An Overview of the Suburbs from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

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SUBURBS. The history of suburban development is long and complex. Some Cleveland suburbs are nearly as old as the city; they range from industrial (LINNDALE) and entertainment centers (NORTH RANDALL) to small, exclusive residential villages (HUNTING VALLEY) and large blue-collar cities (PARMA). Within commuting distance of a city, suburbs initially housed urban workers. Often dependent on city amenities, they remain administratively separate. In contrast to cities, most suburbs have more middle-class residents, lower population densities, and higher rates of homeownership. Several forces encourage suburbanization (growth at the city’s edge), including the influence of the rural ideal, urban flight, transportation technology, overcrowded and environmentally unpleasant urban conditions, and private and public policy at local, state, and federal levels. Despite the diversity of Cuyahoga County suburbs, each community is inextricably tied to the history of the core city. This suburban history has 5 overlapping periods: 1) the urban ring, 1850-1900; 2) electrified streetcars and the first suburban rings, 1890-1930; 3) urban decentralization and the first automobile suburbs, 1920-1950; 4) automobile suburbs and suburban supremacy, 1950-80; 5) freeway construction and in/out county developments, 1970s-1990s. Each period produced different suburban landscapes and communities, while local geography, immediate historical context, and residents themselves account for suburban differences among suburbs of the same period or region (east, west, south).

Before 1850 Cleveland had several rivals and was surrounded by a series of independent rural townships, villages, and settlements. Lacking an inexpensive and reliable transportation system, it remained a dense settlement in which residents walked to work and shop. With continued population growth, Cleveland approached its geographic limits by the 1850s. New transportation technology encouraged the first suburban developments. In 1859 the EAST CLEVELAND began construction of a horse-drawn streetcar line (see TRANSPORTATION and URBAN TRANSPORTATION). During the 1860s and 1870s, other companies laid tracks to outlying areas, while dummy railroads like the Lakeview & Collamer on the east and Rocky River on the west brought vacationing urbanites to rural retreats. In the 1880s the Nickel Plate Railroad (see NICKEL PLATE ROAD) purchased and upgraded the dummy lines and began limited commuter service. The horse-drawn street railways opened nearby suburban land for residential development up to about 3 miles from downtown, where more affluent urbanites constructed large homes. Township and county governments could not match the city’s educational facilities, paved and lighted streets, and fire and police protection. To gain these amenities, new suburbanites formed villages: the first EAST CLEVELAND (1866), GLENVILLE (1870), West Cleveland (1871), COLLINWOOD (1883), BROOKLYN (1889),SOUTH BROOKLYN (1889), and NOTTINGHAM (1899). They, too, found the costs staggering. Ultimately, most 19th-century suburbanites chose to join Cleveland to gain the best of both worlds: the bucolic suburban ideal and urban services. Expansion-minded Cleveland sought these mergers, initially absorbing the remainder of Cleveland Twp. (1850), its leading rivals, OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO) (1854) andNEWBURGH (1873), and parts of neighboring townships (Brooklyn, Newburgh, and East Cleveland). Cleveland then annexed its neighboring villages: the first East Cleveland (1872), Brooklyn (1890), West Cleveland (1894), Glenville and South Brooklyn (1895), Corlett (1909), Collinwood (1910), and Nottingham (1913).

Electrified streetcar development in the late 1880s transformed the metropolis. Three times faster than horse-drawn streetcars (15 vs. 5 mph), they permitted radial suburban development up to 10 miles from the city center. The new technology arrived as Cleveland confronted a series of challenges: huge migrations from Southern and Eastern Europe; industrial and business expansion into residential neighborhoods; pollution from new industries; and corrupt government. Urbanites looked to the suburbs as both rural haven and escape from urban disorder. Unlike previous suburban developments, streetcar suburbs deliberately distanced themselves from the city. Privately owned, franchised electric streetcar companies (often controlled by land developers) laid out tracks on EUCLID AVE.. (to Lee Rd. by 1893), Euclid Hts. Blvd. (to Edgehill by 1897); Detroit Ave. and Clifton Blvd. (to the Rocky River by 1894 and 1904, respectively). Almost immediately after completion of these lines, residents of outlying areas took advantage of Ohio’s permissive incorporation laws and established villages: East Cleveland (1895), LAKEWOOD and CLEVELAND HEIGHTS (both in 1903). Rapid population growth quickly raised them to city status: East Cleveland and Lakewood in 1911, and Cleveland Hts. in 1921. Nevertheless, Cleveland’s first streetcar suburbs grew most quickly between 1910 and 1930: East Cleveland added 30,488 new residents, Lakewood’s population increased by 55,328, and that of Cleveland Hts. by 47,990. A second suburban ring, linked to the downtown by streetcar or rapid transit, also formed. Made up of the older independent villages (BEDFORD andBEREA) and new suburban developments (EUCLIDGARFIELD HEIGHTSMAPLE HEIGHTS, Parma, ROCKY RIVER, and SHAKER HEIGHTS), these communities all obtained city status by 1931. In addition, 52 new villages incorporated.

Streetcar suburbs remained independent. With Cleveland overwhelmed by its own population growth, the new suburbs benefited from additional time and the scale of their own growth to establish services expected by urban dwellers. New suburbanites also sought to keep out unwanted urban elements; anti-annexationists often painted CLEVELAND CITY GOVERNMENT as corrupt (despite muckraker Lincoln Steffens’s claims that it was one of the nation’s best-run cities). East Cleveland rejected merger with Cleveland in 1910 and 1916 because “saloons might be established . . . we could not endure bar-rooms next to our houses” and because of the fear of immigrants and their institutions (see IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION). A dry Lakewood rejected annexation in 1910 and 1922 because it already had “ample school facilities, police, fire, city planning, zoning, and sanitary protection.” Shaker Hts. developers strictly controlled access to community property and, through explicit deed restrictions even prohibited new immigrants andAFRICAN AMERICANS. After 1910 few suburban communities, save WEST PARK and Miles Hts., chose to join the city. Despite a population growth of almost 2.5 times between 1900-30, Cleveland’s share of the county population dropped from 87% to 75%.

While the Depression and World War II greatly slowed the pace of urban and suburban growth, events set the stage for an even greater transformation. Cleveland’s population grew by less than 13,000, Lakewood lost population, while Cleveland Hts. grew by 9,000. The newer cities of Bedford, Garfield Hts., Rocky River, and Shaker Hts. all experienced substantial growth. By 1950 Cleveland’s share of the county population had slipped nearly another 10%. Even before 1900, factories had found suburban sites close to rail lines, where land was cheap and taxes low. Street and highway construction during the 1920s and 1930s freed suburban development from the linear form imposed by rail lines, while greater use of trucks and electricity opened new sites for industry. Private and public decisions on industrial and institutional location aided this decentralization. Industrial corridors expanded along Brookpark Rd. and in Euclid. In retailing, Sears, Roebuck stores on Lorain and Carnegie avenues represented the beginning of decentralization; the development of SHAKER SQUARE as Cleveland’s first suburban shopping center provided a clearer model for the postwar period. (See BUSINESS, RETAIL.)

To aid the Depression-devastated housing market, the New Deal Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and later the Veterans Administration (VA) developed programs for homebuyers that provided the means and patterns for the American suburban explosion. Their home loan guarantees supported construction of single-family homes in new suburban areas and adopted guidelines from real estate and banking industries that required racial segregation (enforced through developer-instituted restricted covenants). By reinforcing existing segregation practices, these programs effectively blocked African American access to suburban housing. Although the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictive covenants in 1948, the FHA continued to require them. They were common in suburban tracts of the 1940s and 1950s, especially in Garfield Hts., Parma, PARMA HEIGHTS, and Maple Hts. Government programs subsidized white, middle-class residents who wished to leave the city, but effectively locked black residents into the ghetto. Finally, the Depression and World War II slowed housing construction, resulting in overcrowding and a severe housing shortage. When prosperity returned after the war, Clevelanders who had rented or doubled up with relatives sought their own homes. The demand, along with public policy, helped create the suburban explosions of the late 1950s-1970s. Unlike streetcar suburbs, which housed mostly skilled and white-collar workers, these post-World War II developments provided homes for industrial workers as well. During the 1930s, workers founded new unions, especially the UNITED AUTO WORKERS and UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA, under the banner of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Following the war, these unions gained for their members liveable wages and job security that made suburban home ownership possible.

While automobiles date to the 1890s, they became dominant by the 1940s. In 1940 64% of all Cuyahoga County families owned an automobile. Most striking, in Shaker Hts., where the pioneering off-grade rapid-transit system provided the county’s best public transportation, nearly 75% of principal income earners traveled to work in automobiles. Although some streetcar routes continued until the 1950s, overexpansion, congested routes, declining ridership, financial problems, and competition from automobiles doomed the streetcar.

The post-World War II period witnessed the most massive residential construction and suburban growth in Cleveland history. While significant population increases in the second ring of streetcar suburbs (Bedford, Euclid, Garfield Hts., Maple Hts., Rocky River, and Shaker Hts.) made these communities transitional automobile suburbs, the most spectacular growth took place outside older suburban communities. The first ring of automobile suburbs included the new cities of BAY VILLAGE (1950), LYNDHURST, and FAIRVIEW PARK (1951). Parma’s 1931 population of 14,000 nearly doubled by 1950; the next decade added 54,000 new residents, making it the county’s second city. A second ring of automobile suburbs experienced their greatest period of growth during the 1960s and 1970s; all save MAYFIELD HEIGHTS (1950) gained city status at the beginning of the period: Parma Hts. (1959); BROOK PARKNORTH OLMSTEDWARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS (1960); and BEDFORD HEIGHTS and SEVEN HILLS (1961). Population figures reveal suburban growth dynamics from 1940 to 1970, when the county’s suburban population reached its peak. While Cleveland lost 127,457 residents, county suburbs grew by 631,042; the suburban share of the county’s population jumped from 28% in 1940 to 62% in 1970. Collectively, suburban population exceeded the city’s during the 1960s and the gap continued to grow, although more slowly (1990, 64%).

These figures mask another important shift in suburban population dynamics. From 1970 on, the county’s suburban population began to decline; by 1990 it had shrunk by 63,000. While most county suburbs lost population or stagnated, growth remained strong on either side of the county’s borders. Within Cuyahoga County, NORTH ROYALTONSOLONSTRONGSVILLE, and WESTLAKE all registered significant growth from 1960-1990. Since 1970 the surrounding counties have experienced the most rapid suburban growth.

While peripheral suburban growth continued, older streetcar suburbs and the inner ring of automobile suburbs began to undergo aging and transformations. The population declined and changed as the more affluent left for newer homes and less affluent residents moved in. Older communities began to confront urban problems: an aging population and infrastructure, increased need for social programs, and an eroding tax base. At the same time, new construction began to alter the face of these communities; high-rise apartments and office buildings replaced older homes and business structures. As businesses increasingly chose suburban locations, streetcar suburbs such as Lakewood began to merge their older function of bedroom community with that of specialized satellite city for the metropolitan area.

The suburban explosion left a fragmented governmental structure in its wake. By 1994 one county, 38 cities, 19 villages, 2 townships, 31 school districts, 13 municipal court districts, 10 library districts, and regional authorities such as the CLEVELAND METROPARKS governed some aspect of the area. Since at least 1919, some residents expressed concern about this growing fragmentation. During the 1920s and early 1930s, reformers working largely through the CITIZENS LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND sought city-county consolidation. Nevertheless, voters failed to approve county charter reform proposals in 1934 and 1959, but streetcar suburb residents who had earlier opposed annexation overwhelmingly supported both measures; resistance to REGIONAL GOVERNMENT came from the newer suburbs.

Streetcar and automobile suburbs developed very different landscapes and both have been modified over time. Despite considerable variation, streetcar suburbs produced a smaller and more dense environment. Cleveland’s 3 streetcar suburbs averaged only one-fourth the size of the newest automobile suburbs: 5 vs. 21 square miles. In 1930 East Cleveland, Lakewood, and Cleveland had similar population densities; by 1990 these suburbs (10,000 residents per square mile) were more densely settled than Cleveland (6,600), and even more so than other suburbs: first-ring auto suburbs, 4,000; second-ring, 3,000; and third-ring, 1,000. Streetcar suburbs featured vertical, 2 1/ 2-story, single and double houses on narrow lots with front porches and detached garages. Automobile suburbs had wide lots with horizontal, 1-story or split-level, ranch-style homes, attached garages, rear decks, and patios replaced front porches. In streetcar suburbs, shopping was usually a short walk away in stores that lined the streetcar routes; small groceries, bakeries, butchers, and fruit and vegetable stores hugged the sidewalks of these arteries. Extensive apartment development and even hotels (ALCAZAR HOTEL in Cleveland Hts., Lake Shore in Lakewood) added to the streetcar suburbs’ density. The huge tracts of auto suburbs, often divided into cul-de-sac streets, restricted stores to strip development and new malls located along major arteries: access to them often required an automobile. While apartments were less typical in the early years of automobile suburbs, both suburban types have undergone significant new apartment construction. By 1990 only 37% of Lakewood’s housing units were single-family; in Solon they made up 87%. In recent years, high-rise and cluster apartments/condominium construction have significantly increased the density of automobile suburbs. The most remarkable change on the suburban landscape has been the emergence of edge cities along interstate highways 71, 77, 90, 271, and 480. These new centers attracted mixed uses: blue- and especially white-collar employment, retail shopping, and entertainment. Most prominent are the new corporate headquarters and plants (AMERICAN GREETINGS CORP. and PLAIN DEALER in Brooklyn) housed in modern, campus-style or high-rise structures, although new shopping malls (Great Northern in North Olmsted, Randall Park in North Randall), institutional headquarters (FIRST CATHOLIC SLOVAK LADIES ASSN. in BEACHWOOD) also grace this environment. Motels and hotels are the most ubiquitous element. Increasingly, edge cities attract businesses and employment away from Cleveland, other suburbs, and small towns to this decentralized urban-like environment.

Suburban regions and individual suburbs have distinct identities, some assiduously cultivated and others imposed by outsiders. The 1836-37 Bridge War between Cleveland and Ohio City (see COLUMBUS STREET BRIDGE) represents a beginning of the spirited battles that spread east, west, and south within suburban development. A rich suburban folklore has grown up around these divisions and important differences do exist. Most social elites and many of their institutions gravitated to eastern suburbs, fewer went west and very few south. By 1931 66% of CLEVELAND BLUE BOOK entries lived inBRATENAHL, Cleveland Hts., East Cleveland, and Shaker Hts.; Cleveland claimed 28% and Lakewood 6%. By 1981 84% lived in 10 eastern suburbs, 9% in Cleveland, and 7% in 3 western suburbs. Early on, Cleveland Hts. and East Cleveland adopted city manager governmental forms, while Lakewood overwhelmingly rejected the reform measure. While eastern and western suburbs housed mostly white-collar workers, southern suburbs, surrounding major industrial employment centers, acquired significant number of blue-collar workers.

Ethnic clusters have also shaped suburban landscapes and lifestyles. Groups tend to migrate out of the city along nearby major arteries. The first Jewish migrants to 19th-century Cleveland settled in central city neighborhoods; eventually the center of Jewish population moved successively into Woodland, Glenville, and Kinsman. Despite restrictive covenants, Jews eventually transported their communities to the eastern suburbs; by the 1950s, Cleveland Hts. became the center (see JEWS & JUDAISM). By 1987 it had moved further east, with Jews dominating the populations of two communities, Beachwood (95%) and PEPPER PIKE (59%), and significant proportions of UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS (47%), Shaker Hts. (30%), SOUTH EUCLID (27%), LYNDHURST (24%), Mayfield Hts. (22%), and Cleveland Hts. (14%). While there were 25 synagogues on the east side, the west side had only one fledgling congregation. African American migrants also entered the city’s central districts and moved east through Kinsman and HOUGH. Both within the city (Collinwood and Broadway) and in the suburbs, blacks confronted more significant barriers than Jews and other white ethnic groups. By 1970 black suburbanites made up a majority of only 1 suburban city (East Cleveland, 59%), and a significant minority in one other (Shaker Hts., 15%). The black population in Cleveland Hts., Euclid, and Maple Hts. was then less than 3%; it was minuscule in western suburbs. By 1990 African Americans dominated 3 suburban cities (East Cleveland (94%), WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS (89%), and BEDFORD HEIGHTS (53%)) and made up significant proportions in Cleveland Hts. (37%), Shaker Hts. (31%), Euclid and Univ. Hts. (16% each), Garfield Hts. and Maple Hts. (15% each). Access remained difficult to western and outer suburbs: FAIRVIEW PARK had 42 black residents, Rocky River, 39, Bay Village, 23, Independence, 20, and Highland Hts., 19.

Americans of Polish descent have scattered more widely across the county. While some remain in SLAVIC VILLAGE/BROADWAY, many have reaggregated in the southern suburbs of Garfield Hts., Maple Hts., and Parma, as have some of the key institutions of Cleveland Polonia. SLOVAKS and their institutions have also played important roles in Parma and Lakewood. Similarly, nationality halls and organizations, once common only to inner city ethnic enclaves, now grace suburban landscapes, suggesting their persistence in and adaptability to new environments.

Although less heterogeneous than Cleveland, no suburb is homogeneous. Most have discrete neighborhoods, but few are as diverse as Lakewood. From its suburban beginnings, Lakewood drew residents from every class–in 1930 the city had census tracts in the lowest and the highest income groups. Lakewood residents created a complex social geography of different landscapes based on economic status and ethnicity. Among these are several working-class neighborhoods, including the BIRD’S NEST, a working-class, Slavic urban village in the southeast; 3 neighborhoods of elites, including CLIFTON PARK in the northwest; and middle-class landscapes of single- and double-family homes in central Lakewood. Apartments along Clifton, Lake, and Edgewater roads in eastern Lakewood house others including singles, childless couples, and gays (see GAY COMMUNITY).

Suburbs also vary in terms of layout. While all suburbs exercised some form of planning, ORIS AND MANTIS VAN SWERINGEN†’s development of Shaker Hts. is unique for its extensive control over virtually every aspect of the community. In contrast to Shaker’s carefully laid-out, curvilinear streets, segregated shopping district, and off-grade rapid-transit system, libertarian suburbs, such as Lakewood, reflect more utilitarian concerns with grid street patterns, high densities, and mixed land uses. Suburban history, then, is very dynamic; conditions can change rapidly, although once a pattern is established it can persist for some time. Technology, migrations, housing costs, employment, and the state of the areawide ECONOMY will continue to shape Cleveland’s suburban history in the coming decades.

James Borchert

Cleveland State Univ.


Hello Cleveland: The City’s Rock and Roll Legacy

Article discussing Cleveland’s Rock and Roll History

The link is here

by Carlo Wolff
Rock and roll has been part of Cleveland’s fabric from its beginnings in the 1950s through the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995 and up to today, with Kid Cudi rocking the iPod, and Ante Up Studios recording the groove of the future.
Cleveland has always loved rock and roll, and its role in rock is a critical one. The Ohio city helped lay rock’s foundation at Record Rendezvous on Prospect Avenue near Cleveland’s Public Square.
Picture this downtown record store packed with teens eager to shell out their money for the latest tunes. The listening booths are jammed, and the music is loud and sweaty. It bugs parents. The kids love it. The music’s got a beat, and while the style still lacks a name, this blend of rhythm & blues, country music and the blues is starting to coalesce as rock and roll.
Rock came together in American urban centers like Cleveland after World War II. Cleveland was prospering from the steel and automobile industries, its labor force swelled by people who moved from the South in search of a better life, their taste for “race” music and hillbilly music in tow.
The term “rock and roll” was mainstreamed by Record Rendezvous owner Leo Mintz and WJW-AM deejay Alan Freed. It became a brushfire when deejay Bill Randle squired Elvis Presley into some of his first shows north of the Mason Dixon Line—in Cleveland. It established what would become the baby-boomer soundtrack in the Sixties over legendary Cleveland AM stations WIXY, WHK, WERE and WJW. It became big business in the Seventies and Eighties, when Cleveland brothers Jules and Mike Belkin mounted extravaganzas like the World Series of Rock at the Municipal Stadium.
In the beginning, however, it was small-scale, its leader Freed. Hungry to capitalize on an emerging market, he played so-called race music – or rhythm & blues — exclusively on the Moondog House Rock and Roll Party, which he launched in 1951 over WJW. Mintz was the key sponsor of the show. On March 21, 1952, the two staged the Moondog Coronation Ball, selling more than 16,000 tickets to the Cleveland Arena, which could accommodate only 10,000. Tickets cost $1.50 in advance, $1.75 at the door. The first rock and roll concert was bedlam—and put Cleveland on the rock and roll map. Four days later, rock critic-to-be Jane Scott joined the Plain Dealer, the city’s morning newspaper. Scott would become known as the oldest living teenager and would cover rock and roll for five decades.
The Moondog Ball wasn’t the only thing to make Cleveland synonymous with rock from the start. Freed had stiff competition from such deejays as Bill Randle and Tommy Edwards of WERE. Edwards brought a twitchy kid named Presley up from Memphis to the Circle Theater in February 1955, and Randle brought him to Cleveland’s suburban Brooklyn High School that October.
Other signs of those early times:
  • Cleveland native Bobby Womack and his brothers opened for Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers at Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland in 1953. Womack and Cooke are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Womack is the first Cleveland native so honored.
  • Cleveland eccentric Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sold more than a million copies of his signature tune, “I Put a Spell on You,” in 1956.
  • Future Hall of Famers the O’Jays played the Tremend Lounge at Union and Broadway that decade. Lawrence “Kid Leo” Travagliante, who would become the voice of FM powerhouse WMMS, first saw the Canton group there.
In the 1960s, where bands played became as important as radio stations and record stores. Armories, clubs, high schools, record hops—the music was everywhere.
Cleveland became a mandatory stop as rock evolved beyond rockabilly, blues and rhythm & blues. (Which rock group first said “Hello, Cleveland” is lost to memory.) Stan Kain opened La Cave near Case Western Reserve University in 1962. During its seven years, the basement club featured everyone from the Velvet Underground to Jose Feliciano to Terry Knight and the Pack (which evolved into Grand Funk Railroad).
On September 15, 1964, the Beatles played Public Hall, creating such frenzy that Mayor Ralph Locher banned them. The ban did not last. When the group played Municipal Stadium in summer 1966, it drew only 25,000, largely because John Lennon had claimed the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
On February 5, 1966, Mike and Jules Belkin formed Belkin Productions. That same year, the Cleveland band the Outsiders reached Number Five on the charts with “Time Won’t Let Me,” and Henry LoConti launched the Agora, a collection of clubs that would showcase every major act from the Sixties on, from ZZ Top to U2. Music Hall and Public Auditorium hosted acts like the Rolling Stones and the Who.
Leo’s Casino on Cleveland’s East Side became the place for Motown acts to road test their material in the Sixties. It also was the site of Otis Redding’s last performance, on December 9, 1967. He taped the local TV rock showcase, Upbeat, earlier that evening.
In the late Sixties, AM lost ground to FM, and underground radio emerged. WHK 100.7-FM went free-form and rapidly evolved into WMMS, giving deejays Kid Leo, David Spero, Billy Bass and Denny Sanders their head. WMMS would play a national role in rock well into the Nineties.
In the Sixties, Cleveland spawned numerous major artists. Not only did the James Gang, the Raspberries and the Glass Harp form here, so did Pere Ubu, the Numbers Band (from Kent) and Akron’s Tin Huey and the Bizarros, groups that were “alternative” long before that became the tag du jour. Northern Ohio became a rock region, though it never acquired the cachet of San Francisco or Boston, which had its short-lived “Bosstown Sound.” This also was the decade in which Michael Stanley began to build his reputation as Cleveland’s favorite rock son.
Other proof of Cleveland’s rock and roll clout:
  • David Bowie broke out of Cleveland—literally—when he played his first U.S. date at Music Hall on September 22, 1972.
  • Roxy Music broke out of Cleveland in 1974, largely thanks to Kid Leo’s tireless promotion.
  • Cleveland music-industry forces Mike Belkin and Carl Maduri formed Sweet City Records, steering Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” to Number One in 1976. Wild Cherry formed in Steubenville in 1970.
  • In 1977, Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” roared out of Cleveland on Cleveland International Records, a label veteran Cleveland record man Steve Popovich founded.
  • Bruce Springsteen played 10 dates in Northern Ohio in 1974 and 1975 alone, making Cleveland “Asbury Park West.” One of the most bootlegged shows of all is the three hour-plus performance he served up—with help from a name-checked Kid Leo—at the Cleveland Agora on August 28, 1978.
  • In 1979, record labels fell all over themselves, signing Akron-based acts like Devo, the Rubber City Rebels, Tin Huey and the Cramps. Even the Pretenders were signed that year. The group led by Akron native Chrissie Hynde would become one of the most important acts of the 1980s.
  • In August 1982, the Michael Stanley Band drew 66,377 to Blossom Music Center over four nights, still a record.
  • In 1984, Sean and Gerald Levert, the sons of O’Jays singer Eddie Levert, formed LeVert. In the Nineties, Gerald began to spend time on a solo career that soon eclipsed the group’s. Gerald died in 2006, Sean in 2008.
  • In 1984, Bill Peters founded Auburn Records, a heavy-metal label known for the bands Breaker and Shok Paris.
  • In 1986, drummer Scott Pickering and guitarist Robert Griffin formed Prisonshake, an underground rock group contemporary with My Dad Is Dead and Death of Samantha, other talented Cleveland precursors of the “alternative” movement. That same year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation chose Cleveland as the site of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The following year, I.M. Pei was selected as Rock Hall architect.
  • In 1988, Cleveland native Tracy Chapman’s single, “Fast Car,” hit Number Six on the pop charts.
  • In 1989, Nine Inch Nails, the brainchild of western Pennsylvania man Trent Reznor, released “Pretty Hate Machine,” the first industrial rock album to go mainstream. Some of NIN’s earliest performances took place at the Phantasy Nite Club in Lakewood. Its breakthrough came in 1991 during the first Lollapalooza, when NIN upstaged headliner Jane’s Addiction.
  • Nothing Records, a custom imprint of Interscope, was formed in 1992 by Reznor and then-manager John Malm Jr. Key signings: NIN and the Canton-based band Marilyn Manson. Nothing died in 2004 amid a welter of lawsuits pitting Reznor against Malm.
  • Among the hottest Cleveland clubs of the Nineties were Empire and the Odeon Concert Club. Empire ran from 1990 to 1992. Among groups and artists that played there were Nirvana, Lush, Warren Zevon and Nine Inch Nails. The Odeon was a Flats beacon from late 1993 to early 2006. Owned by the Belkin family, it showcased everyone from the Cranberries to Kid Rock to Chris Whitley to Metallica.
  • In 1993, ground was broken on the Rock Hall. It opened September 1, 1995. The following day featured a star-studded concert with Bruce Springsteen, the Pretenders, Sam Moore, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and many others.
  • The hip-hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony formed in Cleveland in 1991. Its 1995 debut album, E 1999 Eternal, sold 4 million albums, and the single, “The Crossroads,” won a Grammy award. BTNH’s last release was in 2007.
  • “Green Mind,” a pop-industrial rocker by the Kent group Dink, got airplay on WENZ-FM (“The End”) in 1993, leading to a short-lived contract with Capitol Records. Also formed that year: Mushroomhead, a theatrical heavy-metal band that has recorded for several major labels.
  • Akron native Joseph Arthur, a Firestone High School graduate like Chrissie Hynde and Black Keys Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, signed with Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records in 1996. Arthur, now focused on guitar, played bass around Cleveland as a teen with guitarist Frankie Starr.
  • In 1999, Canton native Macy Gray scored worldwide with “I Try,” a hit from her debut album, How Life Is.
  • In 2000, Cindy Barber and Mark Leddy opened the Beachland Ballroom, the most important, non-mainstream rock venue in Cleveland. Its key competitor, the House of Blues, located off of Public Square, opened in 2004.
  • In 2001, Belkin Productions was sold to SFX, which subsequently was sold to Clear Channel Radio, a public company that ultimately spun off its concert business into Live Nation. That year also saw formation of the Black Keys, an Akron duo that has sold more than 800,000 CDs and invested in or spun off such side projects as Drummer, an Auberbach solo album, Dan Auerbach protégé Jessica Lea Mayfield, and the bands Houseguest and Beaten Awake.
  • One of the hottest current artists is 2010 Grammy Award nominee Kid Cudi, born in Cleveland in 1984. An associate of Kanye West, Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, who grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, charted in fall 2009 with “Day ‘n’ Nite,” a track from his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day. Other area notables of the 21st century: Mick Boogie (born Mick Batsyke) of Youngstown, who has done mash-ups with Eminem, Talib Kweli and Jay-Z and was official DJ of the Cleveland Cavaliers for several seasons; and Pittsburgh native Greg Gillis, who began creating mix tapes under the name Girl Talk while studying biomedical engineering at Case Western University in Cleveland. On the softer side: Bay Village native Kate Voegele, born in 1986. Signed to Interscope, she hit with “Lift Me Up,” a take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and “Sweet Silver Lining.” She also records as Mia Catalano, the name of her character on the television show One Tree Hill.
High in today’s mix, mixing and mix tapes: Ante Up Audio, a state-of-the-art recording studio formed in 2004 in Tyler Village, a mixed-use development on East 36th Street between Superior and St. Clair Avenues, and Exit Stencil Studios, launched in 2008 in the Waterloo Arts District that the Beachland dominates. Another new addition is Gotta Groove Records, a vinyl-record pressing plant located near Ante Up.
That should set the stage for this history of Cleveland rock. Next, this site will detail the Fifties, when Cleveland was a boomtown, and rock and roll was a baby.
Cleveland writer Carlo Wolff has been a music critic since the 1970s and is the author ofCleveland Rock & Roll Memories (Gray & Co.).