Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
CHAPTER SEVEN: Things Look Better: 1941-1952
The return of euphoria in Cleveland during the Burton administration in the late 1930s continued as the 1940s approached. One reason was that the outbreak of World War II in Europe started business humming again, and finally put an end to the unemployment that had plagued the whole country for nearly ten years. President Roosevelt hadn't succeeded in bringing the country out of the depression yet, and as late as 1937, a new recession hit hard the iron and steel business in the Middle West.
The more Adolf Hitler succeeded in his seizures of adjacent countries, and the darker the storm clouds grew as Hitler took over in Austria, and put the pressure on Prime Minister Chamberlain of Britain and Daladier of France to let him take over the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, the more the domestic problems of the United States began to be solved. Our country was definitely isolationist at this point, but Roosevelt, in his determined but oblique way, was gradually edging toward war. When England started to rearm in 1938, she ordered large quantities of military aircraft from the United States. When England entered the war in September 1939, after Hitler had invaded Poland, our munitions industry got another big boost, and soon afterward, American destroyers were helping convoy the war material to England.
By early 1940, it became apparent that Roosevelt was going to break precedent and run for a third term, on the basis that he alone was qualified to lead the country during these parlous times of half-war and half-peace. He sensed that the mood of the country was turning away from isolationism, as resentment against Hitler increased, and many concerned citizens felt it was only a matter of time before the United States would have to get in. A bill to authorize the military draft passed the House of Representatives by only one vote, although the president had nationalized the National Guard and called up reserves in both army and navy in the summer of 1940. The Ohio National Guard went into training in southern camps.
Roosevelt won his third term easily against Wendell Willkie, the surprise Republican nominee who had beaten out Senator Robert Taft and Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, largely because Willkie had substantially the same views on foreign policy as he did.
The gathering storm in Europe had taken Cleveland citizens' minds off their local difficulties. The welfare mess and unemployment had receded, Eliot Ness had cleaned up the police department and some of the unions, and the two Great Lakes expos had brought visitors in to spend money in downtown stores and go to movies and good restaurants. The new stadium had not only accommodated the Sunday baseball games of the Indians but had been used for the Schmeling-Stribling heavyweight championship fight, an outdoor performance of the grand opera Aida, and for a Eucharistic Congress, which brought in thousands of Catholics from all over the world. The Metropolitan Opera Company was playing a week here every spring at the Public Hall. The Cleveland Advertising Club was making big moves with its "Come to Cleveland Committee" under president Charles H. Kellstadt, a business dynamo who was head of the Kinney & Levan store, and later became head man of Sears Roebuck.
Things would have looked unusually good, as the Yo-Yo swung upward again, except that the big banks continued to
exercise great caution in lending, after the mammoth collapse of the Van Sweringens' empire. The liquidation was still going on, and many owners of the holding companies, Allegheny Corporation and Blue Ridge Corporation, found their stock was worthless. Another big bust had occurred in Cleveland during the depression, that of Continental Shares, a project of Cyrus S. Eaton, which had been widely sold to businessmen through the respected old brokerage firm of Otis & Company.
Because the Terminal Tower development had moved the Higbee Company from its longe=stablished store at East Thirteenth Street and Euclid to the new building on the Public Square, the Euclid Avenue business firms developed schizophrenia. Halle Brothers Company hung on to its location on Euclid opposite East Twelfth Street and Sterling & Welch did likewise on the other side of the street. The May Company at Ontario and Euclid, was happy to remain there, across the street from the new Higbee store. Around the corner on Prospect was the Bailey Company and halfway up Euclid was William Taylor Son & Company.
This shifting of the downtown axis toward the Square resulted in a tug-of-war between upper Euclid and lower Euclid. The Upper group had the Playhouse Square theaters and restaurants, as well as Halle's and Sterling & Welch. The Lower group had Higbee, May, Taylor and Bailey. The specialty shops and smaller stores, of which there were many then, grouped around the big boys, and each group organized an association, for pressure and lobbying.
There wasn't much physical change along the avenue. Many of the smaller shops were renting from absentee landlords in Boston and New York. The title to others was held by trusts, the beneficiaries of which were second and third generation descendants of some of the old millionaires who had built up the original downtown Cleveland. It was hard to interest such landlords in putting up new buildings. They were content to make a profit, pay their taxes, get by with as little maintenance as possible, and sit tight. A great deal of the Euclid Avenue property was in the form of ninety-nine-
year leases. So a sort of mild stagnation had taken place, now that the worst of the depression was over. The shops and small stores were pretty much in the same places as they had been in the twenties. The biggest change had been the opening of two new Stouffer restaurants and a big Childs' restaurant, after prohibition had been repealed.
It was in this atmosphere, half self-satisfaction and half inertia in Cleveland, and an overhanging worry about the United States possibly getting into the war in Europe, that the city made another of its volatile political turnovers, from Mayor Harold H. Burton to Mayor Frank J. Lausche. Burton had taken off for the larger horizons of a United States Senator in 1940. He turned over the city hall to Edward Blythin, his law director, who had previously been solicitor for a dozen suburbs, but had never run for office in the city of Cleveland. Blythin was an able man of excellent reputation (who later became a common pleas judge) but he did not have the campaign charisma to match that of the man the Democrats chose to lead the big comeback that kept them in power for the next thirty years, Common Pleas Judge Frank J. Lausche.
Lausche had been warming up on the sidelines for several years. He had received high praise from the newspapers. He was aces-high with the ethnic groups that held the balance of power. Urged on strongly by Press Editor Seltzer, in 1941 he made his move from the bench to higher office.
Frank Lausche was one of the strangest birds ever to fly high above the jungles of Ohio politics. He was elected municipal judge, common pleas judge, mayor of Cleveland (twice), governor of Ohio (five times and once defeated), senator from Ohio (twice). He had the magic formula for reaching the voters and gaining their confidence. Yet it's hard to put a finger on exactly what made him such a big winner. Probably because he was such a superb psychologist. He always had his ear to the ground. (His detractors insist that he had both ears to the ground and his feet on either side of the fence.)
Lausche had strong appeal to the cosmopolitan groups, the
tightly knit little enclaves of Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovenians, Italians, Germans, Serbs, Croats, and so forth. Lausche was one of them, the son of Slovenian immigrants who came over from Llubjlana, in what is now Yugoslavia. His mother was the woman to whom all the neighbors brought all their troubles. He grew up with several brothers and sisters in modest surroundings on St. Clair Avenue. He played sandlot baseball and was good enough to play third base in the minor leagues. He was in the army in World War I. He studied law at night law school.
It was not easy, unless you watched him campaign, to understand how this young descendant of Catholic immigrants could appeal to the white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant farmers of central and southern Ohio, a deeply conservative, prejudiced lot. Yet he did appeal to them. He had them believing he was another Abraham Lincoln, a rugged, independent, unbossed type, representative of all the good old American verities, beholden to no one. To the ethnic groups in Cleveland, he was simply one of their own. To the downstate small-towners he was for economy in government, against unions and bosses, in favor of home, mother, and the flag. He was one of the common people, who drove an old car, wore unpressed suits and didn't bother to comb his hair. His bushy, uncombed mane was his trademark.
Lausche's early tries for public office were failures. He first ran for the legislature in the twenties, nominated on Gongwer's Democratic slate. But the county was heavily Republican then, and he was swamped. He was active in the Slovenian twenty-third ward, the greatest Democratic stronghold, then dominated by Adam Damm, but he had friends in other ethnic bailiwicks. When he ran for municipal judge he was easily elected. Before his term was completed, he ran for common pleas judge, and won there too.
Lausche was regarded by courtroom lawyers as a first-rate judge. His temperament on the bench was even and judicious, he knew as much law as the older judges, and he was particularly good in equity cases, which depend mostly on
common sense. He didn't try to duck tough cases, was fearless and could not be reached through the usual political pressures. It was not surprising when County Prosecutor Frank Cullitan and Safety Director Eliot Ness needed a judge to issue a search warrant to get into the notorious Harvard Club, that they went to Lausche. With his keen sense of knowing what the voters would approve and an inborn tendency to be a crusader, Judge Lausche issued the warrant. The resulting favorable publicity set Lausche up as a local hero, along with Ness and Cullitan.
President Roosevelt had swept Cuyahoga County in heavy landslides in 1932 and 1936, and it seemed inevitable that the moment Burton ceased to run for mayor, a Democrat would win. Ray Miller, who had become Democratic chairman, was favorable to Lausche; Frank had helped Miller defeat Witt in 1931. Lausche was easily elected over Blythin in November 1941.
His cabinet consisted mostly of good Democrats recommended by Miller, but there was one exception, Eliot Ness. Over him Lausche and Miller fell out and remained bitter enemies for twenty-five years. Miller had accepted union campaign contributions with the understanding Ness would depart, and said Lausche had agreed. Lausche denied it. The Press and Plain Dealer urged Lausche to keep Ness, saying the job should not be political and Ness had cleaned up the town. Lausche went along with the editors and infuriated Miller. It was this incident that first started in circulation the story that Lausche did not keep his promises. Lausche turned it to his advantage by denouncing bosses at every opportunity. He dramatized himself as a rugged independent.
Lausche had no sooner taken office than the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Germany, and everything became abnormal. Men hurried to join the army and navy, by the thousands; ration cards for gasoline, sugar, liquor, tires, and so forth became a reality; wages and prices were frozen. The booster efforts of the Cleveland Advertising Club and Chamber of Commerce
turned into the War Efforts Committee. No one will know whether Lausche would have made a good mayor in normal times, but he was certainly what the doctor ordered in wartime. No one could make a better patriotic speech. Naturally an emotional, sentimental man, and with the devotion to the United States that is more intense among the ethnic groups than the sons of early settlers, he could always bring tears to listeners with his flag-waving oratory. He spoke early and often to any sort of public meeting, urging wholehearted support of the war. He regretted that he was now too old for active service. Mayor Lausche was easily reelected in 1943. In 1944 he won the Democratic nomination for governor and in November was elected by a small margin, about ten thousand votes. He won the nomination by getting a tremendous majority in Cuyahoga County and just holding his own downstate. After he was nominated, he spent the rest of the campaign going to every county fair he could reach, talking to citizens on street corners, just visiting and shaking hands. He made few formal speeches, but had friends in every normally Republican county. Somehow he managed to put together the winning combination -- Republicans downstate and Democrats in Cleveland. He had a lot of contacts with supporters of former Governor Vic Donahey, whom Lausche emulated by following Vic's pattern of economy and "down with the bosses." He paid little attention personally to Cleveland -- the newspapers and the voters were all for him up here anyway. He could carry the county by simply filing his petitions and occasionally showing up at a meeting. He spent his time mostly downstate.
From that time on, Lausche carried on a perpetual campaign in the small Ohio towns, demonstrating that he was a man of the people, fighting to save the taxpayers' money and preserve the noble American virtues. It was an amazing performance, for he ran as a Democrat and acted like a Republican. It was the only way a descendant of Slovenian immigrants could possibly have convinced the farmers and small-town Protestants. Lausche had them transfixed for more than thirty years.
He had only one serious setback. At the end of his first term as governor in 1946, he got caught in the backlash against high meat prices and price controls. Directly after the war's end, there was growing resentment against all wartime restrictions. An active black market was operating in meat, butter, liquor, and women's stockings. Returning veterans found they could not get places to rent, because of rent control. The wartime occupants simply declined to move out, though they were using too much space. All the Democrats in office caught the full force of the backlash. Lausche, though in no way responsible for a condition that was national, was caught in the downdraft, and Attorney General Thomas J. Herbert, a handsome and popular Republican, ran against Lausche and defeated him. Lausche was cut to the quick, practically disappeared from the statehouse in mid-November and December, and during that time, his subordinates ran wild, granting last minute political favors through liquor permits and pardons.
Despite this, Lausche didn't sulk long on the sidelines. He ran again in 1948, and this time beat Herbert. As usual Lausche ran his own campaign, paying little attention to the national or county tickets; till the very last minute he ignored Truman until the president whistle-stopped through Ohio. He was reelected in 1950 and in 1952, despite General Eisenhower's Republican landslide, and again in 1954. By 1956, he figured it was time to try for the Senate, against George Bender. Bender was a soft touch, and Lausche won easily despite another Eisenhower landslide. He seemed to be at his strongest when there was a strong Republican trend. In 1962, he was reelected senator.
The Republicans seemed demoralized every time they tried to find a candidate to oppose Lausche. Charles P. Taft of Cincinnati tried for governor, and lost. State Auditor James A. Rhodes, who against others was a Republican powerhouse, didn't get to first base against Lausche. John Marshall Briley, a competent businessman from Toledo, didn't get off the ground. No Democrat seriously challenged him in the primary and every Republican seemed hexed. Lausche
had no trouble getting campaign funds from Republican businessmen and always got widespread newspaper support. The Democratic chairmen in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Dayton ground their teeth at the thought of him, for he made his own appointments, and was strictly unorthodox. He thrived on the anti-boss legend.
Lausche leaned so far backward in avoiding any intimation that he could be pressured for favors that regular Democrats claimed his enemies could get more from him than friends. A large county chairman told me that he had once gone to Governor Lausche with a simple request to appoint a competent man of known integrity to a state job in his county. "The job has to be filled, governor," he said. "This man has all the qualifications and besides, he is an old friend of yours." "Oh, I couldn't appoint a friend," the chairman reported that Lausche said. "It would look as if I was being influenced." (The man didn't get the job.)
All during his office-holding, there is no doubt he paid more attention to Seltzer and Bellamy and the political writers of their two papers than to party officials. The papers liked mavericks and Lausche was a maverick, for sure. Another reason they liked him was that he was always making news.
His performance during and after Eisenhower's election in 1952, was typical. Lausche sensed correctly that Eisenhower would carry Ohio by a big vote. He felt strong himself, but he wanted the Eisenhower fans, many of whom were independents, to vote for him. So when General Dwight D. Eisenhower came through Columbus, for a brief speech on the statehouse lawn, and the general was brought up to a side entrance before going on the platform, Governor Lausche carefully inconspicuous (but making sure the reporters and photographers were watching) made a sudden appearance at the entrance, greeted the candidate with great cordiality, then slipped back to his office while Eisenhower went to the speaker's stand. It got Lausche as much attention as if he had taken part in the formal meeting. The Ohio papers gave it, big play.
Even after the election, Lausche was still playing the bipartisan role. One of the strangest political sights ever seen took place at the Sulgrave Club during the day prior to Eisenhower's inauguration in January 1953. The Ohio Republicans, heady with triumph after twenty lean years of Roosevelt and Truman, were staging a huge reception at the club and all the party hotshots were there in the receiving line -- Senators Taft and John W. Bricker; George M. Humphrey, the Cleveland
millionaire who had been appointed secretary of the treasury;
Congressman Frances Bolton, Attorney General C. William
O'Neill, George Bender, and all the councilmen, legislators,
ward leaders who could crowd in. The place was packed; at
least five hundred people were going through the receiving
line when a commotion broke out in the rear room. It was
Frank Lausche, the Democratic governor of Ohio, slipping in
the back door, to come to the Republican reception. Naturally,
the crowd started to pay him more attention than the orthodox
receiving line. Lausche, with great friendliness and mock
modesty, loved it, and was shaking hands like mad.
The back door performance at the Sulgrave Club wasn't the only Lausche show of the day. That night at the posh Chevy Chase Club, the Republicans were still celebrating, with a formal dinner, at which Taft, Bricker, Humphrey, and the other top dogs were to speak. Who should show up again but Governor Lausche! He was asked to say a few words, and got more applause than all the others. He was obviously at home in that group. Which was not unusual, since he had supported Senator Taft in his fight for reelection against the ludicrous Democratic nominee, State Treasurer "Jumping Joe" Ferguson. Lausche had not campaigned for Taft, but just before election he had said, "I cannot vote for Ferguson."
When Lausche reached the Senate, he still could not be catalogued as a Democrat. He voted with the party to organize the Senate, but after that, he was strictly a maverick; made his own decisions, played his own game, and was often on the outs with Lyndon B. Johnson, then the majority leader. He opposed deficit spending and refused to be bullied by the
unions. (Both these positions made a hit with Republican fat cats.) He was so much a party irregular that when Democrat Stephen M. Young was sworn in, Young refused to have Lausche go through the usual protocol of walking down the aisle with him. The two were seldom able to agree on appointments to federal jobs. He was a strong foe of communism and happy to serve on the foreign affairs committee. He had few specific programs, few cronies, and little influence on the policies of the Senate or the White House. His relations with the state and local Democrats were so strained that he was not even asked to take part as a delegate to the national conventions of 1964 or 1968.
He got away with being a perpetual lone wolf, right up to the time of his biggest defeat, which occurred, of all times, in the Democratic primary of 1968. (When he lost the senatorial nomination to John J. Gilligan, that finished him.) One of the reasons he stayed in office as long as he did is that he had a certain mystique about him --his awkward phraseology, which was hard to define in simple English; his serious mien and air of preoccupation that indicated he knew things that ordinary men did not, somewhat like the prophets of old; his bushy, wiry pompadour, seemingly uncombed (he seldom wore a hat; he was always losing them); his ability to stir emotion with his splendid voice and oratorical phrases. He had all the qualifications of an actor -- a deep resonant voice, well-timed delivery, appropriate gestures, and an unerring sense of the dramatic. You had to admire his technique, though you were not quite sure afterward what he had said. One thing you were sure of -- he was focusing attention on Lausche as a man to be remembered (remembered favorably at the next election), a man of principle, a cut above the ordinary politico who thought in terms of jobs and favors.
His number one asset was his charming wife, Jane, a thoroughly likeable woman who gave the impression of being a nonpolitical, simple-minded soul, whose mission in life was to see that her preoccupied, absent-minded husband always had a few bucks of change in his pocket, a clean shirt in his
valise, and was taken to the airport on time. Jane was always amiable, always amused, always well-groomed -- qualities that endeared her to the Republican women. They figured that Jane was a martyr to Frank's idiosyncrasies and that she hated public life. The opposite is probably true. She enjoyed it and the innocent-lamb role she played was as effective as Frank's mystique.
Jane had plenty of physical trouble in the last ten years of Frank's public life, for she was accident-prone. In Columbus she was in a serious auto accident that bashed in her face, required prolonged plastic surgery, and left her with permanent dizziness from an inner-ear derangement. Later she fractured her pelvis and her arm in a fall and was in the hospital for several months afterward.
Jane was beloved by all the cosmopolitan families among whom they circulated in Cleveland. She was a Protestant and this, too, permitted Frank to work both sides of the street. They went to different churches in an irregular sort of way, but did not make a big thing of it, and managed to avoid most of the criticism that comes from bigots, because they were so amiable and clever.
It was hard to figure out how much of Lausche was phony and how much was real. There is no question that he believed everything he did was sincere, and according to his conscience. There is also no question that he knew what his every act, vote, or speech would mean in terms of public reaction and news coverage. How much of his inattention to little personal details of dress or protocol was staged, and how much was simply part of his oddball way of life is impossible to determine -- his losing of hats, missing planes, and keeping no fixed schedules. (Reporters trying to cover him went out of their minds.)
He showed up once at a Gridiron Dinner in a tuxedo, the only man who did not wear white tie and tails. He had forgotten to pack them, he said. This unorthodoxy seemed not to embarrass him, and the other guests and reporters were not entirely surprised.
Carl Friebolin was rough on him in his Anvil Revues, but
Lausche never missed one. Carl always wrote Lausche into the script. (Fred Stashower played the part so often that eventually he seemed to look like Lausche.) Toward the end of Lausche's last term as governor, Friebolin had Fred wearing a stovepipe hat and inverness cape, a la Lincoln, and meditating on whether he might be assassinated. The skit brought tremendous laughs, and Lausche, sitting among the goats, appeared to enjoy it, too. Then after the show, he'd go out to Carl's small party for the cast and a few other friends, and drink beer and smoke cigars (he never seemed to carry any of his own except an occasional White Owl, and was always borrowing one). A week or so later, Friebolin would invite him out to Vermilion with some federal judges. Lausche never showed rancor about the kidding. He would have been hurt if he had been left out.
The partisan facts of life finally caught up with Lausche in the form of a young Democrat named John J. Gilligan, who had served one term as a congressman from Cincinnati. Lausche had not been seriously challenged in a Democratic primary since his first run for governor in 1944. Once nominated, he regularly made monkeys of his Republican opponents (except in 1946, the year of the meat shortage). At first Gilligan's bid for the senatorial nomination appeared quixotic. It soon developed that the long years of quarreling with the county chairmen and the union bosses were catching up with Lausche. Gilligan found himself in possession of a big campaign fund, from the unions, big enough for an extensive campaign on TV. Lausche, on the other hand, could raise no substantial sums from his Republican friends, who didn't sense that he was in any real danger in the primary. Lausche did not go over well on TV. He was on the defensive for the first time, and Gilligan based his attack on the allegation that Lausche wasn't really a Democrat. As it finally turned out, Lausche did not hold his own in his home county, which had pulled him through in the past. Gilligan won the nomination.
Lausche had his revenge. He supported William Saxbe, the Republican nominee, a country-squire type who had been
speaker of the Ohio House and later attorney general. Saxbe won. He later was appointed attorney general of the United States and then ambassador to India.
(Two years later Gilligan ran for governor and was elected over Roger Cloud, Republican. He lost for reelection in 1974 to ex-governor James A. Rhodes.)
Lausche was as much of a loner in national politics as Wayne Morse, who started as a Democrat and turned officially into a Republican, before he was finally defeated. Lausche didn't change parties, but he seemed constitutionally unable to play on a team with anyone. A cardinal rule of politics is that you campaign for the whole ticket. Lausche campaigned for no one but himself. Because of his uncanny sensitivity to public reaction, political writers watched him like a weather vane. His deft maneuvers when presidential candidates came to Ohio were something to watch. When John F. Kennedy came to Cleveland in 1960, Lausche rode in Kennedy's car for a while, but disappeared soon after. This meant to the reporters that Kennedy would run well in Cleveland, but not so well downstate. Which is what happened. In 1948, Lausche got aboard President Truman's train for a short ride on the last hop through Ohio. This indicated to the writers that Lausche felt Truman would not get clobbered in Ohio. Until that time, Lausche had been notably absent at meetings for Truman. In that last week, Lausche apparently had learned something from the farm belt. (Truman finally squeaked through with a seven thousand majority in Ohio.)
He certainly knew how to get himself elected, and he certainly knew how to persuade editors and conservative businessmen that he was a statesman.
When Lausche became governor in January 1945, his law director, Thomas A. Burke, succeeded him as mayor. Burke was elected easily the following November, and had no serious opposition from Republican candidates in 1947, 1949, and 1951. He had been an excellent assistant prosecutor under Ray Miller, and a competent law director for Lausche. He was the fair-haired boy of the newspapers, personally a charmer,
a good speaker with a keen sense of humor, and a shrewd politician who made no major mistakes during nearly nine years at city hall.
Burke was not the type to go out looking for new worlds to conquer, to set himself up as a doer and an activist for the next election. The local Republican organization had slid into a position of such impotence in the city under the dual leadership of George Bender and Sonny DeMaoiribus that it could elect only a half dozen councilmen out of thirty-three, and was regularly defeated in contests for county offices. So Burke had nothing to fear. He had the newspapers with him, the business community cooperated with him, his friend and patron, Lausche, was governor, and the Democrats were in the White House all the time he was mayor. All he needed to do was coast, and that was mostly what he did. It seemed for a while like a sort of golden age in the city that was so habitually volatile.
There were the usual problems of adjustment after the long world war, and returning veterans found it difficult to get rental apartments, because wartime rent controls had frozen in a lot of tenants at cheap rent and more space than they needed. Inflation had shot up prices of all houses, and it took a long while for new building to catch up with the demand. A great rush to build new small homes in the suburbs took place, and the veterans often moved into little communities that hadn't adequately planned paved streets, schools, sewer and water lines. This wasn't the city of Cleveland's problem, but it was the start of an outward movement of population that has continued to this day, and has set in motion many big economic changes that affected the community.
Almost before anyone realized it, because of this outward movement, the whole picture of retailing changed, and the big downtown stores began to set up branches in the suburbs. Sears Roebuck, with Charley Kellstadt as local boss, was most aggressive (though it had no downtown outlet, it did have big stores on east and west sides). May Company got busy, with branches in University Heights and the new Parmatown shop-
ping center. Higbee and Halle came on more slowly, but Halle had a branch in the Westlake-Rocky River neighborhood, and a small store at Shaker Square. Finally, Higbee and Halle eventually put up stores at opposite ends of the new Severance Center in Cleveland Heights. By this time, in the early sixties, enormous discount stores were doing business in all the suburbs, east, west and south, were open on Sundays and evenings, and pulling in a lot of business. The population had become more and more mobile, as soon as the wartime freeze on automobiles was lifted.
Public transportation within the metropolitan community was having big problems, too. The Cleveland Transit System, which had done a flourishing business during the war, had started to change from trackless trolleys, which used the old overhead wires, to new buses, and was revising routes to cope with population shifts and extending service to Rocky River, Bay Village, Cleveland Heights, and so forth. The main item of change, however, was the building of a new CTS rapid transit line, from Windermere in East Cleveland to the Union Terminal.
This new rapid line became a major concern of Mayor Burke. In order to get the funds to build it, the structure of the transit board had to be changed, and CTS was required to set aside an amortization fund for the new bonds, and to pay operating costs out of the fare box. The five-man transit board (one appointment a year) had to be approved by the council. One of Burke's first appointments was Allen J. Lowe, the popular downtown hotel manager.
Though the Van Sweringens' grandiose railroad empire had collapsed, it had left a serendipity to the city of Cleveland in the form of right of way next to the New York Central tracks, all the way in from Collinwood to the Square. All that was needed was to lay the tracks and hang overhead wires. In the last few miles, from about East Fifty-fifth Street, the CTS rapid could share the tracks with the Shaker rapid transit. The CTS rapid was to be built in stages, the East Cleveland-to-Square section constructed first, and after that, it would be ex-
tended to the west side, as far as Triskett Road and Lorain Avenue. To connect with these main rapid lines, feeder bus routes were set up, with transfer privileges.
It was a happy sort of dream, supposed to entice citizens to leave their cars at home, or else drive to the end of the line and come in on the rapid. The principal trouble was that the East Cleveland section did not tap the main centers of population. It did cut through the Western Reserve-Lakeside Hospital community at Cedar Road, but it ran too far south after that to pick up passengers from the populous Hough, Euclid, and Wade Park districts, which in the 1950s were beginning to fill up with hundreds of blacks who had emigrated from Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. So the CTS rapid did not start to pay for itself until the west side line was built, and tapped the populous suburbs of Lakewood, West Park, and beyond. The feeder-bus plan was only mildly successful.
Anyway, the dedication of the East Cleveland line was done with much hoopla while Burke was still mayor, and the "we are on the move" attitude was given great attention by the newspapers.
About this time, too, airport extension became a hot problem. The city built a landing strip for small planes on the filled-land on the lakefront, to take some of the traffic away from the Hopkins airport, which was growing like a weed, requiring a new terminal building and new wings. The lakefront strip was named the Burke Airport after Tom, the smiling Irishman, had left office; later it was enlarged to accommodate small jet planes, with a terminal building and parking facility.
The late forties and early fifties could have been a time to rebuild the downtown and avert the dismal deterioration that became so obvious twenty years later. In addition to Burke's tendency to take things easy, and not go out looking for trouble, there were two other factors of inertia: (1) the caution of the big Cleveland banks, and (2) the ownership of so much Euclid Avenue property by absentee landlords or trusts. The banks were still gun-shy after the traumatic collapse of the Van Sweringens. The Union Commerce Bank had taken over the big ornate headquarters of the Union Trust at East Ninth
Street and Euclid. The Guardian Trust did not reopen, and ultimately paid out only 85 percent on deposits; its building at East Sixth and Euclid was eventually taken over by the National City Bank. The Central National Bank absorbed the Midland Bank and had headquarters in one of the Terminal group. All of them were cautious and many times in the ensuing twenty years new small businesses that wanted to expand got a cool reception when they wanted to borrow money and had to go to New York or Chicago for a big loan.
The Cleveland Trust Company, the biggest bank and the one that had best survived the crisis of 1933, set the pattern of caution, however, largely because of a surprising change in the top leadership. George Gund, a big property owner and industrial investor, had been quietly buying up the bank's stock, and at one annual meeting showed up with enough of it to get himself elected president. The business big shots had expected when Harris Creech retired that I. F. Freiberger, the vice-president and trust officer and a man greatly respected, would succeed him as president. Gund's astonishing takeover leapfrogged Freiberger and left him in second place.
Gund was a shrewd investor, who operated quietly. Practically no one expected him to become head of one of the largest banks in the Midwest. He had owned and operated a brewery on the west side, and in the depression had bought up Kaffee-Hag stock cheaply and turned it into handsome profits later. He owned some small downtown rooming-house-type hotels. His fortune grew, but his lifestyle gave no indication of it, for he wore old clothes and ancient hats and lived modestly. The county-estate, country-club life was not for him, and he was known as a tight man with a buck. Gund's thrifty personality dominated the bank after he gained control, and because so much of Cleveland's wealth was held in trust by this biggest bank, extreme conservatism became the fashion. Though much of the downtown was starting to deteriorate, no new promoters with big ideas, like the Van Sweringens, appeared to buy up the real estate from the absentee landlords and the old-family trusts, and put up new buildings.
As the retail business began to drift out toward the suburbs,
there were some important changes in middle-sized downtown retailing. The big and famous grocery stores, Chandler & Rudd and Southworth's, which delivered quality foods, gave up under the competition of the increasingly popular suburban supermarkets. W. B. Davis Company merged with Sterling and Welch and the Lindner Company. Changes in ownership took place in the five-and-ten-cent stores, which in the inflation, were becoming twenty-five-and-fifty-cent stores. The ferment had started, but no big new office buildings were erected, no new hotels planned (although the convention business was good because of the Public Hall). The Cleveland Trust Company main office at East Ninth and Euclid still remained in a small, dirty, old domed building, although the bank had had to move its expanding operations into an annex next door on East Ninth. The Gund bank was not planning to compete with the ornate Union Commerce building across the street.
An unexpected newspaper strike, the first in Cleveland's history, shut down the Plain Dealer for a month in January 1946. The chairman of the pressmen's union, a tough Irishman named Emmett Flanagan, objected to an editorial that was set to run the following morning, and refused to allow the presses to turn unless it was removed. Editor Bellamy refused to allow the union to tell him how to edit his paper, and a 2 A.M. confrontation occurred, among Bellamy, Sterling Graham, and Flanagan. The result was a shutdown of all the three papers the next day. Since it seemed to be a personality clash, the general expectation was that it would be settled in a day or two, but it lasted nearly a month before Mayor Burke and federal mediators could get the international union president to come up from Tennessee and tell the local union it was violating its contract. During the entire period, the Plain Dealer kept its whole employee force on the payroll. (Six years later, when the Plain Dealer and News started to publish out of one building, Flanagan was appointed superintendent of the press room, a management position.)
After the war ended, Nat Howard (who had been on leave to
work in Washington with the Office of Censorship) returned to resume his old job as editor of the News, which had been filled by Hugh Kane as acting editor. The promised infusion of new money for promotion, to cope with the growing Press, did not materialize. Instead the Forest City management decided to try to save money on production costs by moving the Plain Dealer into the News building at East Eighteenth and Superior, where the morning, afternoon, and Sunday papers could be produced out of one composing room, engraving room, stereotype room, and press room. To do this would mean putting a new building alongside and on top the News and wrapping it around the News building while it was still operating, a difficult, expensive feat of construction.
Something had to be done to give more room to the Plain Dealer, for in the two or three years after the war, when newsprint rationing ended, and the stores bought more advertising, the Sunday paper doubled in size, and the composing and press rooms were bursting at the seams. Buying enough additional newsprint for the bigger Sunday paper became a major headache for General Manager Graham.
One of the biggest morale boosters for the town during the Burke mayoralty was the sudden rise to the top of the Cleveland Indians after Bill Veeck and some friends bought the club from Alva Bradley and associates, who had owned it for twenty years. Tremendous crowds came out to see baseball after the war, as the big stars returned from the service. Bob Feller, the strikeout king, was back, and Lou Boudreau, the youngest manager, had taken over, and within a year or two, the Indians won the pennant in 1948, and after that the World Series, from the Boston Braves. Thousands thronged Euclid Avenue to greet the team, after their return with the big prize.
The oddball Veeck himself added to the color of the downtown scene, and attracted a coterie of enthusiasts that included many newsmen, public officials, and racetrack types. He was completely unorthodox in dress, always appearing in an open-throated sports shirt, and hobbling with difficulty on an artificial leg (he had had several operations on his leg after
osteomyelitis developed while he was in the Marine Corps, and finally had it amputated).
It was a high old period, and the downtown was alive with entertainment. Short Vincent Avenue, where the bookies hung out, was the magnet for B-girls and bars. Numbers games flourished in the growing slums. At the city hall, Mayor Burke coasted along as if he'd go on forever. He mowed down mayoral candidates Eliot Ness, Ray C. Miller (the Republican Ray), Johnny O'Donnell, and Judge Bill McDermott in rapid order. He was a buddy of Louis Seltzer, Paul Bellamy, Sterling Graham, and Nat Howard, and there was no powerful criticism of him. His executive assistant, Joseph Philip Sullivan, one of the brightest political minds of any age, warded off trouble until he was appointed to the municipal bench by Governor Lausche. Seltzer, who had nudged Lausche into running for mayor, was gaining more and more power each year as Burke followed the Lausche pattern of paying the most attention to what the editors were saying. Boss control in both parties began to diminish.
There was even an attempt in this period to get a new county home-rule charter passed. Long sessions were held by an elite charter commission, and an acceptable charter finally agreed on by the framers. The Citizens League and the newspapers supported it. As usual, most of the citizens ignored it and it failed to carry enough suburbs. Nor was there much enthusiasm for it by the central city voters. That old devil, fragmentation, was still present in Cleveland, even though by
the time Burke left office (to become senator after Bob Taft
died) the movement to the suburbs was well advanced, and the
central city had started to decay rapidly.
Tom Burke and his vivacious wife, Jo, were universally popular. Tom inherited the support of the ethnic groups from Lausche, who was still around in the background. He had support from the black Democrats, too, for their upward push did not begin until Burke had been out of office ten years. He seemed to lead a charmed life politically. Unfortunately, the charm did not carry over statewide. Congressman Bender, better known
throughout Ohio after running for statewide office for twenty years, beat Burke in 1954 in a close fight.
After that defeat, the only time he ever lost, Burke dropped out of politics. He had inherited some money, and did not need to work hard as a lawyer. At one time, he bought a piece of the Indians, in one of the groups that followed Veeck as owners, and he served on a few corporate boards. For the next ten years, however, he enjoyed the role of relaxed elder statesman. His wife, Jo, died in the mid-sixties, after a long illness. His second wife, formerly Mrs. Evelyn Sedgewick, survived him when he died of cancer in 1971.
|PREVIOUS CHAPTER||NEXT CHAPTER||TABLE OF CONTENTS|