Rooms With Views of the Past
In this week's Cleveland Scene, the cover package looks at various hidden jewels of Cleveland. The paper asked a couple dozen writers and people about town to talk about their favorite hidden jewels of Cleveland. I contributed the following essay about my three favorite old Cleveland rooms. You can read the entire feature package here.
When I think of lesser-known Cleveland gems, I come back to three awe-inspiring rooms, each of which serve as vivid reminders of the immense wealth this town once enjoyed.
The three-story interior of the Huntington Building at the northeast corner of East 9th and Euclid was the world's largest when it was built in the early 1920s (the building itself was then the second-largest office building in the world). Even today, the immense scale of the place can blow you away. As you take in all of its architectural gigantism, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had somehow been momentarily transported to New York, London or some other international banking center. For me, the interior always brings home, in the most palpable way, how far the city has fallen in the decades since the booming 1920s.
My personal favorite is the library of the Union Club, a study in Edwardian-era elegance, but with a touch of old-money restraint. I know many people avoid this building out of a reflexive and understandable revulsion for what it stands for. In fact, this very room once served as the segregated holding pen for the "ladies," the only such room in this once male-only club, which didn't admit women until 1982. Nevertheless, I suggest you somehow get past all that and just enjoy the place for what it is today--an exquisitely beautiful room that provides a visual feast. Whenever I find myself in the neighborhood, I make sure to budget an extra 10-15 minutes to just sit and admire the place.
The English Oak Room, an art deco wonder in the bowels of the old Union Terminal complex, later to be called Terminal Tower (sorry, it'll never be Tower City for me), is the last of these vivid throwbacks to an earlier era. The stately dining room served the dwindling passenger train crowd, or at least the wealthiest slice of it, until it closed in 1975. It's since gotten a facelift and is available for special events. If you've never caught a glimpse of it, I suggest you do so (by appointment, of course).
I liken these rooms to the still-graceful remnants of a proudly aging dowager princess. Or perhaps they're collectively the municipal equivalent of the faded move star Gloria Swanson in the movie Sunset Boulevard, decrying how she hadn't gotten small, only the "pictures" had. That former world, in which booming Cleveland was such a central hub, has vanished forever. But I still love revisiting it momentarily in the form of this trio of venerable rooms. With the right pair of lenses, faded beauty can be just as compelling as the other kind.