Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Cleveland Public Library

Photo from

The Cleveland Public Library’s web site states its high-reaching mission: “To be the best urban library system in the country by providing access to the worldwide information that people and organizations need in a timely, convenient, and equitable manner.” Their vision: “The People's University" is to be the learning place for a diverse community, inspiring people of all ages with the love of books and reading, advancing the pursuit of knowledge, and enhancing the quality of life for all who use the Library.”

Reading Room photo by the author

While libraries struggle to remain relevant in the face of instant information available on the Internet, even if you’re not a book borrower or researcher, the downtown main branch of the Cleveland Public Library can be a nice place to visit. It is part of The Mall (on the southern end), and is located on Superior Avenue and East 3rd. The complex consists of the historic Main Library, the Louis Stokes Wing, and the Eastman Reading Garden that is situated between the two buildings.

The Cleveland library system itself was founded in 1869 as a school district library. Over the years, it outgrew its space, and with the visionary plan of the Mall complex in the early 1900s, it was decided that location would be favorable for a newer, larger library. The Main Library was built in the Classical Revival style, designed by the firm of Walker and Weeks, and it was opened in 1923. The adjacent Louis Stokes Building, opened in 1997, is named for Cleveland native Louis Stokes, who, in 1968, became the first African-American elected to the U.S. Congress from Ohio. Both buildings occupy nearly 530,000 square feet of space.
The Eastman Reading Garden was designed by the Olin Partnership and includes sculptures by Maya Lin and Tom Otterness. It is named in honor of Linda Anne Eastman, who served the Cleveland Public Library for almost fifty years as Vice-Librarian from 1896 to 1918, and as Director from 1918 until her retirement in 1938. A complete history of the library can be found here.

If you are looking for a place to visit for some peace and quiet, and maybe to broaden your mind in the progress, take a trip to the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library. It’s priceless.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Songs About, or Mentioning, Cleveland

Photo by the author

Since this blog is all about the great city of Cleveland, I thought it would be a good place to assemble a definitive collection of all the music videos I could find that are either about Cleveland, or that simply mention the city by name. Here’s the list I’ve compiled so far, and the songs covered various musical genres. If I’ve missed any, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to find a video of it and add it!

“Cleveland Rocks”
Ian Hunter (Drew Carey Show Version)

“Sheraton Gibson”
Pete Townshend

“Look Out Cleveland”
The Band

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
Gordon Lightfoot

“Burn On”
Randy Newman

Pancho &Lefty
Townes Van Zandt

“Cleveland is the City”
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
(special note, some lyrics may be considered offensive)

"Oh My Sweet Carolina”

Ryan Adams

“Drunk on the Moon”
Tom Waits


“My City Was Gone”
Written and Performed by Chrissie Hynde
(NOTE: Some people think this is about Cleveland, but it’s about Akron. Close enough for a mention.)

“My Town”
Michael Stanley Band

"Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland"
Alex Bevan (Local Favorite!)

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Mall: Downtown Cleveland’s Public Park

When people first hear of Cleveland’s Mall, they think of a retail shopping mall. While Cleveland does have retail shopping downtown, The Mall I refer to is the downtown public park. It was created as part of the “City Beautiful” movement, which, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, arose in the United States in response to crowded inner-city districts. The goal was to use beautification and monumental grandeur in cities to improve the quality of life.

Original 1903 Plan (Western Reserve Historical Society)
According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:

“The Mall and the 7 public buildings surrounding it were constructed following the Group Plan of 1903, which probably constitutes the earliest and most complete civic-center plan for a major city outside of Washington, DC. Since federal, county, and municipal governments were all planning to build large new structures, a Group Plan Commission was created in 1902 as a result of bills prepared by the American Institute of Architects and the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce and passed by the legislature. The members were Daniel Burnham, Arnold Brunner, and John Carrere. The Group Plan Report of 1903 recommended the 500' wide central mall and the placement of the major buildings. The need for uniformity of style and building height was stated as the lesson of the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Roman style was recommended, meaning the Beaux-Arts version of ancient classicism….The previously planned Federal Bldg. was completed in 1910, followed by the Cuyahoga County Courthouse (1911), the Cleveland City Hall (1916), the Public Auditorium (1922), the main Public Library (1925), the Board of Education administration building (1930), and the Cuyahoga County Administration Bldg. (1957).

Aerial View

The Mall is divided into three sections, known as Malls A, B, and C. Mall A, on the south end, is officially named Veterans' Memorial Plaza; Mall C was dedicated as Strawbridge Plaza in 2003. Cleveland’s Convention Center is underneath Malls B and C.

Veteran’s Memorial Plaza is also the location of the Fountain of Eternal Life, also known as the “War Memorial Fountain” or “Peace Arising from the Flames of War”. It is a statue and fountain, designed by Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks, dedicated on May 30, 1964. The sculpture is the city's memorial to those citizens who served in World War II. The fountain was initiated and promoted by former newspaper The Cleveland Press, which raised $250,000 to fund the project. According to Wikipedia:

The centerpiece is a 35-foot (10.7 m) bronze figure representing man escaping from the flames of war and reaching skyward for eternal peace. The bronze sphere from which the figure rises represents the superstitions and legends of mankind. Four granite carvings, representing the geographic civilizations of the world, are placed around the sphere. On the surface of the polished granite rim surrounding the fountain are bronze plates bearing the names of 4,177 Greater Clevelanders who perished in WWII and in the Korean War.

Fountain of Eternal Life, photo by the the author

The Mall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It makes for a great starting point for seeing some of downtown’s most interesting sights – and also a nice place to take a break.

Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Old Postcard - 1916 Building

The Cleveland Museum of Art is currently undergoing a 10-year, $350 million expansion and renovation. After completing part of the renovation, the museum recently reopened the Historic 1916 building, with 19 galleries and over 900 works of art. If the work done on the 1916 building is any indication of what will be coming for the remainder of the renovation, I think people will be very pleased with the overall results.

But first, before reviewing the renovations to date, I thought I’d give some information on the museum’s history. The museum opened on June 6, 1916, and was made possible by bequests and funding by Hinman Hurlbut, John Huntington, Horace Kelley, and Jeptha H. Wade (the latter who donated the property). The first building opened was what is now called the Historic 1916 building, which is of neoclassic style, with white Georgian marble, designed by Hubbell and Benes. The first addition was completed in March of 1857, which doubled the size of the museum and allowed for an indoor garden court. Another wing for special exhibition galleries, classrooms, lecture halls, and the education department was opened in 1971, and was designed by Marcel Breuer (of Cleveland’s "troubled" Ameritrust/Breuer Tower fame). A third addition was made between 1983-1993, to make room for the museum's library, plus 9 new galleries.

Proposed renovation

In October 2005 the CMA began its fourth – and its largest - expansion project in its history. The new design, by architect Rafael Vinoly, would greatly increase gallery space by reconstructing the museum's east and west wings. The downside to this huge undertaking was that most of the museum's permanent collection had to be placed in storage, and resulted in the museums closure to the public.

The museum reopened – partially - on June 29, 2008. allowing access to the renovated galleries on the main level of its 1916 building. Available exhibits from the permanent collection concentrate on 17th-century European to early 20th-century American art. I’ve been to this museum many times in my lifetime, and was amazed at how beautiful things look. The coloring and lighting in each gallery appears perfectly matched for the art displayed, and each work of art looks fabulous. A few of the large galleries were also lighted by diffused, overhead skylights. My test to the success of the restoration was how the museum would treat one of my favorite pieces, a sculpture called “Terpsichore, Muse of Choral Song and Dance.” I was not disappointed, with her being relocated from what I recall was a poorly lighted wall area to center stage in a gallery, with perfect lighting and surrounding art work. Of course, the museum is not complete without the Armor Court, which I recall seeing several times while attending grade school and high school, and luckily that was one gallery that was also re-opened. The court gleams from the metal and is softened with tapestries, all featured with great lighting which makes the room look more impressive than ever.

What initially seemed like a drawback was the meandering course we had to take to get to the open galleries. But, I have to give the museum high marks for having excellent signage to help get to the destination, plus ample staff on hand at each turn in the course to help find the way. The only thing that annoyed me, and it’s really a small annoyance: on the side of the museum that faces the large pond, huge plain letters flank each side of the outside entrance announcing that it’s OP – EN, the letters separated by the entrance itself. It ruins the whole look of the beauty and simplicity of the old building.

While I am very interested in the architecture of the current and new structures, this renovation means more to me for how it will enhance and improve the whole experience of viewing the art housed in the museum. In fact, based on what is viewable right now, the presentation of the exhibits seems to be art itself. So, if you were holding off on going to the museum until more of it is opened, my suggestion is there is no need to wait, there is plenty to see and plenty to appreciate right now!

The web site for The Cleveland Museum of Art can be found here.

Quick Tour of some of the Restored 1916 Building

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Cleveland’s Public Auditorium

The only time I was in Cleveland’s Public Auditorium (also known as Public Hall), I was a teenager attending a Moody Blues concert. Luckily we had seats close to the front, as Public Auditorium was so huge that sitting too far back would make for a bad view. My ticket cost a whopping $5.00. I don’t think I was ever there again. I believe the next concert I attended was at the Music Hall, the smaller neighbor of the Public Auditorium. Both these venues are not used as much any more. Even though Public Hall is so massive, big concert promoters prefer stadiums and sports arenas, as they hold more people and can allow for better overall viewing and acoustics.

At one time, Public Auditorium and its neighbor the Music Hall were part of a grander plan for culture and industry for the city.

(old postcard - Public Auditorium Interior)
Here’s an article written for Builder’s Exchange Magazine which talks about the history and the some of the interesting facts about this facility:



To host the 1909 Industrial Exposition, Cleveland was forced to construct a temporary facility, which pointed out the city's need for a permanent large-scale auditorium and convention hall. However, it took seven years for the necessary funds to be generated. In 1916, voters passed a bond issue, thanks to the support of 116 civic groups. Unfortunately, World War I caused the project to be put on hold, and construction did not begin until 1920.

Designs were by city architects, Frederic H. Betz and J. Harold McDowell, along with consulting architect Frank R. Walker of Walker and Weeks. The exterior style was Italian Renaissance, with arcaded windows, a high rusticated podium and a cornice line that coordinated with other Group Plan buildings. The entrance lobby featured classical marble, tile and plaster ornamentation. The auditorium hall itself conveyed classical elegance with its wide ceiling of curved arches.

A fourth building joins the group
The auditorium was the fourth unit of the Burnham Mall Plan to be constructed, although it was not included in the original Group Plan. The cost was $6.5 million.

The Cleveland Public Auditorium cornerstone was laid on Oct. 20, 1920, and the completed building was dedicated on April 15, 1922. Smith & Oby was one local company involved in the project, at the time the largest convention hall in the United States. The main arena was 300 ft. long, 215 ft. wide, 80 ft. high. Amazingly, no columns were used in its construction. The stage was 140 ft. by 60 ft., with a 72- by 42-ft. proscenium arch. The steel-and-asbestos curtain weighed more than 40 tons. A key attraction was a spectacular pipe organ with 10,010 pipes and 150 direct speaking stops. In 1927, the Music Hall was added at the south end of the auditorium.

The seating capacity of the main auditorium, including the main floor and the U-shaped galleries, was more than 11,500. The Music Hall seated 2,800, the ballroom 1,500, the north exhibition hall 1,500, the Little Theatre 700 and other halls from six to 500. The basement Exhibition Hall provided more than 28,500 sf of exhibit space.

Safety was a major priority. Despite the huge capacity, the entire facility was designed to allow 13,000 people to be evacuated in four and a half minutes flat. The auditorium had an automatic sprinkler system, which would project a sheet of water across the stage proscenium if a fire occurred.

Indirect lighting was diffused through glass ceiling panels. The ventilating system provided 18,000 cf of fresh air per hour-cooled in summer, heated in winter. Air ducts were up to 10 sf. Other amenities included a central vacuum cleaning system and steam heating for the offices and corridors.

A long, eventful history
During the first year, an estimated 750,000 people visited the new auditorium. Since then, the facility has hosted many prestigious events. In 1924, it was the site of the Republican National Convention and the first appearances of the Auto Show and the Home and Flower Show, as well as performances by the Metropolitan Opera. In 1930, Herbert Hoover spoke to an audience of 15,000 people. In more recent years, the auditorium was the site for a Jimmy Carter/Ronald Reagan debate and a Beatles concert.
A new convention centerIn 1964, Public Auditorium was joined by a new underground convention center, which opened on August 28 of that year. The Convention Center provided 26 meeting rooms, each holding from 50 to 10,000 people, and 424,230 sf of exhibit space. A modern glass and metal entrance and lobby area serving both convention center and auditorium were added on the Mall side of the Beaux Arts exterior. The architects were Outcalt, Guenther, Rode and Bonebrake. The cost was $17.5 million, including $1 million for improvements to the Mall Plaza. With this addition, the Cleveland Public Auditorium and convention center complex was once again the largest convention facility in the United States.

In the mid-1970s, architect Dominick Durante designed a renovation for the facility that brought it up to date. Today, plans for a new convention center require refurbishment of Public Auditorium.

The Cleveland Public Auditorium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 10, 1937, and was designated as a Cleveland Landmark on Oct. 16, 1937. BXM

(Old Postcard - Public Auditorium Exterior)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in May of 2008 that “The auditorium, built in 1926, seats up to 13,000 and, like the outmoded existing convention center, is seldom used….[it] could find new life as a ballroom for a proposed Medical Mart and a rebuilt convention center under the Mall.”

I suppose it all depends on the final location of a new convention center for Cleveland, as the Medical Mart prefers to be adjacent to that location. But, since I also like to preserve the classic buildings of Cleveland, it would be great if Cleveland’s Public Auditorium could find new life, and it would be fitting if it was the Medical Mart that could resuscitate it.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cleveland’s Shameful Eyesore: Lakefront "Howard Johnson’s"

Cleveland's Eyesore, sitting behind Fox 8

One of Cleveland’s ugliest sights – at least for those who have to drive past it every day – is the old Howard Johnson’s Hotel (5700 South Marginal Road) - viewable from I-90. It sits right behind Fox 8 studios, much to their dismay, I am sure.

The location itself has possibilities. It has a nice view of the Lake, and easy freeway access. Yet, it continues to sit there, looking ready for demolition, rather than ready for development.

When it was first opened in 1965, this “HoJo” was also known as the “Lakefront Lodge” and also included a restaurant called the Red Coach Grill. The restaurant and rooms all had sweeping views of Lake Erie. It lost the Howard Johnson’s name in 1986, although to me it seems like it’s been abandoned long before that.

Cleveland's Lakefront Howard Johnson's, in its heyday

In October of 2006, Crain’s Cleveland Business reported the following about this property, which sounded promising at the time:

New owner eyes condos for former HoJo hotel
4:30 am, October 23, 2006

A new owner with a new plan, this time for condominiums, is in control of a long-empty, 12-story hotel overlooking the lakefront near downtown Cleveland.

The new owner, Bapaz Real Estate Ltd. of Wickliffe, received a sheriff’s deed Sept. 14 for the one-time Howard Johnson Motor Inn and Restaurant, which now has a weed-covered parking lot and a weed of tree-like proportions rising from its roof at 5700 S. Marginal Road.

“We’re planning to do condos,” said Moshe Bohbot, owner of Bapaz. But, he added, “As of now, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Bapaz paid $633,334 for the foreclosed-upon property in a sheriff’s sale, according to Cuyahoga County land records. Bapaz also coughed up more than $300,000 in cash to pay delinquent property taxes to secure title to the hotel from the sheriff’s office.

Though not ready to talk, even about his real estate development background, Mr. Bohbot is taking steps toward redeveloping the graffiti-pocked eyesore.

Bapaz has applied for a variance from the city of Cleveland that is on the agenda for the Oct. 30 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. The variance would allow the planned residential project to proceed despite the property’s industrial zoning.

Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott, whose Ward 8 includes the structure, has met with Mr. Bohbot and plans to support the variance. The variance would apply only to the hotel and would have no bearing on the surrounding area, she said.

However, given the unfulfilled projects previously proposed for the building, Ms. Scott said, “As optimistic as I’d like to be, we’re holding our breath and keeping our fingers crossed about the project.” She estimates Bapaz is the eighth group to approach her about the building during her five years in office.

Jamie Blackson Baker, executive director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corp., said the neighborhood group plans to support the variance because it suits the one-time hotel, the views from which she described as “spectacular.”

“Having someone do a quality job there would be catalytic in the neighborhood,” said Ms. Blackson Baker, who has not met Mr. Bohbot. “It’s such a highly visible site. It’s big news. We’ve tried to talk several other developers into considering it.”

The prior owner was Leisure Time Hospitality Inc., a gaming concern in Avon, which paid $1 million for the vacant property seven years ago.

Alan Johnson, president of Leisure Time, at the time planned to renovate the hotel and use it as an exhibition parlor for video pull-tab machines benefiting charities, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in 1999. However, that transformation never happened. Mr. Johnson’s Avon phone number is unlisted.

Cleveland architect Paul Volpe said his City Architecture firm evaluated the building and prepared preliminary drawings for Leisure Time to install a Radisson Hotel at the site.

Despite its forlorn appearance, Mr. Volpe said the building was sound structurally in the late 1990s and that the work that most needed to be done — such as replacing inexpensive glass and walls typical of the building’s 1960s vintage — would need to be replaced anyway.

“The outside looks terrible, but it has great, great views that make it worth considering,” Mr. Volpe said.

City Architecture in 2002 sued Leisure Time for more than $25,000 in unpaid fees in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The case is still pending.

Prior to Leisure Time’s ownership, the property twice had undergone foreclosure proceedings. At least three other groups have lofted plans for the building since the hotel was closed in the early 1990s.

How it looks now

Still, years later, nothing has changed with this building. My attempts to locate any information on, or the whereabouts of, the Bapaz Real Estate company has turned up nothing. The building still looks like a massive eyesore, with apparently nothing going on to change that. As this building is visible from I-90, one of the major arteries of the city and where many out-of-towners pass on a daily basis, the City of Cleveland should be working harder to force either its repair or its demolition. Nothing says a poorly run city like a large abandoned building. While the city continues to talk about lakefront development, it’s hard to imagine that anything will ever come of that, considering that this Howard Johnson’s has been left to ruin for so many years.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the interiors and the views from this building in its current condition, check out

The Lake Erie View (from Illicit Ohio, link above)

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