Filed Under Public Spaces

The Mall

When the city approved the Group Plan of 1903, it was believed that the Mall would become the city’s functional and symbolic center. The long stretch of land northeast of Public Square would turn a former slum into a parklike space, and a half-dozen neoclassical government buildings surrounding the Mall would instill a sense of civic pride and duty. These goals fit the aims of the City Beautiful reform movement, whose proponents worried that the attractiveness and dignity of American cities were being compromised by poverty, overpopulation and the perceived deleterious effects of immigration. Daniel Burnham, who played a leading role in designing Cleveland’s Group Plan, was a major figure in the City Beautiful movement. He may best be remembered for designing Chicago’s White City at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. In Cleveland, however, as Walter Leedy wrote, “Instead of a ‘White City’ the Mall turned out to be a ‘White Sepulcher.’”

The Mall’s transformation into a true city center was quashed in the 1920s by the Van Sweringen brothers’ decision to build their Union Terminal train station on Public Square. The 1903 Group Plan specified that the city’s main train station would be built at the north end of the Mall. When that didn’t happen, it became clear that Public Square would remain the city’s center. In retrospect, this was a propitious choice: Public Square was Cleveland’s transportation hub and it was closer to the booming commercial district taking shape along Euclid Avenue. The Mall, meanwhile, became somewhat of an afterthought, used occasionally for concerts and other events but serving mainly as a cut-through for downtown workers.

A number of plans over the years promised to inject new life into the Mall, including unrealized plans for embellishments in the late 1920s and again in the late 1930s, the short-lived amenities brought by the 1936-37 Great Lakes Exposition, a failed bid in the late 1950s for a "hotel on the Mall," and the addition of the Hanna Fountains in 1964 (but removed in 1987). In the 2010s the Mall received a new carpet of grass atop the ramp-like rise on Mall B necessitated by the most recent expansion of the convention center. New buildings, including a "medical mart" and a convention hotel were added on the Mall's western flank in anticipation of the city's hosting of the 2016 Republican National Convention. Yet the Mall still struggles to serve as a civic space, calling attention to the challenges that face all efforts to create such places.

Images

Early Group Plan Sketch This illustration from 1903 shows an early conception of the Cleveland Group Plan. At this point, the plan included the construction of the city's central train station at the northern end of the Mall. The station is included in this illustration but was never built. Instead, the Van Sweringens constructed Cleveland's Union Terminal on Public Square. Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society
Mall, ca. 1930s This image of the Mall appears to have been taken shortly before or after the Great Lakes Exposition, held during the summers of 1936 and 1937. The bandshell and pylons on the Mall marking the entrance to the Expo have been removed, but some of the lakefront buildings constructed for the fair can still be seen on the horizon. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
White City, 1893 Daniel Burnham, who helped formulate the Cleveland Group Plan in 1903, was a key architect of Chicago’s White City at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The central plaza at the fair, pictured here, was called the White City because of its elegant stretch of white, classically designed buildings that were brilliantly lit at night.
Construction, 1932 The Mall has been dug up several times for underground construction. Here, in 1932, a convention center is being built underneath a part of the Mall. In 2011, this section of the Mall was again excavated as a new underground convention center (replacing the original one, which had been extensively renovated in the 1960s) was set to open in conjunction with the Center for Health Innovation at the corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Streetcar Convention, 1927 The American Electric Railway Association (AERA) held its 1927 convention at the Cleveland Public Auditorium. Working streetcars were lined up on the Mall for displays and demonstrations. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Great Lakes Expo Seven 70-foot tall pylons on the Mall marked the main entrance to the Great Lakes Exposition. The Sherwin Williams Plaza was also located there, consisting of a bandshell and seating area where concerts and national radio broadcasts were staged. Visitors to the Expo, held during the summers of 1936 and 1937, crossed a bridge over the train tracks north of the Mall to reach the fair's main attractions on the lakefront. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Victory Garden During World War II, city residents planted a "Victory Garden" where they grew vegetables on the Mall. These gardens sprang up in urban areas across the United States during both World War I and World War II. The government encouraged the practice, citing the threat of food shortages and rising food prices. Planting a garden became a way to show patriotism and support of the troops. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
War Memorial Fountain Dedicated in 1964, Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks designed the War Memorial Fountain (also known as the "Fountain of Eternal Life" and "Peace Arising from the Flames of War"), which honors Cleveland soldiers who died during World War II and the Korean War. At first, Fredericks intended his male figure to be fully nude, and he also planned to incorporate a nude female figure into the sculpture. However, the American Gold Star Mothers of Cuyahoga County (an organization made up of women who have lost a child in war) did not want any nudity in the sculpture, so Fredericks removed the female entirely and added flames to the male's lower half to meet these demands. Fredericks's Star Dream Fountain in Royal Oak, Michigan incorporates elements of his original concept for the Cleveland fountain. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Promotional Material for Mall Hotel Conrad Hilton wanted to build a 1,000-room Hilton "Hotel on the Mall"—on the Mall itself. He demanded $6 million of locally raised funding in order the carry out his plan. The Celebrezze administration worked hard alongside the hastily formed Committee for Civic Progress, an organization created expressly to "educate" voters on the need for the hotel to jumpstart Cleveland's sagging convention trade. The referendum on the hotel in November 1959 met defeat. For many voters, the combination of concerns about taxation, overemphasis on downtown at the expense of neighborhoods, and loss of public space was too much to accept. Weeks later, Hilton opened a similar hotel in downtown Pittsburgh's shiny new Gateway Center. More than 50 years later, Cleveland would get a Hilton on the Mall. This one would overlook rather than literally be on the Mall, but like the earlier planned hotel, it would happen only with taxpayers' money. Source: Mall original material subject file, Cleveland Public Library Creator: Committee for Civic Progress Date: 1959
Artist Rendering of Hanna Fountains The Hanna Fountains resulted from a $2 million gift from the Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund. The project was constructed concurrently with a major expansion of the Public Auditorium beneath the Mall, funded by a bond issue passed in 1963. The 22-inch-deep reflecting pool had ten fountains that were illuminated by colored lights at night. They formed an inviting civic space outside the Public Auditorium and were for many years a popular destination for lunching office workers and visitors to the city. Unfortunately, the reflecting pool was prone to leaking from the start and was removed in 1987. Source: Mall original material subject file, Cleveland Public Library Date: ca. 1963
Anti-Busing Protest, 1978 Since it is surrounded by government buildings, the Mall has been the site of a number of political protests. In this 1978 photograph, a protest at the Board of Education building (centered on the Abraham Lincoln statue) spills out onto the Mall. The crowd is protesting the decision by federal judge Frank J. Battisti in Reed v. Rhodes that paved the way for cross-city busing intended to racially integrate Cleveland's schools. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “The Mall,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 28, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/312.