Sprawl vs. Smart Growth: Building an Equitable and Thriving Region at City Club of Cleveland 2/3/2021 at Noon


Sprawl vs. Smart Growth: Building an Equitable and Thriving Region

  • Annette Blackwell
    Mayor, City of Maple Heights
  • Grace Gallucci
    Executive Director & CEO, NOACA
  • Edward H. Kraus
    Mayor, City of Solon
  • Moderator
  • Steven Litt
    Art and Architecture Critic, The Plain Dealer

On December 11, 2020, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) adopted a new policy prioritizing racial and economic equity when making regional decisions about highway interchanges. NOACA is the first metropolitan planning organization (MPO) in the state to require this level of analysis for proposed highway interchange projects. Previously, decisions were made primarily focused on the impact of traffic flow and safety; with the new policy, consideration will be given to economic development, environmental justice, quality of life, transit and bike use, and racial equity.

This new policy follows decades of highway additions and expansions that encouraged suburban and exurban sprawl at the expense of the urban core – a practice that is often cited as a contributing factor to the region’s racial segregation, persistent economic inequality, generational urban poverty, and struggling school systems.

Many supporters of the policy believe it is long overdue – and hope it will lead to greater cooperation to strengthen the region as a whole, rather than pitting communities against each other in competition for jobs and new development. Others question the practicality of any continued suburban expansion given the region’s flat population growth.

Join us as three regional leaders discuss the policy and its short- and long-term implications for the future of Northeast Ohio.

The livestream will be available beginning at 12 p.m. here:

Produced and hosted by The City Club of Cleveland. Community partner: League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland

Cleveland and Aviation History. What Could Have Been and Why It Didn’t By Michael D. Roberts

1) Fred Crawford (right) presents Thompson Trophy to aviator Roscoe Turner at Cleveland  National Air Races 1934(?) (WRHS)
2) National Air Race poster 1947
3) Lewis Research Center sign at entrance Brookpark Road 1962  (CSU)
The pdf is here

Cleveland and Aviation History.
What Could Have Been and Why It Didn’t
By Michael D. Roberts

           Billowy clouds,  majestically back-lite by the sun’s glow, is the sky above a Cleveland Labor Day. It  heralds the coming of fall, the best and most compelling season here.   Its arrival is accompanied by a fury of sound as demonstrating  air craft roar and roll in the heavens.

            The sky holds an important history for Cleveland which for a time was the citadel of the world’s aviation achievement and adventure.   And then, in later years, it played a key role in America’s race to the moon.

            However, the fame, glamor and prosperity  of aviation eluded  Cleveland over the years as the city lost its edge in innovation, partially because of bad politics, a loss of vision,  a crippling Depression  and  the government’s  dispersion of industry in World War II.  Some say the town never  fully recovered from these adversities.

            But as World War I drew to a close in 1918, Cleveland’s industries thrived and its development of technology continued  to be dynamic, an economy driven by steel, electrical machinery, chemicals, paints, machine tools, and automobiles. In 1920, Cuyahoga County ranked as the fourth most productive manufacturing region in the country.

            To support this diverse economic base was a financial infrastructure of 38 banks that encouraged the expansion of existing businesses and the development of new ventures.  Equally important, was the psychological dynamic that existed in that era’s political and business leadership. It embraced the future with a progressive pride that focused on achievement and wealth.

            This environment generated  opportunity and the greatest source of that ingredient was skyward.  World War I was the coming  of the airplane and the promise of a whole new industry beckoned  irresistibly  to visionary entrepreneurs.

            Ironically, the development of  American aviation had been hindered by the very inventors of the airplane.  The Wright brothers, who first few in 1903, claimed they owned patents to virtually every feature that constituted an aircraft.  The brothers were litigious in protecting their interests and succeeded in stalling the efforts of others to develop an aviation industry in the United States.

            While the air plane’s success in World War I foretold its future, not one American- made aircraft flew  in that conflict.   As a nation, the U.S. was far behind  the European countries in flight.

             When the United States declared war on Germany April 6, 1917,  Cleveland businessman Alva T. Bradley sought a way to take advantage of his avuncular  contacts in Washington.  The  U.S. Secretary of  War was Newton D. Baker, a former Cleveland mayor and a friend.   Procuring military equipment for the war was in the hands of another Cleveland businessman.

            Bradley, through  contacts in the sports world— he  was the managing partner of the Cleveland Indians— met Glenn L. Martin one day in California.

             Martin was 31 that fall in 1917, but  already was recognized as an aviation pioneer, pilot and inventor.  He had just endured an unpleasant business defeat  when he met  Bradley and was looking for a way to reconstitute his aircraft company.  Bradley was searching for ways to take advantage of the war effort and bring a new industry to Cleveland.

            Bradley convened Cleveland businessmen Charles Thompson, S. Livingston Mather,  A.S. Mather and W.G Mather to raise enough money to lure the  young aviator and his ideas to the city.  The company was originally located on 9th Street near Chester Avenue.

             The five investors raised $2.5 million for a  new factory which was relocated at East 162nd Street and St. Clair Avenue, eight miles from downtown. It employed nearly 400.  A small landing strip called Martin Field was constructed and used by the postal service as the city had yet to build an airport.  When Martin obtained a contract from the army to build bombers for the war, many of his workers from California joined him in Cleveland. The new Martin company was incorporated on September 10, 1917.

            Among those joining Martin would be Donald Douglas, Larry Bell, and Dutch Kindleberg who would go on to create such companies as McDonnell Douglas, Bell Helicopter, and Rockwell International. Martin’s company would  eventually merge into Martin Marietta.  Cleveland was poised at the cutting edge of aviation technology, but its political and business  leaders failed to realize it.

            By most accounts Martin was an odd character, and clearly one that would not fit in with Cleveland’s  Union Club crowd.   He had worked in the circus, flew in early movies,  raced automobiles, set  flight records and possessed   a quirky personality.  Even though The Cleveland Press cast him as one of the town’s most eligible bachelors, he  did not date.  He preferred the company of his mother, Mina, who was constantly at his side.

            A tall, thin man with thick black hair, circular eye glasses,  and a bit flamboyant in dress,  Martin possessed a strangely aesthetic appearance. One writer noted that he had “prissy” mannerisms and was often critical of the smallest things.  One business associate said of him that he was not the kind of man with whom you would want to spend a vacation.

            But Martin had a zest for the good life.  He drove around town with his mother in an ostentatious Stuz Biarritz automobile with snakeskin trim.  They lived in a 19-room, 2.-acre mansion on Lake Shore Boulevard in Bratenahl.

            The 61,000 square  factory at 16800 St. Clair was completed in April and the first prototype bomber flew on August 17.  In October, the  army flying service accepted the plane and ordered 50 MB-1s.

            The company built 20 bombers before the war ended in November of 1918 and with it the cancellation of the contract for  planes.  In 1919, the government continued to order a few MB-1s but the costs of production continued to rise while profits dropped and  the Cleveland investors soon lost interest.

            Only the intercession of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, head of army aviation, saved the Martin company from failure.  Mitchell was an aviation visionary who sought to prepare the nation for the next war by investing heavily in air power.  At risk to his career, he funded Martin toward those ends.

            The Martin bomber did not see action in World War I, but it did find its place in aviation history when it sunk an obsolete German battleship in a highly publicized and controversial demonstration of air power promoted by Mitchell.

             Through out his Cleveland years Martin had been active promoting the need for a sizable airport that could meet the future needs of  a major city.  Martin Field had become a liability of sorts. People complained of crashes in the neighborhood.  The bombers could not be flown from the site and had to be transported by rail to the east coast at a cost of $800 per plane at which the government balked.

            In January of 1925, William R. Hopkins, the city manager of Cleveland submitted a document to city council that proposed a study of the possibility of constructing a municipal airport. There were no such facilities  in existence in the country.

            Hopkins assembled a panel of experts with unmatched experience  in aviation including Martin along with Billy Mitchell, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, of World War I fame, and other members of the army and navy air services.  They were assembled to select a site for an airport.  Martin had hopes that the city would provide land on the site for him to build  an aircraft factory. The city dashed those hopes just as the Baltimore Industrial Bureau contacted Martin, urging he move his company to that city. In the meantime, the Navy was advising that Martin  move his plant to the East Coast where seaplanes could easily be produced.

            An account in the The Cleveland Press at the time quoted a business man as saying it was the banks that drove Martin from the town.

            “They thought he was a screwball,” quoted one businessman.

            The refusal to aid Martin was a terrible mistake, one that  proved  harmful to the future of the city’s industrial base.  Years later Frederick C. Crawford, a contemporary and himself a significant figure in aviation here , would tell the writer that it was the plain stupidity of public officials here that  resulted in Martin’s departure.

            “To think that at  one time we had  five aviation pioneers here that would go on to create the biggest aircraft companies in the world and that we lost them is stunning,” Crawford said.

            Martin would go on to flourish in Baltimore, developing remarkable technology that went into some of the best aircraft in the world.  The advancements in aviation created by World II enabled the business  to prosper in peacetime.  The company eventually grew to be known as Martin-Marietta and employed as many as 50,000 at one point.

            Meanwhile, public interest in aviation was stimulated by the airplane’s role in World War I which was coming to a close.  Surplus planes and trained pilots suddenly became  available for commercial enterprise. At first, army pilots flew six-cent air mail on scheduled flights. What is considered to be the first official commercial use of air mail  in the U.S. occurred on August 12, 1918 when the Post Office Department initiated the service.

            Cleveland was an important way point on those early air mail runs.  Located between the busy postal hubs of New York and Chicago, the city was a key link in the emerging system. Cleveland’s first flights began in December of 1918 even though the city had no real airport.

            At first a crude landing strip was established at Woodland Hills Park at East 93rd and Kinsman Avenue.  The pilots complained of  the location because of the many trees surrounding it.  Landing was particular dangerous at night.

            When the weather made the park location inoperable, Glen Martin offered  the use of his facilities at St. Clair and East 162rd Street.  Postal officials informed the city that even Martin Field was inadequate and if the city wished to remain a principle stop in the mail system it needed a real airport. The  message was a wake up call for government and business officials.

            For those who find government’s grind indecisive and slow, the history of Cleveland’s airport is refreshing and remarkable. Hopkins presented a plan to city council in January of 1925. The site committee which included Glenn Martin had identified a location on Cleveland’s west side that was deemed perfect.  The city then promoted a $1,250,000 bond issue to purchase 1,014 acres of land from the city of Brook Park. It  was located 1.6 miles from Riverside Drive to the bank of Rocky River and 1.4 miles from Brookpark Road.  The original airport used only 100 acres of land and in all some 30,000 trees were cleared for its runways.

            The early days at the airport  consisted of a cement block building and a hastily cleared field with a 1,400 foot runway in what was then a remote part of town.  On May 1, 1925 a east bound flight landed with mail destined for New York.  It marked the first takeoff from the field. The airport was officially dedicated on July 1, attracting some 100,000 persons, a testimony to the era’s romance with aviation.

            The airport was the first municipally owned anywhere and within two years it was deemed the busiest  in the world with the traffic of eight planes every 24 hours.

            In retrospect the purchase of the land with the anticipation of the growth of aviation was one of the best decisions by a Cleveland government.  By 1935 the landing space had been expanded to over a thousand acres making it by far the largest airport in the world.  The four largest airports in Europe—Croyden in England, LeBourget in France, and Templehof in Germany could all be placed within the perimeter of Cleveland Municipal Airport with room  for yet air field similar in size.

            It was not just the size of the airport that drew admiration from the aviation community, it was the technology that Cleveland Municipal  Airport brought with it.  Claude F. King, who would go on to be the manager of the airport, invented the first lighted night landing system, a blessing for all the aviators who flew the mail.  And when then airport commissioner Major Jack Berry returned from a trip to England and witnessed the use of radio in the controlling of aircraft, he found  the ubiquitous and ingenious King had already installed a  radio which was  the first  voice two-way radio communication in the world. Now pilots could be advised of weather, field conditions and nearby air traffic.

            It was King’s conception of a control  tower featuring radio communication that was the principle on which every airport in the world would henceforth adopt and adapt to give aviation the global reach we know today.  In 1927, plans for a lakefront airport east of the 9th Street pier were first introduced. It took 20 years, and considerable land fill until it was completed as Burke Lakefront Airport.

            The world war had glamorized the airplane and the American public could not get enough of it as veteran pilots with surplus planes barnstormed across the county offering rides and entertaining crowds with aerobatics.  Youths built models and the movies heightened the interest with films flavored with romance, stunts and dog fighting.

            Aviation industries  blossomed and developed technology that leap-forged flying forward at a tremendous rate.  To test and heighten this technology air races were held and the first official national event took place on Long Island and was sponsored by The New York World in 1920.

            In Cleveland two men took special interest in the idea of national air races which were circulating through various cities for nine years.  Why not host an aviation extravaganza at the biggest airport in the world every year? They reasoned.

            Louis W. Greve and Frederick C. Crawford both lead companies that manufactured aircraft parts and had a decided interest in promoting their products while at the same time doing the same for aviation in general.   Greve was the president of the Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Company which made hydraulic landing gears.   Crawford at that time was general manager of Thompson Products which later would  become TRW.  Crawford would preside over that company in later years.

            Thompson Products had developed a sodium valve for aircraft engines that was used by Charles Lindbergh on his famous 1927  trans Atlantic flight to Paris.  Years later at his 100th birthday party, Crawford told me that the night before the flight he changed the valves in the aviator’s plane, the Spirit of Saint Louis, without the Lindbergh’s knowledge.

            “Lindbergh knew about flying, but not much about engineering,” Crawford said.  “If I hadn’t changed those valves chances are he would never have made it.” The later publicity that the company received from those valves in that plane proved to be  invaluable.

            Thanks to Crawford and Greve, Cleveland was selected for the 1929 national air races.  The town was beside itself as the opening ceremonies were held downtown with a parade comprised of 200 floats, 21 bands and hundreds of marchers attended by an estimated 300,000 spectators. The spectacle  shut down Euclid Avenue on a hot day late in August.  Three Goodyear blimps patrolled the skies above the celebrants.

            The next day more than 100,000 persons attended the first flying events in a sensational display of aviation that was reported world-wide.  There were demonstrations of techniques like dead stick landings, parachuting, acrobatics and a Navy  team that flew tied together with rope.   Charles Lindbergh piloted an open cockpit plane, banking over a standing crowd. Other aviation luminaries like Amelia Earhart appeared and each day there was a set of air races including an all woman’s contest known as the “Powder Puff Derby.”

            But what seemed to seize the crowd’s attention the most was the close -course racing which would become a hallmark of the event.  The first race was a flight of five laps around a 10-mile circuit marked by pylons with the finish line ending in front of the grandstands.  The winner averaged 194.9 miles per hour.

            That first race was sponsored by the Thompson Company and its trophy would later become emblematic of aviation’s highest achievement.  Air racing proved a dangerous pursuit as  six pilots lost their lives seeking  glory that weekend.

            In many ways that August air race  was the last good time that the city would experience for years. In two months the stock market would crash and pitch America into the Great Depression followed by World War II.

            In 1930 the races were held in Chicago, but because Cleveland had produced a $90,000 profit the year before the city was awarded the races for the next five years.  The races were canceled during World War II, but resumed in 1946. (As a child, the writer witnessed the races that year. It left him with an indelible  interest in aviation.) It was a spectacle of flight featuring powerful planes developed during the war along with the first jets.  The thousands who witnessed the demonstrations and races were awe struck by the noise, beauty and force of the event.

            But it was just that—the speed and power of the whole thing—that would ultimately cause the demise of the aerial extravaganza. Tragedy struck in 1949 when one of the racers missed a pylon and crashed into a house in Berea, killing a mother and child.  That effectively ended high-power air racing at the Cleveland airport.

            The races were important beyond the entertainment they provided.  In the 1930’s, suffering from the Depression, the government had little money to spend on research and development of aircraft. The races offered an alternative with its competitive spirit and pilots willing to push the envelope in developing engines and experimenting with fuels.

            This also translated to emergence of a substantial aviation industry in and around Cleveland.  While there was no company that built an aircraft from the sum of its parts, there were, over the years, ancillary businesses that played a big role in developing those parts that went into flight.  For instance, there was the Standard Oil salesman who accidentally discovered the Wright brothers at work in Dayton and recommended the oil that went into the first flight at Kitty Hawk.  Standard Oil of Ohio would later become a major sponsor of the air races.

            When Lindbergh made his famous flight to Paris, his plane was fueled with Standard Oil gas that ran  through tubing made the Parker Appliance Company on Cleveland’s west side. Later, after the war, the company bought the Hannifin Manufacturing Company and it exists today as Parker Hannifin a manufacture of aircraft values,  hydraulic supply systems, flight controls and other aviation products.

            The company had equipment on NASA’s moon landings.

            In the late 1930s the federal government, spurred by the dark events in Europe, realized that American aviation  was lagging behind that of the major world powers. German, Japan and England were producing the best aircraft based on advanced technology.  There was alarm and a sudden need to unlimber the nation’s celestial ingenuity.

            The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) announced a national  competition for an aircraft-engine research laboratory, a  venture that would cost an estimated $40,000,000 and be the largest such facility in the world. Some 40 cities applied for the project and the search was reduced to just five finalists, Cleveland being among them.  There was plenty of land adjacent to the airport which gave the city somewhat of an edge in the matter.

            Fred Crawford, not only  a capable  engineer, but an astute politician as well, seized on the idea like a man possessed.  The laboratory  would be a perfect companion for his company which  ultimately became TRW. It would also raise Cleveland’s profile in the aviation community.

            Crawford slyly pointed out to the search committee during hearings that Cleveland was beyond the range of German bombers and the Nazis undoubtedly would soon have aircraft that could threaten any East Coast sites that were proposed for the laboratory.

            The big obstacle facing the city was electrical power.  The Cleveland Electrical Illuminating Company did not have the capacity to produce the needed power to run the gigantic wind tunnel which was the  soul of the laboratory.  But at the last minute Crawford hit on a plan that would solve the problem.

            The wind tunnel would only be employed at night when the city’s electrical grids were in moderate use and with that ingenious stroke the huge laboratory found its home.

            The laboratory was dedicated on May 20, 1943 and consisted if 12 buildings and  wind tunnels able to produce winds of five hundred miles per hour. The facility was able to test aircraft engines at 67 degrees below zero.

            It should be noted how prescient the city’s leadership was in those days.  The acquisition of an immense acreage of land in the anticipation of the future of aviation lead to the development of an aircraft industry that then attracted the NACA laboratory which would later become NASA Lewis and play an important role in the Apollo program and the landing of a man on the moon.

            In many ways the work at the laboratory was vital, but esoteric in that it did not yield itself  to interesting publicity, leaving the public uninformed as to what took place within its sprawling confines. Added to that, much of the work was cloaked in secrecy. It played a major role in developing the engines and fuel that enabled B-29 bombers to fly at heights that Japanese defenders could not reach resulting in an end to that terrible conflict.

            With the end of World War II,  aviation entered a new era with the introduction of jet engines and research on fuels that would produce  supersonic speeds.   In 1950 the Lewis laboratory began to experiment with liquid hydrogen, a light explosive fuel that was difficult to manage but offered the ingredients that would propel heavy loads at high speeds.

            As the cold war began to grip the world, a lonely black B-57 could be seen by fishermen on Lake Erie  as it scooted  across summer skies, a curious sight that was shrugged off as an aerial oddity.  What few knew was that the jet was was equipped with one engine that was fueled by liquid hydrogen.   The engineers at Lewis were in the process of taming the volatile gas.

            On October 4, 1957, the American public awoke to the stunning news that the Russians had sent a satellite into space.  A sense of palatable panic seized the nation which prompted President Dwight Eisenhower to create a civilian organization that would shepherd all projects related to space into a single entity known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  It would initially be organized and lead by the leadership of the Lewis Laboratory which was converted into a NASA installation.

            On  May 25, 1961,  President John F. Kennedy made a dramatic speech to  a joint session of Congress announcing a  plan to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.  The mission was to became known as the Apollo project and its embryonic beginnings would be found  in the Cleveland scientific community.

            T. Keith Glennan, president of Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve University) was NASA’s first administrator and the first leader of the Apollo program was Abe Silverstein, the director of the Lewis Research Center.

            The real story of the moon landing on July 20, 1969 was liquid hydrogen.  The Russians were never able to develop a powerful enough  fuel to duplicate the feat, a crowning achievement for the

scientific team at the laboratory which is now known  as NASA  Glenn after astronaut John Glenn, the  first American to orbit the earth.

            But the sad addendum to this story rested in the  politics  connected to the establishment of NASA.  Despite all of  Cleveland’s contributions to the success of space flight, it was overlooked when it came to the creation of the agency headquarters.

            President Kennedy had put the space program in the hands of then Vice President Lyndon Johnson of Texas who was the masterful politician of his time.  Glennan learned this early in the project.

            According to his diary, Glennan received a call from Congressman Albert Thomas, a Texas Democrat, who headed the appropriations committee reviewing the NASA budget. The call dealt with where the headquarters of the Manned  Space Center  would be established.

            “Now look here, Doctor, let’s cut the bull, Thomas says. “Your budget calls for $14 million and I am telling you that you won’t get a god-damned  cent unless that laboratory is moved to Houston.”

            Later Lyndon Johnson would quip that Houston was closer to the moon than Cleveland.  It was a cruel demonstration of the lack of political clout that Ohio possessed in Washington.

The Gardeners Versus the Government: The Ambler Park Skirmish by Marian J. Morton

Ambler Park 1934 (CSU), Ambler Park 1912 Map (pub domain), Ambler Park 1940 (CSU)

The Gardeners Versus the Government: The Ambler Park Skirmish
by Marian J. Morton

The pdf is here
Cleveland history buffs love the story of how feisty women’s garden clubs helped halt the federal highway destined to destroy the beautiful Shaker Lakes and nearby neighborhoods. [1] This is what the women did: in 1966, a consortium of 30 garden clubs created what is now the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes and got it designated a national education landmark; so designated, it became it an obstacle to the proposed Clark Freeway. Today, the center’s mission is to preserve and enhance the lakes’ natural environment.  It’s a wonderful Goliath versus David story, or rather, a wonderful story of Goliath versus the “ladies in tennis shoes,” as the gardeners were described, the term suggesting that they were ineffectual socialites and dilettantes. The women, of course, had powerful allies: grassroots organizations that sprang up in opposition to the several proposed freeways; the mayors of Shaker and Cleveland Heights and Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, who knew very well that freeways can destroy a city; and Sun Press editor Harry Volk, whose editorials and news articles kept the issue alive from 1965 to its demise in 1970.

And whether they knew it or not, the women had history on their side: three decades earlier, the women of local garden clubs had also triumphed over the federal government. Marshalling the power of organized womanhood and their own social connections and with significant help from a sympathetic newspaper, they thwarted the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA)’s threatened destruction of the natural beauties of Ambler Park.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, garden clubs organized middle- and upper-class women for the socially acceptable purpose of beautifying their own homes and gardens.  Club activities – meetings, luncheons, elections, fund-raisers, plant sales, lectures – dominated the women’s pages of  many newspapers.  And as often happened when women got together, they looked beyond their own homes and became advocates for public causes – in this case, civic beautification and conserving the natural landscape.  Consequently, they also became political players.

A local example: in the 1920s, the Shaker Garden Club began to plant wildflowers around the Shaker Lakes and in 1930, cherry trees.  In 1933, the club developed a broader plan for the lakes’ region  and got permission from the city of Cleveland to “improve park property adjacent to the upper Shaker Lakes.” [2] The lakes had been a gift in 1895 to Cleveland from the Shaker Heights Land Company, which had bought the Shaker community’s property and later sold it to developers Otis P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen in 1913. The proximity of the lakes to Shaker Heights’ handsome new homes greatly enhanced their value, as the Van Sweringens had hoped.

By 1933, however, the Great Depression had taken hold, and the Van Sweringens’ real estate empire had collapsed.  Even affluent suburbs like Shaker and Cleveland Heights had residents so down on their luck that they needed help from the federal government.  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration created the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to take men off local relief rolls and put them to work on publicly useful projects such as parks, playgrounds, schools, roads, and bridges.  Cities that had projects already designed or underway got a head start.

The Shaker Garden Club’s plan for Shaker Lakes, for example, was ready to go. In December 1933, CWA workers, “directed by the City of Cleveland Parks Department  … and the women of the Shaker Lakes Garden Club,” began to “transform the 300 acres of forests and meadowlands of Shaker Heights into a great city recreation area.” [3]  This ambitious plan didn’t happen exactly that way, but in October 1934, the CWA had almost completed work on the landscaping and a set of stone steps on the peninsula of the upper [Horseshoe] lake. [4]

When the CWA began work on Ambler Park, however, it was a different story: gardeners clashed instead of cooperated with the federal government.  The CWA project on Ambler Park was part of the larger project to improve Doan Brook, which began in the Shaker Lakes and then proceeded through Ambler Park and from there to Rockefeller and Gordon Parks.   Like the Shaker Lakes, most of Ambler Park had been a gift to the city of Cleveland from a developer, Martha B. Ambler, owner of the property that became Cleveland Heights’ elegant enclave, Ambler Heights, that bordered the park on the north.

Ambler Park also had a very different terrain.  The Shaker Lakes were small and man-made, on flat meadowland, and designed to run the mills of the Shaker settlement. The lakes could be easily domesticated with wild flowers and cherry trees.  In contrast, much of Ambler Park ran through a steep, shale-lined ravine, which dropped sharply from the lakes on “the heights” down to Cedar Road and University Circle. Major thoroughfares flanked it on the south and north.

The park’s geography did not lend itself to baseball diamonds or tennis courts although there was a small pond at the foot of the park used for ice skating in the 1910s.    By necessity and design, most of Ambler Park was kept in its natural state.  Cleveland city officials in 1908 hoped to “cultivate [its] wild beauty.” [5] They boasted of its birds and summer foliage.  On one sunny Sunday in 1911, 10,000 people rode the streetcar or walked to enjoy the park. [6] The most frequent visitors were the dozens of Boy Scout troops who used the park to test their wilderness skills during the 1920s.

But the untamed landscape also created dangers: children drowned in the pond or ran their sleds into trees; motorists occasionally crashed down into the ravine.  And there was crime, including a sensational gangland slaying of two gamblers found trussed up, shot, and tossed into the park’s depths in 1927.  And the park itself was endangered. In the mid-1920s, debris from building Baldwin Reservoir to the south was tossed down the ravine.  Even worse, in 1930, County Commissioner J.H. Harris suggested that a boulevard be cut through the ravine to speed automobile traffic to and from the Heights.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized about “Saving Ambler Park[:] …. there is no convincing reason why [a roadway] should be made the instrument of destroying most of what remains of Ambler Park’s glory.” [7]  The idea went nowhere; Fairhill (then Fairmount) Road on the south side of the ravine was widened instead.

So park lovers were already concerned when the CWA began to enclose Doan Brook with culverts and cement walls in both Rockefeller and Ambler Parks. Photos from April 1934 show workers in Ambler Park struggling with huge chunks of concrete.[8] But the CWA’s primary goal was putting men to work; its secondary goal was to prevent erosion and keep the brook from overflowing its banks. Conserving the beauties of nature was not a priority.

Women’s gardening groups led the attack on what they saw as a destructive approach to the natural landscape.  Their spokesperson was Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather, chairman of the Cleveland parks committee of the Garden Center (now the Cleveland Botanical Gardens).  She was the wife of William Gwinn Mather, a prominent industrialist and philanthropist and Cleveland’s “first citizen.” But she was a powerful civic activist in her own right.  She was a founder in 1930 of the Garden Center, then located on the Wade Lagoon, and she remained deeply invested in the planning and beautification of University Circle throughout her life. [9]

In 1933, under Mather’s direction, the Garden Center became the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland.  Its members included gardening and horticultural groups and women’s civic groups from several suburbs, as well as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Natural History Museum. In December, Mather, on behalf of the  center’s “nearly 200,000 members,” asked that federal relief money be spent on  planting trees and shrubs along state highways, not simply widening and grading them.[10]  Six months later, Mather demanded that  Governor George White come up with the money she believed her groups had been promised. [11]

In the meantime, she also accused Cleveland Mayor Harry L. Davis of allowing the managing of Cleveland’s parks to become a “political football”: political appointees who knew little about parks –  and were almost certainly Democrats –  had allowed streets and parks to become “ugly and neglected.”  The city should create a non-partisan park board that would develop a comprehensive plan, informed by experts, she argued.  The mayor responded that even if there were enough money for such a board, it would be composed of residents of Cleveland, “not of the Heights.” The message:  suburban women had no business poking around in city business. [12] (Mather lived in Bratenahl.)

In 1935, the WPA replaced the CWA. But the approach to Ambler Park remained the same: walls and culverts.

On April 20, 1936, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Josephine Robertson blasted the WPA’s destruction of Ambler Park on page one. “Natural beauty spots in the city’s parks are being laid waste by WPA workers …. The pretty meandering brooks and rills in which many generations of children have waded have been organized between high walls like open sewers.” The habitat of woodland animals has been destroyed, she continued, and “The natural mat of leaves and mold, the wild flowers and mosses are being scraped off the banks … The natural cover for birds … is being uprooted.”  Robertson interviewed strollers heartbroken and astonished that their park’s natural beauties had fallen victim to “pickaxes and shovels …. ‘The woods is gone now,’” one mourned. [13]

The very next day, Mather and the gardeners jumped in.  The Garden Center’s formidable alliance of Cleveland’s social and cultural elite established a committee to “investigate WPA plans to wall up” Doan Brook through Ambler Park. Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, Cuyahoga County WPA director, responded, “It’s all a matter of taste.”  The women disagreed.  “Why fix nature?” they asked. When he explained that walls would prevent erosion from the thousands of gallons of water dumped into the brook from the reservoir, the gardeners pointed out that this water had been dumped into the brook for many years from the Fairmount and then the Baldwin Reservoir without damage.  Further, they accused the WPA of “digging out the homes of little animals and destroying the natural vegetation along the way.” [14]

The Plain Dealer rallied to the women’s cause: “WPA workers, blunderingly trying to improve on nature in Cleveland parks, remind one of those highway engineers who are found occasionally slashing century-old trees so that a road may be made just a big straighter …. Thus many lovers of natural beauty will echo the protest against what the WPA is now doing to Ambler Park. One hopes there is landscaping as well as engineering talent in the high command of the WPA which will stay the hand of the slashers before it is too late.” [15]

In the hot seat, Cleveland City Parks Director Hugh E. Varga passed the buck, claiming that his department had “practically no check on the way projects were carried out,” although the city had apparently okayed the original plans.  He promised to do better: “a committee of Cleveland’s most prominent landscape architects [would] recommend” changes to WPA plans. “I will do all I can to preserve the natural beauty of the parks.”[16]

A month later, the Plain Dealer headlines shouted, “Ambler Brook Reprieved; Prison Walls Won’t Rise.”   The committee Varga had promised recommended that the eastern end of Ambler Park “should be kept in a natural condition.”  The gardeners had won. Robertson breathed a sigh of relief: “the sylvan brook in Ambler Park, which was threatened with being walled up like a sewer … will babble gayly by its natural green and wooded banks.”  The chipmunks and the birds are safe, Cleveland children will still wade in the shallow water.” [17]

WPA work on Ambler Park continued through the 1930s.  Photographs taken in 1940– at least for public relations purposes – show graceful steps and walkways winding through the stone outcropping and woods that line the brook. [18] The western-most end of Ambler Park was culverted.

Although the WPA left a very visible built legacy in nearby parks – the landscaping and statuary of Rockefeller Park and a handsome bridge in Forest Hills Park – , the WPA left behind in Ambler Park the (almost) natural setting for which the skirmish had been fought.

The preservation of Ambler Park was a small – but early – victory for the environment and for these gardeners: it illustrated that “women in tennis shoes” can be a force to be reckoned with, that private citizens can become political actors, and that private gardens can lead to civic beautification – especially with local journalists on your side. It left a legacy of grassroots activism for women of the 1960s and beyond.

Ambler Park has changed since 1940.  Today, Facebook pages show that local artists have left their own marks on its shale outcropping.  [19]  Mather’s gardeners might not approve.  Nevertheless, thanks to her and her gardeners, the park is still a place where strollers and birdwatchers and students can admire and learn about the beauties of nature.   [20]




[1] For example, Lauren R. Pacini and Laura M. Peskin, Preserving the Shaker Parklands, The Story of the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes (Cleveland, 2016).

[2]  Cleveland Plain Dealer (CPD), June 1, 1933: 4)

[3] Local History Ephemera File, Shaker Heights Library.

[4]  CPD, October 14, 1934: 28.

[5]  CPD, February 16, 1908: 5.

[6]  CPD, October 16, 1911: 12.

[7]   CPD,  November 18, 1930: 10.

[8] https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/press/id/14388/rec/3

[9] https://case.edu/ech/articles/m/mather-elizabeth-ring-ireland.

[10]   CPD, December 5, 1933: 10.

[11]   CPD, June 30, 1934: 9.

[12]  CPD, May 9, 1934:14.

[13]  CPD, April 20, 1936: 1, 5.

[14]  CPD, April 21, 1936: 1,4.

[15]  CPD, April 21, 1936:8.

[16]  CPD, April 24, 1936: 1

[17]  CPD, May 25,1936: 1.

[18] https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/gardens/id/258/rec/4; https://clevelandmemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/gardens/id/235/rec/7

[19] https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1299229313445614&set=a.401484156553472&type=3&theater;

Mr. Adorjan's 6th grade science class learns about geology in the classroom and in the park just south of the school. …

Posted by Roxboro Middle School PTA on Thursday, November 15, 2012

[20] https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1299229313445614&set=a.401484156553472&type=3&theater;

Charles Waddell Chesnutt: The Civic Life of a Cleveland Creative A talk by Regennia N. Williams, PhD Tues Feb 16, 2021 at 7pm


Charles Waddell Chesnutt: The Civic Life of a Cleveland Creative
A talk by Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Zoom RSVP here:

In the life and work of Charles Waddell Chesnutt (June 20, 1858 – November 15, 1932), we find the threads that weave together much of the story of early twentieth-century African American leadership in Cleveland and many of the challenges associated with living life along the ever-present color line.  A celebrated writer and successful business owner, Chesnutt was also known for his activism and reform efforts.  This presentation will consider both his literary life and his work in civic affairs, from the turn of the century through the “New Negro Movement” of the 1920s.

Regennia N. Williams, PhD Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture, Cleveland History Center

Cosponsored by Cleveland History Center, League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and CWRU Siegal Lifelong Learning

BE IT RESOLVED… State Resolutions & Practice: Infusing Anti-Racism and Equity Into Ohio Schools 7pm ET, Wed, Feb 17 & Feb 24

BE IT RESOLVED… State Resolutions & Practice: Infusing Anti-Racism and Equity Into Ohio Schools

7pm ET, Wed, Feb 17 & Feb 24
Register: bit.ly/RealTalk_BeItResolved
FMI: www.RealTalkLWV.org

Join us for a 2-part series examining how to infuse Anti-Racism and Equity into Ohio’s Public Schools. Hear from the State Board of Education and the practitioners in Northeast Ohio who drive systemic and student programming.

PART 1: Wednesday, Feb 17 at 7pm

Members, past and present, of the Ohio State Board of Education will walk through the recently adopted ‘Resolution to Condemn Racism and Advance Equity and Opportunity for Black Students, Indigenous Students and Students of Color’.

Why the resolution was needed and how it will be implemented across more than 600 public school districts in Ohio.

PANEL: Ohio State Board of Education
Laura Kohler, President
Meryl Johnson, Dist. 11
​Linda Haycock, Dist. 1, Past
Stephanie Dodd, Dist. 9, Past

PART 2: Wednesday, Feb 24 at 7pm
Meet the educators and administrators who are successfully driving innovative student programming, instituting systemic policy changes, and combatting dangerous biases in education. Learn how their proven approaches have impacted student learning, addressed social-emotional health, and bridged opportunity gaps for thousands of students in Northeast Ohio.​​

Opening Speaker: Paolo DeMaria, Superintendent of Public Instruction
Ohio Department of Education

Moderated By: Rick Jackson, Senior Host and Producer, ​ideastream, WVIZ PBS, and WCPN NPR

Produced by League of Women Voters of Akron, Canton, Greater Cleveland, Hudson and Kent


Battle for the Ballot: Cleveland’s Suffragist Movement A talk by Dr. Mary Manning Feb 23, 2021 at 7pm

Tuesday February 23, 2021 at 7pm
Battle for the Ballot: Cleveland’s Suffragist Movement
A talk by Dr. Mary Manning
Zoom RSVP here:

There is no complete record of the brave, often unnamed women who fought for their right to vote and finally triumphed in 1920. In conjunction with the Women & Politics exhibition at the Cleveland History Center, learn about a band of Northeast Ohio women who dedicated themselves to the public interest and grew into an organization that won the respect and confidence of the nation through the photographs, fashions, newspaper reports, and pamphlets they and their opponents left behind. This program will tell the story behind the local women who advocated for suffrage and went on to help establish the League of Women Voters.

Presented by Dr. Mary Manning, Western Reserve Historical Society

Cosponsored by Cleveland History Center, League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and CWRU Siegal Lifelong Learning


Women and Philanthropy: The Monied Women of Cleveland and their Impact by Dr. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Thursday, December 3, 7pm

Women and Philanthropy: The Monied Women of Cleveland and their Impact
by Dr. Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, CWRU
Thursday, December 3, 7pm
The talk will examine the role of the Wade family women and their milieu in shaping the culture of philanthropy and the Settlement Movement in late nineteenth century Cleveland.
The video from the talk is here:

Sponsored by Cleveland History Center, Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University, League of Women Voters-Greater ClevelandPhoto: Cleveland History Center of Ellen Howe Abbott Garretson (1836–1922) and her daughter Ellen Garretson Wade (1859–1917)

The City on the Hill: Tom L. Johnson and the Mayors influenced by Henry George Thursday, November 19, 7pm

The City on the Hill: Tom L. Johnson and the Mayors influenced by Henry George
Thursday, November 19, 7pm
A talk by Dr. Alexandra W. Lough, author of The Last Tax: Henry George and the Social Politics of Land Reform in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Cleveland during the period of Mayor Tom L. Johnson (1901-1909) was considered by many to be one of the best governed cities in the nation. But Johnson was just one of several mayors who were followers of the 19th century political economist and social reformer Henry George. Dr. Alexandra Lough will explain how the teachings of Henry George influenced Tom L. Johnson’s mayoralty in Cleveland.

The video is here

This series is cosponsored by Cleveland History Center, CWRU Siegal Lifelong Learning and the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland

Photo: Cleveland Press Collection