Filed Under Biography

The Cushing Building

Birthplace of America's First Neurosurgeon

Though he has been called America’s first neurosurgeon, Dr. Harvey W. Cushing was not the first American to perform brain surgery. Others did before him, piercing the dura which encases the brain in order to attempt to remove tumors, but the results were almost always disastrous for the patient. With his pioneering use of local anesthesia, innovative methods to control bleeding and oxygen levels in the brain, and his skilled hands as chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Yale University hospitals from 1896 to 1939, Harvey Cushing revolutionized the field, conducting highly successful operations and dramatically reducing the odds of patient mortality during such operations. One of his biographers compared Cushing's contributions in the field of neurosurgery to those of Sigmund Freud in psychiatry.

Harvey Cushing was born in Cleveland on April 8, 1869, in a house that sat on the site where the Cushing Building at 224 Euclid, built by his father, sits today. Harvey was a fourth-generation physician who knew and benefited from the experiences of both his father and grandfather, early leading medical practitioners here. Dr. Erastus Cushing, Harvey's grandfather, was born and grew up in Cheshire, Massachusetts, not far from the New York state line. He migrated to Cleveland in 1835, and in 1839 purchased a house on the south side of Public Square, east of Ontario Street, where the May Company building now sits. He and his family resided there, and he conducted his medical practice at that location, for the next three decades. Dr. Henry Kirke Cushing was the son of Erastus and the father of Harvey. Henry trained in Cleveland and Philadelphia to become a doctor, and entered into practice with his father in 1851. By 1860, he was married with children, and living just up the street from his parents in the house on Euclid Avenue where his son Harvey, the youngest of his 10 children, would be born nine years later.

While Cleveland had certainly changed from the time when Erastus Cushing arrived here in 1835 until the time when his Henry son moved into that house just up the street on Euclid Avenue in 1860, the south side of Public Square and lower Euclid Avenue (from the Square to East 9th Street) had remained essentially a residential neighborhood. That began to change during the Civil War and postwar period, when, as the Cleveland Leader put it in a March 10, 1870 article, business interests on Superior Avenue and Ontario Street “crept across the open space” of Public Square and began erecting commercial buildings on the south side of the Square and on both sides of Euclid Avenue. The Cushing family certainly contributed to that change. In 1868, the year his wife died, Erastus Cushing razed his house on the south side of the Square and built in its place the Cushing Block, a beautiful four-story brick building with Amherst sandstone ornamentation, designed by the architectural firm of Heard & Blythe and completed in 1869. One of the building’s first tenants was the Standard Oil Company, just recently founded by John D. Rockefeller. Erastus Cushing too was a tenant in the building, keeping a medical office there, while living as one of the "regular boarders" in the nearby Forest City Hotel on the west side of Public Square, where the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel sits today.

In 1873, Henry Cushing moved his family, including 4-year-old son Harvey, uptown to a new house on fashionable Prospect Avenue near Sterling (East 30th) Street. The following year he tore down his house on Euclid Avenue and put up in its place the Cushing Building, a four-story brick commercial building that in its architectural style very much resembled the building which his father had built five years earlier. The Cushing Building (which is only 36 feet wide, though 215 feet deep) was connected by a party wall to the wider Cobb Building, built at the same time, giving the appearance that the two were one larger building. (The Cobb Building was torn down in 1940 to make room for the new W. T. Grant store.) In addition to the Cushing Block and the Cushing and Cobb Buildings, two additional similarly-styled buildings--the Euclid Avenue Block and the Hardy Block--were erected in this period between what are today East 1st and East 3rd Streets, completing the transformation of that part of the south side of Public Square and lower Euclid Avenue from a residential to a commercial neighborhood.

Dr. Henry Cushing kept a medical office in the Cushing Building, as did other Cleveland physicians, from 1874 until his semi-retirement in 1893, the year his father Erastus died. He then turned occupancy of the entire building over to the George H. Bowman Co., an imported china and glassware store, pursuant to the terms of a 99-year lease. Harvey Cushing's share of the income from this and other long-term leases of downtown commercial properties owned by his father and the estate of his grandfather would be a major source of his income not only in his early years as a young physician, but even later when he was world-famous, yet paid only a modest salary by the university-owned hospitals that employed him.

The George H. Bowman store that took over occupancy of the Cushing Building in 1893 was a fixture on lower Euclid Avenue for the next four decades, but in 1932 it was forced to close its doors as a casualty of the Great Depression. The Cushing Building was afterwards leased by the Cushing family to several other retail businesses, and then in 1937 to the Coles Shoe Store which dramatically altered the appearance of the building by adding to its facade an art deco-style marble and granite stone covering. In 1948, Coles Shoes' parent company purchased the building from the Cushing family. The building was thereafter known as the Coles Building until 1983, when Baker Shoes replaced Coles Shoes. The building then became known as the Baker Building until 1997 when that shoe store closed.

Over the next several years, the Cushing Building sat vacant while a plan for the redevelopment of it and the nearby W. T. Grant Buildngs as an apartment complex materialized. According to city records, in 1999 the marble and granite art-deco covering was removed from the Cushing Building. In 2003, the redevelopment project was completed and the Cushing Building became a part of the new W. T. Grant Loft Apartments. Today, the upper floors of the Cushing building are luxury apartment lofts while the first floor is occupied by a restaurant. Clevelanders who walk past the building on their way from Public Square up Euclid Avenue can admire it as one of the last surviving examples of high Victorian Gothic architecture on lower Euclid Avenue, as well as the site of the birthplace of America's first neurosurgeon.

Images

The Cushing Building Located on the southside of Euclid Avenue, between East 1st and East 3rd Streets, the building was erected 1874, a year within a decade that witnessed the transformation of the south side of Public Square and lower Euclid Avenue from a residential to commercial neighborhood. This 1905 photograph shows the Cushing Building (center) at a time when it was occupied by the George H. Bowman Co., a china and glassware store. To the viewer's left is the Cobb Building, which was built at the same time as the Cushing Building. The two buildings shared a common party wall, until the Cobb Building was razed in 1940. To the viewer's right is a portion of the Euclid Avenue Block, which was torn down in 1915 to make room for the new May Company Building. Creator: Cleveland Public Library
Dr. Erastus Cushing Home, circa 1851 He was a Massachusetts physician who migrated to Cleveland in 1835. He purchased this house--located on the south side of Public Square where the May Company building now sits--in 1839. Erastus Cushing resided there until 1869 when he razed the house and built the Cushing Block, which was said to be one of the first commercial buildings erected on the south side of the Square. His son, Dr. Henry Cushing, the father of the famed neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, built the Cushing building--located just a hundred feet or so east of the Cushing Block, five years later in 1874. Source: Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
Commerce comes to Lower Euclid Avenue. In this 1873 photograph, taken from the southeast quadrant of Public Square (then called Monumental Park), the Euclid Avenue Block (erected in that year) is the four-story commerical building on the right, visible through the trees. In the middle of the photograph is St. Paul Episcopal Church, then located on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Sheriff (East 4th) Street. Henry Cushing's home on the southside of Euclid Avenue is barely visible to the viewer's left of the Euclid Avenue Block. That home, and all of the others still standing on the south side of Euclid Avenue between East 1st and East 3rd Streets, were torn down and replaced by commerical buildings in the period 1873-1875. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Time to Move In 1873, Dr. Henry Cushing, father of future famed neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, placed this ad in the Cleveland Herald, announcing that he was moving to 370 Prospect Avenue (today, just east of East 30th Street) and that his house on Euclid Avenue would now solely be used as his office. One year later, Dr. Cushing razed that house and built the Cushing Building. Harvey Cushing, who was born in that house on Euclid Avenue, was approximately four years old when the family moved to its new address on Prospect Avenue. Source: Cleveland Public Libary, Digital Nineteenth Century Newspaper Collection.
Growing up in Cleveland Dr. Harvey Cushing grew up in Cleveland, attending Central High School, before leaving for college at Yale University in 1887. In this photo, taken in the 1870s, Harvey (right) stands next to his older brother Alleyne. Source: Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
Map shows the Distinction In this portion of the 1886 Ohio Sanborn Map of downtown Cleveland, both the Cushing Block and the Cushing Building are listed. The Cushing Block (lettering upside down in this image) is just below the southeast quadrant of Monumental Park (now Public Square). The Cushing Building is several buildings down Euclid, between the Euclid Avenue Block and the Cobb Building. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Lower Euclid Avenue in 1929 The photograph above shows the stretch of buildings on the south side of Euclid Avenue from the May Company building on Public Square to approximately East 4th Street in the year the Great Depression began. The Cobb and Cushing buildings, side by side, are on the right side of the photograph, just to the viewer's left of the May Company sign. The tallest building in the photograph is the 16-story Union National Bank Building, which was the tallest building in Cleveland from 1905 to 1922. To the left of that building is the shorter Euclid Building. Also prominent in this photograph is the Ames Company Building which was built in 1915 for the women's clothing store of the same name. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
America's First Neurosurgeon Because of his pioneer work as a early twentieth century brain surgeon, who performed more than 2,000 brain surgeries during his four-decade professional career, many refer to Dr. Harvey Cushing (1869-1939), a Cleveland native and the fourth generation of doctors in his family, America's first neurosurgeon. Yale University Medical Library is named for him. In addition to being a pioneer neursurgeon, Cushing was also an accomplished author, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for the biography he wrote of Dr. William Osler, often referred to as the Father of Modern Medicine. Source: Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
The Cover Up In the 1940s, several years after the 1939 death of Dr. Harvey Cushing, the Cushing Building was purchased by the parent company of Coles Shoes. The company covered the Cushing Building with marble and granite stone, completely hiding its Victorian architecture, as can be seen in this 1950 photograph. The Cushing Building (which after 1937 often referred to as the Coles Building), is the building to which the large "Coles" sign is attached. Note that the Cushing Block ,the Euclid Avenue Block, the Cobb Building and the Hardy Block were no longer standing when this photograph was taken. The Cushing and Euclid Avenue Blocks were razed in 1915 and replaced by the new May Company Building. The Hardy Block too was razed in 1915 and replaced by the Ames Building. In 1940, the first two floors of the facade of the Ames Building were remodeled when it became part of the new W. T. Grant Co. store.. The rest of that store was created by razing the Cobb Building immediately to the west and replacing it with a new two-story building with a facade that matched the remodeled facade of the former Ames Building . Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Commemorating America's First Neurosurgeon In 1969, a plaque was placed on the May Company Building in downtown Cleveland to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Harvey Cushing in Cleveland in 1869. The plaque was placed (perhaps unintentionally) at the approximate location of the razed Cushing Block, rather than on the still-standing Cushing Building, the site where Harvey Cushing was actually born. Seen in the above photo taken at the ceremony are relatives of Dr. Cushing and (second from the left) Ohio Governor James Rhodes. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
The Missing Plaque Although it was clearly affixed to the downtown May Company building in 1969, the plaque is no longer there, and no one seems to know (as of October 2017) what became of it. If you know, please contact Cleveland Historical. We'd like to know. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Cushing Building Today This photograph taken in 2017 shows the restored Cusing Building. In 1999, according to Cleveland city records, the marble and granite stone covering on the building's original facade was removed, restoring this beautiful high Victorian Gothic building to public view. Source: Jim Dubelko

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Cushing Building,” Cleveland Historical, accessed November 29, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/814.