Filed Under Entertainment

Cain Park

From Wooded Ravine to Home of the Arts

Before it became Cain Park, the ravine between Taylor and Lee roads was merely a wet, overgrown gully visited by only the most adventurous of hikers. In 1914, the Central Improvement Association of Cleveland Heights (then still a village) formed a committee to look into the possibility of turning the Dugway Brook ravine into a more formal public park. It was not until the 1930s, however, that Cain Park began to take shape.

Much of the credit for the development of Cain Park in the 1930s can be given to Dr. Dina Rees Evans, who taught drama and English at Cleveland Heights High School. In 1932 "Doc" Evans became the first person in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in theater. She was an adamant believer in the ability of drama education to have a positive effect on students. In the summer of 1934, the drama club she ran at Heights High, called the Heights Players, collaborated with the Civic Theater of Allied Arts (the city's adult stage group) to put on a production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The show took place on a hastily assembled wooden stage at the foot of the sledding hill, along which spectators gathered. The production proved to be wildly successful and spurred the further development of Cain Park.

Frank Cain, for whom the park is named, served as Mayor of Cleveland Heights from 1914 to 1946. After witnessing the success of the 1934 production, Cain threw his support fully behind the construction of a 3,000-seat amphitheater in the park. Besides constructing the amphitheater, workers from the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) also helped drain the ravine which Cain Park is situated in, covering up and culverting the creek that ran through its center. Attractive landscaping, tennis courts, ball fields, and walking paths completed the transformation of the former "wild" land into a public park.

The amphitheater had its grand opening in August 1938 with the staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Plays, operas, concerts, and other cultural events have been held at Cain Park ever since. Evans, meanwhile, continued to serve as managing director of Cain Park Theater until 1950. She attracted top-flight young talent to the theater company, including music director Jack Lee, producer Ross Hunter, and actors Hal Holbrook, Dom DeLuise, Carol Kane, Jack Weston and Pernell Roberts. Evans retired from teaching in 1958. The amphitheater was renamed in her honor in 1989.

Video

From Gully to Cultural Center Cain Park is transformed from an overgrown ravine into an arts and recreation attraction. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Audio

The Very First Production Catherine Black Aldrich describes seeing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Cain Park in 1934. Source: Courtesy of City of Cleveland Heights
Year-Round Fun Loren Weiss talks about the kinds of things he would do for fun as a child at Cain Park. Source: Courtesy of City of Cleveland Heights
Late Night Sled Rides Lisa Hunt recalls sneaking in to Cain Park as a child for late-night sledding. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Covering Dugway Brook, ca. 1937 Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers cover up the creek that runs through Cain Park. This undated photograph was probably taken sometime between 1935 and 1937, around the time that the land in Cain Park was being improved in preparation of the opening of the 3,000-seat Cain Park Amphitheater in August 1938. Covering up the creek and having it run underground (a process known as culverting) allowed the land in the ravine where Cain Park is located to become more dry, making it amenable for use as a public park. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Frank & Alma Cain, ca. 1945 Frank and Alma Cain pose in front of the Cain Park rock. Frank Cain was Mayor of Cleveland Heights from 1914-1946. The park was named for him in 1934, and he was a steadfast supporter of its development and growth. In 1944, a small theater in Cain Park opened and was named the Alma Theater in honor of Mrs. Cain. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Performance, ca. 1940s This undated photograph shows a performance being staged at the Cain Park Amphitheater. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Sledding Hill, February 1970 Located off of Taylor Road near Superior Road, the Cain Park sledding hill has delighted generations of Cleveland Heights youngsters ever since Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers cleared the space of debris and trees at the beginning of the 1930s. The foot of the sledding hill was also where Dina Rees Evans staged A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1934, which was the first dramatic performance ever at Cain Park. In this photograph from 1970, the Taylor Road Synagogue and businesses along Taylor Road can be seen in the background. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
"The Sound of Music," 1965 A flyer advertises the staging of The Sound of Music at Cain Park during the summer of 1965 Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Tennis Courts, Circa 1940 The tennis courts at Cain Park were installed in the mid-1930s as the park was transformed from a "wild" ravine into a place for public recreation. The wooden booths near the courts were used for changing. In the background, men appear to be working on landscaping. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Children's Theater, 1946 Members of the Cain Park Children's Theater make posters for their staging of "The Emperor's New Clothes" during the summer of 1946. One of the goals of Cain Park Theater, as well as that of its first theatrical director Dina Rees Evans, was to involve youngsters in the staging of shows. Evans, who taught drama at Cleveland Heights High School, felt strongly about the ability of drama education to have a positive effect on students. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Postcard, ca. 1938 The back of this postcard reads: "Built in a delightfully picturesque wooded ravine in Cain Park, easily accessible from Superior, Lee and Taylor Roads. Newly equipped with stage and amphitheater, adaptable for concerts, plays, dancing, and operas." The Cain Park Amphitheater opened in August 1938 and featured seating for 3,000 people. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

14591 Superior Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Cain Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 9, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/193.