Wade Park Manor was crown jewel of city’s ‘Second Downtown’: Elegant Cleveland Cleveland.com 3/14/2009

By Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer on March 14, 2009

This ongoing series looks back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown in architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones. 

In Cleveland in the mid-1920s, you could walk down a street busy with shoppers who might stop for a restaurant lunch or dinner, children on their way to a huge indoor ice rink, and adults visiting the theater for a vaudeville show or a club where they might Charleston to live music.

All this activity, complete with clanging trolley cars and tooting Model T’s, wasn’t taking place near downtown Cleveland’s Public or Playhouse squares, but in the area then known as Doan’s Corners.

The crown jewel in this now-vanished “Second Downtown,” as it was called, was one of its five residential hotels, the Wade Park Manor on East 107th Street.

Today, it is known as Judson Manor, and it is still an elegant home to well-heeled retirees.

But in 1923, when it opened, it was the poshest of places to stay not only in this area, but this side of New York City. The 11-story building, complete with a penthouse lounge and marble-lined hallways, overlooked the Cleveland Museum of Art’s lagoon. It was a short walk from the Shakespeare Garden on Liberty Boulevard, one of the first of the city’s cultural gardens.

The cover of Cleveland Town Topics, the high-society newsletter, featured this news in 1921: “A New High Class Residential Hotel to be Erected at Park Lane and East 107th . . .” It was “the newest move in Cleveland’s progress toward complete metropolitanism.”

The fireplace in the lounge at Judson Manor looks very much like it did during the heyday of the Wade Park Manor.

The hotel would be perfectly situated.

“This area was the cultural hub of Cleveland,” says Bob A. Wheeler, professor of history at Cleveland State University. By culture, he means not just the fine arts, but popular culture — five separate movie houses were clustered here as well. The ice rink was, at one time, known as the “largest undercover rink” in the world.

In the span of about three years, within a few blocks of each other, five high-rise hotels went up in what we now call University Circle. The year 1923 brought not only the Wade Park, but two other luxury hotels, the Park Lane Villa and Fenway Hall. The Sovereign had opened the year before, and the Commodore would soon follow — all a short walk from the pulsing intersection of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue.

Just a few blocks east, that same year, the cornerstone was laid for Western Reserve University’s medical school. The Cleveland Orchestra’s Severance Hall, a relative latecomer to the neighborhood, wouldn’t open till 1931.

Wade Park Manor was the brainchild of George A. Schneider, the former manager of the Cleveland Athletic Club, whose Euclid Avenue building he’d helped plan. He chose the architectural firm of George Post & Sons of New York, which had a branch in Cleveland. The firm had designed the New York Stock Exchange and, in Cleveland in 1912, the Hotel Statler on Euclid Avenue.

W. Sydney Wagner, credited with New York’s Roosevelt Hotel, was the man at the firm in charge of the Wade Park Manor. But first he and Schneider spent two years visiting fine residential hotels all over America, studying their floor plans and exteriors.

Ultimately, they chose the Georgian Revival style — very popular in the 1920s — for the $4 million manor. They decided to build it in a U-shape, so that all suites would get light and air, which was a fairly new idea in design. The manor would have 400 rooms, 40 of them singles, and the rest arranged as two-, three- or four-bedroom suites.

A four-page special section that ran in The Plain Dealer to announce the Jan. 4, 1923, opening noted: “Its exterior adds to the architectural impressiveness of an already well-builded district. Its interior is a treasure house of good taste, artistry and comfort devices.”

The custom-built library — note the ornate carvings over the built-in book niches — was created in the 1920s when this was the private suite of an insurance company executive at Wade Park Manor. Today, it’s the library for all Judson Manor residents.

Visitors would find themselves entering through a metal and glass marquee “extending from the face of the building to the curb line,” then into an oak-paneled vestibule and an oak- and marble-walled lobby.

Besides the main and private dining rooms, the long promenades from the center of the lobby led to a ballroom, a banquet hall with a massive Czech crystal chandelier, and a library lounge with a fireplace and a Kimball pipe organ.

Sumptuous meals were made in the kitchen, called a “marvel of electrical efficiency,” with a refrigerating “plant” that was “one of Edison’s latest inventions.”

The maids’ quarters included 20 sleeping rooms, and the hotel was stocked with $60,000 in linen, a princely sum at a time when a house might cost $3,000.

The guest rooms had huge living rooms, up to 20-by-23 feet, and no two suites were decorated or furnished alike. The furnishings, which cost about $500,000, were reproductions of English furniture, the originals of which could be found in historic British houses. They complemented the English flavor of the interior.

On the 11th floor was the penthouse solarium — an informal parlor, with tile floor, trellis walls and a fountain. The room opened onto a rooftop available for “promenade, and for dinner parties.”

Judson Manor Home Styles Tour

WHAT: A look inside Judson Manor’s public spaces, including some of the recently renovated suites.

WHEN: 2 p.m. Thursday, March 26.

WHERE: 1890 East 107th St., at Chester Avenue.

DETAILS: 216-791-2168 to make a reservation or for information. You can also go to Judsonsmartliving.org for more information.

By the time the hotel opened, a number of Cleveland’s Blue Book families (the town’s social register) had already rented suites.

East end of town As vibrant as the center

Though not overtly stated as such, Wade Park Manor was meant for Cleveland’s old-money set, says Theodore Sande, the retired executive director of the Western Reserve Historical Society.

“The Manor was WASP-y,” says Sande, while Jewish people were steered to the Park Lane and Sovereign hotels. The Park Lane had several Blue Book names as well, he says.

It’s a measure of Cleveland’s dynamic nature in the 1920s, when it was the fifth-largest city in the United States, that this eastern end of town was as vibrant as its center.

“Although there’s no evidence of it now, this was a nexus of entertainment and shopping, of fashionable stores, theater, jazz,” says Sande. “It was a very sophisticated part of town, and the eastern terminus of public transit.”

It was where the trolley cars turned around and would go back down Euclid Avenue, which gave rise to the “circle” in its name today. It was referred to as Doan’s Corners then, for Doan Street, now East 105th Street. The street was named for one of Cleveland’s pioneers, Edward Doan, who established a well-known tavern in the early 1800s.

This neighborhood was throbbing at the same time that the building of residence hotels was on the rise, as a fashionable option for people to live in town, especially if they also had places in the country.

“Five of these residence hotels were built here in a short time, and I don’t know of any similar confluence of that building type downtown,” says Sande.

Millionaires for decades gradually had been moving out of their immense mansions on Euclid Avenue’s Millionaires’ Row, heading up Cedar Hill and into the eastern suburbs to live. But downtown Cleveland was still a heady place — from Public Square to the five miles or so east.

A Model T parked in front of the Wade Park Manor long ago was typical of the cars that buzzed around Cleveland’s “Second Downtown” when the hotel opened in 1923.

As Wheeler says, “It was as if Cleveland was coming of age, getting its culture here, celebrating, building fancy hotels.”

Of all the hotels, the Commodore was the one with the least panache. Built by a fellow named Max Marmorstein at Ford and Euclid avenues, it was, however, strategically located. The city had planned at one point to build a subway, and the stop was to be right at Ford.

But the subway remained a dream, and the Commodore wasn’t constructed with anywhere near the substance of Wade Park Manor.

About 10 years after it opened, one of the stone decorative elements from its roof line fell, right into the Fisher Foods market next door, about 12 stories down. No one was hurt, Sande says, “but it hit like a bomb,” startling the businessmen dining at nearby restaurants at midday.

Through the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, this part of town remained vibrant. Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians orchestra had longstanding gigs, as did a number of jazz performers, including Billie Holiday; the shopping was still good, the movie theaters still drawing crowds.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, celebrities who came to the Wade Park Manor included Sonja Henie, the Olympic ice skater turned movie star; President Dwight D. Eisenhower; Mary Pickford; Walt Disney; and Vincent Price. When the Yankees played the Indians, this is where they stayed — the Manor’s staff regularly served star athletes like Mickey Mantle. Visiting musicians playing with the Cleveland Orchestra also would overnight here.

The Judson Manor of today is still elegant, albeit more sedate than its predecessor. Jordan Perlman, who used to own a women’s clothing store called Jordan’s in Cleveland Heights, lives on the fourth floor in a unit he had reconfigured to his specifications.

He recalls how his family moved here in the 1950s from Milwaukee. They stayed at the Park Lane until their home in Cleveland Heights was ready for them.

“I still remember the five theaters,” he says, and names them: “The Circle, Keith’s 105th, the University, the Alhambra, the Park. The Elysium ice rink. And the deli, where you could get a meal for 35 cents. I was too young, but my parents talked about the nightclubs and the jazz clubs.”

Perlman lived in a high-rise in East Cleveland for many years. Moving back to this neighborhood two years ago was a kind of homecoming.

Then, as now, he says, “The luxury, and this location, are something you just can’t beat.”

Yes, the clubs, the theaters, the ice rink, the crowds of thousands of pedestrians are gone. Today, Cleveland struggles to keep its main downtown vibrant.

But University Circle is getting renewed breaths of life. There are a few fine restaurants nearby, the art museum is still here, of course, as is Severance Hall. Students pour forth from CWRU and the Cleveland Institute of Art, as do employees of the nearby (and expanding) Cleveland Clinic, where Perlman is a daily volunteer. There are even plans for the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which has been part of the Cleveland Play House complex at 8501 Carnegie Ave. for about 20 years, to move to a new building in University Circle. It would anchor a development, called Uptown, in what remains, in many ways, the heart of Cleveland’s cultural and educational district.

The glamour is gone, the energy not what it once was. But if you look through the elaborately leaded glass windows on the 10th floor of what was once the Wade Park Manor, you can easily imagine how it might have been.

Wade Park Manor through the years: a timeline

1921: Construction begins on Wade Park Manor. The architect is George Post & Sons of New York.
Jan. 4, 1923: The Wade Park Manor is completed and has its formal opening, a celebration by invitation only. Almost immediately, the hotel becomes Cleveland’s premier social site.
October 1923: The Cleveland Blue Book has 112 people listed with Wade Park Manor addresses; the most elaborate suite, 1010, belongs to William G. Wilson of the Aetna Insurance Co. The Blue Book also features advertisements for the hotel’s evening dinners, complete with orchestra recital from 6 to 8 p.m., which are $2.
1930s: The Depression brings financial problems. The number of tenants decreases; some residents move to lower-priced suites. The company reorganizes under the new name of the Wade Park Manor Corp. The Manor also begins soliciting more transient guests, and begins putting up highway signs to attract them.
1936: First lady Eleanor Roosevelt stays at the Wade Park Manor on a visit to Cleveland to inspect housing projects for her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. That same year, the cocktail lounge (not needed during Prohibition when the hotel opened) is reconstructed and named the Griffin Grill.
1940s: The war years bring challenges. Government rulings force the Manor to reduce rents by 10 percent, and food rationing regulations are enforced, restricting the restaurant’s menus. The corporation buys stock in the American Distilling Co. to be able to buy whiskey from the company.
1950s: The Manor continues to be a major site for Cleveland’s important parties, wedding receptions and meetings of national business organizations and academic societies.

November 1960: Mr. and Mrs. Dudley S. Blossom hold a formal supper after a Severance Hall concert, to honor special guest Jack Benny.
1965: The Christian Residence Foundation takes over operations of the hotel, turning it into a residence for retirees. Services, including dining operations, are kept at a high level. Suite 1010 becomes the 1010 Club for all residents to use: It includes a library, with its elaborately carved wood nooks and shelves, a music room and a game room.

1983: Judson Park buys the assets of the Wade Park Manor and takes over its administration, renaming it Judson Manor. Over the years, Judson Park spends more than $7 million on the building’s restoration. Updating and renovation continue.

Elegant Cleveland: The Lake Shore Hotel is still in its prime Cleveland.com 6/29/2008

Elegant Cleveland: The Lake Shore Hotel is still in its prime

By Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer 
Email the author
on June 29, 2008

This is the first of a recurring feature that looks back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown in architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones.

This 1929 postcard shows the magnificence of the Lake Shore Hotel when it stood alone on Edgewater Drive. Though the card says “Cleveland,” the building is in Lakewood. The type below says, “Where the Lake View Is Superb.” Now, the building is the shortest building on the north side of Edgewater, hemmed in by tall apartments buildings and condos.

The ’20s still roared when a 10-story building, with walls as thick as a castle’s, began to rise on the Lakewood cliffs.This pale edifice that seemed to embrace the lake with its arms, while overlooking the nascent Cleveland skyline to the east, was aptly named the Lake Shore Hotel.

A Jazz Age palace of 1928, it promised to slake the thirst for indulgence of those who could afford to stay there.

• A Lake Shore timeline

Besides the sweeping lake vista, the man-made luxury would include 24-inch-thick walls that ensured quiet, privacy and strength in the face of the lake’s storms; a pier and beach, a courtyard with a pond; and underground parking in an era before most owned an automobile.”Vapor heat” would warm the guests, and “iceless refrigeration” would cool them; electric, cherry wood-lined elevators would carry them upward to their suites. An underground passageway would lead them to the beach.

And, as at any great hotel, there’d be the requisite ballroom and restaurants and a premier staff, many of them trained in Europe.

The next decade or two would bring such guests as actor Dick Powell, Aquacade star Eleanor Holm, impresario Billy Rose, and, some like to say, Al Capone.

Wallstone “Stoney” Merriweather was 16 when he worked as a busboy here, called in for the big parties. Today, at 74, he’s a maintenance man at the building, as he has been since the 1960s.

True to his nickname, Merriweather is not a big talker. But this courtly man is the history source everyone defers to. So, does he know if Capone ever stayed here?

He chuckles. “Oh, he surely did,” he says. “He surely did.”

Other locals remember seeing photos of Jean Harlow taken here, too, before her death in 1937.

“Mobsters and movie stars,” says Michelle Wilson, who manages what is now the Lake Shore Towers apartments with her husband, Jay, for Showe Management Corp. “Stoney says those were the only people who could afford to stay here in the 1930s.”

Today, the sandstone exterior is darker. Many, but not all, of the building’s residents are low-income; some of the apartments are subsidized. Most residents are 55 and older.

 A gargoyle projecting from the top of the Lake Shore Towers overlooks the reflecting pool in the courtyard.

Glamour is a ghost now. A large-screen TV creates the liveliest corner in the ballroom; a table where resident Joan Brown sells candy bars attracts her neighbors to the lobby, where an old crystal chandelier shimmers. The former beauty shop sits empty, but Meals on Wheels volunteers stop by each day.Still, the ambience isn’t sad. How could it be? There’s the soft spray of the fountain in the courtyard, the lush green grass moistened by lake breezes.

And always the views — the million-dollar views.

From prosperity to perseverance

The Gothic building, with seahorses etched into the stone facade at the front, was financed by C.H. Cummins on what had been his 4-acre estate, Oakcrest.

He and Cleveland City Manager W.R. Hopkins told reporters in the winter of 1928 that they hoped that the west lakefront (technically in Lakewood, but just feet from the Cleveland border) would eventually front a territory of “high class and beautiful development, such as Chicago has developed along her North Shore, so-called ‘Gold Coast.'”

Cummins foresaw a lakefront development with lagoons for small craft, bathing beaches and parks. “We have in Cleveland’s west shore a district fully as beautiful as, if not excelling in beauty, Chicago’s North Shore,” Cummins said.

But before the next year was out, the stock market would crash, and the Lake Shore Hotel would be in receivership. The new owner, Capt. O.P. Alford of the Peabody Co. financial house in Chicago, bought it at a sheriff’s sale and continued its operation.

Cummins’ and Hopkins’ vision of the lake shore’s future foundered. Not until 1963 would anything — in this case, the Winton Place high-rise — exceed the height of the Lake Shore Hotel.

But this building, having risen during the last gasp of Cleveland’s most prosperous decade, would persevere and its fortunes adapt to the city’s.

A tango in the ballroom

 A sandstone fountain that reproduces Botticelli’s Venus rising from a seashell is in the octagonal lobby adjacent to the entrance of the Larsen Architects office at the Lake Shore Towers. Larsen had the murals painted; he designed the lighting and Kathy Barbaro created the sculpture.

The 1930s were a lovely time for Lake Shore guests who could afford its elegance. The first floor featured a restaurant called The Seaglade, where dinners, luncheons, wedding breakfasts and musicals were held. Its carpet was a deep orchid with a tropical yellow lily pattern; the ceiling was skylike, painted blue and silver. The Seaglade led to a patio where in summer, hotel guests sipped tea at tables shaded by multicolored beach parasols.The lobby led to the Octagon Room, where a circular fountain splashed (today, the room is painted with a mural and features a Venus-like sculpture). On one side were small dining rooms, for those who wanted privacy, for romantic or business reasons — or to partake of a high-stakes card game.

Beyond it was the Nautilus Room, which offered formal dining. Its enormous windows overlooked the patio and gardens, and offered an unrivaled view of the lake.

There aren’t many people around today who remember the hotel from the 1930s, but Jane Sutphin Leitch, 85, of Moreland Hills, does. Her father, Al Sutphin, was president of the Braden-Sutphin Ink Co., owner of the Cleveland Barons hockey team and builder of the Cleveland Arena.

She, her three sisters, brother and parents would travel in their Packard from Cleveland Heights to Lakewood to visit her great-aunts, Edna and Ethel Sutphin, both proud Daughters of the American Revolution. The Sutphin family would take the aunts to dinner in the Nautilus room, though they just called it the restaurant at the Lake Shore.

“We’d drive up the fancy, circular driveway in front,” says Leitch. “I remember walking into the hotel and seeing all the big windows and the lake.”

Jane Leitch recalls the long, straight, belted dresses her mother wore, and her aunts’ peplumed suits. She’d eat her favorite meal there: chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, and cranberry salad, cut into a square. Dessert was ice cream sundaes with a cookie, and always another special treat: Aunt Ethel reciting James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphan Annie.”

“The restaurant was certainly the nicest on the West Side,” says Leitch. “The Lake Shore was just such a beautiful, special space.”

The best views at night were from the nightclub on the 10th floor, where Jean Harlow would have felt right at home. The wallpaper in this posh aerie was brocade; the mantel came from a Southern mansion where it had hung for two centuries; the chairs fashioned in Deco-style aluminum. In the ballroom of the Pent House Club, guests tangoed as Joe Can Dull’s Orchestra played; they could cool off on the veranda.

The nightclub eventually was turned back into a luxury apartment, but high times continued at the Lake Shore from the 1930s on into the ’50s, when a huge swimming pool was built. This became what was famously known as the Lake Shore Swimming Pool and Cabana Club. The private club with tiki bar became the place to be on the lake each summer.

Dixie Lee Davis, director of the Fifth Avenue Club at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beachwood remembers it well. “This was where all the West Side movers and shakers would be,” she says. She started going there in the late 1950s, as a guest of Pat Black, who was then the fashion director of Halle’s, where Davis also worked.

Since many Browns and Indians players lived in Lakewood (close to the old Municipal Stadium), they’d spend their leisure time there, and so would fashionable women — mostly in one-piece bathing suits (a few two-pieces, no bikinis) — and the men who flocked around them.

“It was a good place to be seen, very chic, and just lots of fun,” says Davis. This was not the era of daiquiris or frilly drinks, according to a menu from those days. Whiskey sours were 90 cents.

“That’s what we drank back then, whiskey sours or martinis, Manhattans, gin and tonics,” Davis says. “The food was great, and you had the cabanas if you wanted to get out of the sun.”

It was a sad day for many in 1970, when the pool closed forever, as the land was sold for a more profitable purpose — to make way for another condominium skyscraper. Today, the last inkling of the Swim Club is the closed-off underground passageway that Stoney Merriweather says once led from the basement to the pool. The Waterford now sits where laughter and the clink of ice in whiskey glasses was the sound of summer.

‘The lake is the gift’

A 1929 Cleveland News photo of the Lake Shore hotel shows the automobiles that guests drove at the time.

The place was still swank enough in 1961 that Mike Douglas moved in when he was given his Cleveland talk show. Later that decade, a Brown Derby took over the restaurant space. Dinner theater productions and dances and cocktail parties continued to be held in the ballroom; the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival held a cocktail party in the courtyard. Local lawyer Jerry Dempsey would hold a grand party for 500 in the ballroom every year.The Brown Derby evolved into the French restaurant Maison Pierre, then the continental Marius, a restaurant that became a favorite of many, including a fair share of mobsters.

By the late 1980s, it had closed and remained vacant for some years. That’s when James Larsen found it. He’d been looking for a larger space for his Lakewood architectural firm, and saw the possibilities even through the grime on the chevron gold-flecked wallpaper. “I could see the room that lived underneath,” he says.

He spent $100,000 renovating the space, restoring it and finding, under years of caked-on cigar smoke, the gorgeous Deco crown molding that encircled the room.

Larsen was so drawn to the building — both its history and quality — that he took an apartment here, where he lived for 10 years. Being in his 40s, he was by far the youngest resident.

He got a great surprise in the mail one day: the son of the building’s original architect, Frank Bail, had learned an architect had moved his offices into the building. So from Florida, he sent him the original architectural drawings, ink on vellum, created in 1927.

While the hotel was said to have 450 rooms once, Larsen, counting the lines on the age-scented paper, says the drawings show there would have been half that number.

Larsen had his 50th birthday party in the ballroom in 1997, inviting everyone to dress as they would for a formal event in 1947, and they did, in tuxedoes and gowns. In 2003, he and his wife, Deb, had their wedding in the courtyard, bringing another elegant event to a place that had seen so many.

Larsen’s offices are still here, on the first floor, with their 15-foot-high windows. He loves the light, and being so aware of the seasons.

“The lake is the gift, whether it’s the waves in summer or frozen in the winter,” he says.

Above him, of course, are all the residents in 180 apartments, some of whom he still knows from when he lived here. The place has drawn its share of interesting people: Carlyn Irwin, the widow of the man who designed the electric “Lake Shore” sign on the roof lived here for many years; so did bank robber “Fast Eddie Watkins,” upon his release from prison in the 1990s.

But there are many kind and gentle people here, who live quiet lives and who appreciate the large apartments, the history, and most of all, the gift of the views from on high.

William Thornton is a retiree who lives on the ninth floor, in a unit with exceptionally large windows.

“The first thing anyone says when they step into my apartment is, ‘Wow,’ ” he says. “Always. ‘Wow!’ ”

Since he lives there, and has walked in so many times, he says something else.

“When I walk in, I say, ‘Thank you, God.’ ”

A lot has changed in the Lake Shore’s 80 years. But not everything.

Lake Shore Hotel timeline

By Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer 
on June 26, 2008 at 6:15 PM, updated August 30, 2010 at 4:39 PM

1928: Construction begins on Lakewood’s Edgewater Drive of a 10-story building that promises to be “the finest residential hotel between New York and Chicago,” to be built for $2.5 million. Frank W. Bail, who also designed Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, on West 117th Street, is the architect.

JUNE 1929: The Lake Shore Hotel opens. It is by far the tallest building outside downtown Cleveland. Hotel manager is Max Von Khuon, the Alsace-Lorraine native who formerly managed the Kirtland Country Club.

OCTOBER 28, 1929: Black Monday: the Depression begins.

JANUARY 1930: The Lake Shore Hotel is placed in the hands of a receiver because of $250,000 in outstanding debts.

APRIL 1934: A former penthouse apartment is turned into the Pent House Club, a swanky nightclub with a star bartender, Johnnie Quigley, who had been a favorite of New York Mayor Jimmy Walker’s at the Park Avenue Club.

1950s to 1960s: The Lake Shore Swimming Pool and Cabana Club, first only open to hotel residents, eventually becomes a private club that allows nonresidents to join. Professional athletes and other fashionable men and women make it “the place to be seen” each summer. In 1959, a poolside whiskey sour was 90 cents.

DEC. 23, 1964: The famed electric “Lake Shore” sign on the roof, a landmark for 34 years, is taken down. Neighboring apartment tenants complained its brightness was a nuisance.

1971: The hotel is converted to apartments.

1993: The building, now known as Lake Shore Towers, becomes a senior citizens apartment complex.

1999: Lake Shore Towers celebrates its 70th anniversary. Lakewood’s mayor Madeline Cain cites it for being the first high rise of Lakewood’s Gold Coast.

The Stockbridge in Cleveland has been sitting proudly on Euclid since the days of Millionaires’ Row – Elegant Cleveland

The Stockbridge in Cleveland has been sitting proudly on Euclid since the days of Millionaires’ Row
Published: Sunday, April 03, 2011

Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer

ELEGANT CLEVELAND / This series looks back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown in its people, architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones.

Across the street from the gleaming glass headquarters of Applied Industrial Technologies is a dark-brick balconied building that you’ve almost certainly driven past on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, near East 30th Street.

Perhaps you didn’t notice it, eclipsed as it is not only by the adjacent modern structure but also by the massive Masonic Auditorium half a block away.

But should the Stockbridge Apartments — once
known as the Stockbridge Hotel — tease your
eyes, well, you might be interested to know that this 1911 edifice was designed as far more than a typical apartment house or hostelry.

Exactly a century ago, it opened with only 10 suites of 16 rooms each. Those 4,000-square-foot units were created for the industrial barons whose palatial estates surrounded it, and a number of them moved in for the winter season.

But the Stockbridge also became a mirror of Cleveland’s transformation through the 20th century. When the Stockbridge opened, it seemed at the time that Cleveland’s Millionaires’ Row was still thriving in its sixth decade. At least it looked that way to those who drove their carriages — horseless or not — down Euclid Avenue to view the wrought-iron gates, vast lawns and turreted mansions of those estates.

This photo of the Stockbridge is believed to have been taken within a few years of its opening in 1911.

Western Reserve Historical Society

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The Stockbridge in Cleveland has been sitting proudly on Euclid since the days of Millionaires’ Row 9/3/11 11:55 AM

Oilman George Canfield had picked up on something, likely while talking to his moneyed friends at the private clubs and lodges they belonged to, over drinks and cigars.

The Gilded Age was developing a hint of tarnish, and even the barons who never worried about money were beginning to worry, just a little, about money.

While they once didn’t have to consider property taxes, by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, they were facing considerable tax bills. And heating a mansion — if that’s the right word for something that ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 square feet — during a Cleveland winter was costly. So was maintaining a year-round staff of perhaps 100 people to make these palaces function as smoothly as they should.

A home that would give these men proximity to their businesses and, perhaps, their social lives (including opera and the theater district) and let them be near downtown during the winter seemed like it would appeal.

And it did: Several closed up their mansions for the season and moved into the Stockbridge. Among the first residents in Canfield’s Stockbridge were Henry Sherwin, co-founder of the Sherwin-Williams Co., and bank owner Harry Wick. The son of President James Garfield, also named James, moved in with his wife. But the Stockbridge Hotel, designed for the comfort of millionaires, heralded the beginning of the end of a certain level of opulence, especially near downtown.

Soon, millionaire residents were replaced by people who were merely wealthy. Even into the early 1930s, some of the tenants — including Miss Lotta Brewbaker, a music teacher at The Arcade — were listed in the city’s social register, the Blue Book.

Then, as the huge suites got carved up to create more rooms, some visitors were vaudevillians, including Bob Hope and Jack Benny, who appeared at the nearby Hippodrome. The headliners would stay in the front; roadies and the rest of the entourage would stay in the more utilitarian Stockbridge Annex, built in 1923, in the back.

Over the years, longtime Stockbridge residents included doctors, lawyers, secretaries, chefs and waiters. Temporary residents included the cartoonist Herblock and performers from the Metropolitan Opera, which would tour Cleveland each spring.

Some of the itinerant entertainers were not as lofty but fascinating in their own right — Ice Follies and roller-derby girls, circus performers or wrestlers appearing at the nearby Arena (at East 38th Street and Euclid), and sometimes burlesque dancers from the Roxy or the New Era.

Still, the Stockbridge’s spirit held fast, with quieter, longtime residents leavening the tone of more frolicsome, temporary guests — and being entertained by them. Magician Doug Henning and his troupe stayed there in the ’70s and ’80s, and would sometimes put on a show for residents in the lobby.

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The Stockbridge in Cleveland has been sitting proudly on Euclid since the days of Millionaires’ Row 9/3/11 11:55 AM

Even into the early ’90s, on some afternoons the desk clerk, Pat Riddle, played the piano in the lobby parlor for fellow residents sitting in wingback chairs. Riddle was known for wearing white gloves while performing Gershwin and Porter and other standards, to protect her vermilion manicure.

“She was a jazzy old lady,” says Tonie Love, who lives in the Stockbridge today, as she has for 37 years.

Just like the Stockbridge, in its way.

The rise and fall of a grand avenue

Most Clevelanders have heard about Millionaires’ Row. But they might not know the breadth and depth of its wealth or fame.

Dan Ruminski, a business owner who lives in Chesterland, has created a sideline as a history buff who researches and lectures on Millionaires’ Row, circa 1850 to 1910.

“There was a time during that period when half the millionaires who existed in the world lived in Cleveland,” he says.

That storied portion of Euclid Avenue, stretching from downtown to about East 55th Street, was known as one of America’s “grand avenues.” The Euclid Avenue of that era was compared to the Champs-Elysees in Paris and Unter den Linden in Berlin.

But as Jan Cigliano writes in the definitive book on the Row, which was published in 1991, there was a difference. “Unlike their European counterparts in London, Paris or Berlin, which were planned and built under authoritarian state edicts, America’s grand avenues were created out of the collective actions and interest of private individuals,” she says in “Showplace of America.”

“The huge fortunes made from capitalist endeavors and the aspiring cultural appetites of Euclid Avenue patrons created these residential showcases in Cleveland and elsewhere.”

Tax rates on the wealth of those patrons were nominal in the 19th century. But that started to change in the 20th century.

That wasn’t the only thing that began leading to the Row’s demise. Many of the owners of the estates were responsible, directly or indirectly, for the industry and commerce that were dramatically making Cleveland grow. Gradually, pollution from industry and railroads and the choking congestion of automobiles and streetcars made their way toward the mansions. Commercial demand for property on the avenue grew, too.

There was another aspect as well: Some of the owners didn’t want to see their palatial homes carved up into

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apartments that the poor, especially immigrants, would move into. They chose to have them demolished instead. So the grand avenue died.

Today, the less-than-a-handful of mansions that remain (the University Club, Cleveland State University’s Mather Mansion) have been converted to other uses.

But the Stockbridge? It’s still there, and functioning as it was designed to — as a residence.

“It outlasted them all,” says Ruminski. “It was at the heart of Millionaires’ Row, and it’s one of the few remaining physical traces of that whole era.”

Luxurious features, but no kitchens

Canfield — the oil baron who had once worked for John D. Rockefeller and would go on to build Cleveland’s first gas station — hired George Steffens as his architect.

Steffens was experienced at designing private homes and apartment buildings, and in the Stockbridge, he created a building that combined the Georgian Revival style with Tudoresque touches — including the shape of the rooftop gables and a coat of arms painted on the top tier of balconies.

A multitude of luxurious details was apparent inside, from the lined-in-marble entryway to the substantial and intricately carved banisters and brass fixtures in the elevators. Beamed ceilings and massive fireplaces and mantels lorded over enormous living rooms. Bathrooms were lined in white porcelain tile, with deep tubs and pedestal sinks.

None of the suites contained a kitchen, though, because these wealthy men didn’t need them. They would either do their fine dining at the restaurant in the basement or eat at their clubs; the Tavern Club is just a block away at East 36th Street. Or they could order a meal that would come to their suite via the dumbwaiter.

The hotel provided maids, housekeeping and linen services, though with 16 rooms for each suite, it was easy enough to house the few servants necessary for personal services.

The sixth floor even had a ballroom, should a resident want to throw a formal gala.

But over the years, time and bad taste took its toll. A rectangular awning eventually obscured the building front, and a garish neon sign announcing the “hotel” went up.

In the mid- ’70s, a young man who worked as a clerk for a union bought the place. Jim Stack was only in his 20s, and he was looking for an investment. When he learned some Stockbridge history, he was hooked and moved in himself. His dad loaned him the money for the down payment, “and I paid it back in six months.”

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The rent he collected — by then, 40 units had been created from the original 10 suites — left just enough for him to make repairs here and there. Then he got a federal loan in the mid- ’80s for about $700,000, all of which he put into rehabbing the building. He hired architect Bob Gaede to bring back as much splendor as he could. Stack applied for and won the Stockbridge a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

‘A gumbo of characters’

A woman named Johnnie Mae Green came with the building, Stack says.

“She had moved here at 17, and by the time I met her, she was in her 70s,” he says. “She knew every shut-off, every fuse. When we got the federal loan, I had her help cut the ribbon.”

Another tenant, Larry Weist, was an expert plasterer who helped make the molds to replace missing pieces.

“And Bobby Love [Tonie’s late husband] was my eyes and ears and my best friend,” says Stack. “He was a street- smart guy who would tip me off if there was potential trouble.”

Stack and Tonie Love remember some of the same stories, especially the one about the dancer from the New Era, Queenie, who wore a boa constrictor around her neck as part of her act. The boa lived at the Stockbridge, too.

“The snake got loose one day, and the housekeeping staff went crazy,” says Stack.

Tonie remembers the photographs that hung on the lobby wall, near the entrance — black-and-white shots of all the celebrities who had stayed at the hotel.

“Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Dean Martin and Lucille Ball,” she recalls. Seeing Lucy’s photo was special, since Tonie is a native of Jamestown, N.Y., as was Ball.

“She could have been my aunt,” Love says of the comedian. “My uncle was engaged to her before she hooked up with another guy whose connections got her a job in New York City.”

The Stockbridge was special, says Stack. “We had a Christmas party every year, and the chef who lived here — he once worked for Chef Boyardee — made the food,” he says. “Remember that show ‘Hot L Baltimore’? This was like that.”

In fact, one tenant liked living there so much that when Stack reminded him he was behind on his rent, “he went out and robbed a bank to pay it. I didn’t know until the police came to search his apartment.”

By the late ’80s, Stack was married with two children and moved to a suburb. It was getting too complicated to

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manage a building downtown, so he sold it.

In 1989, Cleveland writer Mary Mihaly wrote a story for Cleveland magazine on the still-reinvigorated Stockbridge that Stack had created.

“The quality of the renovation was striking, because it was done in a way that kept the integrity of the building intact,” she recalls. “It really did evoke the glory days of the building — not just its early history, but its vaudeville flavor.”

Today, the Stockbridge is not quite as cozy. The lobby parlor is gone, because a wall was added to create a mailroom. There are no celebrity photographs hanging. The building is, in fact, in receivership.

Tanya Sams is managing the building for the receiver, a job she considers special, for personal reasons and her love of history.

“My grandfather, Calvin Ballard Clay, once lived here, and so did my mom for a while, when she was 14,” she says. So when Sams found out the company she worked for was taking over, “I was thrilled.” She fervently wishes for archival records and photos of the building, which seem not to exist.

Her rapport with residents is obvious. Besides Tonie Love, they include Hortense Dismuke, a retired nurse who remembers when the place still had maid and laundry service 20-plus years ago, and Carolyn Jones, a former go-go dancer (“I used to dance at the Malibu and Wine & Roses, all the places up and down Euclid Avenue”). College and grad students are mixed amid the retirees.

Dismuke remembers other nurses living here, as well as FBI agents. “A lot of older men stayed here for six months or so and then would go to Florida,” she says. “It might have had something to do with the dog races.”

Sams attributes part of the Stockbridge’s charm to the residents: “We have a gumbo of characters living here.”

What will happen to the Stockbridge now? Actually, its location might be propitious again, at least for an investor. As CSU continues to expand, it either directly or indirectly encourages the creation of places for students and employees to live.

For residents like Tonie Love — who, after several decades here, managed to get one of the larger units, on the fourth floor with a balcony — the Stockbridge is home. Her apartment, with its large living room, boasts four separate conversation areas she’s made with chairs and loveseats.

Summer means opening the French doors to Euclid Avenue, which is much quieter and cleaner than it used to be. “From up here, you can see the lake,” Love says, and you can — the same blue-gray water that the millionaires of

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100 years ago could see, and did, from this very balcony.

Plain Dealer researcher Joellen Corrigan contributed to this story.

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