on April 26, 2009
This ongoing series looks back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown in architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones.
ROCKY RIVER — The living couldn’t get much easier in the 1920s than at Rocky River’s “Pink Palace,” which flashes into view just as you cross the bridge from Lakewood.
At the Hotel Westlake, maid service was taken care of, and you could send your clothing down to the valet to be laundered and pressed. Your car — a Peerless, perhaps? — would be washed in the adjacent garage. If you needed your hair cut or styled, you just went to the barber or beauty salon downstairs.
There was a playground in the back for your children, right by the tennis courts. Practically next door were the stables, and if you had a sailboat or “yacht,” you could dock it at the slips below.
On a slower day, you could just play on the miniature golf course, then have tea on the terrace overlooking the river. Men would enjoy their afternoon cigars with the newspaper, on the indoor mezzanine level.
Should any of your activities lead to the need for aspirin, the switchboard would connect you to Marshall’s Drugstore, a few steps across the street, though they’d certainly deliver.
And you never had to cook or do dishes. There was always a place to dine — the Marine Dining Room, the Lacquer Room, the Commodore Lounge — for elegant or simple meals.
The ballroom — people still remember its grand staircase — was the scene of many weddings and cotillions; the smaller party rooms and mezzanine were popular for card-playing, a favorite entertainment then.
Guests, said management in a newsletter of the time, “need merely occupy their quarters at the hotel, and have their days to devote entirely to their own personal affairs and to the business and pleasure of living. … Today the modern hotel is the ideal home.”
Better even. There was no need for servants that “Mother” had to supervise: “For, after all, the servant problem is almost as much of a nuisance as doing the work herself.”
In this era, when Rocky River was still so countrified that it was referred to as Cleveland’s “vegetable garden,” the Hotel Westlake represented the ultimate in swanky sophistication, even though it happened to be on the West Side.
A glamorous stopover
The location, on a bluff overlooking the Rocky River, not far south of its mouth, had always been a place for hospitality. In 1816, Wright’s Tavern stood here — and a few decades later, it was replaced by the rambling Silverthorne Inn and Tavern. Its owner, Jacob Silverthorn, was known as a “congenial tavernkeeper.”
But when the Miramar Apartments Co. decided to build the Hotel Westlake in 1923, this was a whole new level of luxury. It was part of a flurry of buildings that were known as residential hotels in Cleveland. The 1920s brought such places as the Alcazar and the Wade Park Manor, among nearly a dozen others, most radiating from the University Circle area.
The western location, along with its Mediterranean brick-and-stucco architecture (a combination of Old Florida and Deco-era Hollywood), made it an immediate landmark. Then, too, there was its pink hue, referred to by some as a shade of “strawberries and cream,” and the striking lake and river views it provided.
There was so much activity that the 400-room residential hotel even had its own weekly glossy magazine, 10 or 12 pages an issue, called From the Windows of Westlake.
Besides articles of interest to guests and residents, it printed area train, bus, boat and plane schedules (to such cities as Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago), as well as the showtimes for movies and theatrical productions in downtown Cleveland.
And of course, it divulged the goings-on of guests and residents: In October 1929, “Col. R.O. Davies has returned from New York City and is spending the fall months with us. ‘Fit as a fiddle,’ says he.” And: “Mr. D.K. White announces the opening of his evening classes in golf instruction.”
By then, it was clear that the Westlake had become a convenient favorite for people connected to the new aviation industry. The hotel became a must stop for aviators, as well as others involved in the airline business; it also served as headquarters for the leading women’s flying clubs, including the Ninety-Nines and the Betsy Ross Aviators.
Amelia Earhart, a frequent guest, was interviewed at the hotel in 1935. She commented on a lucky charm given her for an upcoming long flight: “I think a good mechanic is much better than a lucky charm.”
Other aviators who visited included James H. Doolittle Jr., Wiley Post and Charles Lindbergh, though whether Lindbergh stayed overnight is uncertain.
But in the days before night flying, the Westlake was the place for pilots to sleep over — it was the closest hotel to Cleveland Municipal Airport (not yet named Hopkins). Many of them recognized the building from their planes, since the 20-foot-high sign on the Westlake’s roof created a marker visible at an elevation of 4,000 feet.
Adding to the glamour quotient, a number of stewardesses (as they were then known) lived here, and some airlines also kept suites for employee layovers.
Tom Barrett, a longtime Rocky River resident and member of the historical society, says his aunt, Jeanette Curtis, lived at the Hotel Westlake with two stewardess roommates in the ’40s.
“It was a safe place, convenient to the airport, and there really weren’t other reputable hotels on the West Side at the time,” he says.
In October 1929, for instance, the Westlake’s newsletter reported that “Skyways Inc. has two of its most able men living in one of the bachelor apartments,” and further that a Mr. H.L. Kindred, operations manager and vice president of Continental Airlines, and his family “were making the Westlake their Cleveland home.”
High society meets Depression
Plenty of families made the Westlake their home, too. Old photos in the Rocky River Historical Society archives show children playing on the swings in the back and sledding down the hill behind the building, a few feet from the river.
The ’20s had brought with them a new trend: Those who did not want the complications of owning a home — perhaps they wintered elsewhere, for example — would find the new concept of residential hotels a friendly one.
Of course, this was the time of Prohibition. It’s hard to imagine that the Westlake’s proximity to the river and lake wouldn’t have helped some cunning bootlegger supply hotel residents with hootch.
In 1931, the Cleveland News did report the arrest of a “society bootlegger” who had responded to a call for the delivery of six pints of whiskey from a federal undercover agent staying at the hotel.
While residents enjoying the hotel-residence lifestyle might not have noticed, the Great Depression had its effect on tourism. The hotel owners defaulted and operated the place under receivership until it was sold to a committee of bondholders in 1935.
Ruth Regula, who has lived in Rocky River her whole life, still remembers her mom taking her to the Candyland ice cream parlor across from the Westlake in the early ’40s.
“Rocky River was a rural community then, mostly known for its greenhouses, so it was a special treat seeing all the well-dressed people going in and out of the hotel,” she recalls.
“I remember the weddings and dances there, and going down the wonderful staircase.”
For those who could afford it, dances, parties and other celebrations drew people to the Westlake, through the Depression, World War II and beyond. Tom Barrett’s parents got married in the ballroom in 1949. He also recalls the colorful story he heard about a windowless room on the lower level of the river side of the building, where — one of his uncles told him — stag films were shown.
By 1953, more and more guests were arriving in cars than on the trains, so a double-deck parking garage was added.
Nine years later, a spectacular blaze hit the building. An alarm went off at 6 a.m. on Jan. 25, 1962, for a kitchen grease fire, and at 7:30 a.m., another alarm sounded on the roof.
The hotel had long been deemed fireproof, and that may have been what limited the fire damage to the roof, which was destroyed. Water damage occurred throughout the building, though, and 175 residents — 160 of them permanent — were evacuated for many weeks.
The extremely popular Silverthorne Bar, though, reopened the next day.
Run-down palace is rehabilitated
During the next two decades, the hotel slipped into seediness; even the exterior was a dingy pale gray. As Barrett recalls, “It essentially became a big rooming house, and it got kind of rough.”
Architect Andrejs Smiltars, who worked on the rehabilitation in the ’80s, agreed.
“It had once been the place to go for parties, just very elegant, but it had become rundown,” he says. “It had been a landmark, though, and there were no problems with the structure.
“We didn’t have to do a lot of work to bring it back to habitable shape, just a lot of cosmetic work and changing out the plumbing and electrical and mechanical systems.”
Developer Scott Maurer was behind the project. Besides reconfiguring the interior — making fewer but larger units and adding units at the penthouse level — the exterior was restored to its original coral color.
By the ’80s, condominiums were clearly a more profitable venture than hotel rooms in Rocky River. The condo units, which varied in size and went up to three bedrooms, ranged in price at that time from $77,000 to $244,000.
The luxurious service and wide-ranging leisure amenities of the ’20s and ’30s are only a dreamy memory, though there was a burst of VIP vibrancy as a number of sports figures moved in in the ’80s. The Silverthorne is now an empty party room; residents are more likely to go to Salmon Dave’s across the street for libations.
But in Rocky River and from the western side of Lakewood, the presence of the big pink “hotel” — once a drawing card for movie stars, aviators and local glitterati — still makes a head-turning statement.
It’s an edifice that continues to fire the imagination — and inspires a longing for a simpler yet somehow more sophisticated time.
ELEGANT CLEVELAND / This ongoing series looks back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown in architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones.
If you lived at Moreland Courts in the 1930s, ’40s or ’50s, you didn’t have to mix it up with the hoi polloi at a gas station: A valet would fill your tank from the Sohio pump in the basement garage. You’d never run into your live-in servants on the passenger elevators, because they’d take the service elevators. You wouldn’t even have to go outdoors to dine at the Shaker Tavern at the Square — a long hallway and a special key would get you in.
That’s the signature experience Moreland Courts, which arose in the late 1920s, offered. By design, the luxurious apartment complex emanated a mystique. If you were welcome to live at Moreland Courts in the 1930s, you’d know about it. Otherwise, there wasn’t so much as an exterior sign naming the edifice you were gazing upon.
The block-size complex at Shaker Boulevard and Coventry Road evokes big-city living at its finest, as you would experience on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was — and continues to be — home to people with the means to afford enormous houses but who instead choose to live in a spacious abode that is part of a community of 15 buildings.
The very creation of Moreland Courts, at the edge of Shaker Heights, occurred because that city’s exclusive zoning code did not allow for apartments at the time. So, the complex was built just over the border in Cleveland, as an integral part of the development of Shaker Square’s retail complex.
All the individual units here were at least 1,500 square feet and ranged up to 4,000. Most were single-story, but there were two-story apartments with leaded-glass windows to match. One thing you wouldn’t find back then: a small studio or one-bedroom apartment, because when the complex was constructed, it was feared smaller units would draw bachelors, wayward husbands or, heaven forbid, their mistresses.
Privacy reigned. Inside most buildings, there weren’t common gathering areas; even the elevators were shared by only two or four units on a floor. You’d be more likely to see your neighbors at the private clubs to which you belonged or in Palm Beach, Fla., in the winter.
Moreland Courts’ unofficial slogan in the days when Cleveland bustled as America’s fifth-largest city was “Where the wealth of the world resides.”
For many families, though, this architectural wonder has meant the warmth of home for many decades. William Bruner, for example, is the third generation of his family to live here. His father, Clark, and mother, Polly, moved in in 1937; his grandfather lived with the family until his death at 94.
When Bruner was a teen, his friends loved to visit his family’s apartment before they all headed to Shaker Square to Marshall’s Drug Store for a malt or John Wade’s record shop to listen to 45s.
John Greene, then president of Ohio Bell, lived just below the Bruners, and Polly Bruner liked to warn her son that if he and his friends were too noisy, “Mr. Greene will have our phones disconnected.”
Still elegant but not exclusive
Then and now, Moreland Courts is an anomaly in Northeast Ohio. The level of urban elegance it offers is said to be unparalleled between New York and Chicago — both when the complex opened and today.
In Northeast Ohio, where people live in apartments and condos on their way to buying a house, the Courts always have been anachronistic: People aspire to them, and when they get in, they tend to stay. On many occasions, residents’ children have taken the space upon their parents’ deaths.
In recent years, Moreland Courts has become a far more diverse and democratic place. Where once it housed only captains of industry and families found in the social register, it now attracts people with the finest cultural pedigrees as well: Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland director Jill Snyder, former Western Reserve Historical Society director Ted Sande.
But also making their homes at Moreland Courts are Cleveland’s building and housing director, Ed Rybka; Cleveland State University urban-policy professor Norm Krumholz; and environmental activist David Beach.
Where once there was homogeneity, there is ethnic, racial and religious diversity — adding a draw is the fact that the complex is in Cleveland, making it attractive to people who must live in the city for professional reasons, but it’s part of the Shaker Heights school district.
And, in a nice bit of circularity in these environmentally minded times, Moreland Courts residents like to talk about how they can be without a car for days or weeks at a time. Besides the restaurants and shops at Shaker Square and in the nearby Larchmere District, residents easily can take the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s rapid downtown, to University Circle and even the airport.
How a classic takes shape
This one-time bastion of bluebloods got its financial footing from Josiah Kirby, a colorful fellow who was flagrantly successful at making money, at least for a time.
At the start of the 1920s, Kirby had the $30 million that was the estimated cost for what was to be a massive project of apartments and retail in and around Shaker Square, then referred to as Moreland Circle.
And then his money was gone, and he went to prison for mail fraud and jury fixing. As Sande puts it, “He was a shady character who hired a brilliant architect.”
The architect was Alfred W. Harris, and he had conceived of a complex that would in effect be a narrative of English architecture. Harris had served as an aviator during World War I and found himself enchanted by the medieval towns he saw in England. It shaped his architectural creations when he returned home.
He designed several houses in Shaker Heights, a community with street names that paid tribute to English life, and Moreland Courts was to be a masterwork that would reflect all the best elements of distinct eras of English architecture: Elizabethan, neo-Gothic, Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian.
But then Kirby’s empire collapsed, and the Van Sweringen brothers picked up the project. Soon they had their own architecture firm: Small and Rowley, which designed the Van Sweringens’ Daisy Hill estate in Hunting Valley.
The visionary Van Sweringens were business-minded. Beauty was well and good, but only to a point. So their architects adopted a more streamlined approach to Moreland Courts.
Exterior embellishments were kept to a minimum. So were those inside. The walls were still several feet thick, to be sure, but the suites did not have the millwork or plasterwork detailing seen in the Harris-designed suites at the Point Building, the first and still most lavishly appointed portion of the Courts.
Filling the apartments was not a problem, not even during the Depression or World War II.
Back then, most of the residents still had live-in servants, who had their bedrooms on the far side of the kitchen. Each apartment had two phones: one for the family, one for the servants.
In the 1940s, there were uniformed doormen and a 24-hour switchboard. A number of fine shops lined the long hallways known as the Gallery — a women’s boutique, a men’s shop, a tobacco shop and the linen shop called Isabel Barry’s.
These were days of extreme privilege and wealth. One woman who lived at Moreland Courts in the ’40s, Katherine Holden-Thayer (the Holden family owned The Plain Dealer), had six cars at the Courts and seven more at her estate in Gates Mills. In an interview conducted for the Cleveland Restoration Society in 2007, Lou Hubach, who worked as doorman and switchboard operator in the 1940s, said with a chuckle, “She liked cars.”
Then there was Mildred, a switchboard operator who, as everyone who remembers her agrees, couldn’t help but listen and learn secrets.
Graham Grund, a well-known arts patron, lived in Moreland Courts as a young woman in the 1940s. Like many families of the time, her parents also had a home in the “country,” in Gates Mills, where they spent the summer.
She moved back to the Courts seven years ago after the death of her husband, having lived in Gates Mills for many years.
“I don’t think there’s anyone alive here but me who would remember the shops we had here,” she says. “I wasn’t old enough to buy the things they offered, but Mother did.”
Her parents moved into Moreland Courts in 1940 or 1941, she says. “Life was lovely. It was home. But everything changes — and everything really changed after the Korean War.”
Except, she allows, “this is still one of the most beautiful sets of buildings anywhere. Nothing has ever matched it.”
Residents old and new soak up the atmosphere
James Irving, an interior designer who has lived in the Courts since the late 1960s, couldn’t agree more. He lives in the Point Building, though he didn’t always. He moved from one of the Tudor buildings after several years when one of the sought-after suites opened up.
His suite combines his professional artistry, personal taste and the best of Moreland Courts’ interior construction — so much so that it became a must-see for actresses and writers who came to the Shaker Square Bookshop.
Joan Fontaine stopped by when she was in town to talk about her autobiography, “No Bed of Roses.” So did the fashion writer Eugenia Sheppard and Stephen Birmingham, author of an acclaimed book on Manhattan’s Dakota Building.
Moreland Courts today
Price of suites: In the past two years, the price range has been from $30,000 to $550,000, depending on size and building.
Monthly fees: $1,100 to $3,300. These pay for both the high level of service provided by the building and the recent $15 million in massive restoration and renovations to the historic structure.
Services provided: 24-hour valet, security and switchboard; pick-up and delivery of packages and dry cleaning, etc.
Moreland Courts, Birmingham told Irving, compared most favorably to that storied building.
Rayleen Nanni is one of Moreland Courts’ newest residents. She owns the Metropolitan Galleries at Shaker Square, a furniture and art gallery. She lived in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park neighborhood for 15 years before moving to Northeast Ohio several years ago.
She lived for a time in Ohio City. “But I always dreamed of coming to the square and living here,” she says.
It has the urban feel of Manhattan to her, if on a smaller scale. On Sundays, she and her husband buy the paper, walk to Shaker Square for coffee, perhaps have brunch at one of the restaurants.
“You can walk, and you see people,” she says. “I like looking outside my apartment and seeing the rapid trains. It’s just a very urban feel.”
Irving, too, can’t imagine being at home anywhere else. Anyone who loves history and hearing people’s stories — especially the anecdotes of well-traveled residents — couldn’t live in a richer place, and Irving was a friend to many of the grande dames who lived at the Courts.
People remember their names: Mrs. Ziesing. Mrs. Eells. Oh yes, Mrs. Eells, whose luggage would be stacked shoulder-high at the entrance of the Point Building as her driver and car approached. Her staff would line up and stand at attention as she left the building to winter in Palm Beach.
That time — that extravagant lifestyle — largely has vanished, at Moreland Courts and elsewhere. As Irving points out, “Who can afford live-in help, even if you could find help that would be willing to live in?”
Life with servants has passed into history. But the stories of Moreland Courts? For now, there are still a few people who can tell them.
Or keep the secrets.
on August 18, 2012
The look of the future was invented in Cleveland in the 1950s.
Long before the film “The Graduate” would make it a buzzword, “plastics” was the medium in which Joan Luntz created. For five decades, the designs she oversaw from her studio of artists expanded into wallpaper and drapes, place mats and china, bed sheets and beach towels, scarves and ties.
“Designs by Joan Luntz Inc.” was a business that penetrated the American housewares and home-decor market yet began and remained in Shaker Heights.
Starting in the early 1950s, you could find Luntz, a rare career woman in that era, making monthly visits to Manhattan. She carried a zippered black canvas portfolio — it weighed about 20 pounds — of sample patterns under her arm as she called on art directors and executives at companies such as Wamsutta, Mikasa and JCPenney, in midtown.
“Back then, it was just me and Lois Wyse,” Luntz says, referring to the Cleveland advertising maven and, later, author. “We’d run into each other at parties, and we’d talk and talk, because we were the only two working women we knew. The other women just thought I had a hobby.”
Today, Luntz lives in Wade Park Manor, in an apartment overlooking the Cleveland Museum of Art’s lagoon. Three floors above her apartment, she has a smaller studio space that houses her archived samples.
Dean Zimmerman, chief curator of the Western Reserve Historical Society, has already visited her collection three times; Stephen Harrison, curator of decorative arts and design at the Cleveland museum, has also stopped by for a look. They know that, early in her career, Luntz’s line garnered her top design awards from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.
“She offers a window on art and design in Cleveland that I was completely unaware of,” says Zimmerman. “She competed very well with all the big design firms in New York and came up with fabulous designs, in the colors we now associate with each era.”
Most of us can take a look through our own cupboards, or at old snapshots of family suppers, or visit a neighbor’s house, and we probably will turn up at least one example of a pattern that was created courtesy of Joan Luntz.
Early talent in music
Luntz was raised in Canton before her family moved to the Cleveland area when she was a teen. She then became a student at Hathaway Brown in Shaker Heights.
As a young girl, her interest in art manifested in her masterful piano playing and singing. She was talented enough to be featured several times as a soloist at Hathaway Brown concerts, as noted in The Plain Dealer’s society pages. A photo published at the time conveys why the brunette beauty was selected to the May Queen’s court in 1940.
Luntz met her future husband, George Goulder, when he stopped by her family’s home in Shaker Heights, going door-to-door to raise money for a Jewish charity. He was eight years older than she, but he asked her out on a dinner date nonetheless.
Romance didn’t affect her plans for college, though. Like many well-brought-up young women, Luntz chose one of the Seven Sister schools. She picked Vassar College (seven years later, Jacqueline Bouvier would become a student there) because its Poughkeepsie, N.Y., campus was a train ride from Manhattan, where she hoped to take lessons from a renowned voice coach.
Luntz gave up on her dream of becoming a singer, however, and focused on her studies — she was a history major — and swam in the social whirl, attending dances with swains at Princeton University and other Ivy League schools. She stayed in touch with George Goulder, too.
“Things were different then,” she says. “You studied hard during the week, and on the weekends, you went to dances and parties.” Since Vassar enrolled only women, that often meant visiting other campuses for mixers.
Luntz graduated from Vassar in 1944 and, less than a year later, became a wartime bride. She and Goulder — a graduate of Harvard University and by then an Army lieutenant — were married in Cleveland on Feb. 10, 1945. They immediately moved to Dayton, where he was posted at Wright Field.
During the war, Goulder served in the Army Air Force as a meteorologist, but he had another responsibility as well: The manufacturing company his family owned had thrived throughout the war by making plastic helmet liners for the Army.
When the war ended, George and Joan started a family, which would eventually grow to a brood of six. The manufacturing company Goulder now owned — International Molded Plastics — shifted its production to making plastic cabinets for radios.
But Goulder had been approached by the American Cyanamid Co., which had come up with an extremely hard plastic known as melamine, to create some lines. Soon, his firm began manufacturing plastic tableware for restaurants, hotels and hospitals.
This new material, so pivotal to the second half of the 20th century, was readily moldable and resistant to chipping and breaking, with a life expectancy up to 20 times that of china.
Goulder thought there might also be a market for such durable plastic dinnerware for the home, and his wife agreed. “He wanted to have his own product line,” Luntz says. Goulder appreciated her aesthetic taste, and she began sketching some ideas.
Until that time, dishes and saucers were always round.
“I didn’t know any better, and I thought of a square design for the plates, eventually adding rounded corners,” Luntz recalls. Because her husband was colorblind, he asked Luntz also to select colors — and she knew exactly which hues were in style, thanks to her immersion in decorating the couple’s home.
She chose four for the dinnerware line they called Brookpark Arrowhead Ever Ware: chartreuse, burgundy, emerald and pearl gray.
Product line takes off
In 1950, the couple decided to debut their line at the annual china and glass show, which attracted buyers from all over the world. The trade show was in Pittsburgh that year, but there was a problem: The organizers said only dinnerware made of china and glass was permitted.
“So we rented rooms at the Hotel Pitt, which was adjacent to where the show was, and we placed a sign near the lobby,” Luntz says. “Word of mouth spread, and many of the buyers began coming in to see our line.”
They were drawn by the shapes of the cups and plates, so gracefully rounded in a modern style, with handles innovatively placed on the diagonal corners of serving dishes, and tab handles on cups.
Sales soon exploded, especially after advertisements hit magazines such as Life. “If dishes were wishes, she’d wish for Brookpark,” read the type alongside a smiling blonde.
And the dinnerware sets, displayed later that year at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, were selected for a design award by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Luntz was in heady company: A fellow design winner at that show was Eero Saarinen, for one of his famous side chairs.
But Luntz — already a mother of two — didn’t just rest on her laurels. Soon, she and Goulder were on to the next thing.
They had learned of a newly invented process from Europe that allowed a pattern to be impregnated onto the melamine dinnerware, and theirs became the first company to incorporate decoration in 1956. The design Luntz came up with was called Fantasy, and it featured stylized stalks of wheat combined with pastel discs. It was eventually sold at many chains, Sears and Kroger among them.
From today’s perspective, Fantasy is an iconic midcentury look.
By then, other manufacturers were making melamine dishes, also called Melmac. But Brookpark was a market leader. To show how durable the dishes were, a then-budding actress and future talk-show star named Virginia Graham hosted a 15-minute commercial in which she placed the dishes in a washing machine.
They emerged pristine and unchipped. Of course, as many families would learn, eventually they proved not to be entirely impermeable to knives and forks.
“We don’t discuss that,” says Luntz, with a firm smile.
But Luntz moved far beyond dinnerware (the production of which was expanded from Cleveland to factories in Mississippi and Puerto Rico). Her design patterns enhanced stationery, wallpaper, shower curtains and bedspreads, among other household accoutrements.
Examining the organized flat-file drawers in her studio-office is a trip through 20th-century decor, from pastoral farm scenes to paisleys and traditional prints that would have looked apt with Colonial-style furniture. There are graphic geometrics that capture the bold look of the 1970s, the Provencal country styles of the 1980s and delicate Asian motifs. Then, in the splashy style so typical of the early 1990s, came the explosion of bold calla lilies on black, pink or blue backgrounds.
Luntz became known in the trade press as “the Calla Lily Lady,” which she’s not completely thrilled about.
“I never specialized in any one look,” she said at the time. “There are too many different tastes to please, and I pride myself for having a wide range of looks.”
Approval power over flowers
Luntz always emphasizes that she herself was not an artist. She had 10 artists working for her at her Shaker Boulevard studio, a group she describes as incredibly diverse — mostly women, but some men, hailing from Russia, England and other parts of Europe.
“I had very talented people,” Luntz says.
Back in those pre-computer days, the artists painted all the patterns. A square sample of a wallpaper design with tiny flowers might feature 100 of them, meticulously repeated by hand.
Luntz was the art director, with ultimate approval over the designs, and she’d tweak them. “I might say, ‘Make this flower bigger, or move this flower over there,’ ” she says. “Or I’d say, ‘I’d like that pattern in purple and pink, not in blue and green.’ ”
Then she decided which designs to pitch to particular companies, and for what type of item.
Zimmerman notes that Luntz was also a pioneer at vertical integration: If someone favored the calla lily design, for example, they could buy it in wallpaper, in place mats, china or napkins.
But it wasn’t about repeating a pattern as much as coordinating, Luntz says. “Even when a pattern appears on a number of products, such as a soap dish, place mat or dinnerware, it’s scaled and executed in such a way as to ensure the design works for each of them,” she says.
Somehow, Luntz did all this while raising six children. She notes that she did have some household help. But, she says, the biggest reason life ran smoothly, if hectically, was having a husband who was proud and supportive of the creative work she did — and her decision to locate her studio near their Shaker Heights home.
“If one of the kids had a dentist appointment or a piano lesson, I could run home and take them,” she says. “But then, on a Sunday afternoon, you’d find me working for an hour or two on a design.”
Technically, Luntz has never closed her business but moved it to her space in Judson. She no longer employs a staff of artists but, she says, “If anyone is interested in buying patterns, they’ll have to buy the whole collection” — at the right price, of course.
But she left a legacy for her children — her creativity inspired them, and most of them work in creative fields; even her son who is a professor of economics at Stanford University is a talented pianist.
Luntz’s daughter Susanna Goulder used her artistry as a set decorator for movies and TV shows — most famously, for the debut season of “Sex and the City.” Now, she has moved back to Northeast Ohio and works in the ministerial field.
“I remember that in my classes in the Shaker schools, whenever they’d ask whose mom worked, only two kids besides me would raise their hands,” Goulder says. “But it was neat to have a mom who did what she did.
“I might be missing a pair of shorts, and I’d go to her studio and there’d they’d be, because they gave her an idea for a pattern. She got inspiration from everything.”
The designs created by Joan Luntz still resonate. In April, she received a letter from a woman named Meg, who has an online shop called The Retro Life on the craft site etsy.com.
“About five years ago, while looking through a huge old barn in Vermont, I found your Brookpark Modern design sugar bowl in chartreuse. I had never seen anything like it. Soon I was collecting Brookpark, and then I was collecting more great examples of midcentury design.
“In a couple of years, I had so much, I opened my Etsy shop, The Retro Life. Your designs are fresh and creative, even today. You have such a wondrous eye for shape and color.
“Thank you for all the wonderful designs you have given to the world.”
In the next few months, some portion of her archive probably will be housed at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Eventually, Clevelanders too will be able to see how Joan Luntz helped create the looks that said “home” in the second half of the 20th century.
Plain Dealer news researcher Joellen Corrigan contributed to this report.
on June 27, 2009
When: Through March 2010.
Where: Rockwell Hall at Main and South Lincoln streets, Kent State University Museum, Kent.
Admission: Free. Call 330-672-3450
A woman wearing only a hatbox suspended below her waist, a couple “clothed” in colorful body paint that faded as they swirled around a sultry room — such party costumes became the talk of the town.
Not in 1968, in Cleveland Heights’ free-wheeling Coventry neighborhood. No, this was 1913, at the infamous Bal Masque given each year by the Kokoon Arts Klub in Cleveland.
These soirees shimmered with sensuality in a time when women’s fashions were just beginning to expose the ankle. Salivating newspaper reporters — some of whom always managed to get invited — wrote vividly about these affairs.
Politicians, publicly at least, seemed nervous about these masked balls. Cleveland Mayor Frederick Kohler even canceled the 1923 party, fearing potential debauchery.
Yet the Bal Masques were only the public face of the Kokoon Arts Club (the K in Klub was often dropped for the more conventional spelling). Always held before Lent, usually at a hotel or dance club, these parties were one-night-a-year fund-raisers for a club with a serious mission — furthering the Modernist form of art not yet accepted by most Clevelanders.
The Kokoon Arts Club was part of a dynamic as old as time: the avant-garde opposing the old guard.
But when it comes to parties, bohemians do them better. And a new exhibit at the Kent State University museum shows the amount of elaborate thought and artistry that went into these parties — starting with a competition among Kokoon member-artists to create the posters and invitations for each year’s themed event.
Kokoon Arts Club: A timeline
1891: Western Reserve School of Design for Women renamed Cleveland School of Art.
1911: Kokoon Arts Klub (the K in Klub was often dropped for the more conventional spelling) founded by Carl Moellman and William Sommer. Thirteen charter members — 11 with German roots — begin meeting in a former tailor’s shop on East 36th Street, between Euclid and Cedar avenues.
1913: The first Kokoon Arts Club Bal Masque is held. Four men carry in a large cocoon, out of which steps a model in a butterfly costume.
1914: The club holds an exhibit of its artists’ work. The disparaging headline in the Cleveland Leader says, “Biggest Laugh in Town This Week Not in Theater, but in Art Gallery.”
1916: The Cleveland Museum of Art opens, and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performs at PlayhouseSquare, inspiring more avant-garde art locally.
1919: The May Show, a juried competition of locally created artwork, debuts at the art museum. For years, many Kokoon members sweep the awards. Member Joseph Jicha wins the Logan Medal at the Chicago Institute for Art for watercolor.
1921: The Kokoon Club moves to its new headquarters at 2121 East 21st St.
1922: Fifty policemen try to crash the annual party, attended by the mayor and City Council. The following year, the mayor denies a permit for the ball, which was then canceled. It returned in 1924.
Late 1920s/1930s:Club membership declines through the Great Depression.
1934: A Plain Dealer story on the party reports that several women at the Bal Masque wore cellophane costumes.
1946: The final Bal Masque is held.
1956: The Kokoon Arts Club folds.
— Evelyn Theiss
Talk about pressure. Even on the night of the ball, Kokooners manning the doors vetted invited guests. If their costumes weren’t in keeping with the theme, and if every detail wasn’t historically accurate, the guest was barred from entrance.
Rented costumes were forbidden, as were “dominoes, tramps and ordinary clown costumes and the like.”
Not that the Kokooners didn’t give guests an opportunity to get it right — each year, they’d show costume sketches for inspiration, offer lessons on how to create abstract costumes and set aside research materials at the Cleveland Public Library that Kokooners and guests were expected to delve into to prepare their outfits.
The themes varied. Among them were the dance, with blue-painted dancers performing the Congo Dance; another year, it was the moon and stars, followed by “King Midas’ golden touch.”
The Kent museum features several of the themed costumes — many of them worn by one-time Kokoon President Philip Kaplan and his wife, Esther Rose. Their daughter, Luba Paz, donated costumes that her father and mother wore to the balls, as well as some of the club’s famous posters and invitations, and photographs taken on those festive evenings.
But who were the members of the Kokoon Arts Club? A list that today comprises a “Who’s Who” of Cleveland artists, including Henry Keller, August Biehle, William Sommer and Paul Travis, and several other painters who were later collectively known as the Cleveland School.
As Kokoon member Richard Sedlon said then of the Cleveland School, “There was a sense of togetherness because they were all so talented. And there was a need for their art. It was a splendid time.”
Born from a hunger to create
When the Kokoon club formed, though, it wasn’t by “name” artists but rather by bored and frustrated lithographers, most of German descent.
Few people today know that at the turn of the 20th century, Cleveland was a capital of lithography, an industry whose craftsmen cranked out movie posters. Morgan Lithograph Co., formed in 1864, was one of the largest of these firms and the one where the soon-to-be-famous Sommer worked.
It was bad enough that lithography work was repetitive, but the men were also tired of designing posters for the blossoming movie industry that were utterly traditional in their depictions.
The abstract and bold art that people would come to associate with the looks of the late 1910s and ’20s was not yet in evidence here. Cleveland’s art world at that time was largely represented by a group called the Cleveland Society of Artists, a defender of art’s conservative tradition.
But in these years, when Cleveland was America’s fastest-growing city, there was naturally a bubbling up of other views, inspired by the Modernism that was sweeping Europe.
Many artists here had traveled to Europe for their studies, and they were inspired by the futuristic turn that art was taking, in painting in particular. In fact, the Kokoon club’s formation in 1911 preceded by two years New York’s famous Armory Show, often cited as the birth of Modernism in the United States.
The Kokoon Arts Club poetically explained the origin of its name: “As the lowly cocoon was the forerunner of the beautiful butterfly, so might they hope that from this small beginning something of beauty should develop and emerge.”
And that emergence was nurtured by the club, whose members pledged to explore “New Art.” That exploration included sketching excursions and lectures as well as visits to theatrical and musical productions.
Organizing against conformity
For their own exhibitions, the aesthetic standards were set very high, says Jean Druesedow, director of Kent’s museum.
Kaplan, a free-lance artist and designer, joined the club in 1925 and became president in 1932. He cultivated friendships with the art community, here and around the country; he also had the idea of starting the Parisian-like “Artist Curb Markets,” which became a way for Kokooners and other artists to sell their wares for income during the Depression.
At the first curb market in 1932, near Wade Lagoon, 12,000 people showed up to peruse and buy the arts and crafts.
As a 19-year-old bank guard, Kaplan had discovered Richard Laukhuff’s bookstore in the Taylor Arcade on Euclid Avenue during his lunch hour. There, he spied a collection of obscure, art-oriented magazines.
Kaplan was fascinated by their art, typography and illustration, and he began taking evening classes both at the Cleveland School of Art and at the Kokoon Arts Club. By 1925, he was collecting Modernist art and had joined the movement — and the Kokoon Club.
One of the club’s best-known artist members was Paul Travis. His daughter, Elizabeth Travis Dreyfuss, still has some memories of her parents dressing for one of the Bal Masques in Egyptian-style costumes, which they enjoyed because they’d already traveled to Egypt.
“Even though they were best-known for their parties, one of the most important things about the Kokoon club was that they represented the outsiders who organized against rigid conformity,” Dreyfuss says.
“As outsiders, they were supportive of each other, and they created a place to exhibit their work.”
The thing that not as many people recall, too, she says, is that the club members were very serious about their regular meetings, became adept at breaking down artistic barriers and had serious discussions and seminars on art-related topics — the use of color and light, “and all the things that were re-forming the artistic eye.”
Art and design as Cleveland hallmarks
Though Kaplan moved his family to New York when his daughter Luba was still young, she recalls that by her parents’ conversations, “It was clear that their true life had been in Cleveland.
“The subject came up constantly, and my father stayed friends with some of the members, and they’d get together and go over the old times and their hilarious stories.”
One of the more unusual costumes in the Kent exhibit was her mother’s. It was a dress decorated with rubber rats; when black lights were turned on at the 1938 ball, only the rats were seen.
More notably, though, Kaplan was the man who brought poet e.e. cummings to Cleveland, in the first-ever display of his paintings, at a Kokoon club exhibit in 1931.
As Dreyfuss puts it, “The Kokoon club helped make art and design become very important. So Cleveland became something other than just an industrial town.”
Shirley Teresa Wajda, the former Kent State history professor who curated the exhibit, said she took this away from all her research: “The history of art in Cleveland is always told in term of the elite. Here is an example of interested individuals from all walks of life — there was even a firefighter who was a member — who came together to explore their common interest in Modernism.
“And they changed art in Cleveland forever.”
on April 17, 2014
ELEGANT CLEVELAND / A look back at the finest elements of Cleveland’s stylish history, as shown by its people, architecture, fashion and other cultural touchstones. CLICK HERE to read other entries.
It’s an archetypal story of how a “cottage” business evolved into something more – and in late 19th- and early 20th-century Cleveland, there were hundreds of such scenarios. But this is a story about one of the rare businesses that survived, and went on to reinvent itself.
In the Victorian era, creating silhouette portraits of a loved one was still in fashion, as it had been a century before.
So, in the late 1880s, the violinist Asher Bonfoey – who played in the Cleveland Philharmonic at the Euclid Avenue Opera House – gave his wife, Della, a silhouette of herself one Valentine’s Day. This might not have been the most imaginative gift, but as someone who appreciated fine craftsmanship as much as he did the musical arts, Bonfoey did better. He created an elegant wood frame in which to display her profile.
It wasn’t long before friends of Bonfoey’s asked him if he could create frames for their photographs and artwork – and could he perhaps also put some matting around them? Soon, the basement of the Bonfoey’s Cleveland home was given over to the task, and both Asher and Della were spending their spare hours on that work.
While Asher would build a frame and add artfully carved flourishes, Della had a gift for incorporating the matting that nicely set off photos and other images.
By 1893, the musician with the unusual French surname had enough business that he was spending far more time making frames than he was on music. So he and Della officially opened a framing business in the Mayer-Marks building on the west side of Erie Street, the earlier name for East Ninth Street. Today, the business is on Euclid Avenue, but it is still known by the same name: Bonfoey.
Over the years, the company has done everything from lining coffins to restoring famous paintings, framing artwork for corporate barons and creating shadowboxes of artifacts that included bullet-torn flags and Gilded Age dance cards. And yes, since the 1970s, it also has become a gallery that exhibits some of the finest work by artists in the region.
Not that survival was ever a given – the business endured three fires and the Great Depression, an era that the current owner, Richard Moore, recalls his father telling him about. George Moore was Asher Bonfoey’s protege, and he bought the business in the dark days of the late 1930s, after having worked there for a decade.
“My father said you’d come in on a Friday, and everything was OK, and then on Monday, it was like the water faucet had been shut off,” says Richard Moore. “Nothing.
“My father had customers who sailed to Europe as millionaires and came back broke.”
In those dismal years, the business eventually laid off half its 32 full-time workers; today, it is going strong with 16 employees. And the craftsmen who work there use the same kinds of hand tools to perform the delicate restoration and carving work on frames they would have more than a century ago.
Already in Asher and Della’s day, the Bonfoey Co. attracted a sterling list of clients. Asher was in a bridge club that had John D. Rockefeller as one of its members. After Asher had done work for him, Rockefeller introduced the automaker Henry Ford to Bonfoey, and he too was pleased with the high quality of framing work that Bonfoey provided.
By 1912, the business was incorporated, with Asher its president, treasurer and general manager, and Della its vice president and assistant secretary.
And so the business grew, just as Cleveland’s wealth and population did. Men who lived in grand homes and worked in elegant offices had high expectations for the fine craftsmanship of frames that set off the art they displayed on the walls of both.
After a 1903 fire destroyed the Bonfoey Co.’s Erie Street location, the business moved to the fifth floor of the Buckeye Building on East Fourth Street, just a few steps from the Opera House where Bonfoey had played. This was the time, says Richard Moore, when the company diversified and became one of the largest purveyors of silk and velvet coffin liners in the Midwest.
In 1928, Asher decided he needed a “numbers” man, so he hired George Moore, who was an accountant for Ohio Bell. Asher and Della had a daughter, Dorothy, but she had little interest in the framing business. In Moore, the Bonfoeys found someone they entrusted with their firm’s future.
Among its few artifacts, the firm still has a copy of a letter sent in 1936 by Cleveland’s director of public safety, Eliot Ness. Because of so-called “Blue Laws,” businesses were not allowed to operate on Sundays. Ness gave them special permission to work on Sunday, Sept. 27, of that year, in order to move some of the company’s wares to another location.
By 1938, the Depression had brought down the price of buying the business. But, as Richard Moore explains, his father still didn’t have the money he needed. Fortunately, he had a brother-in-law of means, who was willing to lend him the cash necessary for the deal.
In those years, the firm’s clientele changed, too – no longer could the business rely only on wealthy individual patrons. Many large corporations in the city, though, were still thriving – including Warner & Swasey, Oglebay Norton, Firestone Tire and Hanna Mining, among others. All of them put in large orders for frames for their offices.
When Richard Moore was 16, he started working in the business part time during the summers and on weekends, especially during the Christmas season. He’d answer the phone and wrap the often-oversized packages.
While Richard went to college and even law school for a time – and spent a season as a pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm team – he says he felt called back to the family business. And by 1955, two years after Asher Bonfoey’s death, he worked there full time.
The firm’s client list from over the years was long and stellar: Industrialist John L. Severance, eventual U.S. Rep. Frances P. Bolton and William M. Milliken, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, were among the noteworthy names on it. And the company was framing an average of 25,000 paintings a year.
There were some unusual requests as well, Richard Moore recalls, from lesser-known customers. One client arrived with a photograph of what was to be his own coffin – along with what seemed to be all his life’s belongings, including clothing, jewelry and letters.
The man detested his family, and perhaps considering himself a latter-day King Tut, commissioned an identical crypt to the one that would hold his body – one made just for his personal items – so he could keep them near even in death, and away from his family.
Another client requested that the Bonfoey firm make display cases for his Civil War memorabilia. This man was such an ardent collector that he decided he also wanted to own a Civil War cannon placed on Public Square, near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. He got himself a truck and some helpers, and had them load up the cannon, amidst the hubbub of people heading to lunch.
While police eventually recovered the cannon, Moore says the client never came back to Bonfoey – though his other Civil War treasures remained there.
Not every story is dramatic; some are quietly poignant. As Bonfoey’s general manager and longtime employee Olga Merela pages through a photographic archive, she shows an image of a framed glass case that holds a lady’s dance cards. These were collected in an era of grand balls, when a gentleman had to request a dance. Among the cards in this collection were the ones in which the client’s great-great-grandmother first danced with the man who would become her husband.
Other framed cases were designed to hold more unusual items: a flag, with tears from bullets, that hung outside one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq, for example, that a soldier brought home; an Indian headdress; and a case that contained circular straw shoes that were worn by a witch doctor in Africa.
As Merela, who has become an expert on history, learned, the shoes were circular so that curious people in the village couldn’t tell by footprints if the witch doctor – usually called when someone was dying – was coming or going, so the family could retain privacy for a time.
Other framed objects the company handled included an Eskimo totem pole, first editions of books by Mark Twain and Robert Frost, a wedding gown and veil, and an obi sash from an ancient kimono.
But over the years, it was the craftsmanship of its workers that continued to draw the highest regard. Besides offering hand-carved frames, the company carried more than 1,500 patterns of molding.
Dean Zimmerman, chief curator of the Western Reserve Historical Society, says its museum has a Federal-style “looking glass,” from about 1780, with reverse-painted panels. It was brought to Cleveland in the early 19th century, and Zimmerman often uses it in lectures he gives on the history of fine furniture.
Many decades ago, it was Bonfoey’s craftsmen who replaced the delicate glass and re-gilded the frame – as a vintage Bonfoey label on the back indicates.
Besides its fine framing work, the company also expanded into restoration, and the repair of paintings and textiles. In the mid-1980s, for example, the city of Cleveland hired Bonfoey to clean and restore one of the famous Archibald Willard “Spirit of ’76” paintings displayed at City Hall.
The company also restored the frame of the 1872 Winslow Homer painting “Snap the Whip” for the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.
Another devastating fire in 1961 forced the Bonfoey Co. to move again. The fire, which was started by machinery at a neighboring jewelry business, destroyed what were the Bonfoey archives, such as receipts from Rockefeller and Ford. It also destroyed valuable pieces belonging to clients. Only four items survived, which the company still has today – a safe, a cash register, a letter opener from the 1890s and a stool.
So the company moved again, to its present location at 1710 Euclid Ave. Long ago, that had been the address for the Copacabana Night Club, but by the time Bonfoey moved in, it was replacing the New China Cafe on Playhouse Square.
After settling in, Richard Moore began thinking that the firm should expand in a different way. Its new location offered 14,000 square feet – and Moore decided it should serve as an art gallery, too.
He invited a premier watercolorist of the day, Richard Treaster, to exhibit his work. So Bonfoey, Moore says, became the first commercial gallery to “present and promote Cleveland artists.” Over the years, these artists have included such well-known names as Linda Butler, Christopher Pekoc, Joseph O’Sickey and Phyllis Seltzer.
In the late 1970s, the company acquired the Strongs Art Gallery on East Ninth Street, creating a “Bonfoey on the Square.” In 1983, the firm consolidated both locations into the gallery at Playhouse Square.
There, Richard Moore recalls meeting celebrities performing at the theaters, such as Red Skelton and Ella Fitzgerald, and befriending neighbors, including the storied Herman Pirchner, proprietor of the longtime supper club, the Alpine Village.
Now the company is in its 120th year, a notable member of Cleveland’s “100 Year Club” of businesses.
What makes Bonfoey stand out, says CWRU history professor John Grabowski, is that the business has had only three owners in its long history, with Richard Moore taking over for his father at his death in 1993. (George Moore never retired.) In addition, more than half of its employees have been with the company for between 20 and 40 years – showing not only loyalty but strong commitment.
Grabowski, a founding editor of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, has studied Cleveland businesses that have achieved such longevity, a list of more than 200 that includes such firms as Sherwin-Williams and the Ohio Desk Co.
“One of the major hallmarks of such businesses is adaptability, which Bonfoey certainly shows,” Grabowski says. “The other thing such businesses have is commitment, which you often find in a family business – something becomes ingrained, and if it is, a business can last several generations. When times are tough, that commitment is an important factor.”
And, of course, there is the element of good luck – such as the fact that George Moore was able to borrow money from a brother-in-law who was flush, to buy the business in 1938.
There was bad luck, too – such as the day Richard Moore was watching Big Chuck and Hoolihan, who were reporting “live” from a fire – and yes, it was at Bonfoey.
The firm recovered yet again. Richard, 79, is still there, and his daughter, Kate Zimmerer, works there as well – and will provide continuity.
The gallery and frame shop has become, and remains, a quintessential piece of Cleveland history, a testament to how gumption and craft can sometimes mean the survival of the fittest.
Theiss is a freelance writer in Westlake.
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 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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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’
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
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
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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The Stockbridge in Cleveland has been sitting proudly on Euclid since the days of Millionaires’ Row 9/3/11 11:55 AM
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.