Filed Under Architecture

The John Hartness Brown Complex

Where the Upper Euclid Avenue Shopping District Began

In recent years--until 2019, if you walked down the north side of Euclid Avenue, between East 9th and East 12th Streets, you couldn't help but notice the several dilapidated and vacant buildings between the 925 Building (formerly known as the Huntington Building, and before that the Union Commerce Building) and the Statler Apartments (formerly known as the Statler Arms Hotel). It was a place where trash collected along the building fronts and where from time to time you might find one of Cleveland's homeless sleeping within one of the recessed entranceways. In fact, it seemed to be the one place along Euclid Avenue from Public Square to Cleveland State University where redevelopment had not either already been completed or at least was in the process of being completed. From 2007 to 2017, the buildings, collectively known as the John Hartness Brown complex, along with an adjoining building to the east formerly known as the Capital Bank Building, had been owned by a series of corporate developers who had, during this period, failed to repair and/or redevelop the buildings. However, in 2017, a new developer came along, proposing to use historic tax credits to redevelop the complex into a mix of apartments, a hotel, retail stores, and a parking garage. And now (2019), the complex is finally undergoing repair and reconstruction, with an expectation that, by the year 2020, it will be home to 200 high-end apartments; 20,000 square feet of retail shops; and an underground parking garage.

Given the fact that the redevelopment of the John Hartness Brown complex lagged for years behind that of other historic upper Euclid Avenue buildings, some might consider them to be historically insignificant, especially when compared to those other grander buildings like the Cleveland Trust Company (now Heinen's grocery store), the Union Trust Building (now the 925 Euclid Building), the Statler Arms Hotel (now the Statler Apartments), and Halle Brothers Department Store (now the Halle Building) . The John Hartness Brown complex is, however, very significant to the history of Cleveland's downtown development. According to a January 22, 1909 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, it was the start of construction of these buildings in 1901 which sparked the beginning of the Upper Euclid Avenue shopping district--one which for much of the twentieth century stretched from East 9th Street to Playhouse Square, and to which thereafter some of Cleveland's most glamorous and iconic department stores, including Halle Brothers, Sterling-Lindner-Davis, and even, for a time, Higbee's, before it relocated to the Terminal Tower complex in 1931.

John Hartness Brown, the man who envisioned the new shopping distict, was one of the most prominent real estate developers in Cleveland at the turn of the twentieth century. Born here in 1868, Brown, as a young man, according to a September 11, 1977 Plain Dealer article, showed early Cleveland Heights developer Patrick Calhoun a view of the beautiful undeveloped land to the south of Lake View Cemetery in 1890, prompting the latter to buy the land and develop it as the Euclid Heights subdivision, one of that Cleveland suburb's grandest residential neighborhoods. By 1900, Brown, just 32 years old, had gained control of the development rights over a large tract of land in downtown Cleveland, on the north side of Euclid Avenue, just east of East 9th Street, upon which he proposed to build a mammoth retail shopping complex. By early 1901, the New York architectural firm of Warren, Wetmore and Morgan (who also were architects on the New York Grand Central Station project) had designed the first building of the complex in modern French style, and by late 1901 Brown had broken ground, razing several old mansions in the process, as his contractor began to erect that first building.

Unfortunately, Brown soon encountered financial problems which led to delays in procuring a tenant and completing the construction of the building, which in turn led to a series of lawsuits filed by his partner and various landowners and banks, resulting in more delay. While by 1909, Halle Brothers, Sterling-Lindner and even Higbee's had all successfully relocated to the new shopping district which Brown had envisioned, his own building remained only partially built and had become an eyesore on Euclid Avenue. Brown, beset by creditors and lawsuits, was compelled to transfer his interest in most of the large tract of land he had assembled to other developers, and control over the completion of the construction of the John Hartness Brown Building to his lawyer, William H. Rice. Just months later, Rice was murdered--some speculating at the time that it was at the behest of Brown. The murder was never solved and shortly thereafter Brown left Cleveland for good, residing for a time in New York City, before moving to London, England, where he resided until his death in 1938.

With Rice's death and Brown's departure from Cleveland, completion of the construction of the John Hartness Brown Building was left to others. The heirs of the estate of William H. Rice conveyed their interest in the easternmost part of the building (with fifty feet of Euclid Avenue frontage) to Brown's former real estate partner Harold T. Loomis and the westernmost part (with 145 feet of frontage) to The Euclid Company, a corporation formed by Rice's former law partner Frank H. Ginn. Loomis hired the architectural firm of Walker and Weeks to redesign his part of the building, transforming it into a seven-story structure with a white terra cotta facade. Ginn, who in 1915 bristled at a reporter who still referred to the building as the John Hartness Brown building, hired the architectural firm of George B. Post and Sons (the same firm that designed the Cleveland Trust Company building) to completely redesign his company's part of the original building, keeping its height at six stories, but dramatically transforming the front facade to give the appearance that it was three separate buildings, and constructing a 40-foot addition onto the west end of the building, thereby eliminating the access of Hickory Court onto Euclid Avenue. By 1917, when both reconstructions were completed, what had once been a single structure known as the John Hartness Brown Building had become two buildings--the Euclid Building and the Loomis Building, which together appeared to be four separate buildings of very different design and construction than the original building.

During the heyday of the Upper Euclid Avenue shopping district, the newly redesigned Euclid and Loomis buildings were leased to and occupied by a number of well-known Cleveland retail merchants, including B.R. Baker's (a men's clothing store), Clark's Colonial Restaurant, Wurlitzer Music Store, Stearn Co. department store, and Lane Bryant. By the decade of the 1970s, however, as the fortunes of Cleveland's downtown shopping districts waned, most of these retail stores closed and were largely replaced by office tenants on the upper floors of the buildings and financial-related businesses on the street level. By the early twenty-first century, even most of these tenants had departed, creating the vacancy condition which existed in these buildings for nearly two decades. Finally, in 2018, Alto Brothers, a real estate development company, acquired the historic building complex with plans to invest $80 million into and to redevelop it into a mixed use facility with retail on the ground floor and residential apartments on the upper floors. In 2021, the redeveloped John Hartness Brown building complex--now known as the Euclid Grand--reopened with 240 residential apartments, 20,000 square feet of retail space, and a 200 car underground parking garage.

Images

The John Hartness Brown Complex in 1929 In this photograph, the complex consists of the two center buildings--the one on the left, grey-colored and six stories, and the one on the right, white-colored and seven stories--located between the Union Trust Building (now the 925 Euclid Building) to their left and the 1101 Building (formerly known as the Capital Bank Building) and the Statler Arms Hotel (now the Statler Arms Apartments) to their right. In that year, the six-story building was referred to as the Euclid Building, and the seven story one as the Loomis Building. The sign on the Euclid Building belonged to B. R. Baker's, a men's clothing store, which occupied the western part of the complex from 1917 until 1982. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Where mansions once sat This part of a page of the 1898 Cleveland Atlas reveals that in that year the Prentiss, Cox and Gardner mansions (from left to right, circled in green) sat on the north side of Euclid Avenue where today the John Hartness Brown complex sits. In the first decade of the twentieth century, John Hartness Brown had control of all of the land between Chestnut (now, Chester) to the north and Euclid Avenue to the south, and between Erie (now, East 9th) to the west and Muirson (now, East 12th) to the east. He envisioned a massive shopping complex on this land. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
John Hartness Brown (1868-1940 circa) The son of a dry goods merchant, Brown, a Cleveland native, became one of the most important real estate developers in the city in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, his plan to establish a mammoth retail shopping complex on the north side of Euclid Avenue between East 9th (Erie) and East 12th (Muirson) Streets faltered when he was unable to timely complete construction of the first building during the period 1901-1910. During these years he encountered financial problems when he was unable to quickly secure a large retail tenant and complete construction of that first building. This led to a number of lawsuits by partners, landowners and banks, which ultimately forced him to surrender the property and abandon the project . Shortly afterwards, after his lawyer was murdered, Brown left Cleveland and never returned. The exact date of his death is unknown, but, as of the summer of 1940, he was, according to one source, alive and living in New York City. Source: Ancestry.com, United States Passport Collection
An Empire in the Making This sketch, which appeared in the June 29, 1901 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, shows the extensive land holdings that John Hartness Brown had assembled and controlled north of Euclid Avenue and east of East 9th Street by 1901. Muirson Street and Chestnut Avenue, shown on the sketch, are today, respectively, East 12th Street and Chester Avenue. Hickory Lane still exists, but no longer has an access point on Euclid Avenue. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Historic Newspaper Collection
Construction going nowhere fast This photograph of the John Hartness Brown Building, which appeared in a May 10, 1903 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was taken approximately 19 months after site excavation and initial construction was begun in late 1901. Another seven years would pass before even a portion of the exterior facade of the building was completed. The building itself was never entirely completed as designed, because iin 1912, its easternmost section was reconstructed in accordance with a new design by the architectural firm of Walker and Weeks, and in 1917, its westernmost section was reconstructed in accordance with a new design by the architectural firm of George B. Post and Sons. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Historic Newspaper Collection
Under a Cloud of Suspicion In early 1910, as a result of financial problems and lawsuits which delayed completion of construction of his building, John Hartness Brown was compelled to "unconditionally," according to a contemporaneous newspaper account, turn over the project to his lawyer, William H. Rice. When Rice, who was a Cleveland Heights neighbor of Brown, was murdered near his home on August 6, 1910, some suspected Brown--who had had a dispute with Rice--of involvement in the murder. Brown was never charged, and, although several other suspects were investigated by the police, the murder of Rice was never solved. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Historic Newspaper Collection
The original John Hartness Brown Building This photograph, taken between 1913-1915, shows the western portion of the John Hartness Brown Building (left), as it was originally designed. This portion was completed in circa 1911. The taller white building on the right was also originally part of the Brown Building, but in 1913 it underwent a reconstruction designed by Walker and Weeks, which changed its front facade and added an additional story to its height. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Massive Reconstruction In 1917, as the above photo taken from the January 20, 1917 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows, the western portion of the John Hartness Brown Building underwent a massive reconstruction which dramatically changed its facade and added 40 feet of frontage to the building. Today the only part of the exterior of the orignal building which remains the same is a portion of its rear facade. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Historic Newspaper Collection
A new facade This sketch prepared by the architectural firm of George B. Post and Sons--the same firm that designed the Cleveland Trust Bank building on the southeast corner of East 9th and Euclid--shows an addition to the formerly S-shaped west end of the John Hartness Brown building, as well as an entirely new front facade, which gives the building the appearance of being three separate buildings. The reconstruction as designed by the Post firm was completed in 1917. Source: Google Books, The Architectural Record, Vol. 47, page 189 (1920)
Only the back remains the same The excavated site for the new Union Trust Building on the northeast corner of Euclid Avenue and East Ninth Street in 1922 provides an open view of the rear facade and west side of the John Harkness Brown building, by this year known as the Euclid Building, after the realty company headed by Frank H. Ginn that took over control of the western most portion of the building in 1911. Note that the original design for the rear facade of the building was not substantially changed in the 1917 reconstruction of this portion of the building. B. R. Baker, whose sign appears on the west side of the building, was a tenant in the building from 1917 until 1982. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
The Rear Facade Today This photograph taken in 2017 reveals that the rear facade of the John Hartness Brown complex is the only exterior part of the orignal building, constructed between 1901 and 1910. Creator: Jim Dubelko
The John Hartness Brown Complex (2017) This photograph shows the appearance and condition of the front facade of the complex in 2017, shortly before work began in 2018 to redevelop it into a mixed use complex with 200 high-end apartment suites, 20,000 square feet of retail shops; and an underground parking garage. Creator: Jim Dubelko
The Euclid Grand In 2021, the historic John Hartness Brown Building re-opened as the Euclid Grand, with 240 residential apartment units, 20,000 square feet of retail space, and an underground parking garage. This photo was taken in April, 2022. Source: Jim Dubelko

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The John Hartness Brown Complex,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 15, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/815.