Filed Under Industry

Nela Park

"A University of Light"

The National Electric Lamp Association (NELA) formed in 1901 under Franklin Terry and Burton Tremaine. Much of NELA's light-bulb innovation stemmed from, and competed with, both Charles F. Brush's arc light technology, and Thomas Edison's incandescent lamp technology. GE became a major stockholder in NELA as soon as 1902, and provided the former facilities of the Brush Electric Co. as a new home for NELA. GE's stake in the company become so substantial, 75%, federal courts ordered GE to dissolve the company in 1911. GE quickly absorbed NELA and successively gained ownership of NELA's new industrial complex in the suburbs, Nela Park.

The location for Nela Park was known as Panorama Heights, a place where German immigrants held vineyards prior to the parks development. Nela Park was designed by New York landscape architect Frank E. Wallis in a Georgian style. The finished product was the first ever industrial park, costing roughly $400,000 in 1913. The actual move from the old Brush Electric Co. factory on East 45th Street to Nela Park on Noble Road took nineteen hours to complete on April 18, 1913.

The "park" was developed with the acquisition of 44 land parcels between 1911 and 1925 with a few more in the 1930s and ’50s, totaling 71 acres that spread between Noble and Belvoir Roads in East Cleveland and reach into Cleveland Heights to the east for a few blocks, Construction of eleven buildings by 1915 provided facilities for engineering, manufacturing, administration, maintenance, utilities, operations, and lamp laboratories. Eight more facilities were added by 1930, and four more in the 1950s brought Nela’s campus to its present status as a comprehensive lighting development center. Throughout this period, the Nela “camp” was developed on the campus grounds to house recreational, assembly, event, and dining facilities.

The business park also contained several features to appease employees including a decent cafeteria, general library, a dispensary that provided dental, nursing, and medical care, a barber shop, transportation office, ample garage parking, and a local bank branch. Nela Park also provided a range of recreational facilities such as tennis courts, baseball fields, an in-ground swimming pool, bowling alleys, and even an auditorium. Due to its reputation as a leading innovator in electrical lighting research and development, and university campus environment, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that Nela Park developed a reputation as a "University of Light."

Recently, a centenarian time capsule was unearthed. Originally sealed and buried on March 25, 1912 in front of a crowd of high-ranking employees, the capsule was concealed within a cornerstone of Marketing Building #307 for 100 years to the day before its exhumation in 2012. The capsule contained a newspaper, photos, and most notably several incandescent light bulbs, which in 1912 were a state of the art development. To the delight of the hundreds of current and former employees who witnessed the opening of the time capsule, one of the bulbs was placed on display and successfully produced light despite being stowed away for an entire century. The President and CEO of GE Lighting took the opportunity to point out how appropriate it was that such a lamp still functioned, citing that GE's Nela Park was responsible for the development of quality, energy-efficient lighting products that benefited countless individuals and organizations. Another time capsule was ceremonially buried in 2013 at Nela Park. Among its contents was a GE Energy Smart 60-watt replacement LED bulb with a 22-year service life when operated three hours a day.

By the latter half of the 2010s, General Electric Corporation was undergoing reorganization of its business model and priorities to include the divestiture of the lighting business. In 2020, Savant Systems Inc., of Massachusetts, acquired GE Lighting from General Electric, preserving its name and keeping maintaining its century-long lighting operations intact. Two years later, GE Lighting sold Nela Park to Milwaukee-based Phoenix Investors, with plans to consolidate its operations in one building and attract other tenants to the remainder of the Georgian-style campus.

Audio

Building Nela Park Richard Austin recounts the importance of Nela Park and the electric lamp to the Austin Company's success Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"I'm a GE Baby" Barbara Wherley, whose father was an accountant for the GE Lighting Division, relates her memories of spending summer days playing and swimming in Nela Park. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Christmas Lights Barbara Wherley remembers when one could drive through the grounds of Nela Park and see dazzling holiday light displays before security concerns limited the shows to the Noble Road perimeter of the facility. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Construction Begins on Nela Park, 1913 Horse-drawn wagons and a steam shovel assist in work on what would soon become one of East Cleveland's leading employers. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Cornerstone Ceremony, 1913 Dignitaries gather for the dedication of Nela Park. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Turning the Corner Nela Park may be seen in the distance from the corner of Euclid Avenue and Noble Road in East Cleveland. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Nela Park, 1963 Nela Park's well-planned campus in East Cleveland is often cited as the world's first office park. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
GE Lighting Institute, 1975 The General Electric Lighting & Electrical Institute was founded in 1933 to further education and training in those fields. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Fluorescent Lamps, 1940 Six years after its first successful test of fluorescent lighting, Nela Park was beginning to produce the lamps in growing quantities, a trend that would accelerate during World War II. In this photo, women test newly manufactured bulbs. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Many-eyed Vehicle, 1951 Val J. Roper (left) and George E. Meese (right) inspect this novel automotive use of GE headlamp prototypes on a 1951 Lincoln to conduct road tests under a range of conditions. Direct field tests were the final step in testing products developed in a lab on the NELA campus. Meese worked at NELA Park from 1930 to 1971 and often drove test cars such as this one to show to Detroit carmakers or state regulatory agencies. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Sealed Beam lamp promotion George E. Meese and two models (names unknown) promote new Sealed Beam lamps at Nela Park's Lighting Institute. Val Roper and his team of engineers invented the 7" Sealed Beam headlight system in 1936-37. The innovation probably saved many lives by protecting against nighttime auto accidents. Meese, who was on Roper's team in the 1930s, also headed the team that developed SniperScope, the first operational night vision system, which was deployed for the first time in 1945 in the Pacific theater of World War II. Meese also went on to invent the four-headlamp high/low 5-3/4" headlight system in 1958, setting the new industry standard for headlights that reduced glare during normal operation. Source: George P. E. Meese, Ph.D. Creator: Parade Studios, Inc., 1375 Euclid Ave., Cleveland 15 Ohio Date: ca. 1948-54
Laboratory at GE Lighting, 1963 This interior shot shows technicians testing lighting products. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
GE Lighting Institute, 1963 This interior view overlooks the pool at Nela Park. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
75,000-Watt Light Bulb, 1966 Produced in 1954 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Edison lamp, GE's 75,000-watt bulb was the world's largest. Equivalent to the light produced by 2,874 60-watt bulbs, this innovation was the antithesis of today's trend toward energy-saving bulbs. Today the bulb is on display at Edison's winter home and laboratory in Fort Myers, Florida. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Holiday Light Display, 1928 Nela Park has been known for its holiday light displays for many years. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

1901 Noble Rd, East Cleveland, OH 44112 | Nela Park is not open to the public. Its annual holiday light display may be viewed from the sidewalk on Noble Rd.

Metadata

Matt Sisson, “Nela Park,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 18, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/78.