Sunday, June 01, 2008

'Cleveland's Brash Will To Succeed'

'The stretch of downtown we walked that day - first, along East 9th between Euclid and Superior, and then along Superior towards Public Square - is a canyon of tall, gorgeous buildings, conceived by planners of the great cities of the early twentieth century. The bricks, pillars and cornices of the Huntington Building have always seemed to me to possess a forgotten sense of civic purpose. Across the street lay the Colonial Arcade. There was the glossy windmill of its circular doors, the ornate archway that framed its wide entrance, and, of course, the gleam of brass handrails that you couldn't see from the street. And there was Cleveland Public Library, whose marble steps cascaded downwards, like the gentle slope of a stream over graded shale. Inside, WPA murals hung on walls: portraits of an earlier America, flush with industry and progress, overcoming the hard times of Depression, forging through a new wilderness.Although I didn't know it then, these buildings had an illustrious history. When built, the Huntington Building was the second largest office building in the world. It was erected in 1923-24 for $17 million and designed by a prominent Chicago architectural firm. In the 1920's its tenants included railroads, iron and steel industries, shipping companies, legal firms and insurance and securities businesses - the economic forces that raised the city. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History states that the building contained an L-shaped 3-story banking room, and basilican halls with 38-foot-high Corinthian columns and barrel-vaulted ceilings. It was an artistic expression of Cleveland's brash will to succeed in the 1920's, and a way of establishing the city as a Mid-western metropolis as distinctive as New York or Chicago.'
From Lee Chilcote's Cleveland Story, an excerpt from his essay You Can Take it With You. You can find other interesting bits of writing, poetry and assorted slices Cleveland at The City. You can sample some of Lee's writing for the Free Times here. And I'd highly recommend this splendid piece he wrote on the history of community activism in Cleveland, for the late and lamented online journal Hotel Bruce. Four years ago, I wrote about Hotel Bruce here.


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