Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw
CHAPTER NINE: Erieview, the Big Mistake: 1953-1962
Sweeping changes in the American way of life were beginning in the 1950s, and nowhere more so than in Cleveland. The mobility of the population with autos once more available, and the desire for new homes with lawns, away from factories, a place to raise the bigger families that were growing fast, was accelerating the movement to the suburbs.
Merchandising of foodstuffs was changing fast, too. In the past twenty years, the old-style mom-and-pop type of meat market had just about disappeared because of competition of the big new supermarkets. In the 1920s grocery stores would deliver to the door, after housewives phoned in their orders. Bread wagons rolled up and down the residential streets, selling all sorts of pastries. Ice wagons delivered twenty-five- or fifty-pound chunks to homes, to fill old-style iceboxes. But the thirties just about finished the ice wagons, as iceless refrigerators, run by electricity or gas, became universally popular, and all new homes were equipped with them. Only the milk wagons have survived this transition.
Not only was there rapid movement out to the suburbs, but there was increasing movement from city to city. Two years after World War II ended, when the cold war was waxing hot and there was widespread fear of communism, Congress had passed, by almost unanimous vote, one of the most important bills of the century. It created a nationwide system of inter-
state highways, completely new in four lanes, apart from the main state routes, to be financed by a federal four-cent gasoline tax, on top of gas taxes the states had levied. The federal government agreed to pay 90 percent of the cost, with the states paying the rest and having a big role in selecting the routes. The highway lobby drooled with delight, and citizens generally believed it was great, for they could see themselves traveling soon on these wide concrete ribbons from coast to coast, seldom seeing a stoplight.
The legislation whipped through Congress like a strong breeze. It had been recommended by the Defense Department as a way to provide fast military roads, similar to the German autobahns that Hitler had used so effectively when mobilizing for his conquests. These new highways could be used to move long convoys swiftly from base areas, and if necessary, to evacuate civilian populations. The war was still on everyone's mind, particularly since Stalin was acting tough in Europe and had isolated Berlin from West Germany, which required President Truman to authorize an airlift to bring supplies of all sorts to the surrounded city, something never done before. Then came the sudden outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, the remobilization of reserves, the calling up of draftees again, and the air of crisis once more. Meanwhile, the superhighways were being built. They changed the lifestyle of the whole country. The only people who complained loudly were the small shopkeepers and gas station operators along the main state highways, who were being by-passed. They never did fully recover.
Big supermarkets, where everything was self-serve and pay-as-you-leave, came into being swiftly. They sold fresh meat and vegetables, and soon were selling frozen foods, which became more and more popular as storage freezers were bought. Not only were the supermarkets cheaper and accessible, but their food advertising soon became one of the most important sources of revenue for the newspapers. Not long after that, the Cleveland department stores scrapped their Shopping News, and did all their advertising in the papers.
Tom Burke was still mayor of Cleveland as the fifties be-
gan, and Frank Lausche was governor, and both were following their usual pattern of keeping the budget under control, not doing anything drastic. Nationally, a big upheaval was taking place. The Republican party was on the verge of a comeback after twenty years of Roosevelt and Truman. Senator Robert A. Taft was coming on strong, and seemed headed for the nomination. There was however another towering figure coming up reluctantly over the horizon, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of World War II in Europe, and a man universally respected by men of both parties. The eastern wing of the Republicans felt certain that if they could get General Ike nominated, he would win in a walk. They weren't so sure about Taft, who was able but not very glamorous. So they began a drive in 1951 to get him to return from Europe, where Truman had sent him to command the military forces of NATO, the anticommunist alliance. After much pressure, he did return, declared himself a Republican, and snatched the nomination from Taft. He won the election, in a landslide, over Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, an able man who never had a chance.
The Taft faction closed ranks after the nomination, and Eisenhower, in fact, practically accepted Taft's platform. After the election, he brought into the cabinet some Taft supporters, one of whom was George M. Humphrey, the Cleveland millionaire industrialist, who became secretary of the treasury. Humphrey had long been the money-raiser and unofficial backstairs patron of George Bender and Sonny DeMaioribus in Cleveland, but he had never held public office or made any public statements about anything except his business, the M. A. Hanna Company. Humphrey became Ike's principal advisor, as well as social companion in hunting season. He brought in his personal lawyer, H. Chapman Rose, as undersecretary, and Rose's brother, Nelson, as counsel for the treasury. Thus Cleveland had a high standing in Washington that it had not enjoyed since Newton D. Baker was secretary of war forty years previously.
The Cleveland city hall, however, was something else again.
Only Democrats held sway there and in county offices. When Burke was appointed to the senate vacancy left by Taft's death from cancer in 1953, a big change took place. A new mayor had to be elected in 1953, and Louis Seltzer, editor of the Press, decided he was going to elect him. Ray Miller, still Democratic boss, had other ideas. The resulting clash proved clearly who had the real political clout in Cleveland. It was Seltzer. His man, Anthony J. Celebrezze, remained as mayor for ten years.
It was during the Celebrezze administration that Cleveland became practically a one-party city. It was also the time that one of the most sweeping changes in the downtown was hatched, the creation of Erieview.
On the surface, it seemed to be one of the up periods for Cleveland. Erieview was created under the new concept of urban renewal. But what happened, concomitant with Erieview, was the outright neglect of other parts of the city, so that they turned into new slums and produced violent social upheavals ten years later.
The five terms of Tony Celebrezze as mayor were among the most tranquil in the political history of Cleveland. After his first election, he had no important opposition, either from the official Democratic party or the Republicans. He was Seltzer's creation, elected mayor after two terms as state senator, where he had made a good but not spectacular reputation. The Celebrezze name was excellent in Cleveland; Tony's older brother, Frank, had been a municipal judge before he died suddenly; prior to that he had been safety director and assistant county prosecutor. Tony had grown up as a poor boy in the Central Market area, had sold newspapers, put himself through law school, and was used to hard work. By the time he ran for mayor, the second-generation Italians had spread all over the city from their original bases, the Mayfield Road "Little Italy" district and the West Side. Tony had learned to speak well and had a quiet personality that generated confidence.
An important factor, however, in perpetuating Celebrezze as
mayor was the almost complete disappearance of the Republicans as a major force in Cleveland politics. They had a brief flurry in the state in 1947-49 when Tom Herbert was governor and John Bricker and Bob Taft were senators, and they came to life nationally during the eight years of President Eisenhower. But locally they were dead. The Republicans had a few seats in the city council and legislature but the party was a hollow shell, consisting only of precinct election officials. There were times when they had trouble even putting up a candidate for mayor, and several men they chose to be victims were almost laughable. They had lost the black vote during the depression, and now were gradually losing the suburbs. The city of Cleveland was practically a one-party domain.
It was a surprise to most Cleveland voters when Seltzer began to beat the drum for Celebrezze for mayor in 1953, since Ray Miller had already decided to back Albert S. Porter, who had been elected county engineer several times by big majorities and had an excellent record as a builder and administrator. Bert Porter is my younger brother. He worked his way through Ohio State University by playing the banjo and saxophone in a dance band while he studied civil engineering. He was asked to come to Cleveland in 1930 to join Dr. J. Gordon McKay's Highway Research Bureau, and later, when the bureau folded in the depression, he joined John O. McWilliams, then county engineer, and soon became his chief deputy. When McWilliams resigned after the war, Bert succeeded him and then was elected on his own. Miller was extremely high on him.
The Plain Dealer supported him in the primary. He was warned that he would probably be defeated, for a couple of reasons: (1) he was a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic city and; (2) Seltzer, having urged Tony Celebrezze to run, would move heaven and earth to prevent Bert's nomination, and he could expect all sorts of personal attacks, both public and private. Bert was confident, however. Miller was supporting him strongly, almost all the ward leaders had urged
him to run, and he was certain Mayor Tom Burke would endorse him.
At that time (as in 1975), the election for mayor was nonpartisan. It began with a primary in September. If there were more than two candidates, the two top survivors would run it off in November. Theoretically it was possible for two Democrats or two Republicans to reach the final, but actually it did not work that way. A Democrat had to run first if he was still to be on the ballot in November.
The ward leaders did endorse Porter. Miller did support him. But Mayor Burke chickened out, obviously fearing the Press. Celebrezze ran first, Judge William J. McDermott (Republican) second, and Porter third.
Bert remained as county engineer for the next twenty years, and ultimately became Democratic chairman, after Miller retired. He also was national committeeman for Ohio for eight years. He took a dim view of most newspapermen and editorial comment, and was a frequent and vivid writer of letters to the editor. He was often involved in public controversy, particularly over the location of freeways, but was never known to back off from his original position.
Tony Celebrezze became Cleveland's first and only five-term mayor. He was easily elected in November 1953 over Judge McDermott, then reelected in 1955, 1957, 1959, and 1961, against candidates who were beaten before they started. The city was obviously pro-Celebrezze.
After Tony beat Porter, Miller had no choice but to support Celebrezze. Miller had little to say about important city hall appointments. These still had a strong Lausche flavor, for the Celebrezze mayoralty was an extension of the Lausche-Burke dynasty. Tony's law director, Ralph S. Locher, had been executive secretary to Governor Lausche. Lausche's brother, Harold, was appointed park director. The cosmopolitan groups, Lausche's great strength, heartily supported Celebrezze, who was also one of them.
After Celebrezze became mayor, and in all his campaigns for reelection, all three newspapers supported him. They
rarely criticized him about anything important. It was an era of abnormal goodwill, of coasting along, not doing anything very big at first, but maintaining municipal services while keeping expenses down.
Industry seemed to be growing healthily and the city began to feel proud of itself again with the slogan "The Best Location in the Nation," first dreamed up by the Illuminating Company but adopted enthusiastically by the newspapers and the Chamber of Commerce.
All this was before Erieview, which was Mayor Celebrezze's big achievement -- and one of the city's biggest mistakes. It was powered and promoted by the Press, which obviously stood to benefit by it. Yet strangely it was not opposed, openly at least, by the Euclid Avenue department stores, or the Plain Dealer and News, which stood to be hurt by it.
Urban renewal by then had become the fashionable thing in American big cities, a chance to remake large areas with the assistance of munificent federal funds. Practically all of Cleveland's urban renewal effort was channeled into Erieview, a downtown square-mile area south of Lake Erie, bounded roughly by East Sixth Street, East Eighteenth Street and Chester Avenue. The concept of urban renewal was simple: the city government, using its power of eminent domain, was authorized to acquire land in certain designated areas (usually run-down), clear it of buildings, and then sell it at a fraction of the cost to private developers, who would put up new office buildings, hotels, apartments, and so forth. The objective was to improve the looks of the city, eliminate slums, and provide better housing for the former slum residents. Many cities developed plans to open large park-like areas for civic centers, surrounded by new buildings that, when erected, would generate enough tax revenue to make up for the tax money originally spent to buy the land and loss of the taxes from demolished buildings.
Urban renewal in Cleveland soon came to mean only Erieview. Mayor Celebrezze got I. M. Pei, the New York city
planner, to prepare a dream plan, which was announced with much fanfare in the newspapers. At once, the elaborate legal machinery necessary to put it into effect began to move speedily through the city council, the city planning commission, and finally, the courts. It had the green light all the way.
At the same time, another urban renewal plan was planned, in a much larger area to the east, called University-Euclid. It included a large section in the Hough and Wade Park areas to the west of East 105th Street and also some areas around Western Reserve University. The Hough-Wade Park area, once a fashionable residential section full of big apartments and fine single homes, had been deteriorating rapidly. Large numbers of uneducated blacks, whose jobs as cotton pickers in the South had been eliminated by automation, had moved into Hough-Wade Park, doubling up with relatives; and by the mid-fifties, this whole section was fast becoming a slum, and badly needed urban renewal.
The Erieview area, however, was no slum. Some ratty shops and small dilapidated apartments existed along East Ninth Street, but to the east there were modest homes, kept up in pretty good shape by working-class families, plus a few small factory buildings, and even a couple of brand-new small office buildings put up by Addressograph Multigraph Company and the Wall Street Journal. And a lot of open space. The fulcrum of Erieview, however, was the Cleveland Press's new building at the corner of East Ninth and Lakeside. Erieview was immediately next door to it, to the south and east, and it would become practically a part of Erieview. This was where the real steam was generated for Erieview.
When completed, Erieview would shift the center of commercial gravity in downtown Cleveland away from Euclid Avenue, toward the lakefront. The office workers in Erieview would be compelled to walk, or find special transportation, a half mile or more to the stores on Euclid and the good restaurants near them. This would be difficult and uncomfortable in winter. The new buildings in Erieview would tend to pull office occupants out of older ones along Euclid and accelerate
the degeneration of Euclid, which was already under way. Lower Euclid was already filling up with schlock shops, and many vacancies existed after the William Taylor Son & Company department store folded. A block to the south, Prospect Avenue had already deteriorated into a dirty, junky street to avoid. Halle's on upper Euclid had already suffered from the intense competition of May Company and Higbee's at the Public Square, which had increased when the Union Terminal hooked into rapid transit. Sterling-Lindner-Davis, already a conglomerate of three Euclid Avenue stores, was in an even worse situation, since the back part of its building, on East Twelfth Street, was included in the official Erieview tract.
It would have been natural for these big stores, with large economic clout, to strongly oppose Erieview, for obviously it would hurt them. Strangely, they did not go openly on the warpath about it. The owners and managers did a lot of grumbling privately and feared the worst. The worst was already coming on strong, in the form of suburban super-shopping centers. Housewives were getting the habit of staying in the suburbs, seldom even coming downtown. Making it difficult for workers in far-off Erieview office buildings to get to the Euclid Avenue stores seemed to be adding insult to injury.
The selfish commercial interest of the Press in Erieview was obvious. So was the special political interest of Mayor Celebrezze, the Press's protege. Yet a strange paralysis about Erieview stymied the Plain Dealer and News. It is hard to understand now, in retrospect, why the two papers did not seize this occasion to oppose Erieview outright as a Press project in disguise, rather than real civic betterment or legitimate urban renewal. They had both been losing ground to the Press for ten years. Yet the Forest City management apparently couldn't (or didn't) see this. They appeared to be too involved in their own problem of integrating the PD and News production facilities into a costly new building, selling off their radio stations at bargain rates, and getting
used to a new editor of the Plain Dealer, Wright Bryan. They were paralyzed, apparently in no mood for a serious battle with the Press -- something that was deferred until nearly ten years later, when Tom Vail took over as publisher of the PD.
The new Plain Dealer-News building was outside the official Erieview tract, but it could be sorely affected by the shift of business away from Euclid Avenue. These newspapers' interest in the prosperity of the big stores on Euclid shouldn't have required a blueprint. Erieview was all minuses and no pluses for the Forest City Publishing Company. But they did not fight Erieview. Occasionally some minor questions were raised editorially about the details, but they did not try to puncture the ballyhoo or encourage the handful of property owners who were trying vainly to stop it in court. The project became a real juggernaut, overriding small opposition in the city plan commission, council, and courts. It was thoroughly legal all the way, but whether it was a good thing was doubtful and debatable. The PD and News stood aside placidly and let it roll.
Celebrezze had a big council majority, and Jack P. Russell, the council president, was as obedient to the Press as the mayor was. A few negative murmurs in the planning commission were quickly silenced. Councilman Alfred Grisanti, whose family had an old (but good) residence smack in the middle of Erieview, was practically the only opponent, either in council or court. He filed lawsuits and took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, but was run over by the juggernaut. So the land was acquired and a deal offered to John W. Galbreath of Columbus, to put up a thirty-seven-story office tower, topped by a new Stouffer restaurant and a private club, the Clevelander. Eventually, after much delay, it was erected and is now fully occupied, but a lot of arms had to be twisted at first to get it filled. Ohio Bell finally came in to occupy seven floors, and M. A. Hanna, White Motor, Eaton Corporation, and U.S. Steel took big space.
Galbreath was in no hurry to exercise his option to put up
a second building, however. A hotel on the lakefront, contemplated in the original Pei plan, was finally built, and opened by Holiday Inn, in 1974. A tall, spacious new federal office building was built at East Ninth and Lakeside, catty-cornered from the Press (christened, appropriately enough, as the Anthony J. Celebrezze Building). An apartment building, the Chesterfield, was erected at East Twelfth and Chester, and another, more elaborate and with a shopping mall, the Park Centre, across the street. A couple of small buildings have been put up near the Erieview Tower. Today, twenty years later, the original dream of Architect Pei is still far from a reality, and all the disagreeable problems predicted for winter have come to pass -- the hazards of ice and snow, the difficulty of finding transportation and good restaurants, the problem of getting to stores to shop on the lunch hour. (Even employees of the Press now complain about this.) Several of the best and oldest restaurants, Fischer-Rohr, the Tavern, the Hickory Grill, were bulldozed out of business, and the number of good places to eat downtown steadily diminished.
Erieview destroyed Euclid Avenue from East Fourteenth to Public Square, as the main, fashionable, nationally famous shopping center of Cleveland. Of the fine, big stores there, only Halle's is left today, and it had to be rescued and kept going by Marshall-Field of Chicago. Sterling-Lindner-Davis gave up the losing fight and closed; the building was torn down. Bonwit-Teller moved out, and its quarters were taken over by a cheap-goods distributor. Milgrim's, Peck & Peck and Hathaway's also departed, to Shaker Heights. All the ornate movie palaces, opened with such fanfare in the twenties, folded -- the State, Keith's Palace, the Allen (though the lobbies and foyers were later revived by the opening of cabaret dinner-theaters, which did a good business in the early seventies). All along this part of Euclid, more and more empty store fronts and for-rent signs in windows stuck out like sore thumbs. Herman Pirchner's Alpine Grill, once a popular dine and dance spot, closed. Pierre's restaurant was sold to
new owners. The restaurants within the Hanna building and on the corner of Fourteenth and Euclid changed hands several times, although a half-dozen fast-food counters became available for quick-lunchers. Only the heroic efforts of a new group, the Playhouse Square Association, headed by a young dynamo named Ray Shepardson, and encouraged by the Junior League, saved the Euclid-Fourteenth area from complete decay. They not only got the cabaret theaters rolling (and one, playing Jacques Brel is Alive and Well set local records for continuous performances), but encouraged the establishment of an arts headquarters run by a group called NOVA and the opening of studios in the same building on Huron Road, near the corner. The city government helped by turning Huron Road into a one-way street, with a mall and parklet at the northeast end, where musicians would play free at noon for young folks who brown-bagged their lunches in summer.
Westward along the once-famous avenue, however, the picture was not so bright. Once a pedestrian strolled beyond the Cleveland Trust and Union Commerce bank buildings and brokerage offices and savings and loans around East Ninth Street he encountered more and more bargain shops, discount drug stores, cheap jewelry and footwear outlets, and fast-food joints. Even a MacDonald's was opened where Mills Restaurant had once prospered. Euclid had become a sad, run-down avenue by late 1975.
Business was good at lunchtime at the few good eateries left downtown (and reservations were always advisable), but few people stayed down, or came down, to eat. Even Harvey's Oak Room off the Terminal concourse, which had proudly maintained its quality since its opening around 1930, had to close because dinner-time business had almost vanished. The 5 P.M. homeward exodus of office-workers was almost unanimous.
Naturally all this deterioration of downtown caused much dismay and head-scratching among the civic movers and shakers, who kept coming up with hopeful plans to turn it around and are still doing so.
Although the impact of Erieview on the downtown was disastrous enough, it was worse in the east side of the central city, because all the urban renewal effort was concentrated on Erieview, to the concurrent neglect of the Hough area and the University-Euclid project. These became blind spots, real orphans, for several years, as the engineering and real estate talent at city hall was diverted to Erieview. Development plans for University-Euclid were sketchy and incomplete; there seemed to be no plan for the whole area. Western Reserve and the University Hospitals, faced with a tremendous, privately financed expansion program, had to start moving on their own to clear land for buildings and parking. The Hough and Wade Park areas simply festered, becoming more and more crowded with poor blacks, living without much hope on welfare, as real estate values slipped and crime increased. The black population, which for years had been around 25 percent, climbed rapidly to 35 percent. It simply could not be contained in the older areas around Central, Scovill, Woodland and Cedar avenues, but flowed northward to Superior and St. Clair, into Glenville, past the borders of East Cleveland (which is now 85 percent black) and into Cleveland Heights and the south and southwest parts of Shaker Heights, which are around 25 percent black today.
Had the same major effort that was put into Erieview been channeled into tackling the badly needed urban renewal in Hough and University-Euclid, their collapse into complete slums would not have come so fast, nor the aftermath of problems been so tragic. Obviously this decay was one of the basic causes of the race riots and burnings that broke out in Hough in 1965 and in Glenville in 1968, which resulted in murder and widespread arson. These unhappy confrontations were postponed, however, until after Mayor Celebrezze had left city hall, to become secretary of health, education and welfare under President Kennedy (and after that, was appointed federal court of appeals judge by President Johnson). His grim legacy was left to his friend and successor, Mayor Ralph Locher, and continued under the man who ultimately beat
Locher, Mayor Carl B. Stokes. Urban renewal totally collapsed under Locher and was in worse trouble under Stokes. Public housing, too, has become enmeshed in bitter racial vendettas, for which there seems no happy solution.
The city is much worse off now than before Erieview. For a long time, it was not considered safe to walk the streets downtown at night not only in Erieview, but along Euclid. It need not have happened this way. Erieview could have been stopped if the Plain Dealer and News had actively opposed Erieview and encouraged the big department stores to join them in opposition. A referendum could have beaten it, because it had no real grassroots support. Its backing and promotion were political and journalistic.
This was proved later when another big Celebrezze project failed, a hotel on the Mall. This was a proposal to build a new twenty-story Hilton Hotel on a piece of city-owned land on the edge of the downtown Mall. The Mall, a central park area, had been open space since Mayor Johnson dreamed it up in the early l900s. No one in the fifty years had suggested putting any kind of commercial building on it.
Cleveland badly needed a big new downtown hotel. No really big one had been built since 1914, and the only new small ones, the Auditorium and the Manger, had been put up in 1926-28. The old Hollenden was a firetrap, ripe for demolition. The Statler, Pick-Carter, and Sheraton-Cleveland, though refurbished, were inadequate. No big operator had seemed eager to come in until the Hilton management suddenly offered this proposal for a skyscraper. The only spot Hilton would consider was on the piece of city-owned Mall. It would be practically next door to the Public Hall, where the big conventions are usually held. Architecturally, the plan was attractive, but it would obviously need to rise above the five-story limitation on Mall buildings.
Mayor Celebrezze was strongly in favor of the proposed Hilton. So were a lot of other influential people, including a majority of councilmen. Persuasive arguments were made that it would produce more taxes than the small piece of city
park land was worth, that it would not really harm the configuration of the Mall. A few objections were offered, but none serious enough to prevent the city planning commission or the council from easily approving legislation to permit the sale of the Mall land. No serious opposition came from newspaper editorials, either. It looked as if another Erieview was in the making.
This time the Plain Dealer permitted some stiff columns (written by me) to appear in opposition to it. I wrote that it was wrong to start chipping away at Tom Johnson's dream, that it was not ethical to sell city land, even a small piece of it, to a private commercial company, no matter how well known and honorable. A few determined citizens agreed, at once. J. George Mayer, member of the plan commission who had been outvoted, said it was outrageous. Charles Gentsch, a strong-minded lawyer, recommended a referendum, and before long, a referendum did indeed materialize. When the vote was taken, the Hilton-on-the-Mall was defeated. Mayor Celebrezze was unhappy, and so was the Hilton management, which has stayed out of Cleveland ever since.
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