CLEVELAND - Few American cities have experienced such an explosive rise, a cataclysmic demise and a dramatic revival as Cleveland, Ohio.
Once the fifth largest American city, and one of the wealthiest, in the first half of the 20th-century Cleveland had the buildings and infrastructure that befitted such a prosperous location.
There were architectural gems, elegant theaters, famous concert halls and stadiums, legendary music clubs, grand department stores and the bustling factories that helped build Cleveland.
In the second-half of the 20th century, Cleveland struggled to hold on to its past glory, like so many cities in America’s once-thriving rust belt. Many of the area’s most glorious buildings – testaments to that long-gone era – disappeared after a date with the wrecking ball.
There was the majestic avenue that was home to John D. Rockefeller and countless barons of industry. The record store that was the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the arena that housed the first rock concert, and riot. The opulent hotel where Dean Martin got his start and the National Football League got its name. The grand theater where horses dove off balconies. The legendary bar where Hollywood stars, sports legends and mobsters of mayhem hung out. The futuristic 135-acre Great Lakes Exposition of 1936 and 1937 ... gone without a trace.
There are few places Clevelanders are more nostalgic for than Euclid Beach Park. Located on the shores of Lake Erie eight miles east of downtown, Euclid Beach was more than an amusement park. From the Rocket Ships to the dance hall and the famous custard and carousel, Euclid Beach spanned the city’s rise and decline and was a summer tradition for eight decades. Opened in 1895, Euclid Beach was modeled after New York’s Coney Island.
At first the park struggled, but after being taken over by the Humphrey family in 1901, it thrived. Located right on a streetcar line, the motto was “One fare, free gate and no beer.” The fact that there was no admission charge at the gate, just ride fees, helped the park survive the Great Depression.
There were many draws to the park, but perhaps the biggest were the beach, which had an elegant bathhouse opened in 1925, and the carousel. Installed in 1910 and designed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the 58 prancing wooden horses and two chariots became the park’s iconic ride.
Today, the carousel sits, restored, at the Cleveland History Center in University Circle. It’s one of the few remnants of the park, which closed after nearly 75 years in 1969. As Cleveland’s fortunes had fallen, so did the park’s. Declining attendance, lake pollution and racial tensions led to Euclid Beach Park’s last ride in 1969.
Lesser known than Euclid Beach Park, but still a major loss is the Warner and Swasey Observatory in East Cleveland. There may be no more tragically beautiful ruin in the Cleveland area than this 1920 observatory once owned by Case Western Reserve University. Today covered in ivy and graffiti and strewn with broken glass atop an overgrown hill on Taylor Road, the Warner and Swasey Observatory was once a shining symbol of progress and technology.
The observatory was a gift to the university – then the Case School of Applied Science – from amateur astronomers Worcester Warner and Ambrose Swasey, who made its 9.5-inch refractor telescope at their factory on Carnegie Avenue at East 55th Street in 1894. The building was designed by Cleveland’s prominent Walker and Weeks firm.
At the time of its opening it was considered a top-notch research and teaching facility, with stellar views thanks to being 270 feet above the level of Lake Erie and far from the city lights.
Many important studies were carried out at the Taylor Road observatory, including one that proved the Milky Way was a spiral galaxy. Stars were discovered there, too.
By the 1950s, however, light pollution from the encroaching city meant the scientific telescopes were no longer reliable for research and the facility was moved 30 miles east to Geauga County. The East Cleveland location stayed open with a 36-inch telescope for public viewing. The college decided to close the Warner and Swasey Observatory for good in 1980, and the original refractor telescope was moved to Case Western Reserve University’s campus in the city.
The observatory has sat empty since the ‘80s, slipping further and further into decay – a sad reminder of a once glorious past.
These are just two of 65 lost landmarks covered in the new book “Lost Cleveland.” Published Aug. 1, on Pavilion Books, “Lost Cleveland” explores the rise and the fall and the spirit of a gritty city that clawed its way back. Over the course of 144 pages and with more than 200 photos, the book chronicles 65 beloved institutions and iconic places that were consigned to history yet continue to shape the identity of the city.
Prosperity Social Club, 1109 Starkweather Ave. in Cleveland’s Tremont area, will celebrate the release of “Lost Cleveland” with a Sept. 16 launch party.
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