Filed Under Architecture

200 Public Square

In November of 1981, the Standard Oil Co. announced that it would build its new headquarters overlooking Cleveland's Public Square. The timing could not have been better. The City of Cleveland was troubled financially, the population was drastically decreasing, and businesses throughout the city were closing their doors.

The choice to build on the historic Public Square seemed fitting for the corporation. Under the leadership of John D. Rockefeller, the growth of Standard Oil had helped make Cleveland a center for manufacturing and industry. The new structure would firmly plant the corporation at the heart of the city, a sign of hope for a city that was losing its industrial and manufacturing base.

The Standard Oil Co., founded in 1870, had long been one of Cleveland's most powerful and infamous companies. Within only 2 years of its establishment as a corporation, the company had either absorbed or driven its Cleveland competitors out of business. Standard Oil would continue to expand, and eventually moved its headquarters to New York in 1885. By 1890, the 40 companies that made up the corporation controlled nearly 90% of the oil refining capacity in the United States. Many of the business tactics used to achieve these ends were suspect, and the companies' control over the oil supply and influence on the railroad industry was apparent. In 1911, Standard Oil was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to dissolve into independent companies - out of which Standard Oil of Ohio was formed. Sohio, as it would be named in 1929, would remain a dominant economic force in the region, dominating the refined products market in Ohio from 1930 until the mid-century. Sohio would continue to expand, growing its markets outside of Ohio and investing in new products and services.

By the end of the 1970s, Sohio was the largest corporation in the city. With offices scattered throughout the downtown, the giant of industry developed plans to construct a suitable symbol of their prominence. Designed by Gyo Obata of the St. Louis firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, final plans for the hulking structure incorporated elements of postmodern architecture while maintaining a solid, functional appearance. When completed, the $200 million structure offered over 1.2 million square feet of office space. The building ran perpendicular to both Superior and Euclid Avenue, but curved inward to help downplay its bulk. Although Sohio had initially planned to surpass the Terminal Tower in height, they were met with resistance by city officials; on completion, the building fell short of the tower's peak by 55 feet.

Dedicated in April of 1986, the building would soon-after be renamed the British Petrolium Building. British Petroleum, a company that had merged with Sohio in 1969, purchased all of Sohio's stocks in 1987. Sohio ceased to exist, and BP slowly began to draw back its presence in Cleveland. In 1998, BP sold the building on 200 Public Square and moved its headquarters to Chicago. Since then, the building at 200 Public Square has attracted new long term tenants such as Huntington Bank.

Images

200 Public Square, Exterior Designs for the Sohio Building called for an eight story atrium that extended outward from the building as an extension of the public square. Conceived as an indoor garden, the open space includes fountains, planters, and water curtains. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
John D. Rockefeller, 1922 John D. Rockefeller was a founder and major shareholder of Standard Oil Co. It is estimated that over his life he accumulated more wealth than any other person in recent history. His complicated legacy is that of a ruthless businessman and philanthropist. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
Standard Oil Co. Prior to its dissolution in 1911, the Standard Oil Co. was the largest oil refiner in the world. Since all oil needed to be processed, Standard Oil was able to influence production and set prices for every aspect of the industry. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
Standard Oil Co. Exhibit, 1937 At the 1937 Great Lake Exposition, Sohio sponsored an oil industry exhibit. A 5,000 foot working model of an oil refinery was brought in from Chicago's Museum of Industry. The exhibit demonstrated the process of refining crude oil to its final treatment as gas, asphalt, oil, grease, and parafin. W. T. Holliday, the president of Sohio, was also president of the Great Lakes Exposition in 1937. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
The Williamson Building, 1899 Prior to the construction of the Sohio Building, the site at 200 Public Square was partially occupied by the Williamson Building. Constructed in 1899, the 17-story high-rise was completed in a classical style. Among its many tenants, the Williamson Building housed the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank during its first years in Cleveland. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
The Cuyahoga Building, c. 1913 Constructed in 1893, the Cuyahoga Building was the first steel-frame structure in Cleveland. The building was designed by prominent Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, who would later be influential in the development of Cleveland's Group Plan. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Implosion, 1982 In October of 1982, both the Williamson Building and the Cuyahoga Building were demolished to make room for the proposed Sohio skyscraper. Six thousand onlookers watched as Controlled Demolition, Inc. imploded the two historic structures. The archway from the Cuyahoga Building was saved, and would later be installed in the new library of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection. Photograph by Paul Glenn
Proposed Headquarters, 1977 Pictured is an early rendering of the headquarters for Sohio that looks very different than the building that was constructed. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Construction, 1984 To provide stability for the 20,000 tons of structural steel needed to complete the Sohio Building, shafts for concrete were drilled 240 feet below the surface to lay the foundation. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Free Stamp Commissioned by Sohio to be placed at their headquarters on Cleveland's Public Square, the Free Stamp was designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The 75,000 pound aluminum and steel replica of a hand stamp was intended to stand upright, complimenting the Soldiers and Sailors monument, with the word "FREE" facing the ground. Completed following the takeover of Sohio by British Petroleum America, the corporation's new executives decided against placing the piece of public art outside of the headquarters. The sculpture would sit in over eighty pieces at a warehouse in Indiana for three years as the future location of the monument was disputed by BP America, its designers, and Cleveland's City Council. BP America would eventually donate the work to the City of Cleveland, and a site was agreed upon to the east of City Hall at Willard Park. On the direction of the sculptors, the piece was reoriented to lay on its side - angled so that the "FREE" stamp points towards the corporate offices on the 23rd floor of the BP building. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections

Location

200 Public Square, Cleveland, OH 44114

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “200 Public Square,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 25, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/306.