Shaker Square

An Out-of-Town Town Square

Shaker Square is neither located in Shaker Heights nor shaped like a square, but ask for directions to the coffee shop at "Cleveland Octagon" and you'll most likely receive only confused looks in return. Shaker Square has always been shaped like an octagon. And Shaker Square is indeed located in the city of Cleveland, just west of its border with Shaker Heights. Strict zoning regulations originally prohibited the construction of apartment complexes and commercial buildings in Shaker. Thus, the dense residential neighborhood and bustling shopping center the Van Sweringen brothers developed would serve as a gateway to Shaker Heights, but remain apart from it.

The origins of Shaker Square date to 1922, when real estate developer Josiah Kirby purchased land along Shaker Boulevard from the Van Sweringens. Kirby began building the upscale Moreland Courts apartment complex and planned to build shops and more apartments, but he soon went bankrupt. The Van Sweringens subsequently reacquired the land and planned a retail development of their own, as well as a high-density residential neighborhood and the completion of the Moreland Courts. Their original intent, developed during the height of the streetcar era, was to place this shopping village inside Moreland Circle, a roundabout where South Moreland (later Van Aken) Boulevard split off from Shaker Boulevard. But this design did not leave enough room for automobile parking, so what might have remained a circle instead became an octagon – not a square.

Architect Philip Small – a favorite of the Vans who also designed their Daisy Hill estate and a series of Demonstration Homes on South Woodland Boulevard – designed Shaker Square with four buildings set around a "village green" which the Shaker Rapid ran through. Each building featured a two-story center section flanked on either side by a one-story wing. Small designed the buildings in the Georgian Revival style with red-brick exteriors, white trim, and slate roofs. After more than two years of construction, Shaker Square opened in 1929 as the nation's third-oldest planning shopping center (after Market Square in Lake Forest, Illinois, and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City). It contained a variety of high-end shops, restaurants, and professional offices.

After the construction of Shaker Square, Shaker Heights' zoning restrictions were eventually eased to allow apartments and shops in a number of areas of the city. Thanks to its rare status as one of Cleveland's only truly transit-oriented developments, Shaker Square remained a popular shopping and dining destination, and the apartment buildings surrounding it continued to attract residents. The Colony Theater opened on the Square in 1937. The Halle Bros. Co. opened its first suburban branch in a new building adjacent to the original Shaker Square in 1948.

However, the shopping district began to struggle with rising vacancy in the 1970s as a result of growing competition from suburban malls. The nonprofit Friends of Shaker Square (later Shaker Square Area Development Corporation) formed in 1976 and undertook the first of several attempts to revitalize Shaker Square. One of these efforts involved attracting national retailers, a controversial move that favored a wealthier clientele and seemed to ignore the total community that looked to this node. In 2000, Wild Oats Market, Chico, Ann Taylor Loft, and The Gap joined the locally owned Joseph-Beth Booksellers in a short-lived answer to mall competition, but within a few years these stores departed.

Beginning in 2004, a new owner, the Coral Company, operated Shaker Square for the next eighteen years, adding new signage and bringing in businesses that reflected the Square's location astride neighborhoods with increasingly divergent incomes. Popular restaurants such as Fire, Zanzibar, Yours Truly, Balaton, and Edwin's became a more important part of the retail mix, while a Dave's Supermarket and CVS Pharmacy ensured that the Square remained a vital resource for surrounding neighborhoods. The North Union Farmers Market further enlivened Shaker Square every Saturday during the growing season.

Despite its many bright spots, Shaker Square began to show the effects of deferred maintenance, and the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated a crisis that brought a district to the brink of foreclosure. In 2022, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Burten Bell Carr Development partnered to buy Shaker Square with plans to undertake its revitalization. As its centennial approaches, Shaker Square remains an essential space where the city and suburbs meet.

Audio

A Destination Kathleen Crowther remembers going to Shaker Square as a child. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Shaker Square, 1938
Shaker Square, 1938 Children sit on a lawn in the northwest quadrant of Shaker Square in 1938. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Guardian Trust, 1929
Guardian Trust, 1929 A 1929 newspaper advertisement for the new Guardian Trust bank branch at Shaker Square describes it as an "attractive replica of an early New England banking house." Other businesses located at Shaker Square during its early years included the Helen and Gertrude's Beauty Shop, which promised "Scientific Care of the Hair and Scalp," Marshall's Drug Store, Mielziner Furs, Bunce Brother's men's clothing store, and a photography studio offering "Camera Portraits by Anthony Weins." Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Moreland Circle, 1926
Moreland Circle, 1926 Moreland Circle (lower right corner), constructed around 1920, was where the Shaker Rapid originally split in two, with one line continuing east on Shaker Boulevard and the other heading southeast on South Moreland (later renamed Van Aken) Boulevard. The circle disappeared with the construction of Shaker Square between 1927 and 1929. The rapid lines now diverge at a spot a bit further east. In this aerial view from 1926, the Moreland Courts can be seen to the left. Building temporarily stopped on the apartments in 1923 after the real estate developer who owned the property went bankrupt. The Van Sweringen brothers later reacquired the land and had Philip Small (who also designed Shaker Square) finish the apartments, building a final section that connected with the northeast quadrant of Shaker Square. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Original Circular Design, 1927
Original Circular Design, 1927 Before the Shaker Square design we know today, planners envisioned locating the commercial gateway to the Van Sweringens' suburb inside the existing Moreland Circle, a traffic circle (or roundabout) where South Moreland Boulevard, now Van Aken, branched off Shaker Boulevard. The plan shows how the rapid transit tracks would have passed through a tunnel-like opening in one of the buildings. The design would not have enabled sufficient parking and would have been incapable of the kind of expansion that eventually occurred to the east, west, and south of Shaker Square. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Aerial View, ca. 1979
Aerial View, ca. 1979 This aerial view of Shaker Square looks southwest towards the dense residential neighborhood along Buckeye Road, which runs parallel south of Shaker Boulevard. Not part of the Van Sweringens' Shaker Square development, this Cleveland neighborhood was once the center of Cleveland's Hungarian community. "Little Hungary," as it was formerly known, is now populated largely by African Americans, who moved into the area after large numbers of whites left for the suburbs beginning in the 1970s. Balaton, a Hungarian restaurant, remained on Buckeye until 1998, when it moved to Shaker Square, its home until it relocated to Bainbridge Township in Geauga County in 2022. Source: Shaker Historical Society
10th Anniversary Celebration, 1939
10th Anniversary Celebration, 1939 From left, L. Morris Van Fossan (manager of Shaker Square and Moreland Courts), Shaker Heights Mayor William Van Aken, and an unknown man are pictured on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the opening of Shaker Square. Source: Shaker Historical Society
African Safari, 1943
African Safari, 1943 Shaker Square Travel uses an attention-grabbing display in its front window to advertise an African safari in 1943. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Shaker Village Sales Office, 1943
Shaker Village Sales Office, 1943 The Van Sweringen Company had a sales office at Shaker Square from its opening in 1929. The office became unnecessary once all the land in Shaker Heights and the surrounding suburbs owned by the company had been sold. This had apparently not occurred by 1943, when this photograph was taken. Source: Shaker Historical Society
John Wade Record Shop, 1943
John Wade Record Shop, 1943 John Wade Record Shop sat on the northeast quadrant of Shaker Square (next to the present-day coffee shop) from the 1940s until the 1970s. Frank Carie, a former silent movie pianist, owned the store for 32 of those years. His store drew local music lovers, visiting musicians playing with the Cleveland Orchestra at nearby Severance Hall, and even Imelda Marcos, wife of Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. Grammy-winning musician Marc Cohn, who grew up in Beachwood, shared fond memories of the store when he spoke with The Plain Dealer in 2010. "On Saturdays, my maternal grandmother would take us out for brunch at Stouffer's, right next to John Wade," he remembered, "and if I was a quote-unquote good boy, I'd get to buy a single." Source: Shaker Historical Society
Christmas Tree Lighting, 1965
Christmas Tree Lighting, 1965 The annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Shaker Square always attracts a large crowd. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Shaker Square Historic District
Shaker Square Historic District This map shows the boundaries of the Shaker Square Historic District. The district contains Shaker Square, as well as the residential neighborhood the Van Sweringens developed surrounding the Square. The historic district is mainly in Cleveland, but extends slightly into Shaker Heights at its northern and eastern edges. Source: Shaker Heights Landmark Commission

Location

13200 Shaker Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44120

Metadata

Michael Rotman and J. Mark Souther, “Shaker Square,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 23, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/428.