Severance Center

Description

Seven years after Victor Gruen's visionary Southdale appeared outside Minneapolis, consigning many an American downtown to a generation of retail decline, Severance Center opened in Cleveland Heights in 1963 as the first fully enclosed regional mall in Ohio. The shopping center's namesake, Cleveland industrialist and philanthropist John L. Severance (who also was responsible for Severance Hall in University Circle), once lived at Longwood, the 125-acre estate that became the mall site. Two other Severance family estates were located near Longwood, both situated across Mayfield Road. Ben Brae, the estate of Julia Severance Milliken, was located near the northeast corner of Mayfield and Taylor Roads, and Glen Allen, the estate of Elisabeth Severance Allen Prentiss, sat to the east of Ben Brae.

After John Severance died in 1936, his nephew Severance Millikin inherited Longwood and lived on the estate until 1959. By the early 1950s, Millikin was making plans to redevelop Longwood, and he hired Cleveland's Austin Company to plan a future use for the property, leading to the recommendation for a regional shopping center. Austin Company ended up acquiring the land and brought in a Seattle-based development firm as a partner on the project. While the decision to build a large mall on the previously undeveloped land caused some controversy, the city eventually gave its assent to the plan. The mansion at Longwood was torn down in 1961 and a groundbreaking ceremony for the mall was held during the winter of 1962.

Severance Center opened for business in October 1963. The mall's original anchors were Cleveland-based department stores Halle's and Higbee's. Other tenants at the new mall included Fisher Foods, Woolworth's, Richman Brothers, Peck and Peck, and a branch of Society National Bank. At first, the mall was extremely successful. As newer malls opened across Greater Cleveland, however, Severance faced stiff competition. Halle's closed in 1982, prompting a renewed push to upgrade the mall into a full-fledged "town center." New anchor stores were brought in, a new food court opened, and, most significantly, in 1986 the Cleveland Heights City Hall relocated to the northwest corner of the Severance property. By the 1990s, however, the mall was simply unable to compete in its existing form, and much of the original mall was torn down. The current outdoor shopping center, anchored by "big box" stores, reflects the response to continually changing patterns in retailing.

Audio Show

"We Sure Were Not Bored"

Rose Lovinger describes the effects that the building of Severance Town Center had on nearby Rydalmount Road, where her family resided.

"He Had the Mazuma"

Oliver Schroeder, Mayor of Cleveland Heights from 1973-74, recalls the time when Severance Millikin came to his house, seeking support for the building of Severance Center.

'That Was Our Mall'

Lisa Hunt remembers going to Severance Mall as a teen in the 1980s.

"Everybody Walked"

Barbara Wherley tells of when she and her friends walked to Mayfield Theater and Severance Center in the early 1960s.

Photos Show

Aerial View, 1963

An aerial view of Severance Center in 1963. Higbee's is the anchor to the left of the center building, while Halle's is to the right. The fourth building jutting out from the main mall is a Fisher Foods supermarket. Mayfield Road runs east to west in the foreground.

50 acres of parking spaces encircled the mall. The trees to the rear (located on the mall's southern side) were added to placate angry residents on nearby streets who were afraid of the mall's effects on the beauty of their neighborhood.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Groundbreaking Ceremony, 1962

Ground is broken at the future site of the Severance Center mall in 1962. Local radio station WERE has a microphone set up to capture the event.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society

Model of New Halle's

Edward Jacque, Norman Weschler, and Ralph Walton present a model of the new Halle Brothers department store to be built at Severance Center in Cleveland Heights. The Halle's at Severance opened in October 1963 and went out of businesses in March 1982

Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society

Longwood Estate, 1949

This aerial photograph from 1949 looks eastward from the intersection of Mayfield and Taylor Roads, which is near the bottom left corner of the image. The Longwood Estate is the open stretch of land to the south of Mayfield Road. This land became the site of the Severance Center mall. The Longwood mansion (razed in 1961) can be seen just to the right of the center of the image.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society

Severance Center, 1976

Children play near the Severance Center's fountain in 1976.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Severance, December 1963

Severance Center just months after its opening.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Ribbon Cutting, 1963

The opening ceremonies for the new Severance Center mall in October 1963.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Cite this Page

Michael Rotman, “Severance Center,” Cleveland Historical, accessed April 20, 2014, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​197.​
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