Filed Under Education

Fenn Tower

"The Campus in the Clouds"

The origins of Cleveland State University date back to 1870 when the Cleveland Young Men's Christian Association began offering free evening classes in French and German. Following a period of sporadic course offerings in the 1870s, the YMCA's evening educational program became firmly established in the 1880s. In 1906, the YMCA combined its newly created day school with the evening school under the name of the Association Institute.

The need to achieve accreditation led the YMCA to re-organize its education program in 1929. At this time the schools' name was changed to Fenn College, in honor of Sereno Peck Fenn, who had served as president of the Cleveland YMCA for 25 years and as Board Director between 1868 and 1920. College lore has it that another reason for the name change was the desire by students for a more prestigious sounding name on their diplomas.

With several private colleges in Cleveland, including Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Fenn College focused on attracting students for whom college otherwise would be financially unattainable by offering a low-cost quality education. In line with this policy, Fenn College became the second college in Ohio, after the University of Cincinnati, to adopt a cooperative education program. This program of alternating classroom work with actual employment was required for all day students and was optional for evening students.

In 1937 Fenn College purchased the 22-story National Town and Country Club building at Euclid Avenue and East 24th Street. Renamed Fenn Tower in 1939, it provided needed additional classroom and office space. It also gave the college a prestigious "Euclid Avenue" address. Fenn Tower became known as "the campus in the clouds" and contained classrooms, a library, a gymnasium, a pool, student lounges, and other amenities—all within its vertical confines.

Throughout its history Fenn College never operated at a deficit. However, by 1963 increasing operating costs, competition from the new community college, and rumors of a possible state takeover placed Fenn in severe financial straits. That year the college released "A Plan for Unified Higher Education in Cleveland-Northeastern Ohio," calling upon the State to develop a state university in Cleveland, using Fenn College as its nucleus.

During James Rhodes' 1962 campaign for governor, he proposed that there should be a state university within a 30 mile radius of every citizen. At that time the nearest state university to Cleveland was Kent State. On December 18, 1964, Governor Rhodes signed legislation creating Ohio's seventh state university, Cleveland State University, and announced the appointment of a board of trustees with James Nance as chairman.

Historic Fenn Tower, formerly Fenn College, is located on Cleveland State University's campus near the former site of two Millionaires' Row mansions--that of Rufus K. Winslow, a Great Lakes shipping magnate, and G.E. Herrick, a businessman and largest stockholder of the Cleveland Railway Company. This onetime self-contained skyscraper "campus" for commuters ultimately became the first new housing aimed at transforming CSU into a residential campus.


Fenn College, Pt. 1: Early History Cleveland State University archivist William Becker describes the early history of Fenn College. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Fenn College, Pt. 2: Campus in the Clouds CSU archivist William Becker describes the history of Fenn Tower. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities


Fenn Tower Was My Home CSU alumnus and Olympic wrestler Matt Ghaffari describes fond memories of Fenn Tower's ballroom, swimming pool, and sports training rooms during the late 1970s. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
From Commuter School to Campus Community Former CSU President Michael Schwartz describes why steps were taken to increase housing options for students at CSU. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection


Fenn Tower ca. 1955-60
Fenn Tower ca. 1955-60 Looking east from Lou Cohen's Used Cars towards Fenn Tower, which housed Fenn College, the predecessor of Cleveland State University, at that time. This photo is undated, but the cars suggest it was perhaps in the late 1950s. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Unrealized Plan for National Town and Country Club
Unrealized Plan for National Town and Country Club This plan shows a considerably different design idea for what evolved into the Art Deco-style National Town and Country Club, which used the resulting building only briefly before folding in the Great Depression. Source: Town Topics, Cleveland Public Library Date: 1927
Fenn Tower, 1938
Fenn Tower, 1938 The back of this postcard reads: "Fenn College, Cleveland's 'skyscraper school-house,' 22 stories high. With an enrollment of 3,000, this typically urban college is on the cooperative plan, each student alternating three months of college with a similar period at a job. This collegiate skyscraper is three buildings in one, the first four floors for administration and classrooms, the next two for gymnasium, swimming pool, handball courts, and from there up for dormitory." The postcard image distorts the building's true proportions, making it appear shorter. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1938
Fenn College Library, ca. 1940
Fenn College Library, ca. 1940 Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1940
Fenn College Entrance, 1949
Fenn College Entrance, 1949 Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1949
Panel Hall Lounge, 1962
Panel Hall Lounge, 1962 Because the building was designed as an exclusive country club, students at Fenn were surrounded by the type of finely detailed architectural elements not often found in educational facilities and dormitories. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1962
Fenn Natatorium, ca. 1940
Fenn Natatorium, ca. 1940 This modern swimming pool was one of many amenities that students enjoyed after the move to Fenn Tower. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1940
Prospect Avenue Campus, 1932
Prospect Avenue Campus, 1932 Prior to moving into the vacant National Town & Country Club (AKA Fenn Tower), the Fenn College campus was located in a series of buildings abutting the Cleveland YMCA on Prospect Avenue. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1932
Quonset Hut Classroom, 1949
Quonset Hut Classroom, 1949 To accommodate increased enrollment due to the GI Bill, Fenn College bought a series of temporary modular buildings, called quonset huts, from the US military in which classes were held. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1949
YMCA English Class, 1923
YMCA English Class, 1923 Fenn College grew out of the Cleveland YMCA's educational programs. Classes, like this 1923 English class at the YMCA's preparatory school, were held at the Central YMCA on Prospect Avenue and in three adjacent houses. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1923


1983 E 24th St, Cleveland, OH 44115 | Resident Card Access Only


J. Mark Souther, “Fenn Tower,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 13, 2024,