The Cleveland State University Student Center is located on land that was in the nineteenth century the site of the Perry-Payne homestead. The property consisted of two mansions. One directly across the street from Trinity Cathedral was owned by Nathan Perry. The other immediately to the west was owned by Henry B. Payne, the first U.S. Senator from Cleveland.
Cleveland State University has had two student centers since it opened in 1966. The first student center, known simply as University Center or "UC," opened in 1974. Designed by the noted Cleveland modernist architect Don Hisaka, the building was an L-shaped concrete structure embracing a tall glass atrium whose noisiness led students to nickname it the Birdcage.
But it was another feature of the UC that proved to be its undoing: its fortress-like concrete wall overlooking Euclid Avenue. In the wake of the tumultuous late Sixties, with its antiwar protests and urban riots, it is hardly surprising that Cleveland State, like many other universities, opted to build bunker-like campus buildings atop solid concrete platforms. In facing inward on the central plaza and turning its back to Euclid Avenue, the UC symbolized the worries of its time.
The passage of three decades created a fresh approach to the campus. The University spoke of the city as its campus and began to undo the insularity of its 1970s campus by envisioning new or renovated buildings that would turn welcoming, glassy faces toward the street. To that end, the renowned firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects LLC of New York designed CSU's curvy new Student Center, which opened in 2010. The same firm planned major projects for many American universities, including Cincinnati, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, and Yale; oversaw the renovation of the Guggenheim Museum; and even built Hollywood icon Stephen Spielberg's home in East Hampton, New York.
For CSU's Student Center, Gwathmey Siegel arrayed the bookstore, dining, lounge, computer access, and conference spaces around a bright, airy, three-story atrium. The one nod to the past in this otherwise futuristic building is its inclusion of two 1930s murals created for the Valleyview Homes in Tremont by Federal Art Project artists during the Great Depression and saved by the late CSU art professor Walter Leedy when the housing project was facing demolition. From top to bottom, the forward-looking Student Center is now the center of life on the Cleveland State University campus.