Filed Under Architecture

CSU Student Center

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.

Audio

From Concrete Slab to Contemplative Place Former CSU President Michael Schwartz characterizes the old plaza adjacent to the student center as looking like a "prison exercise yard" and explains how it was transformed into a beautiful collegiate quad. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

The New CSU Student Center A view of the Student Center from across Euclid Avenue. The Student Center is located on the northwest corner of East 22nd Street and Euclid Avenue. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Old Perry-Payne Homestead Cleveland State University's new Student Center sits on land which was once the Perry-Payne Homestead (outlined above in red) on Cleveland's Millionaire's Row. In the second half of the nineteenth century two mansions sat on the homestead. One (on the right) was owned by Nathan Perry, a wealthy Cleveland businessman and the other (on the left) by Henry B. Payne, who married Perry's daughter Mary. Payne was Ohio's first U.S. Senator from Cleveland. The Student Center sits very close to where Henry Payne's mansion sat 100 years ago. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
The Nathan Perry Mansion The sketch of the Nathan Perry Mansion appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on March 13, 1895, in an article on the life of Mary Perry Payne. The mansion sat across Euclid Avenue from Trinity Cathedral on an portion of the Perry-Payne homestead which is today, in large part, East 22nd Street from Euclid Avenue to Chester Avenue. Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 13, 1895
Henry B. Payne (1810-1896) Henry B. Payne was Ohio's first United States Senator elected from Cleveland. His mansion on Euclid Avenue was located on property deeded to his wife Mary by his father-in-law, Nathan Perry. Payne was also a grandfather of Frances Payne Bolton, Ohio's first congresswoman, and a great-grandfather of Oliver Bolton, Frances' son and also at one time a member of Congress.
University Center, 1975 Although Don Hisaka's 1971 design gained accolades in architectural reviews around the world, the building was demolished in the summer of 2008. The university cited several reasons for the change, including the high expense of maintenance and renovation, and a desire for a more welcoming entrance to the campus from Euclid Avenue. A new student center opened in 2010. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Demolition This photo show the rubble of the buildings on the northwest corner of East 22nd Street and Euclid Avenue that were demolished to make room for the new Cleveland State University Student Center. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Student Center from the Air This aerial view of the new Cleveland State University Center shows its location on the northwest corner of East 22nd Street and Euclid Avenue. The Center sits on land that was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the site of the Henry B. Payne mansion. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Interior of Student Center This view of the interior of the new Cleveland State University Center features the coffee shop located on the first floor of the building near the Euclid Avenue entrance. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Another View from Above This view of the interior of the Student Center was taken from the second floor and shows the main lobby of the Center soon after the facility opened. The extreme minimalism prompted the university to add large, colorful banners and encourage student organizations to hang their own banners and signs. Very seldom would one find the building so empty. Indeed, it has become a hive of activity day and night. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

2121 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44115

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “CSU Student Center,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 5, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/527.