Filed Under Architecture

Kingsbury Building

A Self-Contained Commercial District Along the Shaker Rapid

From its founding, Shaker Village was planned as a highly-regulated residential district. Promotional literature distributed by the Van Sweringen Co. offered prospective land buyers the security of a community that existed outside the influence of the urban environment. A strictly defined and governed landscape promised safety and order in a village that was both designed and advertised as a contrasting vision to the City of Cleveland. The Kingsbury Building, designated a Shaker Heights Landmark in February 1998, is an example of the small commercial zones that were integrated into this vision for the Van Sweringen's suburb. These centers of commerce were carefully designed to meet the needs of a growing population without undermining the residential character of the surrounding community.

In an era coinciding with the emergence of formal zoning, urban centers were characterized by their mixed use. Much of the urban core of Cleveland was a clutter of industry, homes, and commercial buildings. Those with the means to leave these polluted and congested spaces moved from the city center. Elite residential districts, most notably the row of mansions lining Euclid Avenue, found themselves susceptible to the continuing advances of the physical city. Little could be done to prevent Cleveland from swallowing these exclusive neighborhoods – homes were often converted into businesses or fell into disrepair. Within this context, the Van Sweringen Co. created a community that would stand the test of time through strict regulation. Standards imposed by the real estate developers were meant to ensure the financial soundness of land purchases in their utopian residential retreat.

The Van Sweringen Co. first busied themselves with promoting the development of amenities that would act as the foundation for their elite community, including schools, public transportation, green space, churches and recreational facilities. Apartments, industry, bars and corner shops were initially excluded due to their association with urban life. By the 1920s, however, the need for commercial structures and more diverse housing stock became apparent. The costly rapid transit system built by the Van Sweringens not only provided new opportunities for people to relocate to Shaker, but also necessitated a larger population to sustain its existence. The Van Sweringen Co. quickly integrated the development of apartments and business districts into their planned community. Staying true to their vision of a residential suburb, these structures were strategically placed on the outskirts of the community along heavily used transportation routes.

The Kingsbury Building was one of the early commercial structures and apartment buildings in Shaker Heights. The self-contained business district was conceived and designed using similar standards as those imposed by the Van Sweringen Co. upon residential construction. Erected by the Leemore Company between 1926-1927 at what is now 3427-55 Lee Road, the prestigious architectural firm of Walker and Weeks was employed to design the multipurpose building. Similarly to other commercial structures concurrently being constructed at Shaker Square, the Kingsbury Building was designed in the Tudor style. Prominently located at the intersection of Moreland Boulevard (now Van Aken) and Lee Road, the angled corner building presented a unified vision from the front with its recessed entrances and symmetrical design. Bounded by comparatively smaller residential lots on the southern edge of the city, the business district was placed near a Rapid station and away from more prestigious residential neighborhoods. The three-story edifice provided space for ten storefronts, eight offices and sixteen apartments.

During the early years of growth in Shaker, the Kingsbury Building was one of only a few locations where residents could purchase commercial goods and employ professional services. Early tenants included the Fisher Bros. Co., a jewelry shop, a beauty shop, a florist, the Village Drug Store, the Shaker Heights Electric Co., a fruit shop, a shoe repair shop, a dry cleaner, a delicatessen, and the Western Union office. Offices were regularly occupied by dentists, physicians, and real estate agents.

While the Kingsbury Building was an inevitable response to the needs of a growing population, its form, placement, and usage were dictated by the standards created by Shaker Height's developers. In this manner, the Van Sweringen Co. promoted growth and provided conveniences to the residential community while maintaining their promise to keep the influences of the city at bay.


Kingsbury Building
Kingsbury Building The Kingsbury Building was built by the Bolton-Pratt Construction Co. for the Leemore Co., a syndicate headed by Karl Pratt. Designs for the structure were created by Walker and Weeks, one of the most prolific and prestigious architectural firms in Cleveland during the first half of the 20th century. Walker and Weeks are best known for their work on the Cleveland Public Library, Severance Hall, and the Federal Reserve Building. The Kingsbury Building was designated a landmark on October 21, 1997. Source: City of Shaker Heights Planning Department
Shaker Development, ca 1932
Shaker Development, ca 1932 The Kingsbury Building was built in response to the needs of a growing residential community. The site of the commercial building was one of Shaker Heights' busiest intersections, where S. Moreland (now Van Aken), Lee Road, Chalfant Road and Clayton Boulevard converged. The structure was opposite a Rapid station and a newly constructed grade school. Just north of the building, nearly 500 homes had been built between 1922 and 1926 in the rapidly growing Fernway residential district. To the south was the Lomond Boulevard section of Shaker Heights; around the time of the Kingsbury Building's opening in 1927, this section was emerging as a new residential neighborhood. Between 1927 and 1929, nearly $4,500,000 worth of new homes were constructed - jumping from 202 to 557 residences. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection
A New Drug Store, 1927
A New Drug Store, 1927 The Kingsbury Building was the first site east of Shaker Square on South Moreland (now Van Aken) designated for business and apartment buildings. Along with medicine, drugstores of the post-1920s era regularly offered meals and soda fountains to customers. The Village Drug Store's advertisement made claims to the installation of the most modern electric refrigeration soda fountain that could be found. Image from Cleveland Plain Dealer Historic Newspaper Archive
Fisher Bros., 1953
Fisher Bros., 1953 One of the Kingsbury Building's earliest occupants was the Fisher Bros. Corp. This popular chain of Cleveland retail food stores would appear in nearly every commercial district of the suburb. Fisher Bros. opened its 301st store at Shaker Square in 1937, and eventually relocated its business from the Kinsgsbury Building to the Van Aken Shopping Center in 1953. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection
Kinsman Commercial District, 1936
Kinsman Commercial District, 1936 The Kingsbury Building was one of a handful of commercial districts strategically located at busy thruways and intersections. Running along the southern boundary of Shaker Heights, Kinsman Road (now Chagrin) was also designated for commercial development by the Van Sweringen Co. This east-west transportation artery not only connected eastern townships and Shaker Heights to Cleveland, but acted as a gateway to the residential community. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
Warrensville Center and Kinsman Road, ca 1900
Warrensville Center and Kinsman Road, ca 1900 Now the site of the Van Aken Shopping Center, the intersection of Warrensville Center and Kinsman Road (now Chagrin) was the main hub for commercial and social activity in Warrensville Township at the turn of the 20th century. Marking the exact center of the Township, the quadrants surrounding this intersection housed churches, taverns, a school, a general store, a saw mill, the town hall, and a vault to store the bodies of those who died during winter months. Image courtesy of Shaker Historical Society
Van Aken Shopping Center
Van Aken Shopping Center The Van Aken Shopping Center was formally opened in 1953 to meet the shopping needs of the increasingly prosperous and populated suburbs of Cleveland. The $2,500,000, six-acre complex was built near a rapid station, and was strategically located to attract shoppers from Shaker Heights, University Heights and Cleveland Heights. Initially housing 26 businesses, early tenants included Woolworths, Pick-N-Pay, Gruber's Restaurant, and many high-end boutique shops. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections
Be A Shaker Shopper
Be A Shaker Shopper In an effort to lure people away from malls and back to local stores, the "Be a Shaker Shopper" campaign was started in 1983 to remind Shaker residents of their shopping options. Headed by Susan MacDonald, the campaign attempted to draw attention to the local stores by designating a "Shaker shop of the month," holding raffles, and distributing Shaker Shopper Sticker Books. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection


3429 Lee Rd, Shaker Heights, OH 44120


Richard Raponi, “Kingsbury Building,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 23, 2024,