of the artworks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hattler House

I recently visited a home on Marvin Avenue off of West 25th Street that was built in 1895 by German immigrants, known as the Hattler House. The current occupants, Bud and Robert, purchased the home in 2000 and are working hard each year to restore it, as well as make it their own. They extensively researched the history of the home and offered to share the information they gathered with me, and I would like to share it with you.

The property sits on what was once a 57-acre site in Brooklyn Township. In approximately 1887, brothers Oscar and Alfred Herold (of the Herold Bros. Barber supply company) subdivided Tract A of the property into nine lots. Alfred built this home in 1895 and lived there with his family until they built a home on Lake Avenue. Their son Armin lived in the home until 1914, at which time it was sold to the Hattler family.

Simon Hattler was a German immigrant who purchased the home with his wife Genevieve. Simon owned a tailor shop on Lorain Avenue, and he and his wife had five children together named John Paul, Martin L., [both brothers pictured] Wilhelmina (Minnie), Mathew (Mat) F., and Rose.

Mathew was the only child to marry and he and his wife Rose moved to East 43rd Street. The rest of the family remained in the home on Marvin Avenue until their deaths. In fact, this home was in the Hattler family for 65 years, which is why it is known today as the Hattler House.

The home has many beautiful features that attracted the current owners to purchase it, first of which is the intricately detailed wood flooring. These floors had been covered in soot because Rose, the final Hattler family member to live in the home, had been burning trash to keep warm after the furnace stopped working. The next owner, Benny Bonanno, uncovered these floors as he was preparing to lay down carpet.

There were several stained glass windows decorating the home, however, they were stolen in the 1980's, recovered, and then sold at a yard sale by a later owner! Both the fruit bowl window and the blue ribbon window in the front room were recreated to try to match the originals, using old photographs of the home.

Robert and Bud could tell that there once had been a spandrel between the entry and dining room, so they had this piece created to fit the space.

On the first floor there are two fireplaces; the one in the entry had been replaced at some point, however the fireplace in the dining is original (although missing its original mirror and shelves) and features a fantastic wood detailing as well as delicate floral tile work.

I noticed several other hidden gems both on Marvin Avenue and in the surrounding area as I drove around after my visit. Cleveland is lucky to have residents such as Bud and Robert who take great care to preserve their historic homes that are treasures from our past. I hope that someday I can uncover a hidden gem and restore it to its original beauty as well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Garrett Morgan, Cleveland Inventor

Garrett A. Morgan historical marker

A historical marker on East 55th Street, just south of Harlem Avenue, commemorates the life of African American inventor Garrett Morgan. The text reads:
Garrett Augustus Morgan was an African American businessman and prolific inventor of devices that made people's lives safer and more convenient. Born on March 4, 1877 in Claysville, the Black segregated section of Paris, Kentucky, Morgan migrated north first to Cincinnati and then Cleveland in 1895. He lived and worked in this house at 5204 Harlem Avenue. In 1906, Morgan started the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company to market the hair straightener he had invented. The following year he opened a sewing machine repair shop. In 1908, he and his wife Mary opened Morgan's Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store.

In 1910, Garrett Morgan invented the curve-toothed hair-straightening comb, and four years later patented the safety hood, the forerunner of the gas mask used in the 1916 Lake Erie Crib disaster and further developed and used in World War I. He also invented the traffic signal and sold his patented rights to General Electric Company. He was a founding member of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men and served as treasurer. He continued to invent tools, gadgets, and devices well into his 70s. He died in 1963 while preparing an exhibition of his life's work for an exposition in Chicago.

The marker refers to his home, at 5204 Harlem Avenue. He is shown in it in this 1960 photograph, used courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project. The house was demolished in the 1980s or 1990s.