The Campbell Block

Gone, but still remembered in the Old Angle

On September 19, 1975, the late George Condon, legendary Plain Dealer columnist and author of many books about Cleveland's history, wrote that the Campbell Block--condemned and slated for imminent demolition, was unworthy of historical recognition and should not be saved. "If there is anything historic about the Campbell Block it would have to be the historic drinking and arguing that took place in Green's Cafe at the street level, or in the furious thumping and rope-skipping that occurred in the Old Angle Gymnasium, on the High Level Bridge side of the building," he wrote. With all due respect to George Condon, the Campbell Block had a richer history than his column suggested.

The Campbell Block was for many years one of the most recognizable buildings in the Old Angle neighborhood on Cleveland's near west side. It was actually at one time two separate buildings located just east of Pearl (West 25th) Street, between Vermont and Viaduct Avenues. Both were built by Alexander Campbell and both came about as a result of the construction of the Superior Viaduct, Cleveland's first high level bridge, which opened to traffic in 1878. In the course of planning construction of the west side approach to the Viaduct, the City had purchased an eighty foot wide swath of land (part of the Alonzo Carter Allotment) located just east of the intersection of Pearl Street and Vermont Avenue. This purchase split a number of parcels of land and, among other things, created a triangular piece of land with frontage on Pearl Street, Vermont Avenue and the new Viaduct Avenue. During the period 1877-1882, Campbell, a Scottish immigrant who had settled in Cleveland in 1867 and had become a prominent paving contractor in the city, purchased all of the land interests which comprised the triangular area with the intent of constructing a commercial building and hotel on the land.

Campbell's first building--identified on early maps as "Campbell's Block" and located on the eastern part of the triangular piece of land, was a three-story, wood and brick building which fronted on Viaduct Avenue. It was completed in 1880. The upper two floors were devoted to apartment suites, while the first floor was divided into seven store fronts for retail merchants, among whom over the years were butchers, confectioners, cigar-makers, barbers, saloon keepers and others. One of those store fronts was home to the offices of the Cleveland Graphic, a weekly Democrat newspaper. And, in 1886, according to the Plain Dealer, this was where Charles Salen, co-owner of the Graphic and County Democrat party leader, organized Cleveland's first amateur baseball league, which played its games on the southeast side at Beyerle's Park (later called Forest City Park) for several years, before moving to Brookside Park on the west side.

The second Campbell Block building--which many Clevelanders still remember, was built in 1892, just to the west of the first building. It was a red brick five-story building that was originally planned as a hotel, but became instead an apartment building with retail store fronts on the first floor. This building had frontage on both Viaduct Avenue and Pearl Street. In 1897, the building received acclaim for its innovative fire escape system--called the "Burden" fire escape, which enabled fire fighters to extract people from a burning building using a wire basket hauled along rails attached to projections from the roof and exterior sides. This new fire escape had been promoted and installed on the building by Isaac Kidd, Alexander Campbell's son-in-law and the father of the future-famed World War II war hero, Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd. Like the first building, this building also had a variety of retail tenants on the first floor. In the post World War II era, the most famous of these in the neighborhood were J & L Seafoods, Green's Cafe, and the Old Angle Gym.

By the time World War II arrived, Alexander Campbell's heirs now owned and managed the two Campbell Block buildings. In 1948, the first building--said by one County official to be in "very poor shape," was torn down and in the same year the second was conveyed out of the family. Gradually, as the surviving building aged and deteriorated, it emptied of its apartment residents and became--from a revenue perspective, primarily a site for billboard signs. It's three locally famous first floor tenants--J & L Seafoods, Green's Cafe, and the Old Angle Gym, however, continued to operate their businesses there until the very the end. That end came in late December 1975 when a wrecking ball knocked down the building, demolishing the Block that the Superior Viaduct and Alexander Campbell had created almost 100 years earlier.

Images

The Campbell Block

The Campbell Block

A view of the Campbell Block from West 25th Street in circa 1964, about a decade before it was torn down. The five-story building was erected in 1892 by Alexander Campbell, a Scottish immigrant, important city paving and sewer contractor, and the grandfather of famed WWII hero Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd. On the first floor (left) is J & L Seafoods and (right) is Green's Cafe, both locally famous retail establishments in the Old Angle neighborhood in the post World War II era. To the left of the building is St. Malachi Catholic Church, and in the distant background is Cleveland's most famous landmark--the Terminal Tower. | Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photo Collection View File Details Page

The Superior Viaduct

The Superior Viaduct

Constructed during the period 1875-1878, it was the first high level bridge that connected Cleveland's east and west sides. In planning for the western approach to the bridge, the city purchased an eighty foot wide piece of land just east of the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Pearl (West 25th) Street, which left remnant parcels for commercial use, including a triangular-shaped one fronting on the north side of Viaduct Avenue. It was on this remnant piece of land that Scottish immigrant Alexander Campbell built the two Campbell Block buildings, the first in 1880 and the second in 1892. This 1876 sketch of the Viaduct is from near the intersection of West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue, facing east. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Alexander Campbell (1827-1911)

Alexander Campbell (1827-1911)

A Scottish immigrant, Campbell came to the United States in 1851, and eventually to Cleveland in 1867. He became a prominent street and sewer contractor, who was said to be the first contractor to pave the streets surrounding Public Square. He built the two Campbell Block buildings on Viaduct Avenue in 1880 and 1892. His grandson, Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, was one of Cleveland's most famous war heroes, going down with the USS Arizona, his flag ship, at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

The First Building

The First Building

This section of the 1881 Ohio Sanborn Map of Cleveland shows the configuration and Viaduct Avenue street addresses of the first Campbell Block building (circled in red) which was erected by Alexander Campbell in 1880. The three story wood and brick building was the site of a 1886 meeting which organized Cleveland's first amateur baseball league. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Where Cleveland Amateur Baseball Started

Where Cleveland Amateur Baseball Started

According to this article from the April 9, 1911 edition of the Plain Dealer, amateur baseball began in the Campbell Block, in the offices of the Cleveland Graphic, where a meeting was held by Charles Salen to organize a league. Initial games were played at Beyerle Park on the east side, but soon moved to Brookside Park on the west side, which became famous for the huge crowds it drew to baseball games played there in the early twentieth century. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

The Second Building

The Second Building

This section of the 1896 Ohio Sanborn Map shows both the first and second buildings of the Campbell Block (circled in red). The second building--which is on the left and identified on the map as the Campbell Block, was erected by Alexander Campbell in 1892. It later became home to several locally famous Old Angle neighborhood establishments, including J & L Seafoods, Green's Cafe, and to one of Cleveland most important boxing gyms in the post World War II era--the Old Angle Gym. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

A New Type of Fire Escape

A New Type of Fire Escape

On January 3, 1897, Cleveland firefighters rescued ten residents from the five-story Campbell Block building using the Burden fire escape system installed on the building. This was a mechanism which allowed fire fighters to rescue people from a burning building by hauling a wire basket along rails attached to projections from the roof and exterior sides of the building. The system had been promoted in Cleveland by Isaac Kidd, son-in-law of Alexander Campbell and inventor earlier of the quick drop harness for firehouse horses. Kidd was the father of World War II war hero, Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

The Two Campbell Block Buildings

The Two Campbell Block Buildings

Photos of the two Campbell Block buildings are hard to come by. In this 1916 photo, workers prepare a building on the southwest corner of Vermont Avenue and West 25th Street for demolition in connection with the widening of the West 25th entranceway onto Bulkley Boulevard (today, the West Shoreway). In the background, the two Campbell Block buildings--the one five-stories and the other three-stories, can be seen. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Suffering from Neglect

Suffering from Neglect

This 1974 photo of part of the south side of the Campbell Block shows the entrance to the historic Old Angle Gym. It also, however, shows the building in a severe state of disrepair. It was condemned and razed the following year. | Source: Gary Horvath View File Details Page

Not Historic According to Condon

Not Historic According to Condon

In this September 19, 1975 Plain Dealer article written just months before the last of the two Campbell Block buildings was razed, legendary columnist and local historian George Condon, in humorous fashion, questioned whether the Campbell Block was historic and whether, as apparently some in the Old Angle neighborhood thought, it should be saved. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

The End of the Campbell Block

The End of the Campbell Block

At one time, the two Campbell Block buildings almost entirely occupied the triangular piece of land east of West 25th Street and south of Vermont Avenue shown in this 1976 photo. The photo was taken just months after the last of the two buildings was razed in December 1975. The area is now a part of the parking lot for the County Engineer's office. To the right is St. Malachi Catholic Church. | Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jim Dubelko, “The Campbell Block,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 20, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/749.
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