On Whiskey Island, moored on Lake Erie behind a wide copse of bushes, is a giant cruise ship. Or perhaps it’s just an oddly shaped cement building with an extremely nautical visage? The second choice, not surprisingly, is correct. After all, how many cruise ships dock in Cleveland?
The United States Coast Guard Station, located on the west pier at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, is one of only two commercial “Streamline Moderne” structures ever built in Cleveland. The other is the Greyhound Bus Terminal on Chester Avenue at East 13th Street. Actually a complex of buildings (an operations center, boathouse, garage and 60-foot observation tower), the Coast Guard Station was designed by local architect J. Milton Dyer, who also created Cleveland’s City Hall. With horizontal lines and gentle curves, the Station really (and intentionally) resembles a boat—wholly appropriate for a structure whose mission was to organize search & rescue operations, bring food and supplies to isolated communities, and eliminate navigation hazards.
The US Life Saving Service (absorbed in 1915 into the newly formed US Coast Guard) built its first structures on the Whiskey Island site in 1876. Those facilities were replaced by the current Station in 1940, built at a cost of $350,000. The Station remained in use until 1976 when the Coast Guard relocated its Cleveland operations to the East 9th Street pier. The Whiskey Island complex then was occupied (but minimally used) by the water-quality-control laboratories of the Cleveland Division of Water until 1984. Since that time it has stood abandoned, save for brief period in the 1990s when it operated as a night club.
Under the aegis of the Cleveland Metroparks, the Coast Guard Station is slowly being restored. The Foundry, Cleveland’s community rowing and sailing center, has installed new boat docks and periodically hosts regattas and high school and collegiate sailing team practices. And once a year, the Station is pressed into service for the annual Burning River Fest, a panoply of beer, food and entertainment. In 2013, the US Coast Guard Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places—further proof that it is not, in fact, a cruise ship.