Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Frankie Yankovic boyhood home condemned

Jim Schumacher, a reader of Cleveland Area History recently brought to my attention another condemned property of historic significance. It was outside the area that I tend to focus - mostly because I only have so much time, so the things that are close to my job or home get more attention. I drove out to look at the house, a duplex built c. 1915, a style that is seen throughout the greater Cleveland area.

Boyhood home of Frankie Yankovic - CONDEMNED

While the house shown here, 15702 Saranac Avenue, in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, may be ordinary, the family who resided on the first floor, while renting out the second, was not. It included a young Frankie Yankovic, who would go on to be known as the Polka King. The family lived at this address from approximately 1917-1930 - from when Frankie Yankovic was two through the age of fifteen. More on this part of Yankovic's life can be read in Bob Dolgan's book, America's Polka King: the Real Story of Frankie Yankovic and His Music (Gray and Company, 2006).

I've obtained a list of the code violations. The pages listing the actual violations are pages 2 and 3 from January 20 and pages 4, 5 and 6 from April 20. They indicate that all of the basic fixtures have been removed from the kitchen. One can probably expect that all the plumbing has been removed as well as the hot water heater and furnace. As I've mentioned before, having to start over and replumb the whole structure isn't necessarily such a bad thing. With any old house, you're either going to have to pay for the previous owner having completely replumbed the structure or you're going to have to deal with major plumbing issues yourself. Replacing all of it before you move in is better than the surprise of a leaking ceiling on a cold winter morning.

Other violations speak to a generally deteriorated condition, but not something that is beyond hope. The only one that really concerns me is the state of the foundation. I didn't see any obvious problems from the exterior, so they may not be as major as the violation list suggests.

More photos of the house may be found here.

I contacted the office of Councilman Polensek, whose ward this historic structure falls in. An obvious concern for how the state of this house might affect the neighborhood was expressed. It was noted that "The house in question is a nuisance property and is constantly a target of illegal dumping."

Illegal dumping is a real problem. I suspect that trimming (or completely removing) the massive bushes in front of the house would help to stem this problem. Further, I suspect that the dumping is the result of the house being empty, rather than the physical condition of the property.

Why does Yankovic's boyhood home matter so much? This is a man who sold more albums than anyone else who ever came from Cleveland. He remained in Cleveland, and didn't move away like so many others did once they made it big. His childhood here surely played some role in that. Further, Yankovic toured more than 320 days a year - he likely spent more time in this home than many later residences.

Why does Yankovic matter? Jim Schumacher, who told me about the threat to this historic site put it far better than I can.
"Here's a guy who my grandparents danced to, who created music that made me jump around the house every Sunday after sitting still in church when Polka Varieties came on. The whole world still celebrates happy times - like weddings - dancing to his music. When you stand there, you can really picture how he grew up, something you can't do anywhere else. And besides, where would Big Chuck be without Frankie Yankovic?"

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Historical Significance of the Cold Storage Warehouse

Cold Storage Building
Photograph by Thom Sheridan

If you drive on Interstate 90 through downtown Cleveland, you've surely seen the Cold Storage Warehouse, most notable at this point in time as the large flat surface used as a support for billboards. The building is located just south of the Cuyahoga River.

Built in 1927-1928, the Distribution Terminal Warehouse represented a major change in the way food was handled and distributed in greater Cleveland. This insulated cold-storage structure will be demolished to make way for the new I-90 bridge.

I've wanted to write something about the structure. I recently learned that the Ohio Historical Society had published a document detailing the historic significance of this building. I wrote to the author, Nancy Campbell, who was kind enough to mail me a copy. I present here the PDF (warning: 17 MB!), Historic Context for Cleveland’s Distribution Terminal Warehouse: The Significance of a Cold Storage Building.

In this document Ms. Campbell provides historical context for the Cold Storage Building, explaining why it was needed and how it fit into the food service industry in this area. She further describes grocery shopping in northeast Ohio at the time. In addition to a description of this building, she also describes other extant cold storage structures in Cleveland. Finally, she concludes with a reprint of a 1932 article about the terminal by Wilbur J. Watson, and compares the photos used in the article with recent photos of the same structures.

This structure is likely past the state of preservation. The building appears to many a simple concrete box with few aesthetic merits. The historical significance of it is not in the exterior details, but in the landmark it represents in our commercial history. Nancy Campbell's 48 page analysis is worth a read, or, at the very least, a skim. We need to understand just what it is that we are losing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mystery Photo for August 26, 2010

Humphrey-Meister Concrete House

Do you know what this house is or where it is located? It was built in the 1920s, in Cleveland, and is notable for the building material used.

Be the first to identify it in the comments here and win your choice of the following books:
  • Covering History: Revisiting Federal Art in Cleveland, 1933-43, a beautiful, 72 page joint publication of the Cleveland Artists Foundation and the Cleveland Public Library. It picks up where Karal Ann Marling's work (Federal Art in Cleveland) left off, and is highly recommended.
  • Any of the other publications of the Cleveland Artists Foundation that are still in print. The CAF is the organization publishing works on the history of art in greater Cleveland.
  • Shaker Heights Fences by Patricia J. Forgac (1984, 16 pages)
  • Shaker Heights: the Van Sweringen Influence by Claudia R. Boatwright (1983, 56 pages)

All guesses must be made as comments on this post. If the answer has not been correctly guessed by 2pm, the post will be edited to include a clue. If it has still not been guessed by 8pm, it will be edited again to include another clue.

If you are unable to comment here, please email clevelandareahistory@gmail.com with your answer. Entries will be judged based on their time stamp.

If you publish books or other products relating to Cleveland history and would like to offer them as prizes, please email clevelandareahistory@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Langston Hughes house - CONDEMNED! An Update

As I reported last week, the two surving houses where poet and author Langston Hughes lived in Cleveland (of an original five) have been condemned.

Yesterday, in the Plain Dealer, Sandra Livingston reported on the state of the situation regarding these important pieces of Cleveland history. She noted that the houses had been condemened in June, even though a Cleveland Landmark applicaion was pending for one of them - 2266 East 86th Street.

Ms. Livingston noted that officials from Fairfax Renaissance had not returned her calls - as of right now, they have not returned mine, either. It's worth noting that the individual responsible for the project is no longer working for Fairfax Renaissance. Ronald J. H. O'Leary, Assistant Director for Building and Housing is quoed as saying that "They [Fairfax Renaissance] will be submitting the permit application soon to correct the condemnation notice."

Today, an editorial in the Plain Dealer criticizes Fairfax Renaissance for their inaction, stating "This is no way to deal with a stricken piece of history. The nonprofit community group needs to renovate the home, as promised, or turn it over to someone who actually will."

I will continue to attempt to contact Fairfax Renaissance about the preservation of this vital piece of our history. I will also make sure that the appropriate paperwork has been filed with the city housing department.

Langston Hughes house - CONDEMNED

As for 2256 East 86th Street, where Hughes lived with his mother in a five room apartment from early May, 1936 through April 21, 1937, I'm working to learn more about the present condition of the structure. I hope to have copies of photographs of the interior by early next week.

These two homes represent a crucial piece of the history of Cleveland. We must remain vigilant.

Historical markers might help keep them from being accidentially bulldozed. Vinyl text on aluminum might do the job. Does anyone out there have the means to fabricate them?

UPDATE: (August 26, 2010, 10:30 am)

I just spoke with Vickie Johnson, executive director of Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation. She said that their plans for this house remained the same, and that they remained committed to rehabbing it. She indicated that her staff had filed the condemnation appeal with the Board of Building Standards. She further promised to keep me updated as to the status of the project.

I believe her. This house did not seem like many of the other houses that have been condemned in this neighborhood - it is in much better condition. It seems to me that there's more an issue of the wrong houses being condemned, which merits further investigation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Brief History of Early Cleveland Football - Part 1 - Cleveland's Football Roots

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

"Cleveland's Football Roots"

Cleveland has a long and storied football history, which may explain why our fine city has such a love for the current Browns, and anything “football” for that matter. But many Clevelanders may not know that Cleveland’s first professional team, The Cleveland Tigers, was a founding member of the NFL who’s star player was one of the greatest athletes in the history of the United States.

The game of football has been played in Cleveland as early as 1882, when the Plain Dealer reported: “The Central and West High School boys will play a game of football on Case Commons Thursday afternoon.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 16, 1882) In addition to Case Commons, the Elysian Fields of Cleveland, football was played at League Park, and nearly every sports venue that city has ever hosted. The game really began to increase in popularity in 1890, when the first official high school game was played between University School and Central High, with University winning 20-0.

The first recorded paid match was for charity, also in 1890, between The Crescent Football Club of New York, who defeated a Cleveland Club at National League Park (current League Park’s predecessor). The game drew at least 1,500 spectators, setting the stage for future professional clubs.

In 1903, Professional football took hold in the Region as the Ohio League was born. Famous clubs like the Akron East-Ends, Massillon Tigers and Canton Bulldogs dominated the league from 1903-1919. Cleveland was home to three professional franchises during that period: The Franklin Athletic Club of Cleveland , The Cleveland Indians of 1916 and the Cleveland Tigers. Despite an 8-3-1 record by the Indians in 1916, professional football did not take hold in Cleveland until 1919, when the Tigers put Cleveland on the football map.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
“The Ohio League” - Coffin Corner, Vol. 3, No. 7, 1981

Photo: Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/24/1889

Monday, August 23, 2010

How you can help

I've often been asked by individuals how they can help in the efforts to preserve local history. Here's one way.

Are there individuals of local historical importance that you admire or who interest you? Check to see if there's a biography of them in the library. Perhaps the biography will mention where they lived or did their most important work.

If so, keep an eye on those locations. If they seem threatened, email us as soon as you can. If you've got photographs or background information, so much the better.

The City of Cleveland is in the process of demolishing a large number of vacant homes. If we don't all act now, it will likely be too late.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Langston Hughes house - CONDEMNED!

On Friday, I had a friend visiting from out of town. I gave her a tour of some of the most notable historic sites in our city - the Garfield Monument, the Arcade, the Cleveland Public Library, and the Jesse Owens house. A final site on our list, one that I'm rather proud about bringing to the public attention, was the Langston Hughes house, at 2266 East 86th Street.

Hughes lived alone in an unheated attic apartment in this historic house during his sophomore and junior years of high school. Though we have little record of his time spent in the house, it must have substantially affected him and his writing. The house has been designated a Cleveland Landmark. The story of the efforts to save it even warranted a piece on All Things Considered.

Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation had committed to rehabbing the house and selling it to a low-to-moderate income family. They were to proceed forward with this any time now.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this sign, attached to the front porch:

Langston Hughes residence - CONDEMNED

I've written several posts about this house. One of them is a full tour of the interior. An episode of the WVIZ television show Applause was even filmed in it.

Take a close look at the interior of this vital piece of Cleveland history. Yes, there are issues with the plaster. Yes, the plumbing and associated fixtures have been removed. Note, however, that there don't appear to be any obvious structural issues. Water isn't entering the house in any obvious locations. Pieces aren't falling off and threatening passersby.

Langston Hughes residence - CONDEMNED

Look at the house as it appeared on Friday. It remains properly secured. It doesn't pose an obvious threat to the public health or welfare.

I wish I could say exactly when it was condemned, but the notice that listed the violations was, alas, removed.

This house is a City Landmark. In order for it to be demolished, city law dictates that the Landmarks Commission must hold a hearing on the matter. Yet when I asked Robert Keiser, secretary of the commission, about the condemnation on Friday afternoon, he had not heard of it previously. He vowed to look into it.

Phone calls to Fairfax Renaissance have not yet been returned either.

Of the five houses where Langston Hughes lived for any significant amount of time in Cleveland, only two remain. The other one, 2256 East 86th Street, has also been condemned.

Langston Hughes house - CONDEMNED

Langston Hughes lived with his mother in a five room apartment in this house from early May 1936 - April 21, 1937. I didn't bring it up before when I first posted about saving 2266 East 86th Street because it was privately owned and said to be in the process of being rehabbed. The documents posted on the house are dated August 10, so there is still some time to act, if anyone cares enough to step forward.

Expect a post on Monday or Tuesday providing an update on the situation and information about what you can do to help.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mystery Photo for August 19, 2010

Do you know what this building is or where it is located?

Be the first to identify it in the comments here and win your choice of the following books:
  • Covering History: Revisiting Federal Art in Cleveland, 1933-43, a beautiful, 72 page joint publication of the Cleveland Artists Foundation and the Cleveland Public Library. It picks up where Karal Ann Marling's work (Federal Art in Cleveland) left off, and is highly recommended.
  • Any of the other publications of the Cleveland Artists Foundation that are still in print. The CAF is the organization publishing works on the history of art in greater Cleveland.
  • Shaker Heights Fences by Patricia J. Forgac (1984, 16 pages)
  • Shaker Heights: the Van Sweringen Influence by Claudia R. Boatwright (1983, 56 pages)

All guesses must be made as comments on this post. If the answer has not been correctly guessed by 2pm, the post will be edited to include a clue. If it has still not been guessed by 8pm, it will be edited again to include another clue.

If you publish books or other products relating to Cleveland history and would like to offer them as prizes, please email clevelandareahistory@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Peter Lloyd residence

Photo by Mark Andrew Kearney, Architect

Several months ago, I came across these photos of a stunning modern house at 35850 South Woodland Road, in Moreland Hills. The photos were taken shortly before the house was demolished, in 2003.

At the time, I had tried to learn who the architect was, without any success. I recently learned that it was Ernst Payer, one of the foremost residential architects in midcentury Cleveland. The house was built in 1953.

Richard N. Campen provides some insights into the house in his 1982 manuscript, A Career in Architecture: the Ernst Payer Approach. Copies of the typewritten document are located in the collections of the Cleveland Public Library, and the libraries of John Carroll University and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

Photo by Mark Andrew Kearney, Architect

Here we see the rear of this 5,600 square foot house, built on what was at one time a 20 acre lot. The four bedrooms on the second floor shared a balcony and what must have been a lovely view. On the first floor, from left to right are a patio with barbecue, screened-in porch, and service wing, which included a garage and quarters for the help.

Photo by Mark Andrew Kearney, Architect

The massive slate squares that make up the floor throughout can be seen here at the intersection of the patio and screened-in porch. This space was clearly designed with entertaining in mind. One might note the screening to provide some privacy for those on the patio. Steel columns support the second floor.

Photo by Mark Andrew Kearney, Architect

Campen notes that the gallery, seen here, is "surfaced with redwood over which a plywood panel covered with grass-cloth is mounted as a background for paintings." It was designed specifically to house the couple's art collection. To the left, a wall of built-in cabinets is visible. Campen notes that it is "exquisitely fitted with cupboards, sliding doors, etc." and that it was designed to hold a television, Hi-Fi equipment, and a bar.

Photo by Mark Andrew Kearney, Architect

The wall of cabinets continues into a pair of fireplaces, in the living room. Campen notes that Payer was also responsible for the original landscaping and interior decoration - it is unclear how much of either remained in 2003.

Photo by Mark Andrew Kearney, Architect

The form of the awning can be clearly seen in this image, and we can imagine the views that might be present from this point. The house was designed around these views, as evidenced by the large windows throughout.

As I noted above, Ernst Payer was one of the most significant modern architects practicing in Cleveland. He was one of six architects to receive a two page spread in Cleveland Goes Modern. Richard N. Campen called this house "one of his more important residential commissions." It's of such a caliber that it would have surely been featured in Cleveland Goes Modern if it had still been standing.

Why, then, was the house demolished? It was in good condition, without any obvious significant flaws. The value of the land it sat upon was greater, it seems, than the perceived value of the house. As a result, we lost what should have been seen as one of the landmarks of modern architecture in Cleveland.

It's not just 19th century structures that we have to watch out for. We need to preserve the most important pieces of our built history regardless of age. The structures of the mid-20th century present a special set of challenges - namely, that many were designed to be invisible to the outsider - and as a result, they aren't part of our collective consciousness. We need to look harder to find them, before they are losts.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The John T. Gill Residence: Now With Less Vegetation!

John T. Gill residence

In my last post on the John T. Gill residence, a once grand Tudor style residence on Euclid Avenue, I enumerated the problems with finding someone to rehab the structure. One of the big problems was that you just couldn't see the house - there was simply too much vegetation obscuring the façade.

I drove by recently and saw that much of the vegetation had been removed, as illustrated in the two photographs below.

John T. Gill residence

Note the detail in the faux Tudor elements, and in the form of the porch.

John T. Gill residence

Note also the beautiful stonework around the windows.

I'd assume that the porch needs work - I have yet to see one this age that doesn't either need work or that has had recent major work. But still, the porch is impressive. It would be quite a place to sit and relax on a rocking chair to take a break from work on the house.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review: Base Ball on the Western Reserve

Base Ball on the Western Reserve is a comprehensive history of 19th century base ball in Northern Ohio. The book was painstakingly researched by author James Egan Jr., a Clevelander, who spent nearly 15 years combing publications and microfilm of every newspaper article in Northern Ohio for articles concerning the game of base ball. He has been called “The Indiana Jones of Cleveland Baseball”, and after you read the book, you’ll know why.

Mr. Egan not only covers the major base ball teams of the era, such as the Forest City’s, Cleveland Blues and Cleveland Spiders, but has documented local amateur clubs and games as well. His book is ordered chronologically, with chapters divided into subsections detailing any baseball events during the year. Although the book is more like an encyclopedia, Egan provides commentary, and sprinkles noteworthy vignettes throughout the scores of ball grounds descriptions and box scores.

The book is a must read for baseball historians, and includes great context for the game of base ball by detailing what was happening in the Cleveland area at the time. For example, Egan writes about how the Cleveland Blues of the National League were trained by Professor Rumsey, the self-professed “King of Excerise”, and how they trained at the Waring Block Building, which still exists today.

Egan also provides many great pictures and illustrations. For example, an opening day drawing of League Park from 1891 is in the book as well as a cartoon of the event, published in the Cleveland Press. Pictures of old Cleveland ball clubs, and 19th century base ball cards litter the book as well.

The book’s full title is Base Ball on The Western Reserve – The Early Game in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, Year by Year and Town by Town, 1865-1900. It is published by McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina and London. It can be purchased on Amazon.com, or directly through the publisher's website.

Egan is a small business owner in Cleveland, and is working on his second publication, which will detail early Cleveland Indians baseball.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cleveland in the 1870s

Our city through the eyes of Otto Bacher

Otto Henry Bacher was born in 1856 in a house on River Street (now Old River Road) near St. Clair Avenue. He would go on to become one of the first artists to leave Cleveland and attain national prominence. Bacher began studying art in 1874. Most of the images that I will share here are from 1877 and 1878, just before he left Cleveland for Europe to further his studies.

This group, from the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, provide some insight into the mind of a young artist. More than that, they show how one individual perceived the city around him. We have plenty of historic photographs, illustrating the things that people found important. These drawings and etchings are different. (An etching, to clarify, is a type of print where acid is used to cut the design into a metal printing plate.) In addition to focusing on scenes that would be of interest to the viewer, Bacher also depicted scenes purely for the aesthetic merit of their compositions. As a result, we have images of things that would have been thought too minor or too insignificant to photograph.

Can these be taken as factual accounts of exactly how things were on this or that day in 1878? No, no more than a journal can be. But like a journal, they illustrate one individual's perception of the situation. The valuable analysis that Bacher provides can surely help us better understand what life was like in Cleveland in the 1870s.

This map will help illustrate the locations that Bacher's drawings and etchings depict.

Spring Street, Cleveland

Many of Otto Bacher's Cleveland works focus on the area where he was born and grew up, close to the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. This drawing, Spring Street, Cleveland, (now West 10th between Front Street and St. Clair Avenue) was probably less than a block from where he grew up. It appears that Bacher was looking north on Spring Street when he made this drawing.

We can see small houses and sheds, which were probably residences, suggesting the level of poverty in the area. Clothes hang from lines on the slope to the right. There is a railing on the hillside, probably for a set of stairs going up it. Children play in the street and pedestrians walk down it, on the left. At night, the street was illuminated by the lamps, also on the left.

Bacher also made an etching of this composition, Spring Street, September 1878. The print focuses more on the general composition, with fewer specific details.

West Pier 1878

West Pier, or Government Pier, was located on the east side of the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. In the fore and midground, we can see several buildings likely associated with the activities of a port. A rowboat is also visible. In the background, the rigging and masts of a ship are present, as is a lighthouse. It's unclear as to whether the ship could have been docked in that location or if it was transiting from or to the lake. Bacher made this into a more romantic view in West Pier, Cleveland

Ship and Elevator (1878)

Ship and Elevator was probably a depiction of the Union Elevator (the only one that I've been able to locate on period maps) on Merwin Avenue near British Street. A ship is docked, probably while it waits to unload. In the midground, an man and a dog are seated. The buildings, probably commercial structures, were probably brick, judging by the stone lintels over the window frames. The second story entrances were either because the first floors were used for storage of goods or because of issues with flooding.

Old Passenger Depot

The Old Passenger Depot was located due north of Spring Street, on the edge of Lake Erie. By this time, it had been replaced by the Union Passenger Depot, just to the east. This, the old depot, had clearly been allowed to deteriorate, as seen by the condition of the boardwalk in front of it.

Cottages, Cleveland (1878)

In Cottages, Cleveland, we catch a glimpse of several tiny houses, probably along the Cuyahoga. In an effort to expand these tiny spaces, additions were built, hanging over the river. The historical record is full of photographs and prints of the houses of the upper classes, lining the avenues and boulevards, and even contains a good sampling of those populated by the middle classes. We see very little, if any, documentation of residences like these.

Street Scene, Cleveland

I'm guessing that Street Scene, Cleveland may have been drawn based on the northern corner of what is now Old River Road and West 10th Street. The layout of the streets is consistent, and it's the neighborhood that Otto Bacher grew up in. We can clearly see the deterioration in both the sidewalk and the street.

Downtown, Cleveland

The drawing, Downtown, Cleveland appears, based on the shape of the layout of the streets, to depict Superior Avenue, looking west from Public Square. We can see a trolly or streetcar and the tracks that it travels. The bustle of commerce is obvious, though the exact activities are unclear.

The Square (1878)
The Square, an etching, illustrates the southwest corner of Public Square. Pedestrians walk along the sidewalk, and a horse and carriage may be seen on the roadway. A streetlight has suffered some sort of damage and leans at an angle. If my interpretation of the angle is correct, the building with the light colored side shuold be city hall.

Cleveland, Woodland Avenue and Eagle Street (1878)

The etching Cleveland, Woodland Avenue and Eagle Street reveals, in the distance, one architectural element still present today - the tower of Old Stone Church. Though it may be dwarfed by skyscrapers today, it's important to realize the way the church towers must have been visible over much of the area. This view, looking approximately north northwest, shows an area that is now Jacobs Field. One business, with the awning opened, may be a pawn shop, based on the three balls hanging from the front of the building.

Tower of the Chimes, Old Trinity, Cleveland

Tower of the Chimes, Old Trinity, Cleveland depicts the tower of the Episcopal church, on the south side of Superior Avenue, just east of where the Arcade now stands - just west of East 6th Street. The most interesting part, to my eyes, is the unevenness of the land, which has now been completely flattened.

An Old House, Cleveland

We don't have enough information to identify the source for the composition, An Old House, Cleveland. One might guess, based on the slight slope revealed by the fence on the right, that it might have been somewhere on along the edge of the Cuyahoga valley, probably in the neighborood that Bacher was so familar with. As for the age, we have few clues. The number and size of panes in the double hung windows, 8 over 8 on the upper window on the side, and either 9 over 9 or 12 over 12 on the front, suggest an earlier structure - perhaps the first third of the 19th century. The pitch of the roof, the only other significant element that we have to work with, would be consistent with this, though it could also reasonably have been as late as 1840 or 1850 - but I doubt a house would have been considered "old" thirty years after its construction. The chimney shows deterioration, as does the fence.

These are but some of the images that Otto Bacher created as a young man of his hometown - more do exist. His perspective reveals many details of this time that we simply don't see elsewhere. What do you see in his drawings and prints?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Schofield Building revisited

Schofield Building

Back in May, I wrote a post about the restoration of the Schofield Building. The terra-cotta-faced skyscraper had long been covered by a steel and glass facade. The current owners are in the process of restoring the exterior. Unfortunately, at the time, I was unable to provide a good image of what the building used to look like.

A few days ago, I came across this image, a photograph of Euclid Avenue made on an 8x10 glass plate negative, from the Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection in the Library of Congress.

The Schofield building is seen to the far left in this photograph. The Library of Congress has been kind enough to scan the negative at ultra-high resolution, so if you want to see more detail, click through to their website for the really detailed version.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cleveland in 1927, part 4

I recently obtained ten 4x5 glass plate negatives of Cleveland scenes, taken in 1927. Thanks to the assistance of Bill Barrow, Special Collections Librarian at Cleveland State University and Joanne Cornelius in the Digital Production Unit there I was able to get the negatives digitized at 1200 dpi. This provides a very high resolution look at these parts of Cleveland. Be sure to click through for the highest resolution versions of the files.

In the first post in this series, I shared a few scenes that were reasonably familiar - the Terminal Tower, the Arcade, and Public Auditorium. In the second post, I shared two views of Central Avenue (now Carnegie Avenue) at East 14th Street. In post three, I continued the journey west on Central Avenue. In this, the last post in the series, I share two more view of Central Avenue as well as one that provides a fitting close.

Central Avenue at Woodland Avenue, looking west

For this image, the photographer was looking southwest on Central Avenue (now Carnegie Avenue). In the foreground, to the right, is the intersection with Woodland Avenue. In the midground, Broadway Avenue crosses Central. In the background, Ontario Street intersects with Central. In the version of this image on Flickr, I've noted all these items.

Here we see, on the left, the building with the large awning, seen on the right in the last photograph of the last post. Behind it is the ornate Broadway Hotel, advertising steam heat and rooms at 50 cents, 75 cents, and $1.00.

Behind the Broadway Hotel, we can see several billboards. One advertises Cleveland Wallpaper Cleaner. Another, for a Studebaker, lists the price as $1335. A third is for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

In the background, at Ontario Street, we see an interesting almost-triangular building, which was demolished to make way for the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.

On the right side of the street, at Woodland Avenue, stands the OK Hotel, advertising beds for 25, 30, and 35 cents. The sign noted that they had free shower baths. Note the building behind it that is three pairs of windows wide.

Central and Ontario (looking northeast)

In this photo, the building that is three pairs of windows wide, as noted above, is seen, from the opposite side. Here, the photographer is looking northeast down Central Avenue. Ontario Street intersects with Central in front of the aforementioned building. Behind it, Broadway Avenue intersects with Central. We can see a sign on the building advertising "the greatest Buick ever."

On the right side of the street, a billboard for the Cleveland Trust notes that it finances "Paint and Varnish, Cleveland's Leading Industries." What else can you see here?

Cleveland, as seen from the Gold Coast

At first, I had assumed that this was another unidentifiable view of Lake Erie. However, the presence of the Detroit-Superior Bridge in the distance (at the far left) helps show us exactly where the photographer was standing - on the Gold Goast, looking east at downtown Cleveland.

This view, probably at sunset, provides a fitting (if slightly cliché) end to this series. I hope to share other previously unseen sets of historic photographs of Cleveland in the near future, but I need your help - I can't afford to keep buying these photographs just for the sake of providing new and interesting content.

If you have such a set of historic photos of the Cleveland area, and are willing to share them, please contact clevelandareahistory@gmail.com. I will scan them and return the originals. I'm not just interested in pictures of buildings - photos of people and of daily life are great, especially if the individuals in the photographs are identified. Your loan of the materials will help better illustrate our local history.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book review: Cleveland Goes Modern

I've been wanting to review Cleveland Goes Modern: Design for the Home, 1930-1970 for quite some time. The book, published by the Cleveland Artists Foundation in 2007, documents what they believe to be the best in modern residential architecture in the greater Cleveland Area.

An essay on mid-century modernism by Ted Sande provides some context to the architecture illustrated in the book. Six architects receive more in-depth looks at their work: Don Hisaka; John Terence Kelly; Robert A. Little; William B. Morris; Ernst Payer; and Fred S. Toguchi. Eighteen others receive brief overviews, a third of a page in length. An essay, by Henry H. Hawley, on decorative arts during the same period contributes to a better understanding of the aesthetic of the architecture.

Generally, I agree with the residences chosen for inclusion. The Agnes Gund residence, designed by Don Hisaka, which graces the cover, is stunning. So is Hisaka's own residence, which I featured back in December. Similarly, John Terence Kelly's McDonald residence deserves to be here, as does the Harold Burdick residence.

There are some issues with the title. It only includes architect-designed homes, so structures like the Ferro House, in South Euclid, are excluded. They played a significant role in the exploration of new materials that mid-century modern came to embody. The book also only includes houses that were still standing at the time of publication. One that we've lost, which would have been worthy of inclusion was the house that Ernst Payer designed for Peter Lloyd on South Woodland in Moreland Hills.

The biggest flaw, however, was the failure to include the addresses of the houses. When we talk about historic sites, we need to be able to talk about where they are. Further, historians need to know where structures are to know if they are still standing as well as to talk about historical context.

There is a remedy to this oversight. This PDF is a two page appendix that should have been published with the book. It lists the addresses for every house pictured in Cleveland Goes Modern.

With this addition, I highly recommend Cleveland Goes Modern. It presents and interesting perspective on a period in Cleveland residential architecture that has not been previously addressed. The photographs illustrate interiors of many homes that I'll never be able to see - heck, given these locations, there are many that I won't ever even be able to see the exteriors of in person. While I don't agree completely with the decisions and choices, it's more a matter of academic disagreement than actual flaws.

Cleveland Goes Modern: Design for the Home 1930-1970 was published in 2007 by the Cleveland Artists Foundation. 48 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9799739-0-1. It may be purchased from the CAF store or in person at CAF, at Beck Center, in Lakewood.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Bit of Legal History: The Founding of the Ohio State Bar Association

United States Post Office, Court House, and Custom House

Sometimes, historical markers are massive, freestanding objects, obvious to all passersby. But just as often, they are small, inconspicuous plaques, commemorating small and large pieces of our history. They can be hidden in plain sight and barely be noticed.

This is the Howard M. Metzenbaum United States Courthouse, known to some of us as the United States Post Office, Court House, and Custom House. (This would be the same "some of us" who refer to the baseball stadium as Jacobs Field.) It is located at 201 Superior Avenue, N.E., in downtown Cleveland.

See the small dark spot on the building, just to the right of the pole with the traffic signals? It's a historical marker. Here's a close-up:

Ohio State Bar Association historical marker

It reads:
Ohio State Bar Association

On this site, then known as Case Hall, the first meeting of the Ohio State Bar Association was held July 8, 1880.

Dedicated May 21, 1980.

Case Hall, built in 1867, was a popular gathering place. It featured an auditorium, and for a time, housed Cleveland's city hall. It was demolished to make way for the courthouse.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Cold War Relic: The Sister Cities Rose Garden

Sister Cities Rose Carden

This wood sign is located on Park Drive, at the east end of Horseshoe Lake, in Shaker Heights. The sign and rose garden commemorates the joining of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights and Volzhsky, U.S.S.R. as sister cities.

The presence of the garden indicated a change in political policy, which would lead to the fall of the Soviet Union less than three years after the sign was installed. I'm assuming, given Decembers being what they are in northern Ohio, that the sign was not installed until the following spring. (The official agreement was signed on December 5, 1988.)

It surprised me to see this sign, with a Soviet flag painted on it, still standing in 2010. I'm pleased that it's still here - it remains a monument to our history.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ill-Tempered Amputee Threw Cleveland’s First No-Hitter

Cleveland is known for having great pitching talent throughout major league baseball history. However, when you ask people who the best pitchers are, you get a list of the usual suspects: Bob Feller, Lenny Barker, Addie Joss, Cy Young, Early Wynn, CC Sabathia, Gaylord Perry, Satchel Paige, etc. Very few people, if anybody, would mention the first Cleveland ball player to throw a no-hitter, Hugh “One Arm” Daily.

Daily was born in Ireland in 1847, the son of a potato farmer. He lost his left hand and part of his forearm to a gun accident as a youngster, and quite possibly was the first amputee pitcher in the major leagues. He began his Major League career with the Buffalo Bisons on May 1, 1882. Considered a hard throwing right-hander, Daily made up for his physical limitations by catching the ball with is stump, protected in a leather-type covering. He also was able to hit one handed, hitting .157 for his six-year career.

In addition to his pitching, the most notable thing about Daily was his demeanor. Like many pitchers of his day, “One Arm”, was crude, and highly competitive. He’d do anything to gain an advantage over an opponent. Edward Achorn, is his new book Fifty-Nine in ’84, describes an event during the 1883 season when Daily was pitching for the Blues, and ½ game behind the first place Providence Grays and their superstar pitcher “Old Hoss” Radbourn. “His [Daily’s] moment of revenge came when Charlie [Radbourn] strode to the plate in the fifth inning of the July 30 game, with Cleveland holding a narrow 3-2 edge. Staring at his nemesis, One Arm reared back, ran to the front of the pitcher’s box, and fired a fastball at Radbourn. The ball slammed into Charlie’s chest with horrific force, and he buckled over in pain. Though he almost never left a game he started, Rathbourn could not go on.” Daily ended up winning the game 7-2. His proven ill temper and surliness wasn’t just reserved for the opposing team either. Daily once punched his own catcher for throwing the ball too hard back to him after pitches. He often argued with umpires and fans, much to the delight of the crowd.

His demeanor did not make him a popular player with his teammates or management, despite his success as a pitcher. As a result, during his six-year career, he played for six different ball clubs, including the 1883 Cleveland Blues of the National League, and the 1887 Cleveland Blues of the American Association. However, in his short time in the major leagues, he left his mark. Daily’s no hitter was thrown on September 13, 1883 for the Blues. He led the Union Association in strikeouts in 1884 with an astonishing 483. He struck out 19 batters in one game, a record that was not surpassed until the 1980’s by Roger Clemens. He also is tied for most one-hitters in a season.

Debuting at age 35, Daily got his start late in the game of base ball, and stopped playing after 1887. Not much is known about his whereabouts after his retirement. He was last known to be living in Baltimore in 1923. Although his career was short, he definitely was a top pitcher in the major Leagues for at least two seasons, and Cleveland’s first pitching superstar.


Fifty-Nine in '84, Achorn
Base Ball on the Western Reserve, Egan Jr.

Hugh "One Arm" Daily - http://www.wikipedia.com/

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Most Interesting Houses in the Cuyahoga County Land Bank

The Cuyahoga County Land Bank was created to deal with the mass of abandoned properties in this area. Unlike the Cleveland Land Bank, the county landbank deals both with vacant land and land with residences still present. Their listsings make for some interesting reading.

The following properties are some of my recent favorites. I will be encouraging them to try to find new owners for them instead of demolishing the structures. I haven't been inside any of them, so I can't speak to their internal condition.

9710 Gaylord Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio

This house appears to have been built in the 1870s. While the style is fairly common in the neighborhood, it is seen much less frequently in brick. The proportions are good - the house is proportionally a bit wider than what we might usually see, making it feel more comfortable and less cramped. This might suggest a slightly earlier date, or it might just be a particular builder's aesthetic choice.

This house, at 4166 East 100th Street, provides some idea what the house might look like without the front porch, which was added later. A close investigation might reveal if such ornate decoration was present around the windows of the house on Gaylord. I suspect that this was not the case - that it was a simpler design. To this end, it excels.

Image used courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank
4031 East 44th Street, Newburgh Heights, Ohio

A reader pointed out this Italianate style house to me a while ago. I haven't been able to learn much about it. The county auditor lists the date of construction as 1850 - which is possible - but, lacking any evidence to support that, I'd guess closer to 1860-1880. It's still an interesting historical house.

Image used courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank
1781 Agnes Court, Cleveland, Ohio

This house, built c. 1885, caught my eye. It's a combination of the detail in the porch and the overall proportions. It's the same way I feel about this house, at 2208 East 73rd Street.

Image used courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank
10613 Miles Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio

This house appears to have some great detail. There are hints of it on the left side. There's something that seems right about the front porch - I'd be curious to see what it, and the rest of the front of the house onced looked like. There's something interesting here - the question is just as to what it is.

681-37-019 785-03-101
Image used courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank

These two houses, 960 Woodview Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio and 14520 Tokay Avenue, Maple Heights, Ohio, both share some Tudor elements and visual appeal.

A few others that caught my attention were 12805 Signet Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 3729 West 39th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, 3450 West 97th Street, Cleveland, Ohio and 1851 Burnette Avenue, East Cleveland, Ohio.

The houses are out there. We can't complain about trouble locating the owners or issues with titles. Right now, it's a matter of us moving forward and doing something.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cleveland in 1927, part 3

I recently obtained ten 4x5 glass plate negatives of Cleveland scenes, taken in 1927. Thanks to the assistance of Bill Barrow, Special Collections Librarian at Cleveland State University and the Digital Production Unit there I was able to get the negatives digitized at 1200 dpi. This provides a very high resolution look at these parts of Cleveland.

In the first post in this series, I shared a few scenes that were reasonably familiar - the Terminal Tower, the Arcade, and Public Auditorium. In the second post, I shared two views of Central Avenue (now Carnegie Avenue) at East 14th Street. In this post, we will continue southeast, looking at an area that have been completely changed by the interstate highway system and the construction of Jacobs Field.

Central Avenue, looking northeast

It took me a long time to figure out where this photograph was taken. Unlike the other photographs, there weren't any obvious street signs or named buildings that are still extant. Finally, I saw two buildings in the distance that I knew - the YMCA and the Walker and Weeks building. Between the two, in the haze, one can also make out the outline of a church. From this, I was able to see that the photograph was also taken of Carnegie Avenue (at the time Central Avenue).

The photographer appears to have been on the top of a building, on the north side of Carnegie, at about East 7th Street. In the distance, the water tower and smokestacks of the Independent Towel Company are visible. Near the right side of the image, a square tower with four small domes is Acme Hall. The Hall faced East 9th Street, the intersection of which is visible in the midground.

A poster in the alley advertises a film of the fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. On the right side of the street, underneath a billboard for Meadow Butter is the Sencabaugh Company, a grocery wholesaler.

Central Avenue, at Broadway, looking northeast

This view, still looking northeast, shows the intersection with Broadway. As a point of reference, the tower of Acme Hall is visible just behind the traffic light, in the middle of the intersection. The water tower of the coffee company that was visible in the second post can be seen here, from the opposite side. Finally, the Botzum Bros. sign that was visible in the previous photograph can just be seen above the far end of the streetcar. Note the interesting truck on the right, on Broadway, just about to pull onto (or cross) Central.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cleveland's League Park is the World's Oldest Major League Ballpark

Is Cleveland’s League Park the Oldest Ballpark in North America?

League Park, Cleveland’s legendary ballpark that quietly resides on E. 66th and Lexington Ave., is pretty old, but is it the oldest existing ballpark in North America? The answer is yes, and no.

In order to answer the question, a thorough defininition of the categories by which you will apply the term “oldest” will need to be addressed. There are differences between ball grounds and ballparks; professional ball fields and amateur fields; Canadian parks and United States parks; and what’s being used either “continuously”, or as a ballpark today. In other words, the large amount of categories makes it hard to nail down which is the oldest “ballpark”.

Cleveland's League Park has certain characteristics that place it into specific categories. It was originally built in 1891 as a wooden ballpark for the National League, Cleveland Spiders. The National League is recognized by Major League Baseball, and the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the “major leagues” that existed in history. In 1910, the wooden ballpark at League Park was raised, and a steel and concrete park was erected around the same field. The Cleveland Indians, of the American League, played there from 1901 until 1946. Therefore, we can state the following facts regarding the categories League Park:

1. League Park was a baseball ground from 1891 to 1946, and is presently being used as a ball grounds.
2. League Park was a major league ballpark from 1891 to 1946.
3. League Park still host’s amateur baseball matches to this day, but hasn’t hosted a major league match since 1946.
4. The existing buildings on the League Park site date to 1910.
5. The League Park field (although now fully grass) is in the same spot as in 1891.
6. League Park is in the United States.

Ball grounds are defined as “fields” where the game of baseball has been played and/or continues to be played. Ballparks are defined as structures that are around the field, in full, or in part, whose sole purpose is to support the ball grounds for the objective of playing the game of baseball.

If we purely use a ball grounds definition, the oldest ball grounds in the country is Elysian Fields, Hoboken, NJ, where the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club played beginning in 1845. However, the park no longer exists, and the goal of this article is to find the historical significance of existing ball grounds or ballparks. Therefore, the oldest existing ball grounds, is most likely Clinton, MA’s Fuller Field. The game of baseball has been played on this field since 1878, continuously, to this day. Even Guinness Book of Records recognizes Fuller Field as the oldest ball grounds in the world. However, there is a dispute to that record. Labatt Park (formerly Techumseh Park) in London, Ontario, Canada claims to be the oldest continuously operating ball grounds in the world. However, the arrangement of the field has changed (i.e., home plate and the base alignment) since it was opened in 1877. Therefore, Guinness Book of World Records defines "continuous" as: operating ball ground is a field on which baseball is played, that has not changed since its inception.

There is still more controversy to this subject. The Hartford Base Ball Grounds, Hartford, CT, was established in 1874 for the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players Club, the Hartford Dark Blues. Currently, the field still exists, and is on the grounds of the Metropolitan Community Church. It is also currently the home ball grounds of a vintage baseball club named the Hartford Dark Blues, and called Colt Meadows. It hasn’t continuously been used as a ball grounds, but it is currently, on the same spot as the original ball grounds. Therefore, Colt Meadows (aka Hartford base Ball Grounds) is the oldest ball grounds where the game is still being played, but it can't claim the title of "continuous play".

The matter is further complicated when you designate “professional” v. “amateur” ball grounds. You can further break this down to “major league” professional clubs v. “minor league” professional clubs. Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame both recognize the following leagues as “major leagues”: The National League (1876-present), Union Association (1884), American Association (1882-1891), Players League (1890), American League (1901-present) and the Federal League (1914-1915). At no time did any “major league” clubs play on Fuller, Labatt or Hartford baseball grounds. The Hartford Dark Blues, who played for the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871-1875), is not considered a “major league” team by MLB or BHoF. However, they were a professional club, and did play in the National League for one season (1876), on the Hartford Ball Grounds.

Prior to 1910, most ballparks were made with inexpensive materials (wood). Most of these parks were used heavily, for baseball in the summer, and many, like Cleveland's Kennard Street Park (Carnegie & E.46th) (1879-1884), were used as ice skating parks in the winter to supplement income. Also, most wooden parks seated a smaller number of fans. Steel and brick ballparks allowed greater capacity due to higher, stronger structures. The extensive use of ballparks, combined with the common occurrence of lightning strikes and the progress of the game made all wooden ballparks for major league professional use obsolete by the mid-20th century. In addition, the land encroachment of large cities, which could support a professional baseball franchise, led to many of the wooden parks being sold for development. Note that most of the “oldest” parks or ground categories exist in small towns or cities. Consequently, all original wooden ballparks from the 19th century and early 20th century have been destroyed, and no longer exist.

There is some controversy surrounding which ballpark is the oldest. Rickwood Field, Birmingham, AL, built in 1910, claims to be the oldest continually operating ballpark in the world. According to projectballpark.org, Rickwood’s status may be in question. Cardine’s Field in Newport, R.I., was allegedly host to baseball matches as early as 1893. The backstop at the park is dated to 1908 and the structure of the stadium was rebuilt in 1938. Centennial Field in Burlington, Vermont was originally built in 1906. It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt as a concrete and steel structure in 1913. Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, MA has hosted baseball matches since 1892. Although it is a wooden ballpark, it was constructed in 1919, and renovated in 1950. Because Rickwood had a structure built in 1910, which has remained and not been renovated or destroyed and replaced, it has to be the oldest continuously operating ballpark in the world. The other candidates could try to fall into the category of oldest ball grounds, due to lack of structures when they opened, but they fall short in those categories as well.

Cleveland’s League Park is by far the oldest base ball grounds of a major league club that still exists. The field is in the same location as it was in 1891. Even http://www.projectballpark.org/ sites it is probably the oldest professional major league ballpark. The only field that comes close is the old Hartford Ball Grounds (Colt Meadows). The issue with Colt Meadows is that it still is an open field, and the locations of home plate and bases may not be the same as they were in 1876 (the only year a major league club played on the grounds). Because the location of the initial field is in dispute, Colt Meadows needs to have a category all it’s own, and rightfully owns a claim as one of the worlds oldest ball grounds.

There is no controversy as to which ballpark is the oldest major league ballpark that still exists, and where the game is still played. That title goes to Cleveland’s League Park. No other former major league park built prior to Fenway Park exists today. League Park’s remaining buildings were built in 1910, and the field hasn’t changed since 1891. Both dates predate Fenway Park, Wrigley Field or any other parks that existed during that time period.

Cleveland’s League Park is an exception to many of the rules that led to the decline of professional parks and grounds. Because of Cleveland’s early growth as a large city, it was able to afford to field a major league club early in the base ball craze of the mid 19th century. In addition, when wooden parks began to decline, Cleveland was fortunate enough to build a modern facility on the old ball grounds. Finally, after the majority of the park was razed in the 1950’s, it was not developed, mainly due to urban decline. Therefore, League Park still exists today as one of the oldest ball grounds/ballparks in the world. The question is, what do we do with this treasure? Can Cleveland maintain and save what is left, or does it fall into decay, development and destruction like all of her predecessors.

The following is a list of the world’s oldest ball grounds and ballparks:

· Oldest Base Ball Grounds – Elysian Fields, Hoboken, NJ (1845)
· Oldest Base Ball Grounds (still a “park” where base ball could still be played) – Fairgrounds Park, Rockford, IL (1860)
· Oldest Base Ball Grounds (still in existence, where the game is still played) – Colt Meadows, Hartford, CT (1874)
· Oldest Base Ball Grounds (continuous) – Tecumseh Park (Labatt Park), London, Ontario (1877)
· Oldest Base Ball Grounds (continuous, same exact field) – Fuller Field, Clinton, MA (1878)
· Oldest Base Ball Grounds (major league club, same exact field, where the game is still played) – League Park, Cleveland, OH (1891)
· Oldest Base Ball Park (major league, still in existence, where game is still played) – League Park, Cleveland, OH (1891)
· Oldest Base Ball Park (continuous) – Rickwood Field, Birmingham, AL (1910)
· Oldest Base Ball Park (major league club, continuous) – Fenway Park, Boston, MA (1912)

Base Ball on the Western Reserve, James Egan Jr.
Lost Ballparks, Ritter
Green Cathedrals, Lowery

Photo Credits:
Top - League Park - http://www.leaguepark.org/
2nd - Fuller Field - http://www.extraordinarytown.com/guinnessworldrecord.aspx
3rd - Hartford Grounds - http://www.projectballpark.org/
4th - Rickwood Field - http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/
5th - Fenway Park - http://www.obsessedwithsports.com/