Cleveland Arcade, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: July 5, 2022 Categories: Ohio Commercial Office Retail

The great glass-roofed Arcade was the forerunner of many of todays shopping centers, it combined under one roof a large number of stores and as a covered "street" it connected two of the main thorofares in Cleveland's downtown commercial area. This brightly lit passageway was a 19th century engineering marvel. It had precedents abroad in France, Belguim and the greatest of all in Europe: Mengioni's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan (1860's). One of the best known in America, although much smaller in scale and much earlier in date (1828) is Warren's Providence Arcade in Rhode Island.

The Cleveland Arcade was financed by a group of prominent business and civic leaders: J. M. Curtiss, a real estate broker, Myron T. Herrick, a banker, Charles Brush, the inventor of the arc light, the Severance family and John D. Rockefeller. They commissioned John Eisenman, an architectural engineer and professor of Civil Engineering at the Case School of Applied Sceinces (now Case Institute of Technology) and the acting Superintendent of Cleveland Parks. Eisenman consulted George H. Smith, an architectural designer and together they produced the remarkable glass covered esplanade, five tiers in height and crowned by a vast arched steel and glass skylight.

The site chosen was very problematic. To assure commercial success the passageway had to connect two important streets drawing people out of bad weather to shop. Logically Superior and Euclid could be connected but Euclid Street was on a higher level than Superior and the foundations had to be set in the sandy soil of what had been a lake in Prehistoric times. The designers solved the problem by constructing two street levels connected by a monumental stair. The problem of quick sand foundation was accounted for in a combination of load bearing walls and structural steel supports. This solution was so successful that the Arcade has settled less than one-half inch in 75 years.

The National Convention of Republican Clubs held a banquet in the Arcade in June 1895. The speakers were Senator Marcus Hanna and William McKinley, then governor of Ohio, later to be a martyred President of the United States.

Today the Arcade has been slightly altered to accommodate shop owners who wanted more "modern facilities." The hydralic elevators were electrified in 1909, the Euclid Street facade arch was squared-off and faced with granite but the building retains its original grandeur and still stands as an architectural and engineering triumph.

Building Description

The first footing stone was set in May, 1888 and the structure was finished in January of 1890; officially opened in May of that year. Now surrounded by office buildings it is sited one block east of Public Square. The Arcade is 300 feet long connecting Superior and Euclid Avenues.

On the exterior, the Arcade is flanked on both ends by nine storied office buildings both with a one story central tower. Load bearing walls help to hold the sandy soil in place while stone footings (from 3 feet square to 8 feet where the weight increases) buttress the base. Iron frame columns rise from the footings. There are, in addition, 292 stone and brick piers. The Euclid Avenue side is 12 feet higher than the Superior Avenue side giving the interior two ground levels while five tiers of galleries rise above, the ground crowned by the great glass roof supported by steel trusses arching across 60 feet. The heavy Romanesque-Revival exterior of rusticated sandstone with brick above contrast dramatically with the thin, elegant structural members within. This effect is further enhanced by the wrought iron railings which exaggerate the "web-like" quality on the interior. The simple system of exterior windows, simple modillioned cornices, projecting bays, columns with foliated capitals are all in the best Richardsonian-Romanesque tradition. The interior, however, is the most impressive, the roof is supported by a system of trusses pin-connected to steel beams supported by knee braces hinged in three places. The plans were too complicated for building contractors so the commission went to the Detroit Bridge Company. They accepted.

There have been interior changes, the lighting system has been updated, the stairways slightly altered and the 1939 alteration removed the arch on the Euclid Street side replacing it with a square entry. Some of the original tile floors are gone but many remain. The rich visual effect of gilded brass, Roman Mosaic floors, marble trim is still there as well as the great glass roof, one of the few remaining American gallerias.