Shaker Village Historic District

Added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on May 31, 1984, the Shaker Village Historic District was created to recognize Shaker Heights' significance as a planned suburban community. The designation of Shaker Heights as a historic district helped to redefine the community's identity and reaffirm its intrinsic values. Roughly bounded by Fairmount and Lomond Boulevards, Green, Warrensville Center, Becket, and Coventry Roads, nearly 80 percent of Shaker is currently located within the district. While shaped to incorporate a handful of early Warrensville Township sites and structures, the historical significance of the area can be attributed to the Van Sweringen Co.'s success in creating a planned community that integrated architectural standards, landscaping, and public transportation. By developing an exclusive, highly regulated community, the real estate developers made good on their promise to those who invested in property - the enduring value of a home located within Shaker Village.

Dramatic changes to both cultural norms and the physical landscape characterized postwar American society. These changes challenged the foundation from which Shaker Heights grew to prominence as an elite community. Suburbanization and new routes of transportation redefined the role of both the suburb and the city. The diverse population of Cleveland increasingly began to settle away from the city's core. This postwar suburban growth encroached upon Shaker Heights' borders. Shaker Heights remained prosperous throughout this process, but the class and racial segregation that defined its early years became untenable in the context of the social upheaval of the 1960s. A shift in popular conceptions of class and race soon after visited the cosmopolitan community. While integration was initially met with strong resistance, Shaker Heights eventually earned its reputation as a bastion of progressive and socially liberal thinking. Within this new environment, the exclusivity that had both characterized Shaker Heights and helped reinforce its perceived value needed to be redefined.

The inclusion of Shaker Heights on the National Register reflected one strain of efforts to recreate a new community identity for the changing suburb. Since the 1960s, citizen groups had designated various historic landmarks throughout the suburb to affirm and preserve a unique Shaker Heights identity. Cemeteries, colonial homes, Shaker Square, and sites previously inhabited by the religious order of Shakers had become sites of public commemoration. These displays were a reflection of a larger movement in American society to use preservation as a tool of beautification, promote the development of an American identity, and help create order within the new urban landscape. An offshoot of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, the National Register of Historic Places aimed to identify and protect historic sites in the United States. The designation of a district regularly enhanced property values, and was meant to foster a sense of community that encouraged the preservation of housing stock. When sites such as Shaker Heights were designated historic districts, they received federal tax incentives that encouraged rehabilitation. At the time of its inclusion on the National Register, nearly 5,000 well-preserved residences, churches, schools community buildings, and commercial structures built in the style of early 20th century colonial and revival architecture were located within the historic district. The district was a means to redevelop a foundation from which the community could both reaffirm a sense of and physically maintain its exclusive character, thereby helping to ensure the value of the structures and their surrounds.

Images

Historic District, 1994

Historic District, 1994

The boundaries of the Shaker Heights Historic District encompass over 80% of the city. The nomination was submitted by Patricia Forgac as Heritage Director for the City of Shaker Heights. The Register is maintained by the National Park Service. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection View File Details Page

Boulevard to Shaker

Boulevard to Shaker

Prominent in the design of Shaker Village was the use of winding, landscaped boulevards. These boulevards not only led into and out of the village, but were used to create separate and unique neighborhoods. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection View File Details Page

Plymouth Church

Plymouth Church

The Van Sweringen brothers provided land for five churches in their plans for Shaker Village. Plymouth Church, constructed in a Georgian Colonial style, was opened for worship in 1923. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections View File Details Page

Shaker Country Estates Ad

Shaker Country Estates Ad

When considering the success and historical significance of Shaker Heights, the Van Sweringen railroad empire, the Terminal Tower and the Shaker Rapid, the reclusive Van Sweringen brothers will be remembered for the scope of their projects and the height of their achievements. Not all of the Van Sweringan's plans, however, came to fruition. Designs for the Shaker Country Estates were prepared in 1926 by the Van Sweringen brothers; the garden city was to extend development of Shaker Heights east. As with all of the Van's business ventures, the Great Depression brought plans for the residential district to a quick and decisive end. Image courtesy of Shaker Heights Public Library Local History Collection View File Details Page

Hathaway Brown

Hathaway Brown

The Van Sweringens' plans for Shaker Heights also took into consideration the importance of including schools in the development of their exclusive community. After completing a study of Shaker's educational requirements in the early 1920s, the Vans set aside land for the construction of eight schools. They also attempted to attract prominent private schools to relocate in Shaker. In 1927, the prestigious Hathaway Brown School for girls relocated from Cleveland to Shaker Heights. The land had previously been offered to Case School of Applied Science and Western Reserve University. Image courtesy of Shaker Historical Society View File Details Page

Aerial View of Shaker Square

Aerial View of Shaker Square

The Shaker Village Historic District abuts the Shaker Square Historic District on its western boundry. Originally a traffic circle, Shaker Square was conceived by the Van Sweringens to be the gateway to their residential suburb. Plans for the circle date to 1923, with architect Alfred Harris' design for a series of apartments, stores, and a theater. When Harris' employer, Josiah Kirby, went bankrupt in 1924, the Van Sweringen Co. hired noted architects Philip Small and Charles Rowley to complete work on the apartments and develop a new design for the commercial district. Work on Shaker Square was completed in 1929, making it the second oldest suburban shopping center in America. Image courtesy of Shaker Historical Society View File Details Page

Home of Moses Warren

Home of Moses Warren

The historic district not only encompasses the Van Sweringen planned community, but also includes historic century homes. The residence at 3535 Ingleside Road, built by Moses Warren in 1817, is the oldest existing frame house in Cuyahoga County. Image courtesy of Shaker Historical Society View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Richard Raponi, “Shaker Village Historic District,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 27, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/384.
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