Gladstone (Area O)

Urban Renewal and "The Worst Slum in Cleveland"

Urban renewal in Cleveland functioned as a tool to improve neighborhoods, thus invigorating the city. In tandem with the goal of strengthening neighborhoods, industrial renewal projects were also a focus for Cleveland officials. Among the most prominent urban renewal projects in Cleveland that focused on revitalizing a space for industrial growth was Gladstone (Area O), which was often called "the worst slum" in Cleveland.

Influenced by early projects in Pittsburgh that were funded through local public-private cooperation, Gladstone was originally intended to be done entirely through private investment with participation with local business and industry. In accordance with the General Plan for Cleveland of 1949, the area was to be redeveloped for full industrial use, particularly for food distribution. Among the biggest food distributors in Gladstone was the Northern Ohio Food Terminal, which accounted for nearly $200 million annually in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The project was intended to provide space for industrial relocation to keep industries from moving outside of Cleveland by making land available and cheap in the central core of the city.

Gladstone covered about 97.4 acres and had an irregular border that was situated between Woodland Avenue to the north and the Nickel Plate and New York Central railroad tracks to the south. Its borders on the west and east extended from East 37th Street to East 55th Street. The area was approved as an urban renewal project in April of 1957. At the onset of the project, around 20 percent of the land served residential uses, while the other 80 percent was occupied for industrial purposes. The two largest industries in the area were food packing and distribution, and scrap metal businesses were scattered along the edges of the project.

The City Planning Commission found that about 79 percent of residential and about 26 percent of industrial structures were dilapidated and unfit for use. They also found that virtually no public recreation space existed in the project area.

Gladstone, however, quickly encountered problems as the project developed. Among the biggest problems was the cost. Gladstone was more expensive than originally anticipated, which made it difficult to find businesses that were willing to pay the extra cost for land. The city of Cleveland was selling land in Gladstone at about $3.00 per square foot to cover the cost of obtaining and clearing the land. Industry at this time, the 1950s and 1960s, usually did not spend more than $1.75 per square foot of land.

There were also claims that the City Planning Commission intentionally condemned properties and labeled them as dilapidated and unsafe in order to drive down property values. This, in theory, would have allowed the city to buy the condemned land at a cheaper cost in which they could then sell back to industries interested in building or expanding in Gladstone. A more accurate survey by Housing Commissioner Robert Greenhalgh in 1960 found that only about 10 percent of the structures were in such a dilapidated condition that they had to be torn down.

The cost of land in Gladstone brought private investment to a standstill. Because industry was not willing to pay the prices the city needed in order to not lose money on the project, Urban Renewal Director James M. Lister and Mayor Celebrezze had to seek federal aid in 1963 to ensure the project would move forward.

Even with federal aid for urban renewal, the project took a long time to get underway. By 1966, the Plain Dealer noted that only about three acres of land were sold by the city. By 1968, ten parcels of land in the area still needed to be acquired by the city. The lack of industrial interest in Gladstone demonstrates that, even with federal price reductions through urban renewal aid money, land in the suburbs was cheaper.

The City of Cleveland was also required to help relocate families for the duration of the urban renewal project. The Plain Dealer also noted in 1966 that of the 700 families that were living in Gladstone at the beginning of the project, roughly 300 were still living in the area. To make matters worse, about 70 percent of the families that were relocated were either unaccounted for or moved to substandard housing somewhere else in the city.

As the project stagnated into the late 1960s, the area became little more than a dumping ground for other urban renewal projects in the city of Cleveland. The large trash heaps that accumulated in Gladstone were often burned, which in a few cases spread to nearby abandoned buildings. Some businesses in the area even noted that the trash fires caused their insurance rates to increase, which unfortunately only further deterred new investment in Gladstone.

Although the Northern Ohio Food Terminal did retain its facilities in Gladstone, other companies and industries were not attracted to the area with the fervor that was anticipated. Stouffer Foods Corp., a new postal service office, and a new terminal for the Railway Express Agency all chose to move or build outside of Gladstone for the same reasons; it was cheaper to buy land and build in the suburbs, and the city of Cleveland was taking too long to actually have land ready for sale.

Some businesses and industries did build in Gladstone, though too many years after the start of the project to justify all the problems it created. The federal government put a freeze on funding for Cleveland urban renewal projects because of concerns of mismanagement. It was not until Mayor Carl Stokes took office in 1967 that projects, including Gladstone, started showing improvement. Gladstone, however, never quite realized its full potential and became little more than an example of what could go wrong with urban renewal.

In 1990, a local non-profit called Maingate Business Development Corporation was created to work at reversing the negative impact the Gladstone project had on the area. Maingate actively works at regaining the confidence of corporations and businesses in the area and forty new companies have chosen to have a location in the Maingate area. Although the effects of Gladstone are being reversed by Maingate, work is still being done to fully realize the potential city officials believed the area had in the 1950s and 1960s.


Map of Area O, 1956
Map of Area O, 1956 The proposed map of Gladstone (Area O) covered just under 100 acres. The area laid out by the City Planning Commission coincides with construction of the Willow Freeway west of Gladstone. This map outlines the clearance areas, industrial and light industrial land, and the types of structures in the area. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Public Administration Library Creator: Cleveland City Planning Commission Date: June 12, 1956
House in Gladstone
House in Gladstone An example of one of the residential structures that could have been found in Gladstone. The City Planning Commission found that most homes in the project area were dilapidated and structurally unsound, therefore calling for their destruction. A different survey, however, by the Federal Housing Commission found in 1960 that only about 10 percent of the houses were in a state that required them to be torn down. It was found that most buildings could have been brought up to code, saving them from destruction. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections Creator: Glen Zahn Date: April 8, 1958
Cedar Central Public Housing Expansion, 1957
Cedar Central Public Housing Expansion, 1957 Gladstone (Area O) existed in a framework of other urban renewal projects meant to improve the Central neighborhood, as outlined by Cleveland's General Plan of 1949. The earliest project, the Cedar Apartments, started in 1937, but most of the other projects in the area started in the 1950s. Although this map only shows projects in Central, urban renewal and urban redevelopment projects existed all over Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections Creator: Cleveland Press Date: January 4, 1957
Mayor Ralph Locher and Other City Officials Meet with a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee
Mayor Ralph Locher and Other City Officials Meet with a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee This photo from left to right shows J. B. Williams, Cleveland Urban Renewal Commission; James Lister, Cleveland Urban Renewal director; Mayor Ralph Locher; E. W. Sloan, chairman of the board, Cleveland Development Foundation; and Upshur Evans, director of the Cleveland Development Foundation as they testify before a House subcommittee investigating urban renewal. In 1963, the House of Representatives launched a probe, though they claimed it was more of a study, into urban renewal projects that included Erieview in Cleveland. Erieview was often seen as the flagship project in Cleveland, which caused funds to be focused towards it as opposed to being used for other projects like Gladstone. The probe led to a freeze in federal funds for Cleveland's urban renewal projects that would not be lifted until Mayor Carl Stokes took office in 1967. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections Creator: United Press International Date: October 24, 1963
Northern Ohio Food Terminal, Cleveland, Ohio
Northern Ohio Food Terminal, Cleveland, Ohio This post card depicts the Northern Ohio Food Terminal (NOFT). Although it is undated, it still shows the magnitude of the NOFT, which was located in the Gladstone area. The NOFT brought in nearly $200 million annually for the city at the time of the project, late 1950s and early 1960s. The NOFT influenced the city government to make all of Gladstone industrial, or light industrial, to help bolster the food distribution and packaging industries in Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library Special Collections Date: n.d.
Gladstone Serves as City Dump
Gladstone Serves as City Dump The headline of an article that appeared in the Plain Dealer on May 3, 1965. Written by Donald Sabath, the article explains how Gladstone became little more than a dumping ground for other urban renewal projects going on at the same time. This in turn hurt the chances of future investments because businesses where weary to invest in land that was actively being used a trash heap. Source: Plain Dealer Creator: Donald Sabath Date: May 3, 1965


Central, Cleveland, OH


Matt Saplak , “Gladstone (Area O),” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 21, 2024,