The Group Plan of 1903 was an ambitious city-planning scheme that—as much as any single initiative—shaped downtown Cleveland. The Plan’s six public buildings are the Federal Building (1910, now the Howard Metzenbaum US Courthouse), the Cuyahoga County Courthouse (1911), City Hall (1916), Public Auditorium (1922), the Cleveland Public Library (1926) and the Board of Education Building (1930). A seventh Group Plan structure—the Cuyahoga County Administration Building (1957)—was demolished in 2014 to make way for a Hilton Hotel.

All six structures are loosely clustered around the key Group Plan Component, the Mall, a long three-segment public park northeast of Public Square. The buildings are of uniform height and style, representing the Roman classicism of the Beaux-Arts school of architecture. The strategy was to create an official gateway, an iconic corridor, leading from a new railroad depot on the lakefront to Public Square. However, the rail station idea was scrapped when the Union Terminal opened in 1930 and the city's focus shifted back from the Mall to its traditional center on Public Square.

Responding to proposals made by the American Institute of Architects and the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, the City of Cleveland formed the Group Plan Commission in 1902. Three architects—Arnold W. Brunner, John M. Carrére and Daniel Burnham—served on the commission, which presented its recommendations to Mayor Tom L. Johnson in 1903. The resulting Group Plan was heavily influenced by several sources: One was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Another was the Washington D.C. Mall then under construction. A third was the City Beautiful movement: a response to concerns that the attractiveness and dignity of American cities were being compromised by poverty, over-population and the perceived deleterious effects of immigration. It was believed that “beautification”—personified by ample park space and grand, dignified buildings—would instill civic and moral virtue in city residents and revitalize urban areas that were increasingly perceived by the wealthy as undesirable places to live and work.

Today, the combination of Group Plan buildings and a recently uplifted Mall remain nothing less than “beautiful”—a testament to smart planning and placement, and the enduring aesthetic appeal of classical architecture. The Mall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Video

Envisioning a new Downtown
Chris Ronayne, President of University Circle Inc., describes how the implementation of the Group Plan represented a new stage in Cleveland's development.
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