The Mall


When the city approved the Group Plan of 1903, it was believed that the Mall would become the city's functional and symbolic center. The long stretch of park would beautify a former slum area, while the series of grand, neoclassical government buildings that surrounded it would impress the city's population and instill a sense of civic pride and duty. These goals fit the aims of the "City Beautiful" reform movement, whose proponents worried about the effects that tenements and slum districts had on the European immigrants streaming into American cities. Daniel Burnham, who played a leading role in designing Cleveland's Group Plan, was a major figure in City Beautiful and is today best remembered for constructing the White City at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In Cleveland, however, as Walter Leedy wrote, "Instead of a 'White City' the Mall turned out to be a 'White Sepulcher.'"

The Mall's development into a true city center was squashed in the 1920s by the Van Sweringens' decision to build their Union Terminal train station on Public Square. The 1903 Group Plan envisioned the city's main train station being built at the north end of the Mall. When this didn't happen, it became clear that Public Square would remain the city's center. It was Cleveland's transportation hub and had the added benefit of being nearer to the booming commercial district taking shape along Euclid Avenue. The Mall, meanwhile, became somewhat of an afterthought, used occasionally for concerts and other events but mainly serving as a cut-through for downtown workers.

Today, the Mall stands poised for a change, as the building of a Medical Mart (on its western edge) and a new convention center (beneath its surface) promises to bring more people to the historic park. Will these crowds be tempted to linger on the Mall or will they, too, quickly move on to other parts of the city? A new Group Plan Commission formed in 2010 to look at this and other issues in the hopes that the Mall will become, at the very least, a vibrant downtown gathering place, if not exactly the civic center that Burnham and others envisioned it becoming more than 100 years ago.

Photos Show

Mall, ca. 1930s

This image of the Mall appears to have been taken shortly before or after the Great Lakes Exposition, held during the summers of 1936 and 1937. The bandshell and pylons on the Mall marking the entrance to the Expo have been removed, but some of the lakefront buildings constructed for the fair can still be seen on the horizon.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Early Group Plan Sketch

This illustration from 1903 shows an early conception of the Cleveland Group Plan. At this point, the plan included the construction of the city's central train station at the northern end of the Mall. The station is included in this illustration but was never built. Instead, the Van Sweringens constructed Cleveland's Union Terminal on Public Square.

Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society

White City, 1893

Daniel Burnham, who helped formulate the Cleveland Group Plan in 1903, designed the architecture for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The central plaza at the fair, pictured here, was known as the White City for its elegant stretch of white, classically designed buildings that were brilliantly lit up at night.

How does Chicago's White City resemble Cleveland's Mall and Group Plan,

Construction, 1932

The Mall has been dug up several times throughout its history for the purpose of underground construction. Here, in 1932, a convention center is being built underneath a part of the Mall. In 2011, this section of the Mall was again excavated as a new underground convention center (replacing the original one, which had been extensively renovated during the 1960s) was set to open in conjunction with a Medical Mart being constructed on the western edge of the Mall at the corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Streetcar Convention, 1927

The American Electric Railway Association (AERA) held its 1927 convention at the Cleveland Public Auditorium. Working streetcars were lined up on the Mall for displays and demonstrations.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Great Lakes Expo

Seven 70-foot tall pylons on the Mall marked the main entrance to the Great Lakes Exposition. The Sherwin Williams Plaza was also located there, consisting of a bandshell and seating area where concerts and national radio broadcasts were staged.

Visitors to the Expo, held during the summers of 1936 and 1937, crossed a bridge over the train tracks north of the Mall to reach the fair's main attractions on the lakefront.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Victory Garden

During World War II, city residents planted a "Victory Garden" where they grew vegetables on the Mall. These gardens sprang up in urban areas across the United States during both World War I and World War II. The government encouraged the practice, citing the threat of food shortages and rising food prices. Planting a garden became a way to show patriotism and support of the troops.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

War Memorial Fountain

Dedicated in 1964, Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks designed the War Memorial Fountain (also known as the "Fountain of Eternal Life" and "Peace Arising from the Flames of War"), which honors Cleveland soldiers who died during World War II and the Korean War.

At first, Fredericks intended his male figure to be fully nude, and he also planned to incorporate a nude female figure into the sculpture. However, the American Gold Star Mothers of Cuyahoga County (an organization made up of women who have lost a child in war) did not want any nudity in the sculpture, so Fredericks removed the female entirely and added flames to the male's lower half to meet these demands. Fredericks's Star Dream Fountain in Royal Oak, Michigan incorporates elements of his original concept for the Cleveland fountain.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Anti-Busing Protest, 1978

Since it is surrounded by government buildings, the Mall has been the site of a number of political protests. In this 1978 photograph, a protest at the Board of Education building (centered on the Abraham Lincoln statue) spills out onto the Mall. The crowd is protesting the decision by federal judge Frank J. Battisti in Reed v. Rhodes that paved the way for cross-city busing intended to racially integrate Cleveland's schools.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Cite this Page

Michael Rotman, “The Mall,” Cleveland Historical, accessed February 28, 2015, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​312.​
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