Continued from: "A 'City Beautiful' mall for Cleveland"
Meanwhile, Oris Paxton Van Sweringen and his brother Mantis James
Van Sweringen were trying to develop Shaker Heights into a suburban
housing community. 10
Their lots were selling slowly, and they concluded, that the cause
was inadequate transportation. It simply took to long to go by
streetcar from downtown to their new development on the Heights.
Transportation along a private right-of-way (to avoid street congestion)
was needed to shorten travel time. And the fare had to be low.
With this in mind they began to lay plans for a rapid transit
system. This solution was hardly innovative, for many (including
the liberal U.S. Senator Frederic C. Howe and New York planner
Edward Bassett) had realized that the housing problem in the rapidly
growing metropolitan areas hinged on easy and cheap transport
to the suburbs. At this time, suburban life was coming to be regarded
as the ideal of human existence, and decentralization was perceived
as a blessing and a necessity.
|This prospectus illustrates how other entrepreneurs jumped on the Van Sweringens' band wagon, hoping for magnificent profits through real estate sales and speculation. Pamphlet, author's collection.|
Across the country, planners mistakenly assumed that the new transit facilities to be installed would be self-supporting. But severe inflation during World War I and legislation that fixed fares at low levels, as here in Cleveland, made rapid transit an unprofitable investment, and so brought an end to the dream of low rent and country living for the working people of the great American cities. Arguments on behalf of rapid transit, however, lingered into the 1920's and affected the plans being made in Cleveland.
At first the Van Sweringens planned only the Shaker line, to connect
downtown with their land development. This objective prompted
them to purchase land in the vicinity of Public Square as early
as 1909 to provide a terminus for their rapid transit line. 11
By 1926, as their ambitions expanded, they projected and started
building additional lines to cover the entire county, including
some stations on what is now the Airport-Windermere line. 12
Their plans for "Super Transit" were based on traffic
studies and surveys charting population growth. They were also
interested in buses and hoped Cleveland would emulate Detroit
with a highway program that would permit a commuter to take the
bus to the rapid and the rapid to work. 13
These plans stimulated further land development by other entrepreneurs
who visualized land development stretching from Painesville in
the east to Lorain in the west. Today, it is obvious that, because
of high suburban land values and the unemployment which accompanied
rural depopulation, rapid transit did little to help the poor
escape from the city. Even at the time, critics of the Van Sweringen
plan for comprehensive rapid transit said it was not economically
feasible. The railroads favored the idea, however, because they
did not want the responsibility of providing commuter transportation,
which previous experience had taught them was not self-supporting.
|Map from Engineer's Report of March, 1917, showing the track layout for the stub-end station planned at that time for the southwest quadrant of Public Square. Plans were still going ahead for a Union Station on the lakeside end of the Mall. Gerald Adams collection.|
The Van Sweringens realized that, if their plans for a Public
Square station were to succeed, they would have to include all
the electric railways -- streetcars, rapid transit and interurban
lines -- as well as local freight and warehousing facilities.
But only later did they add plans for steam railways, following
the suggestion of an official of the B&Q Railroad. 15
As a result this suggestion, by the first of March, 1917, the
engineers of the Erie, the Wheeling and Lake Erie, and the New
York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroads, plus the Cleveland Terminal
Company (a Van Sweringen enterprise) produce a report16
concluding that a new freight and passenger terminal was feasible
not only physically but economically. The plan arising from the
report included a station located between Ontario and West Third
Street and extending from Public Square to Huron Road. The main
entrance was to be at the southwest corner of Public Square --
where it actually is today -- with minor entrances from abutting
streets. It would be immediately adjacent to the 1000 room Hotel
Cleveland (now Stouffer's Inn on the Square), which was being
built by the Terminal Hotels Company, another Van Sweringen enterprise.
The railroads hoped for a large increase in passenger business
because of the location on Public Square, which made it easily
accessible to all city and interurban lines, and its contiguity
to the large new hotel. Traveling businessmen, then as now, demanded
comfortable accommodations. But the decision for a "union"
station at Public Square, one which would house all the incoming
steam railroads, had yet to be made.
The 1917 plan provided twelve stub end tracks for the steam passenger
trains, with loops for local and interurban cars above them between
Prospect Avenue and Huron Road. The space above the tracks was
to be developed for stores and office buildings. Thus the idea
for the development of air rights over the station -- the concept
that ultimately led to Terminal Tower -- was settled early in
1917. The Van Sweringens no doubt anticipated profitable results
from the creation of high-density development in this location.
But events outside the Sweringens' control also played a great
role in the development of the terminal complex. Contracts governing
use of the proposed facilities had just been distributed to the
participating railroads for their consideration when unexpectedly,
on January 1, 1918, control of the railroads passed to the Federal
Government under the United States Railroad Administration (U.S.R.A.).
The event made additional approvals necessary before construction
could begin. Early in 1918 O.P. Van Sweringen was called before
A.H. Smith, the regional Director of the Eastern Division of the
U.S.R.A. and an old friend and business partner of the brothers.
Smith asked whether the proposed facility could be sufficiently
enlarged to include the railroads using the lake front station.
Thus it was Smith who initiated the idea for a union station on
Public Square. 18
Van Sweringen immediately took up the idea and with typical audacity
suggested stub-end tracks be extended straight north from the
proposed station site and connected through to the lake front
rail lines. Smith would not accept this proposal, for it failed
to accomplish the very thing he was after, relief from the rail
congestion east of the Cuyahoga River to Collinwood on the main
line from New York to Chicago. He proposed a through station with
tracks which crossed the river on high-level bridge -- the bridge
that was ultimately built, and today is still used by the Airport
Windermere, rapid transit line -- to relieve the congestion on
the lake front tracks and accommodate more through freight business
as well as freight-to-water business. Since warehouses could be
built next to or over the new right of way, the arrangement would
have the advantage of eliminating the need to truck goods from
trains to warehouses and would save merchants money. At this time
Cleveland ranked first of the eight largest U.S. cities in growth
of product manufacturing; freight traffic was expanding at 7 percent
a year. Freight facilities had to be expanded if growth was to
continue. Moreover, the additional railroad frontage would permit
industrial expansion. Cleveland needed this project which was
in tune with the expansionist tendencies of that era. The Van
Sweringens foresaw great personal profit in developing new freight
and warehousing facilities.
Continues in: "Wheeling and dealing"
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