History of Parks, Public Buildings, Playhouses and Homes in Cleveland, OH

From: A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
Publishers: The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924


"In miles of pleasant homes thy people dwell,
A thousand ships within thy harbor lie at ease,
Ten thousand chimneys high thy prowess tell-
0 fairest mart upon the land locked seas!"

In the years following the Civil war, and for some years before, Cleveland's pride was its beautiful residence streets. And fairest of all was Euclid Avenue, pronounced by Bayard Taylor, the great traveler, the finest street in the world. It has been said that for many years a person might as well go to Rome without seeing Saint Peters, or to London without seeing the tower, or to Washington without seeing the Capitol as to visit Cleveland without seeing Euclid Avenue. While Prospect and other streets were elegant drives lined with beautiful residences, Euclid Avenue, with its beautiful homes extending eastward for such a long distance, its extensive and well kept lawns and the ornament of trees and flowers was the especial pride of all Cleveland. The city was and is a city of home owners. It leads in that respect. Nearly 40 per cent of its families own their own homes.

The change that has come over Euclid Avenue in later years is due to the natural aggression of trade. The residences are giving way to business blocks, but the advent of the automobile has made suburban homes available to Cleveland business men and thus with less reluctance do the residents of this famous avenue give way to the advancing hosts of trade. At the present rate of transformation, in a few years this street will be a great business thoroughfare, extending east for some ten miles. A similar transformation is overtaking Prospect and other streets on the East Side and Detroit and others on the West Side.

Moses Cleveland established the first park in the city when he surveyed the Public Square, but not with the same thought in mind that has animated the men of vision who have inaugurated and pushed forward the park system that we have today. His object was to establish a center of the town, the question of recreation was amply provided for in the untamed forest stretching in every direction from the lake. This Public Square was not improved or even graded for some years. As the city grew, men of vision began the agitation for public parks, but without much support from the general public. There were some donations of land. In 1836 Brooklyn Township gave Franklyn Circle to the newly organized Ohio City for a public park. This little public domain had some attention and was cared for by the corporation of Ohio City and then of Cleveland, but it was eventually to be disturbed by the three cent fare line of Mayor Johnson which pierced its center. Clinton Park was established and dedicated to the public as a real estate project to aid in the selling of home sites in the neighborhood but it failed to aid materially. It is now a playground and given little attention by the authorities. In 1853 Nathan Perry offered to sell to the city seven acres on Euclid Avenue for a public park. His price, $2,000 an acre, was rejected by the city as too high. This land is now worth more than that per foot.

In 1860 there was agitation among a few residents of the city for parks, but the people generally opposed the project. What did they want of parks when there were hundreds of acres of wild forest land all about them! In 1867 what was known as Shanty Town on the lake front was purchased by the city for $235,000. The old buildings were torn down and Lake View Park established. This was kept up for some years, fountains played and the grass was green and people came in picnic parties and children romped on the green, but there was only the slope, very little level land, the railroads below sent up their smoke and it was only used for lack of something better. The new courthouse and city hall are now located on this tract. At the close of the '70s the people were waking up to the needs of parks to some extent. In 1880 the city bought Pelton Park on the South Side, now Lincoln Park, and in 1882 J. H. Wade gave Wade Park to the city. Gordon Park was given to the city by the provisions of the will of William J. Gordon and the city later added thirty acres more by purchase.

Under an act of the Legislature a park board was authorized in Cleveland in 1893 and the following gentlemen organized as such board: Mayor Robert Blee, Charles H Bulkley, Amos Townsend, John F. Pankhurst and A J Michael. Mr. Michael was succeeded soon after the organization by Charles A. Davidson. F. C. Bangs was the secretary. This board of excellent progressive men gave much time to the question of a complete park system for the city, but they were often ridiculed and hampered in their work. So recently emerged from the primeval woods not seeing the future need of parks to a great city the people were indifferent to their efforts. Great credit should be given to Mr. Bulkley, who worked untiringly for the park system and without compensation. He has been called the father of the park system of Cleveland. Through his standing in the community he secured many contributions of park lands.

Mrs Martha Ambler gave twenty five acres for Ambler Parkway and the city increased this tract by the purchase of five acres more. In 1895 the Shaker Heights Land Company gave 278 acres, which tract included the old Shaker settlement. The next year John D. Rockefeller gave 276 acres, now included in Rockefeller Park. University Circle was given to the city by the Case School of Applied Science, J. H. Wade and Patrick Calhoun. A part of Kingsbury Run was given to the city for park purposes by the Cleveland and Youngstown Railway Company. The city bought Edgewater, Brookside and Garfield parks. In 1900, after having established a real park system destined to be one of the greatest and best in the United States, the park board was abolished. The parks having become a recognized feature and necessary to the health and happiness of the citizens of the city, their management was given over to a department of the city government.

There are now in the city forty parks with a total area of 2,200 acres. Of this over 980 acres have been donated to the city and the balance purchased at a cost of nearly $3,000,000. The large parks of the city are Brookside, where the Zoo is now located; Edgewater, a famous bathing resort, and Gordon, also on the lake, Forest Hill, Garfield, Shaker Heights, Rockefeller, Wade, Washington, West Boulevard, Woodland Hills, Woodland and Garfield Boulevard, Ambler Parkway, Woodland Hills Boulevard, Kingsbury Run, Lake Front, Lake View and Jefferson. Shakespeare Garden in Rockefeller is a point of interest. Here in 1919 the poet Mark, author of "The Man With a Hoe," planted a tree. A hickory tree from the old home of President Andrew Jackson was also planted.

In these parks are fifteen playgrounds for children occupied under supervision, and 200 baseball and football fields, besides tennis courts and horseshoe courts. It may be mentioned in this connection that Cleveland has forty three and a half miles of boulevards.

With its offices in the city the Metropolitan Park Board is working out a great project of parks and boulevards skirting the county and extending from the mouth of Rocky River to the mouth of Chagrin River. As someone has expressed it, it has to do with health, happiness and the great outdoors and is a "next to nature" proposition. When completed according to the plans it will embrace seventy miles of drive and thousands of acres of recreation grounds. Historic spots will be guarded, natural scenic spots preserved and an elaborate system worked out.

This project originated with County Engineer William A. Stinchcomb, who suggested the idea in an annual report. A member of the Chamber of Industry sought to put the idea into practical form and at his insistance a meeting was called, a bill was drawn and a delegation of the chamber went to Columbus to present the matter to the Legislature. Harry M. Farnsworth for the delegation presented the matter to a committee of the Senate and the first legislation establishing a county park board was passed. This was a start and the measure provided for a small levy. Under the provisions of the act Probate Judge Hadden appointed Harry M. Farnsworth, Louis A. Moses and Charles H. Miller as members of the board. The committee organized by choosing Harry M. Farnsworth as president, a position which he still holds; Louis A. Moses, vice president; W. A. Stinchcomb, consulting engineer; Vernon D. Croft, engineer, and R. C. Hyre, secretary.

Subsequent legislation has been enacted and much work has been accomplished. The board has acquired some 5,000 acres of virgin forest and natural scenic spots, an area twice as large as that of the city parks combined. Included in this are 300 acres called the "Harriet Keeler Memorial Woods" in the heart of the natural forest reservation of Brecksville. Miss Keeler, for many years a teacher in the Cleveland public schools, had won a place in the world of letters and in the hearts of thousands by her books. Among them are "Our Native Trees," published in 1900; "The Wild Flowers of Early Spring," published in 1894; "Our Garden Flowers," published in 1910; "Our Early Wild Flowers," published in 1916, and "The Wayside Flowers," published in 1917. Miss Keeler also published in connection with Emma C. Davis, a sister of Mrs. Rebecca Rickoff, a book for school use entitled "Studies in English Composition." Other of her works are "The Life of Adelia Field Johnston," who was dean of the woman's department at Oberlin College, and in connection with Laura H. Wild, "Ethical Readings from the Bible." The Metropolitan Park Board has had to combat some litigation as to its right to exist, but the Supreme Court of Ohio has said it is a lawful and properly constituted body and it is now acting under a law which assures it the proceeds of a levy of one tenth of a mill with which to continue the work of encircling Cleveland with seventy miles of recreation grounds and boulevards. The Cleveland Recreation Council is cooperating in the work. As the city extends its borders it will approach nearer and nearer to this great system and will be justified in adhering to its original title of "The Forest City." Now the commercial and industrial and numerical metropolis of Ohio, with a population as shown by the last city directory of over 1,000,000 souls, fifth in the nation in population and second in diversified industries, it is a city of "progress and beauty."

Its public buildings and business blocks are in keeping with its growth. It has the oldest and finest arcade in the world, rivaled only by one at Milan, Italy. There are several attractive arcades in the downtown section of the city. Besides the Superior Arcade, the one mentioned, there are the Euclid, the Colonial and the Taylor, all opening upon Euclid Avenue. Old Case Block that faced the Public Square on the east was replaced by theFederal Building, which was secured through the efforts of Congressman Theodore E. Burton. Cleveland was the first American city to plan the grouping of public buildings around a mall. This plan is progressing with the years. The Federal Building, the new Courthouse and City Hall, the Auditorium, seating 14,000 people, and the Public Library, in process of construction, a beautiful addition, are some of the leading features of the plan under way. In the Auditorium was held the National Republican Convention in 1924. The East Ohio Gas Company Building, a quasi public building, could be included in the list.

In 1876 the Weddell House at the corner of Bank (East Sixth) and Superior ranked with the best hotels of the land The Kennard at Saint Clair due north, the Forest City House on the Public Square, the American House on the south side of Superior, west of Bank Street, stood, with the Weddell, as the leading hotels of the city. Now, in the lapse of nearly fifty years, save the Cleveland Hotel, which replaced the Forest City, the leading hotels are east of the Public Square. The Hollander, the Olmsted, the Statler, the Winton, the Colonial, are among them. In 1876 the Striebinger House on Michigan Street was the newest hotel in the city. "Its rooms, ninety in number, are large, lofty and commodious, connected with the hotel is an extensive and well appointed stable capable of accommodating 140 horses," is a description from the old annals. This house was built and operated by the Striebinger brothers for many years.

The first theater opened in the city was the Theater Comique, located on Frankfort Street, open the year around and devoted to variety performances. The proprietor was Jacques A. Montpelier, "Monte" as he was familiarly called. The Academy of Music on Bank Street was the first so called legitimate playhouse in the city. It was managed by John A. Ellsler and here Joseph Jefferson played "Rip Van Winkle" and other great actors and actresses performed. It was a leading playhouse in its day. Brainard's Opera House on Superior, later the Globe Theater, was devoted to the use of minstrel and concert troupes, and occasionally dramatic performances were given there. But the drift was eastward and in 1875 the Euclid Avenue Opera House was opened. In its day this was one of the finest and most luxurious places of amusements in the United States. This theater, seating over 1,600, has a history of unusual interest. All the great actors and actresses appeared upon its stage - Booth, Barrett, Keene, Mrs. Drew, John Drew, Jefferson, Julia Marlowe, Irving, Mansfield, Maude Adams, Mary Anderson, Barrymore, Della Fox, Nat Goodwin, Hackett, Hopper, Modjeska, Ellen Terry, Denman Thompson, Lillian Russell and a host of others.

It is interesting to read a description of this playhouse as it appeared in 1876 in view of the fact that it was opened under the management of John A. Ellsler, as lessee, who was a heavy stockholder in the enterprise, that it was owned for many years by Senator Hanna, and for the further fact that because of the many memories clustering around it, a multitude of hearts were saddened when, a year ago, it was torn down to be supplanted by a commercial building. "The main entrance is on Euclid Avenue through a vestibule forty feet wide, the floor of which is laid with tessellated and mosaic marble. Everything in the house in the way of furniture is of the most luxurious character. The walls and woodwork of the auditorium are finished in light and dark cream, with decorations in gold. The frescoing of the dome and vestibule is of rare beauty. On the inside of the main dome are four groups of figures, representing Music, Comedy, Tragedy and Poetry. Amid the rich ornamentation are portraits of Shakespeare, Byron, Rossini, Mozart, Goethe, Dante, Milton, Schiller, Bryant, Mayerbeer, Wagner, Bellini, and Beethoven. Dependent from the ceiling is the grand prismatic chandelier, the largest prismatic chandelier in the United States. The footlights are so arranged with electric apparatus that they can be changed to produce plain white light, moonlight, twilight or sunsets by a simple manipulation of keys."

Playhouse Square at the junction of Huron and Euclid, a point which was for many years the city limits, is the present center of the dramatic art. The Hanna Building, rising in immense proportions and covering nearly a whole square, contains the Hanna Theater. The Keith Building, one of the highest in the city, contains the Palace Theater, which for equipment and grandeur exceeds any other in the city. It will seat 5,000 people. Nearby are the Allen, Ohio and State, which are finely appointed, quite new and make up the quota of Playhouse Square. Reed's Hippodrome on Euclid near East Ninth Street has a large seating capacity and until the building of the Keith's Palace was the largest and finest in the city. The Colonial Theater on Superior, the Empire on Huron and the Star on Euclid, near East Sixth Street, are others that should be noted that were flourishing before Playhouse Square came into being. There are eighty moving picture theaters in the city and some of these, like the Stillman, the Mall and the Miles and many others that could be mentioned, have large seating capacity and give elaborate musical programs. Every important trade center in the city outside of downtown Cleveland has one or more moving picture theaters.

Of the new buildings in the city the Federal Reserve Bank Building, the Union Trust Building, the Cleveland Public Library Building, the Medical Center Building, the Cleveland Museum of Art Building, the Bulkley Building and the Municipal Auditorium have added much in the building line to the beauty of Greater Cleveland. We have not spoken before of the Art Building. It has not been until recently that the people of the city have been awake to the educational and cultural advantages of art and art exhibits. It has been said that the beautiful art collection of Charles F. Olney, which was secured by Oberlin College, could have been kept in the city if the people had been sufficiently interested in the matter, but engrossed in business the opportunity was permitted to pass by.

And now we are proud of Cleveland as an art center. The Cleveland Museum of Art opened its doors in 1916 and in a little over three years 1,050,000 people had visited it. This building, costing $1,000,000 and with its contents worth or soon to be worth $1,000,00 more, was made possible by two men, John Huntington and Horace Kelley, but many others have been large contributing factors. By the provisions of his will, John Huntington established an Art and Polytechnic Trust and by the provisions of the will of Horace Kelley the Horace Kelley Art Foundation, a corporation, was formed under the name of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Neither of these men knew of the designs of the other and the provisions of these trusts in the hands of different trustees presented obstacles in the way, of getting together. But good lawyers found a way and both finally came together in a joint corporation called the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Judge William B. Sanders, president of the joint corporation, at the close of an interesting address on the opening day in presiding at the dedication announced that gifts of art valued at $800,000 had already been received. Work was started on the building in 1913. The park that surrounds the building was given to the city by Jeptha H. Wade (Wade Park) and the building stands on land given by J. Homer Wade. Dr. Dudley P. Allen by will left $150,000 to the Museum. Mrs. Liberty E. Holden donated a collection of paintings. Mrs. Mary Warden Harkness gave a valuable collection of china and $100,000 in money. Fifty thousand dollars has been received from a man who wishes his name to be withheld. These are some of the contributions but not all that have added to the original fund.

The building is 300 by 130 feet, beautiful and classic. It faces the lake in Wade Park, and north on an eminence rises the beautiful statues of Goethe and Schiller; on the west is seen the statue of Thadeusz Kosciuszko with these inscriptions: "1746-1817." "Erected by the Polish people of Cleveland." "I come to fight as a volunteer for American independence, Kosciuszko. What can you do? asks Washington. Try me was the reply." On the east is the statue of Harvey Rice - "1800-1891" -"Educator, Legislator, Historian" - "Father of the Common School System of Ohio" - "Erected by a Memorial Committee." Across the lake on University Circle may be seen the statue of Marcus Alonzo Hanna - "Erected by Friends and Fellow Citizens commemorative of his efforts for peace between capital and labor, his useful citizenship and distinguished public service." "Born 1837 - Died 1904"; and the statue of Kossuth - "1802-1894." "In commemoration of his visit to the United States, 1851-1852." "Erected by the Magyar American Citizens, 1902." "His Life was devoted to the Cause of Liberty." Northwest of the art museum on a winding driveway stands a monument to Gen. Milan R. Stefanik, which was dedicated in July, 1924. It was erected by the Cleveland Slovaks in memory of their national hero, who was killed in an aeroplane accident in the World war.

In this connection the Garfield monument comes to mind, which overlooks Lakeview Cemetery, the Commodore Perry monument at Gordon Park, looking out upon the lake, the Soldiers and Sailors monument on the Public Square, the monument to Mayor Tom L. Johnson on another part, and the Richard Wagner statue at Edgewater Park, erected in 1911 by the Goethe-Schiller Society of Cleveland. This has the distinction of being the only monument on the West Side.

Two large private amusement parks add to the amusement and recreation facilties of the city, Euclid Beach Park, on the lake, managed for many years by the Humphries, and Luna Park, largely owned by M. F. Bromley, and managed for the last decade by Gen. Charles X. Zimmerman, who only stopped off to engage in the World war.

Like all the American cities there were many stirring events in Cleveland connected with the great struggle overseas, the campaigns for the sale of Liberty bonds and War stamps in which the city exceeded its quota, the enlistments during which time Gen. J. R McQuigg and others were speaking almost daily on the Public Square, and then the draft, the gatherings in the Armory and instructions to the boys going to camp. The Armistice was signed and the streets of Cleveland were filled with crowds in a wild jollification that it would hardly be possible to describe. Peace dawned and then came the reception to the "Blue Devils" of France, to the commanding general of the allied victorious armies, General Foch of France, and later, in 1923, to Lloyd George of England, who was prime minister of England during that great struggle, not to forget the reception and parade when Cardinal Mercier of Belgium visited the city.

In closing, we will refer briefly to the holding of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 1924, with meetings in the Municipal Auditorium, which was brought about by citizens of both parties, the nomination of Calvin Coolidge and Gen. Charles G. Dawes for president and vice president, respectively, a feature of the convention being the keynote address by a citizen of Cleveland, Senator Theodore E. Burton, who was temporary chairman of the convention, and later, in the same auditorium, the meeting of another national convention that placed in nomination for the presidency, Robert M. La Follette. These two meetings recall to mind that only once before in the history of Cleveland has a national convention been held in the city and that was in 1864, when a wing of the republican party nominated Gen. John C. Fremont for the presidency in opposition to Abraham Lincoln.


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