Cleveland, fair and square

Public Square, with Civil War memorial and base of Terminal Tower at left. (

My first visit to Cleveland revealed a city rich in history and in historical architecture, far beyond what I had expected. The downtown and beyond feature many more large, old, lovely buildings than Providence. For me and perhaps for readers of this blog, the best way describe Cleveland is by comparison with Providence. Cleveland proper is more than twice the size of Rhode Island’s capital, 381,009 to 179,883; but Providence has almost twice Cleveland’s density of population, 9,773 residents per square mile to Cleveland’s 4,901.

Terminal Tower.

Cleveland, originally called Cleaveland, was founded on the southern bank of Lake Erie in 1796 by Gen. Moses Cleaveland, who led the survey team that platted the Western Reserve claimed by colonial Connecticut. He laid out the settlement in the New England style, around what he called Public Square. Soon after the founding, Cleaveland traveled back to Connecticut, never to return. The first “a” in the name was dropped in 1831 to fit onto the masthead of the Cleveland Advertiser, a spelling that soon became official. In 1836 “open warfare nearly erupted” (in the words of Wikipedia), with neighboring Ohio City, across the Cugahoga from Cleveland. It was annexed in 1854 and is now the neighborhood of Ohio City.

I’m sure my host and oldest friend, the humorist Stevenson Hugh Mields, will forgive my spare account of Cleveland’s history. He used my visit to further acquaint himself with the city, which he normally avoids, having ditched D.C.’s madding throng two years ago for Cleveland’s western exurbs, near Oberlin and its college. He now lives on a farm. His father was my father’s oldest friend, both from Milwaukee, and they both were city planners in Washington and loved cities. Steve’s oldest friend loves cities too: Steve does not. He avoids Cleveland as best he can – because it is a city. He hates not just Washington but New York, Paris, and just about any other major conurbation. In spite of himself, however, this past week he could not hide his affection for and pride in many aspects of Cleveland.

View of downtown from Progressive Field.

After my arrival we watched the Cleveland Indians trounce the St. Louis Cardinals 7 to 2, in one inning slamming three home runs in three straight at-bats while I stood in line for dogs. The stadium sits near the banks of the Cuyahoga amid downtown, offering views of the Forest City’s skyline.

Over the next few days we visited the delightful West Side Market, in the aforementioned neighborhood of Ohio City. A neoclassical-Byzantine shed of brick, it was erected in 1912 with a clock tower and Guastavino-tiled ceiling, its giant hall chock-a-block with food stalls. We explored the Cleveland Arcade, built in 1890 and inspired by Milan’s 1877 Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. This gallery, in the Art Nouveau style, sits between two buildings of nine stories spanned by a glass ceiling midway up covering four floors of shops below – now hotel rooms – with two floors of shops on the ground floor and basement levels. This is reminiscent of the Providence Arcade (1828), the nation’s oldest (but not its first, long gone in New York and Philly) indoor mall, with a ground floor of shops topped, since 2013, by two stories of mini lofts that have now gone condo.

We also explored the Euclid Arcade (1911), a neoclassical shopping gallery just down Euclid Street from its larger, older and more famous sister. Steve and I did not realize that right next door to the Euclid was a similar facility, the Colonial Arcade (1898). I sat down for a drink to await Steve’s perusal of a nearby shop, unaware that the food court where I sat was the connection to the other arcade.

Providence has no equivalent to Cleveland’s extraordinarily beautiful Terminal Tower (1927), 52 stories high. It was the tallest building outside New York City from 1927 until 1964. In the Beaux Arts style, it closely resembles New York’s Woolworth Building (1913), by Cass Gilbert, designer of four buildings on the Oberlin campus, including the splendid Allen Memorial Art Museum, which we saw the next day. Cleveland’s Union Terminal was built under Terminal Tower in 1930. The rail station closed in 1977 after Amtrak switched to a station on the banks of Lake Erie on the site of Cleveland’s original train station, Union Depot, built 1853 and rebuilt in 1865 after a fire. Union Depot had been the largest rail terminus in the U.S. until Grand Central Terminal in NYC was built in 1913. (The original Pennsylvania Station, completed in 1910 and much bigger still, was not a terminal – end of a line – but a station for through rail traffic.) The new Cleveland station sits next to a highway running along Lake Erie. Cleveland Union Terminal was renovated by 1990 into a shopping mall.

Terminal Tower, now known, officially, by some, as the Tower City Center, faces Public Square, which harks back to the city’s founding. It boasts an elegant Civil War memorial similar to Kennedy Plaza’s Civil War memorial in Providence. Cleveland’s Public Square is also bounded by buildings in a variety of styles, old and new. Not far north of Public Square is another landscaped civic plaza, the Cleveland Mall, twice the size of Public Square, and also stricken by outbreaks of the new amidst the old. The Mall is younger than Public Square but older than – and perhaps comparable to – Waterplace Park in Providence, built in the 1990s in a style far more traditional than might be expected for its era.

The Cleveland Mall was conceived in 1903, and inspired by the temporary, neoclassical White City, centerpiece of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, in Chicago, which attracted 27 million visitors over six months. That was well over a third of the U.S. population, before air flight and motor cars. It was so popular that city fathers across the nation sought to copy it in their own cities. One such city was Providence, which centered its effort around Kennedy Plaza (then Exchange Place), but a more sustained example was Cleveland, which hired Daniel Burnham, famed for organizing the White City, to design its Cleveland Mall with an eye to the burgeoning City Beautiful Movement.

So Cleveland stacks up well to Providence, with the blessings (sorry, Steve) of size, in all of its dimensions, but Providence has some key advantages.

Cleveland’s downtown has more surviving beautiful historic buildings, most particularly the Terminal Tower, than has Providence, but Providence has a more historically intact downtown than Cleveland, with more blocks totally unsullied by modern architecture, street after street of historic buildings erected, mostly, between 1870 and 1930. Cleveland has many such buildings but there are fewer streets where the historical feel of their character is not interrupted, often quite dreadfully so, with modernist structures, whose ear to history is deliberately shut off. (Modern architecture is purposely anti-traditional.) And while the streets of downtown Cleveland are generously wide, downtown Providence’s streets are almost uniformly narrow, with a height-to-width ratio that urbanists calculate as being perfect for creating the outdoor-room feeling that is most comfortable for pedestrians. Destinations seem closer and distances shorter. Both Providence and Cleveland are fortunate to have had troubled economies in the heyday of modern architecture. Cleveland lacks the competitive plethora of stark modernist towers common to larger cities. Most of its downtown skyscrapers are relatively pleasing postmodern evocations of the prewar era of early towers in New York City.

The downside of living at a distance from a city is the need to spend more time in an automobile. Steve and I drove around a lot, to many charming small towns outside of Cleveland, but in particular to the small college town of Oberlin. The humorist is also a musician, and Oberlin’s music department is among the best in the world. As the school opens after the pandemic, and the calendar fills up again with free concerts by music faculty and students, the spirit of Steverino will take wing. He will rise with the joy of the blue heron named Harry who arose from the pond in front of his house almost every time we pulled into its dirt track driveway. Steve will not need to borrow the thrill of the city that enchants his old friend from Providence, at least not until I return.

I doff my hat (a new hat with a floppy brim that served me well at Progressive Field last Wednesday) to all who sent emails and comments urging me not to leave this or that classical highlight off of my Cleveland visit.

Cleveland Arcade, on Euclid Street; two nine-story buildings with shops under glass ceiling.

Euclid Arcade, also on Euclid Street, alongside Colonial Arcade.

View from Terminal Tower of southern part of Cleveland Mall. (Cleveland Memory Project)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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12 Responses to Cleveland, fair and square

  1. Love this article and love this city!!!


  2. John the First says:

    Talking about aesthetic decay and development of taste, I wonder how the people of the traditionalist architecture scene feel about the ‘pyjama wear’ on the photo ‘Cleveland Arcade, on Euclid Street; two nine-story buildings with shops under glass ceiling.’. The two big guys who are walking down the stairs with the baseball caps on. In your architectural Valhalla, will there be dress codes, or will democratic commercial casual wear, ‘slouch wear’, ‘slut wear’, ‘pyjama wear’ ‘obesity wear’, ‘junk wear’, ‘brute wear’, ‘tourist wear’ and whatever offensive to the eye suffice?

    Brussat’s answer: I don’t really have a satisfactory answer, John, except that however unkempt people may look, in my architectural Valhalla they are not to be joined in their tastelessness by the architecture around them.


    • John the First says:

      The word which I was looking for came to mind: ‘discrepancy’, and, ‘specialism’. Who is going the combine the traditionalist architecture scene with a (yet to emerge?) new aesthetics of fashion scene? I am glad to read that David wears a hat. I picture that he dresses himself appropriately and in agreement with the beautiful scenery.


      • I don’t wear a hat normally, John. And my dress is quotidian. I never wear clothes that display advertisements for goods or services whose advertisers should be paying me to wear such clothes.


    • John the First says:

      In short, without a certain amount of agreement in the various areas of aesthetics, fashion design, car design, industry design, furniture design, interior design, etc. the modernists, on the basis of discrepancy will have a strong argument when they are describing traditionalist architecture as museum culture.


      • I don’t agree, John. The level of agreement you seek is not to be found, not in any age, and being rare is not a good excuse for the ugliness of modernism, which only introduces more discrepancy to the scenery.


        • John the First says:

          I entertain the holistic approach that there is a connection between modernism, obsessive commercialism, consumerism, ‘junk architecture’, cheap products and ‘junk’ or cheap culture (among which ‘generic fashion’),. Junk also means non sustainable, short lived, unthoughtful design, low quality etc.
          So I am not aiming to forcefully arrive at a style of fashion and design which matches with architecture, of which you point out that it would be silly and undesired, and even an illusion based upon some kind of idealized nostalgic image, but rather something which like traditional architecture expresses character, craftsmanship and solidity, and there for fits in. Styles would roughly fit in too spontaneously because of a limited amount of local, geographical culturally determined preferences.
          Granted, it requires a comprehensive study first to come up with elaborate arguments, But I maintain that the ‘generic wear’ is seriously out of style and, in lack of ‘substance’?
          In the area of design of technological equipment, Roger Scruton or one of the other defenders of traditionalism and critiques of modernism talked about modernist forms which consist of one non composed (strange or even ‘alienating’) shape, and they also showed examples of design of technological equipment which is designed like that.


  3. fastzander says:


  4. Fishman, Bernard says:

    Dear David:

    As always I follow your columns with interest and a desire to learn new things, and your Cleveland piece reminded me of the extraordinary architecture present in the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco; I think the appearance of the Terminal Tower may have been the key to unlocking that recollection. Perhaps in earlier columns you have examined what the various American and European expositions in the 19th and early 20th centuries had to say about the development of architecture, taste and technology. In my own superficial considerations I was stunned to recognize the near-collapse of architectural standards (beauty, mainly) between the 1915 expo and the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago; it took a moment for me to absorb how much aesthetic decay had occurred in a mere 18 years. Possible additional evidence for World War I as a seminal moment in the collapse of many civilized values. The architectural horrors of the 1964 World’s Fair, as dreadful as they were, were much closer to the Chicago travesties than Chicago’s were to San Francisco’s. I’ve also come to appreciate how lovely the architecture of the 1873 expo in Vienna was, a feature of that unfairly forgotten event that will repay any new examinations. These universal fairs are a kind of distillation of some of the best architecture of our age, and also some of the worst.


    Bernard Fishman Museum Director Maine State Museum 83 State House Station Augusta Maine 04333-0083 207-287-6607


    • That evolution, or devolution, of architecture (and whatever social mores it symbolizes) as represented by the succession of world fairs would be an interesting post. I have not given it the thought it deserves, let alone posted on the subject. Thanks for bringing it up, Bernard. Let’s talk soon.


  5. Eric Daum says:

    Glad to see you have discovered the unsung joys of a sadly misunderstood city! You may not know I am a passionate fan of the soon-to-no-longer-be Indians and have traveled to Cleveland several times to see them play both in the old Municipal Stadium and in the Jake (aka Progressive Field). My love for the Indians was born at the age of 9, my father grew up outside Canton and was named for Cleveland Hall of Fame pitcher Stanley Covaleski. The first game he took me to at Fenway was the Tribe in June of 1968. Luis Tiant was still an Indian and he baffled the American League Champion Red Sox. A life-long love was born. Gil Schafer, whose grandfather was an esteemed Cleveland architect, set out my first list of must-see Classical buildings on my first trip. You hit most of the highlights, though University Circle with Severance Hall and the Art Museum is a Beaux Arts paradise. I stayed in the hotel at the Arcade a couple of times and it was delightful, though the main retail floor was underpopulated. Oberlin too a lovely town. Karl spent a summer there studying Arabic and the drop off and pick up were bookended by Indian’s games.

    It’s sad that the shift of technology in the latter part of the Twentieth Century stripped a once thriving metropolis of more than have its population and made wastelands of once lively neighborhoods. Cleveland’s fate may yet reverse like Detroit’s as climate change moves population north from the sunbelt and away from the coasts.


    • Eric, my friend Steve says he plans to move north, to Michigan, if the summers in Ohio keep getting hotter. We did search for Severance Hall and drove more or less aimlessly around University Circle, but either missed or passed by without noticing Severance and the art museum. All arguments for having a plan!


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