Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Condemned: The Stanley Block

Photograph by Tim Barrett

Last week, I learned that this building, at 2121 Ontario Street, has been condemned. It's on the east side of the street, between Prospect and High. Known as the Stanley Block, it was built circa 1874. It is one of a few stone-faced commercial buildings of this vintage still standing in Cleveland.

The Stanley Block has had an interesting history, due partially to the ballroom on its top floor, where many meetings and events were held. I'd hoped to write a comprehensive history of these, but I haven't had the time, and the urgent nature of this cause requires that I publish what I can now. All citations, unless noted otherwise, are for the Plain Dealer.

This block, located at 174, 176, and 178 Ontario by the pre-1905 street numbering system (2115, 2119, and 2121 Ontario by the post-1905 system) was probably built 1874 (Herrick, Cleveland Landmarks, page 160) and definitely in the 1870s for one G. A. Stanley. I have not yet learned anything else about Mr. Stanley.

The first floors of the block housed a variety of businesses. An 1877 ad read "Mr. George Angel, the well known dealer in Boots and Shoes for twenty years, at No. 39 Superior street, has moved up town to No. 174 Ontario street, where he has opened a large and varied stock of Boots and Shoes. Good goods and low prices will be the rule at the new store." (June 14, 1877, page 4) Mr. Angel's business did not last long at this location, however - a year later an ad was published by his trustees, looking for proposals for the entire stock of the shop. (March 9, 1878, page 4)

Some of the other businesses using the retail space include the Star Book and Shoe Company, which also had locations at 112 Ontario and 98 Public Square (December 9, 1882, page 8) and the United States Jewelry Company. (December 12, 1884, page 4)

Other tenants included a music teacher, F.M. Stebbins (September 20, 1880, page 4) and a dance teacher, one "Professor Cooper", who had four assistant teachers from New York, and who "Warrants all to be good dancers in six lessons." (September 29, 1890, page 5)

The most socially significant use of the structure, as noted above, was the fourth floor ballroom, known originally as Gesangverein Hall. A wide variety of fraternal and social groups held their meetings there. The first I've found metion of is this one, "Rothschild lodge, No. 17, K.S.B., will give a grand ball in Gesangverein Hall, No. 174 Ontario street to-morrow evening. The proceeds are to be devoted to benevolent objects." (October 15, 1878, page 1)

Other events include a "Cleveland Gesangverein concert", (November 11, 1880, page 4), the Young Men's Hebrew Association ball (December 6, 1880, page 4), the Austin Post 403, G.A.R. grand militiary ball and concert (October 5, 1884, page 4), and the ball of O.D.I.F. Sahbele lodge 6, with music by Professor Straube's orchestra (February 13, 1887, page 5).

In 1888, the Ancient Order of Hibernians held their county meeting at the hall (August 6, 1888, page 8). They obtained a five year lease on the hall, which was to be overhauled and would become known as Hiberian Hall (April 29, 1889, page 8). From this point on, the hall began to be used for more significant meetings. General William Thomas Clark, national commander of the Union Veterans' Union, was presented with an elegant silk flag by Justice command, No. 3. (May 22, 1890, page 8).

The hall was used for meetings by a wide variety of labor unions. The barbers union met several times, both for general meetings (June 17, 1890, page 8) and with regard to the arrests of those who worked on Sundays (July 1, 1890, page 2 and July 8, 1890, page 6). In 1891, the Central Labor Union began meeting at Hiberian hall (February 17, 1891, page 8).

Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor gave a free speech on Sunday, February 8, 1891, at 2:30 pm. (February 7, 1891, page 3).

Fraternal groups continued to use it as regular a meeting venue. These included the Ancient Order of Hibernians (August 31, 1890, page 3; February 13, 1891, page 5; and April 16, 1891, page 8), and the Justice Command, Union Veterans' Union (December 18, 1890, page 4). The A.O.H. held a reception there for Bishop Horstmann. (March 4, 1891, page 6) The hall also continued to be used for social events, like a "grand cake walk", advertised for Christmas night. (December 21, 1890, page 5)

A meeting to unionize foundry workers was held in the hall on Sunday, March 15, 1891 (March 15, 1891, page 3). A more general meeting, to "organize all industries" was held there as well. (April 6, 1891, page 2)

These meetings became more political, as indicated by a joint meeting of the Nationalists, the Knights of Labor, and the "adherents of the citizen's movement", with regard to the alleged Republican forgery of votes. (April 6, 1891, page 8).

A noticed for a Central Labor Union meeting noted that Robert Bandlow would be lecturing at the next meeting. (April 17, 1891, page 2) The Hod Carriers met here, hoping to secure $2/day wages (May 11, 1891, page 8), and went on strike to that end (May 15, 1891, page 2), using the hall as their headquarters.
Hod Carriers (union) meeting, working to secure $2 a day wages. - 05-11-1891; Page: 8

Polishers met here (May 21, 1891, page 6), as did the Iron Molders Union. Joseph Valentine, first vice president of the Iron Molders of North America spoke. It was noted that "Mr. Valentine is a very pleasing speaker and his utterances were received with applause." (October 9, 1891, page 8)

Ad for Miller Tea Co.

At this time, one begins to see more ads for businesses using the first floor retail space. This one, for the Miller Tea Co. (April 9, 1893, page 1) is one example.

Ad for Miller Tea Co.

This one, a couple of years later, provides a more broad example of the wares they offered for sale. (December 14, 1894, page 5)

Hibernian Hall remained an important meeting location for labor unions, including the Master Horse Shoers' Protective Association (May 16, 1893, page 2) and the Bricklayers Union No. 5 (June 13, 1893, page 6). The Bricklayers Union meeting was said to be "largely attended." It was further noted that they were displeased with the way non-union men were being brought into the city. (June 15, 1893, page 1) The metal polishers union met here. (July 21, 1893, page 8)

General Master Workman (from 1893-1901) J.R. Sovereign of the Knights of Labor spoke at the hall. (February 1, 1894, page 5)

As of 1893, we find a significant change in the use of the structure - the first mention of it being used, at least partially, for residential space. It was noted as the residence of one William O'Mallia, who was injured in an accident involving the collapse of scaffolding. (May 23, 1893, page 1)

In 1895, P. J. McGuire, national secretary and treasurer of Carpenters' union and first vice president of AFL spoke to an open meeting of the Carpenter's union. 400 peresons were said to be president. At the time, we note a change in the name of the venue, to Blahd and Heller's hall. (May 8, 1895, page 2) After this, we don't see many notices regarding the meetings of labor unions at the hall.

Other businesses and professionals occupying the space include one Dr. Le Roy (July 14, 1895, page 6); the U.S. Renting Agency, which offered "furnished or unfurnished rooms in any part of the city". (July 20, 1895, page 7); and People's Shoe Store, who sought 3 experienced salesmen. (February 27, 1902, page 7)

It's worth noting that the L.J. Miller, the tea merchantmentioned above, was arrested on chage of selling adulterated sugar. (July 10, 1897, page 10) The entire stock was offered for sale to satisfy his mortgagees. (August 8, 1897, page 9)

Richman's and the Stanley Block

Richman Brothers clothing store began using the building to the north, at the corner of Ontario and Prospect, in 1903, and obtained space on the upper floors of the Stanley Block, on the right side of this illustration, soon after. (April 5, 1914, page 6)

Photograph from the Cleveland Union Terminal Collection, Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University

By 1924, the entire first floor was occupied by a Woolworth's 5 and 10.

Photograph from the Cleveland Union Terminal Collection, Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University

This photo, also from 1924, shows the Stanley Block, in the center of the image, in historical context with the surrounding buildings, now lost.

Photograph from the Cleveland Union Terminal Collection, Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University

A few years later, in 1928, the Woolworths had been replaced by C-T Lunch, Factory Outlet Shoes, and Belkin's Men's Furnishings.

Clay Herrick, Jr., notes the significance of this building in Cleveland Landmarks, where he devotes a full two pages to the structure. He states that the ballroom here was where Frances Payne Bolton, among others, made her debut. He further notes that when, in 1981, the Cleveland Landmarks Commission asked the Cleveland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects to select several buildings for restoration that this one one of them.

The Stanley Block (permanent parcel 101-28-067) has been owned since at least 1975 by George M. Maloof or, more recently, by the Macron Investment Co. The Ohio Secretary of State's Business Filings database reveals Maloof as the contact agent, and his home address as the contact address.

Macron and Maloof do not appear appear to have been good stewards of this piece of our history. It is shameful that it has taken this long for the neglect of the structure to come to the public light.

One might guess, based on the lack of care given to the structure thus far, that the condemnation will not be fought. The taxable value of the property as vacant land is far smaller than as a commercial structure. If demolished, it will likely sit as surface parking until it can be redeveloped.

This is a beautiful old building, with a great history, both in society and organized labor. There are very few stone-faced commercial buildings of this vintage left in Cleveland. It appears to be a solid shell that could be rehabilitated without excessive costs. We simply cannot allow it to be demolished because the owner has failed maintain it. The owner must be held accountable for this wanton neglect.

I encourage you to contact the Cleveland Department of Building and Housing and Joe Cimperman, city council member for Ward 3, where the Stanley Block is located. Let them know that you feel this structure must be preserved, even if the owner would prefer it be demolished.


  1. According to this PDF (see p. 36) from the National Park Service, it was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, but was not added due to owner objection.

  2. While I don't know about this building in particular, the objection of the temporary owner at any moment in history shouldn't be the deciding factor in whether communities get to preserve their landmarks. And the community shouldn't allow owners' "demolition by neglect" to force them to accept actual demolition later. But I think it incumbent upon the preservation community to somehow identify which structures are important well before a potential owner commits to acquiring a property, rather than waiting until the eleventh hour to cobble together a case for almost any old building. The landmarks commission should be doing that systematically, but if we allow owners to block designations, how can we ever make a public case for preservation?

  3. Precisely, Bill. How can we save our history if building owners just want to make a buck?

    This place is right across from a lonesome bus stop. A restaurant or at the very least, a convenience store ought to be in the first floor there. Isn't the East 4th hoopla spreading at least this far yet?

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  5. I don't mind owners making a buck, but they'd have to do it within the smaller economic footprint of a designated landmark perhaps. The community would reduce the options an owner has to work with -- and no owner is totally free to do anything they want with any building anyway -- because the structure is deemed important enough, but on the other hand, there should be advantages offered to that owner for preserving the building that would off-set the restrictions. When all's said and done, what's taken away and what's added in these types of cases may balance out. The thing is that the owners should know which profile of circumstance they're buying into in advance, not have it sprung upon them later. This is actually pretty conventional thinking, but for some reason we cannot seem to implement it here and so wind up losing structures we'd want to save (the Huletts) and saving structures perhaps that aren't all that important.

  6. The missing componnet in solving the sensless waste of Cleveland's architectrual heritage is first: the will of the greater Cleaveland community to make this a true priority. And second the will of the people of means to make Cleveland a vauleable place to live, not just work. Otherwise the fight to save an individual building starts at a great disadvantage with failure the most likely result. The tools are there, Historic tax credits for renovation and real estate tax freezes. Programs well used around the country to take restoration out of the sentimental and into the profitable. However without the political priority and community support, the knowledge of how to make restoration profitable lingers in the background of small special interest grouups like the C.R.S.. But more importantly if there is no likely new tenant at the end of the proccess then additional parking for the near by sports complexes is clearly the better economic direction. When ground floor space has the high vacancy rate downtown that it does, second floor occupancy is very unlikely. And there is now way to make an empty building profitable.
    This has been the Cleveland story since I worked with John Cimperman's father and Maxine Lavine to establish Cleveland's first historic district when Ralph Perk was mayor and long before that.
    I have always wished it was otherwise, but kiss the Stanley Block good bye. But try to use its wasted boones to rally the commuity to the ever larger costs to our real quality of life. Sustainability, walkability, a sense of place and urban community, these have all gotten to be huge desirable factors around the country and with each new vacant parcel in the hart of town Cleveland falls further behing. Wake up LaBron can't save you.

  7. Christina WilkinsonJune 8, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    Saturday afternoon I wandered down Ontario – or would that be up? - to have a look at the Stanley building. The original architecture hides behind a rotting wooden storefront fa├žade. You can smell the deterioration – dampness and mold - but the building is not about to fall down by itself and could be rehabbed if someone wanted to take the time, and had the funds, to do so. It has been neglected – no one would argue that point – although it really shouldn’t come as a surprise, for we neglect all sorts of things and buildings are just one of many that cannot speak for themselves. Some would say the building is an eyesore, but it is also important to remember that the building no longer sits within its original context and therefore seems out of place when actually the reverse is true. Out of place are the parking lot to the south – so aesthetically pleasing – and the low, modern building to the north – which could scarcely have been a good idea in any setting, but looks particularly inappropriate among other historic buildings in the area. I fear the Stanley building will be lost to us, as so many other buildings have been, and I have to wonder – as I have so many times – why do Europeans treasure their buildings and understand the importance to their sense of place and we do not?

  8. I think one of the reasons that Americans do not treasure their buildings is because so few of us have a strong attachment to a particular place or city. Although there some folks who have lived in the same home or neighborhood for generations, as a whole, we are immigrants or a generation or two removed from immigrants)and movers. Many frequently Americans move both with in a region (e.g., sprawl) and to other regions, often in connection with large population shifts. The reasons for the moves are varied (job, school, marriage, weather, . . .), but with each move the people who are vested in the history of a particular structure or neighborhood are lost.

    A great example is the recent Church closings where, after it was announced that a Church would be closed, former parishers who had moved away and now attend churchs in their new neighborhoods, returned to the closing church to object to the closing or to say good bye. If the people had not left, the church would have remained viable.

    1. Good point. The flip side that I discovered when I lived in Europe is that some people envy how we can move around and reinvent ourselves much easier. But I agree that we have a different sense of place. Wonder how these things play out in Canada and Australia, which have similar histories to ours?

      As sad as my family was when St. Catherine's church at E 93 and Union was torn down last year (the one in the news because WWII memorials were saved at the last minute), all my relatives were clear that having left the old neighborhood in the 1960s meant they couldn't really complain. It was sad as both sides of my family grew up in the parish, got married there, etc., and on my mom's side that church was home to three generations, staring with Irish immigrants. My demolition started a few days after my grandmother's funeral, which was hard for us. It's a shame the building couldn't be saved, though I did purchase lovely candleholders that Reclaimed Cleveland made from wood from the church, which I gave to my relatives who'd grown up in the church. They love having a piece of the church to keep with them.

  9. Would anyone know anything about the Aldrich-Howey Company Complete Home Furnishings? The address on the antique spoon is 2121 East 4th Street Cleveland 15,Ohio. I found this spoon in an old car with that information engraved into it. Just curious thanks for your time.

  10. Thanks for this article, Christopher. I want to mention that the building was called Blahd &. Heller's Hall before 1895. It appears to have been one of the venues regularly used by the Franklin Club (referred to above as the Nationalists, i believe), and is referred to in newspaper coverage from as early as May 1891. Ana Perkin (who i am researching - there's a good deal of inaccuracy in articles about her) was often in attendance there, and the PD and Cleveland Leader made sure she was closely associated with the radical ideas that they represented as kooky as Ana herself.