Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hotel preserves transit history building

Shel and I have been checking out downtown for the upcoming conference of the Nickel Plate Road Historical and Technical Society and Friday’s tour took us to a really interesting property: the Hilton Garden Inn on Carnegie across from Jacob’s Field. Their conference center wing is an “adaptive re-use” of a building which used to be the service facility for the old Cleveland Railway Company, which predated Cleveland Transit System and today’s RTA. It repaired line trucks and housed the company’s dispatchers and supervisors and around 1941 a tall radio aerial was added, which still exists.

The entrance, at 1022 Carnegie, preserves the staircases and marble walls, but the big surprised came when we saw the Armitage Room. There overhead was a two-story ceiling, containing the original hoist crane which would travel from one end of the shop to the other, carrying vehicles, motors and other heavy equipment. The Hilton had decided that preserving the crane and making it a part of the rooms décor would be interesting and we certainly agreed.

Go to the hotel’s site, select “Tour Hotel” and photo #11 shows this crane.

(Incidentally the Nickel Plate society is a group of people interested in the old New York, Chicago & St. Louis railroad, aka “The Nickel Plate.” It was the railroad the Van Sweringen brothers purchased in order to get the right-of-way through Kinsbury Run, they needed to bring their Shaker Rapid line into downtown from their new Shaker Heights community. The 2006 convention marks the 125th anniversary of the creating of the Nickel Plate, the 90th of the Van Sweringen’s purchase and the 40th of the creation of the historical society, so it is only fitting that the railroad’s old home city of Cleveland was selected.)

Another interesting house

My accidental association with interesting houses continues. As I reported back in January, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in three unique houses in Lake County while growing up and I’ve just discovered that the one I now live in was designed by one of the partners in the famous Walker and Weeks firm in Cleveland. This wouldn’t be surprising if I lived in a mansion on Fairmount, but my modest little house is located up in northern Cleveland Heights, just south of the East Cleveland border.

My wife and I purchased the house five years ago, because we thought it was a cute little cottage that backed up on a deep wooded ravine and was affordable. While it has pleasing proportions, there was nothing about it that suggested anything special. Months after moving in we heard rumors that it had been on the local home tour, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that we saw the on-line archives of the Heights Heritage Home Tour for 1985, which featured this house. We were surprised to note that the tour labeled this “The Faber House,” which contradicted the chain of title we’d assembled from the County Recorder’s on-line database of property transactions. There was no previous owner name Faber. So we tracked down the owner during the time of the tour and while she couldn’t clear up the Faber designation, she mentioned that old Mrs. Hart, the woman who’d owned the house for the entire 36 years previous to her, had told her that the house was designed by Walker and Weeks.

About that time, Kara O’Donnell, the Cleveland Heights Historic Preservation Planner, sent us a copy of the original permit application. This showed that the property was owned by Mrs. Hart and that Faber was merely the carpenter contractor who signed the application. What was more interesting was that the architect was listed as L.W. Stedman in the typewritten paperwork and his address was 2341 Carnegie. Looking in city directories and other sources, there seemed to be no L.W. Stedman in Cleveland. That seemed to dash our hopes that this was a Walker and Weeks house until a neighbor asked where Stedman’s office was located and we discovered that 2341 Carnegie was the Walker and Weeks building! Checking Eric Johannesen’s book, A Cleveland legacy : the architecture of Walker and Weeks, we noted that the partner who headed up planning design for the firm was Claude Wilmot Stedman. Checking the handwritten portion of the Cleveland Heights application showed that “L.W.” could just as easily be “C.W.” and so the rumor of a Walker and Weeks connection seemed proved.

C.W. Stedman’s obituary listed several prominent buildings he had been associated with, including the Cleveland Public Library main branch, on Superior, the Post Office Building behind the Terminal Tower (today’s MK Ferguson Plaza), and a whole gallery of major churches, private schools and grand residences. An architectural historian has gently suggested that this may have been a private project of Stedman’s, and not a Walker and Weeks commission, but we’re happy just to know more about the house and why it has been such a pleasure to live in.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The mission of the digital library consortium

The Greater Cleveland History Digital Library Consortium has approved a mission statement, to guide its future activities and help explain its purpose to the wider community. While not as difficult as approving the Iraqi constitution is proving to be, there’s always differing viewpoints on which elements to include and in which order to list them. The final version reads like this:

The mission of the GCHDLC is to build a collaborative infrastructure that provides public access to digitized historical and cultural heritage resources and sustains local history digitization projects in Northeastern Ohio.

Some members believed that the wording was too vague, “public access” being something everyone provides on the web, whereas others thought that a certain amount of vagueness freed us from trying to perform the laundry list of specifics that others were putting forth.

One point that came up was a goal of “centralizing” access and/or providing a “portal” for such access. While centralization seems natural enough, it was felt to imply a view of the web and our collaborations that we wanted to avoid. We felt that the strength of the web comes from our ability to create a big, uncentralized, network of resources, which everyone would be free to use and provide access to through the particular lens of their individual interests and purposes. A monolithic entity is not what we’re building, we decided, so we shouldn’t inadvertently use buzz words that seemed to imply that we were.

Anyway, this is the mission statement of the consortium, until such time as it proves inadequate or inspiration strikes someone. The whole process of arriving at this formulation has been beneficial, as it forced us to debate our purpose and our plans, and while the specifics will evolve with time, we hope this statement will be flexible enough to keep pace for a while.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Blogging Cleveland Memories

As we blog our opinions about a new convention center, the school board salaries, lakefront planning, economic development strategies and other matters of pressing contemporary concern, those of us who grew up in greater Cleveland, or at least have lived here long enough to have memories about its past and opinions about its landmarks, should find the time to blog on these topics as well.

What does the prospects of the old Cleveland Trust tower being demolished by the County mean to you, if anything? Should the surviving (but dismantled) Hulett Ore Unloaders be returned to some position of prominence in the city’s plans for the river and lakefront? What was it like growing up in your neighborhood, church or school? How does the occasional article in the Plain Dealer on some local history or historic preservation topic strike you, as it is published?

There are a host of small ways to touch on matters of local history in your blog and I would like to know about any that you post, so that I could link to them in the reformulated Cleveland History Blog and the News from Cleveland Memory e-newsletter.

My email is

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Cleveland's Forgotten Coaster

Doug, a student at Ohio State, has posted an article on his Surfing Lake Erie blog, about searching for remnants of the wonderful "Cyclone" roller coaster at the site of the former Puritas Springs amusement park.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

All Condon, all the time

Today was a day full of George Condon, which is a very good day indeed.

It got off to a great start when I had lunch with George and he even picked up the check! We’ve been getting together of late, as he works on new books to join the many that have enriched the literature about our city. Visiting with him is always a great pleasure, as he is a veritable jukebox of stories about Cleveland, gathered in thirty years of writing a daily column for the Plain Dealer until retiring twenty years ago. He talks about what a tremendous grind it was, turning out five columns a week, week after week, no matter what. On top of that, he occasionally found ways to get a few columns ahead, so he could do the research for his several books: Cleveland, the Best Kept Secret (1967), Laughter from the Rafters (1968), Stars on the Water: the Story of the Erie Canal (1974), Yesterday’s Cleveland, (1976), Cleveland: Prodigy of the Western Reserve (1979), and several other works, including a charming collection of stories about Irish nicknames in Cleveland, Gaels of Laughter and Tears (1995). He’s a generation ahead of me in age, but I notice that his Cleveland and my Cleveland are closer together by now than either are to today’s Cleveland.

My Condon day continued at dinner, as I read Stars on the Water. I have to be reading something as I eat and this book is both entertaining and educational. It’s all I can do to keep from driving to upstate New York to see what remains of what may be the most significant piece of civil infrastructure in the country’s history. (Our local version, the Ohio & Erie Canal, is certainly Cleveland’s most important construction project, by any measure.)

I finished the evening off reading another chapter from his Cleveland: the Best Kept Secret title to my Aunt Helen. As I mentioned back in January, her vision is failing and I’ve taken to reading local history books to her. Then it was Don Robertson’s moving novel set around the historic East Ohio Gas Company explosion of 1944, The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, which was followed this summer by Bob Manry’s account of his solo voyage across the Atlantic 40 years ago, Tinkerbelle (more...). George’s writing style is so smooth that it’s a joy to read his works aloud and so that’s the work Helen and I are currently enjoying. Best Kept Secret is out of print, but we at CSU are preparing an e-book edition for the Cleveland Memory Project, with George’s generous approval, of course, so we’ll be able to help keep his works known.

One thing I’ve carried away from reading George and talking to him is his conclusion that the city’s done little to commemorate its more important citizens by naming things after them. Alfred Kelley, father of the Ohio & Erie Canal, deserves to have the city named for him, more than Moses Cleaveland does, but other than a never-used appellation for the I-480 bridge across the Cuyahoga Valley (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know that either), he goes unrecognized and unremembered. I’ve had it suggested that the proposed Canal Basin Park would be a perfect feature to name for Kelley and I wholeheartedly agree. Tom L. Johnson is another critically important figure in the city’s history, but try to find something named for him. We come up with fairly anonymous names for some of our major landmarks – witness the “Terminal Tower” and “The Mall” – and while that may be part of our charm, it wouldn’t hurt to honor some of the people who are most responsible for the city’s past greatness. At least George thinks so. I agree.

Back to this blog

After an absence of more than six months, with the exception of one odd message in April, I am restarting the Cleveland History Blog. It has proven more difficult to sustain than I imagined, the necessity of populating it with enough content to make it worth returning to and the challenge of finding material to write about being too much for me the first time around. What I hope will be different this time is a better idea of how to link the blog to the News from Cleveland Memory e-newsletter and the prospects of some help from other writers. I am also hoping to explore RSS feeds to other blogs dealing with Cleveland, although not necessarily its history. Suggestions are always welcomed.