Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wait, this Art Deco skyscraper was in Cleveland?!

Cuyahoga County Criminal Courts Building
Cuyahoga County Criminal Court Building, July 1936. Created by the staff of the Ohio Federal Writers' Project. Image used courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.

When I first came across photographs of this building, in the documention collected by the Historica American Buildings Survey, I was sure that the caption was wrong. A building like this, in Cleveland? Surely I would have heard something about it. Surely I would have been able to find some mention of it, somewhere.

A brief search was fruitless. Surely, a building of this stature and of this significance within the criminal justice system would have merited some mention or record, somewhere. (Note: a recent search reveals a photograph in the collections of Cleveland Public Library.)

As a result, the building didn't stick in my mind - I assumed it had to be somewhere other than Cleveland.

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

A recent reinspection of the photographs forced me to accept that this building was, in fact, in Cleveland.

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Note the text over the front door; "Cuyahoga County Criminial Courts Building".

The structure, designed by Cleveland architects Warner and Mitchell, was completed in 1931. It was located at 1560 East 21st Street.

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

These photographs were likely taken close to the date of demolition, in the 1990s. Even then, the building retained much ornament and architectural detail.

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

This level of detail continued inside. While the space shows considerable decay, the original grandeur is clearly visible.

Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

This level of detail continued into the courtrooms, which somehow remained mostly unchanged for decades.

The building was replaced, leading to the decay of this structure. The Historic American Buildings Survey has more photographs - it's worth taking a look.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study

Cleveland School of the Arts

With so much discussion of late regarding the demolition of historic Cleveland schools - most notably, of John Marshall High School and of the Cleveland School of the Arts - it seems worthwhile to look at why these buildings are being demolished.

I recently obtained a copy of Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study, a report created by the Cleveland Restoration Society in 2006. Although the cost and population estimates have both changed since that date, the general numbers as well as the conclusions remain valid and worth taking a look at. In fact, if you care at all about preserving historic schools anywhere in Ohio, this is essential reading.

To quote the introduction to the document:
The Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) undertook the Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study as a means to better understand the guidelines used by the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), the state agency in Ohio that oversees and funds school building projects. Our goal was to examine four historic school buildings currently scheduled for demolition in the Cleveland Municipal School District Facilities Master Plan to determine if these buildings could be renovated to meet current educational standards and still receive full funding from OSFC.

The four schools covered: William Cullen Bryant; Albert Bushnell Hart; Audubon; and Robert Fulton, are evaluated in detail, with illustrations of their merits and liabilities. Full architectural renderings, including floor plans of existing and proposed conditions are provided.

A few surprises caught my attention:
  • Demolition and environmental abatement costs are not included in the the OSFC's replacement costs.
  • The OSFC's estimates of the square footage of the buildings is higher (in once case, considerably higher) than the actual square footage, resulting in the OSFC estimating rehab costs to be considerably higher than they should be. How much higher?
    • 34% (William Cullen Bryant)
    • 11% (Albert Bushnell Hart)
    • 8% (Audubon)
    • 23% (Robert Fulton)

The CRS sums up the findings of the report far better than I can, so I'll quote them directly:
These proposed design solutions demonstrate that historic school buildings can be successfully renovated to meet 21st century standards and to provide a high level of educational adequacy. We can preserve these neighborhood landmarks and not only have
schools that are just as good as new, but better than new because of the materials, craftsmanship, and artistry that have been handed down to us
that we could not afford to replicate today. Not only can be have facilities that are better than new, we can save significant resources by
preserving older buildings. The Cleveland Municipal School District can save $17.1 million dollars by preserving the four buildings presented
in this study. We hope this cost savings will convince district administrators to reconsider using renovation and new additions as an alternative to replacing many of the City’s significant historic school buildings.

Please, take a look at the Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study - if we're to preserve these historic buildings, we need to understand the financial issues behind their repair or replacement.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest Post: The Isaac Warren House, Part 2

by Judy MacKeigan

[Note: see the first part of the story of this significant early Lakewood house in The Isaac Warren House.]

As the “official” family historian I have been given boxes of family papers, photos, and ephemera. Among these items is a black photo album, typical of the early 20th century, containing wonderful photos of my husband’s grandmother, Emma Blanck MacKeigan, her parents, Charles Blanck and Anna Meister Blanck, and assorted friends and family.

Several photos show the family both outside and inside their Rockport Township (later Lakewood) home. I had been trying to find this house by using census records and deeds, but the address that I had was somewhat puzzling. In 1910 the Blancks were listed in the Federal Census at what appears to be 2270 Alger Rd. Although the house number is blurred and difficult to read, the street name is clear. I have spent time driving up and down Alger, hoping to find the address, but to no avail. Thinking that the address may have changed I kept my eyes open for the house, but still no luck. I began to think that the section of Alger that the house stood on had been obliterated by I-90.

Last week I decided to take a closer look at the neighborhood via the wonderful maps on the Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery. On the G. M. Hopkins Cuyahoga County plat map of 1914 I found a brick house on the corner of Fisher (now Lakewood Hts. Blvd.) and what was marked as Warren Rd. That section of Warren, however, shows up as Alger on other maps, so I was sure it was the correct house.

I knew I had found the family home because of another clue found on that 1914 map. The owner of the land that the house stood on was listed as H. Johnson. According to a 1917 deed a woman named Henrietta Johnson had left land to Anna Blanck. I had puzzled for years as to who this woman was, how she fit into the family and why bequeathed this land to Anna. The 1910 census lists Charles Blanck as head of household who rented the house, but Henrietta was listed as a boarder. In reality, of course, she was the owner of the house where the Blancks lived as renters.
Enter Christopher Busta-Peck’s wonderful Cleveland Area History blog. After finding the 1914 map I put the words Johnson + Fisher Rd. in a search engine. One of the hits was the Isaac Warren House post made by Christoper in July of 2010. Clicking on the link I was amazed to find the same house that is pictured in our photo album prominently featured.

As I read through the post this paragraph jumped out at me: “The only daughter of Rebecca, who for many years was regarded as mentally unbalanced due to a siege of scarlet fever, fell heir to all the Warren acreage. She was finally judged sane and left her estate to the Warren family, after giving a large slice to a German housekeeper who had cared for her in her last days.” I realized that the “German housekeeper” was my husband’s great grandmother, Anna Blanck.

I still don’t know how the Blancks came to live in the house and take care of Henrietta. They owned land a little bit east of the Johnson land, and Charles Blanck was a chemist/pharmacist by trade. They had a fairly well to do middle-class lifestyle and I’m not sure Anna would have termed herself a “German housekeeper.”

I also can’t shed any light on the mystery of when or how the house disappeared. My father-in-law passed away several years ago, his mother, Emma, died in 1977, just three years after my wedding. And I would not have thought to ask her about the house anyway at that time of my life! The land left to the Blanck family by Henrietta was behind the old Warren house. They built a home on the land facing Lakewood Hts. Blvd. Anna then sold the land and house to her daughter Emma and her husband, Angus Stewart MacKeigan. My father in law was born and raised in that “new” house, and it still stands there today. But, of course, it does not hold the significance that the old Isaac Warren home had. I am hoping the “moved house” theory is correct and someone locates the lost house that holds so much history for both my family personally, as well as the greater community.

Emma Blanck and unknown friend, circa 1915
Emma Blanck and unknown friend outside the Warren House, circa 1915.

Anna Meister Blanck
Anna Meister Blanck, in the dining room of the Warren house.

Emma Blanck
Emma Blanck, in the dining room of the Warren house.

Charles and Anna Blanck, Henrietta Johnson (presumably)
Charles and Anna Blanck and Henrietta Johnson (presumably).

I want to thank Judy MacKeigan for sharing these family photographs, and for providing us more insight into this part of our history. If you have photographs or other materials that might provide further insight into the stories covered here, please contact ClevelandAreaHistory@gmail.com

Friday, January 6, 2012

Envisioning a Village, 150 Years Ago

Village of Wellington
Village of Wellington, a painting by Archibald Willard, 1857. Image used courtesy of the Herrick Memorial Library and Ohio Memory.

One of the hard parts of illustrating the history of this area prior to the advent of color photography is obtaining compelling images to help tell the story. While black and white photographs can provide an excellent record, works in color are, to my eyes, much more attention-grabbing. They make me feel like I'm actually there.

I came across this painting ages ago - I'm not sure how I managed to forget about it. The canvas, painted by Archibald Willard in 1857, depicts the village of Wellington, in Lorain County.

The Spirit of '76
The Spirit of '76, a painting by Archibald Willard, 1916.
Image used courtesy of the Herrick Memorial Library and Ohio Memory.

Archibald Willard, a native of northeast Ohio, is best known for the patriotic painting, The Spirit of '76, which he painted several versions of - the first being for the 1876 Columbian Exposition.

Willard's painting of Wellington illustrates a view of a city that still resembled a New England village, with rows of houses and a couple churches facing a central green. His vantage point was from the corner of Magyar Street, looking north on Main Street.

Wellington retains the village green, and some of the structures shown in the painting. Large trees now growing on the green prevent one from attempting to capture the same angle today.

Archibald Willard's rendering provides a way to visualize the historic appearance other town centers throughout the region.