The Clark Avenue Freeway & I-271
As early as 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved construction of an interstate highway system. However, the "super highways," as we know them today, did not develop until 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower established a federal gas tax to fund the project. This program allowed the states and counties to participate in the design while the federal government paid 90% of the cost for the roads. The remaining 10% was split, and, in most cases, 9 % was paid by the State of Ohio and the remaining 1% by the local municipalities. In cooperation with the federal government, in the mid 1950ís there were two agencies involved in the design of northeast Ohioís highway plans. The State of Ohio was planning the roads that would move traffic throughout the state. The County government was planning the highways around the county that were essential to facilitate traffic flow from one part of the county to the other.
The State had one major road that would especially effect Beachwood: I-271. During its planning stages, I-271 was know as State Route 1 and, at times, State Route 2. Under the direction of County Engineer Albert Porter, the County had grand plans for the metropolitan area. These plans took shape as a highway that would devastate the Shaker Lakes and tear though Beachwood was known as the Clark Avenue Freeway. Essentially, this was a road that would run east from I-77 and East 55th up Shaker Boulevard just past Brainard Circle. Other recommendations made by Porter included the following roads that either partially exist or were never completed:
The Heights Freeway
This road was to go from the innerbelt at East 22nd north and then parallel to Chester Avenue; then going up, through Little Italy and up along Wilson Mills Roads to I-271.
The Central Freeway
This road was to go east from the innerbelt at East 22nd along the route which Central Avenue currently runs, and would continue east until the Lee Road Freeway, which ran north and south from the Heights freeway to what is now I-480.
The Lee Freeway
As mentioned. it ran north and south just west of Lee Road. Its northern end was an interchange with the Heights Freeway south to I-480.
The Bedford Freeway
This road had a few revisions. Originally, directed south from an interchange at the Heights Freeway, it ran parallel with East 116th to the I-480 interchange. Then in the late 1960ís it was decided that this road would go from I-77 and East 55th southeast to Broadway and I-480. This is the reason that there is currently a large interchange at I-480 and Broadway Avenue. It was decided to abandon this plan in the 1980ís when the Carnegie Lorain Bridge was rebuilt. The only way that federal funds could be found to rebuild the bridge was for a trade of the allocated dollars for the Bedford Freeway.
The Jennings Freeway
This road is completed, though its original plan was to continue south of Brookpark and head southwest to Broadview Road. This road connects I-71 and I-90 near Metro General Hospital to Brookpark and I-480.
The Parma Freeway
This freeway was to run from State Rd.to Clark Ave. There is only a very small portion of this road that is completed. If one travels north on I-71 prior to the Fulton Rd.-West 25th street exit, there is a major ramp that leads to West 65th on the left-hand side of the freeway. Likewise, there is a large ramp at Dennison and West 65th heading south to I-71. The intention was to have the road run south from Clark Ave. to State Rd. or across the Metropark to Tiedeman Rd. and Memphis Ave. then down Tiedeman This is one of the reasons there is such a wide space between the north and south lanes of I-71 between the Ridge Road overpass and Dennison Road. This space would have accommodated much more than just the one ramp up to West 65th and Dennison Rd.
In addition to these roads, the State proposed roads that did get completed. The Medina Freeway would take the name of I-71, which is the main road to Columbus.
The Willow Freeway would take the route name of I-77, which replaced the old trail of State Route 21 and heads to the southeastern portion of the state. The Lakeland Freeway and the Northwest Freeway would become I-90 and finally, the Outerbelt South would become I-480. For a short period of time it was known as I-80S as it headed east from I-271 to the Turnpike. The last road to be constructed was the shortest and essentially a bridge: I-490, which linked I-90 on the west side along with I-71 with I-77 on the east side. This bridge was the replacement of the Clark Avenue Bridge.
Porterís plans for the east side caused an uproar from the majority of those living in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. Beachwood residents were equally upset. If the plan would have been carried out, 375 homes in the east side neighborhoods would have been destroyed. The community that fought the effort with the strongest diligence was Shaker Heights. Porterís plan would have destroyed the peaceful Shaker Lakes and Shaker Blvd. The cost of the road was estimated at around $25,000.000.00. Shaker resident Douglas Wick, of 2771 Chesterton Rd., was appointed in 1964 by Shakerís Mayor, Paul Jones, to head a committee to oppose the Clark Freeway. The group quickly attacked the issue on a variety of local, regional, state and federal levels.
Opposition to Porterís plan also came from his Republican opponent who tried unsuccessfully to oust him from his elected position at the upcoming election. H.P Peterson of Maple Heights accused Porter of "riding roughshod over the rights of people in trying to rush the Clark Freeway through." Peterson pointed out that Porter would have his own personal highway from his office downtown to his newly purchased home in Pepper Pike, located at 31179 South Woodland Road. This address was at the very end of the Pepper Pike extension of the Clark Avenue Freeway. Porter, accustomed to criticism, reminded his accusers that his position as county engineer professionally obligated him to oversee road repairs, whether or not he issues recommendations or initiates construction.
Ultimately, the group led by Wick was able to make changes to federal highway funding laws that would prohibit a highway from destroying or altering a park or playing field without first locating a new site that met the local citizensí needs. The law also required that highways be developed in harmony with rail and bus routes to furnish the community with a more complete transportation network. This law went into effect July of 1965, which consequently stifled the plan for the Clark Freeway.
While this battle was in the forefront, the construction of I-271 neared completion. In the late 1950ís, land was being acquired by the state for the new road, the route of which demolished several homes in Beachwood and Pepper Pike. For the most part the road cradled the dividing line of both communities. One of the homes to be taken by the State belonged to Frank and Milder Bickoff of Pepper Pike. The home was located at 27200 North Woodland Rd. and had a frontage of 333 feet and went back over 1000 feet. The State bought most of the land, leaving the Bickoffís with a small unusable piece. Mr. Bickoff later donated the small portion of land to Bínai Jeshurum Synagogue that bordered his property to the southeast. Mr. Bickoff then moved his family to Beachwood.
In 1961 the highway was moving towards Beachwood from the north.The contract from Wilson Mills Rd. to just south of the Chagrin Rd. was ready to be issued when Beachwoodís Mayor and long time resident Vincent Hlavin told the State that he did not want his city to be a bottleneck in the freeway plans, as he deemed the planned interchange at Chagrin Blvd. totally inadequate. Because of this, Beachwood refused to approve the required consent to the plan the State had designed. Apparently the design did not include the provision for eastbound Chagrin traffic to Cloverleaf down to the northbound roadway as it does today. Instead, the State wanted eastbound traffic to sit on the bridge and make a left across westbound traffic and use the same ramp to northbound 271 as the westbound traffic. This plan was unacceptable for two reasons. The State planned on having the highway end at Chagrin Rd. for a number of years until it was continued down to State Route 8. This would cause an increased amount of traffic, as it was the "end of the super highway". The other reason was the large amount of traffic that would be sitting on the bridge as the area developed. The issue was resolved only after a traffic study was done and the State gave in and offered to add the Cloverleaf for eastbound traffic.
Note: Freeway ends sign in the background. Taken in 1966 several years after the section from Wilson Mills Rd. south to Chagrin Blvd. opened. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State University
Much of the land that was taken in the Chagrin Blvd. area belonged to just a few long term Beachwood families. On the south side of the street most of the land was owned by the Fry family estate. Several years before the freeway was built Miss Mary L. Fry died. According to her last will and testament she left her lawyer and friend Francis B. Shaw the land that had been in her family for decades. This parcel consisted of all of the land from Chagrin south to Harvard Rd. and from the Park Synagogue Cemetery east to I-271. There were many that thought she was not in the right frame of mind when she had signed the will. Often times she would be seen in the summer time standing on Chagrin Blvd. wearing menís winter clothing including a large black hat. On the north side were two homes owned by the Kaske Family. Mary Ling rented one of the homes. All three families had lived in the area since at least the 1930ís All three homes were burned down by the Beachwood Volunteer Fire Department which gave the volunteers practical experience fighting fires.
The fact that a small portion of North Woodland in Pepper Pike was on the west side of the new freeway became a major problem in August of 1962. This could be one of the reasons that landowners in this isolated area chose to annex themselves to Beachwood several years later. Apparently one of the eight children of Leo Walczuk of 27049 North Woodland Rd. became sick one afternoon. He awoke from a nap and told his mother he could not see anything. Mrs. Walczuk called the Pepper Pike police. However, they could not find the street. After several frantic return calls there still was no police car. Woodmere police also heard the call and headed over but also had problems finding the street. Finally, frustrated by hearing the repeated distress calls on the police radio, Brian Sexton, a part-time policeman in Beachwood, responded and took the child to Suburban Hospital. The child had a concussion due to a fall earlier in the week and was transferred to Saint Vincent Charity Hospital. Mayor George Zeiger of Beachwood told the Walczuk family they could call Beachwood anytime they needed help.