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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hotel would be perfectly situated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judson Manor Home Styles Tour

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

WHEN: 2 p.m. Thursday, March 26.

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

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

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

East end of town As vibrant as the center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wade Park Manor through the years: a timeline

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

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

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


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