The Halle Building
Alfred Pope's Terra-Cotta Showcase for Downtown Shopping
In 1907 a New York industrialist acquired a rooming house on the south side of Euclid Avenue with rear frontage on Huron Road. At the time, downtown scarcely reached east of East Ninth Street, and this section of Millionaires' Row remained largely residential. Undeterred, the man imagined a tall building that might draw entice downtown development eastward. Appropriately enough, he selected an architect who was no stranger to big plans.
Alfred Atmore Pope had left his Millionaires' Row mansion in Cleveland in 1901 and moved to New York, but he remained keenly interested in the Forest City. After all, his parents had moved there from Maine on the eve of the Civil War, and it was there that he had struck out on his own as a young man, leaving his father's wool business to invest in the burgeoning iron industry. In only a decade he had risen to the helm of Cleveland Malleable Castings Company. Now he wanted to build a monument to his success. Even the Panic of 1907 did not deter Pope, who doubled down on his commitment, which he now also billed as a show of faith in Cleveland's future during an uncertain time.
Pope's "monument" would take the form of a skyscraper that he undertook on speculation. He turned to Henry Bacon to design this tribute to himself. The New York architect had prepared initial drawings for the Lincoln Memorial about a decade earlier, but the project's implementation still awaited congressional approval. Unlike in Washington, in Cleveland, backed by a "millionaire rolling mill master" on a mission, Bacon knew he wouldn't have to wait long to see the fruits of his labor.
Pope's monument began with a 42-foot-deep hole in the ground because he believed Euclid Avenue would eventually have a subway, and he wanted to have an underground entrance when that day came. To hold back the "quicksand" that reflected the site's nearness to Lake Erie, Pope's construction crews had to build a cofferdam and then pour thick reinforced concrete walls to keep the basement and subbasement dry. Above, they quickly assembled the building's steel superstructure and clad it with elaborately ornamented, white-glazed terra-cotta tile and enamel brick that would enable periodically washing off Cleveland's industrial soot.
Originally intending his monument to have two floors of retail space with eight floors of office space above, Pope instead found a single tenant to lease the entire $1 million Pope Building, a lessee that had a grand vision of its own that even a financial depression couldn't subdue. Who would make such a bold move during an economic depression and in a space so far east of Cleveland's business core? Samuel and Salmon Halle. The Halle Bros. Co. had started when its namesakes bought out a small furrier on Superior Avenue just west of Public Square in 1891. The Halles joined the shift of retailers eastward across Public Square to a Euclid Avenue storefront near the Arcade the next year, but with a growing mail-order and home-delivery business in addition to expanding into a full department store, they soon outgrew this space too.
With the lease of the 140,000-square-foot Pope Building, the Halles now had three times the space of their former location. Their move also influenced two other large stores to move eastward to upper Euclid Avenue. Within a year of Halle Bros.'s announcement, the Higbee Co. and Sterling & Welch Co. announced their own new stores on the sites of former Millionaires' Row homes across from the Pope Building. The Halle store's continued expansion led to the purchase of the building and plans to expand onto the adjacent lot following Pope's death in 1913. The Halles commissioned Bacon again, and he designed a mirror-image addition. Close observers will note the vertical seam that marks where the newer building rose alongside the original one.
Halle's continued to grow in the 1920s, adding an identically styled terra-cotta clad Huron-Prospect Building (designed by Walker & Weeks) to the south of the main store that housed the Men's Store for the next three decades. Near the end of the '20s it also opened branches in Erie and New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Canton, Ohio. After weathering the Depression and War years, Halle's continued to grow, investing in its first suburban branch (at Shaker Square) and undertaking a modernization program that included the addition of escalators.
Downtown's fortunes began to turn in the second half of the 1950s, forcing Halle's to continue its aggressive planning to maintain its enormous downtown store's profitability. Walter M. Halle, Samuel Halle's son and by then the store's president, grew concerned about the impact of the CTS rapid transit line, which opened in 1954-55 and served downtown with a single station beneath the Terminal Tower (which incidentally benefitted Higbee's after its move to Public Square in 1930). Halle Bros. added its own free bus service from the Terminal on Public Square in 1956 and converted its Huron-Prospect annex into a parking garage in 1957, all while actively lobbying for a downtown subway to carry suburban shoppers closer to its store, but this hope died after the plan was twice defeated.
Nevertheless, through ongoing effort, Halle's continued to hold its own into the late 1960s. In fact, for many Clevelanders born after midcentury, the 1950s and 1960s shaped their relationship with Halle's. The store introduced Mr. Jingeling, said to be Santa's keeper of the keys, as a popular Christmastime character who joined other child-friendly features such as the toy department, playground, and miniature golf course. Still, by the latter half of the 1960s, the convenience of suburban malls and inconvenience or even trepidation about trekking downtown led Halle's to press for new downtown apartments to create a captive market.
Although the Chesterfield Apartments opened in 1967 and Park Centre (Reserve Square) in 1969, the future of Halle's seemed shaky. Sterling Lindner, the successor to Sterling & Welch, closed in 1968 and the Allen, Ohio, State, and Palace Theaters fell dark the next year. In the decade after Chicago-based Marshall Field's scooped up Halle's in 1970, it made changes that irked some longtime tradition-minded customers—dropping the signature Halle Bros. logo in Old English font with a script font Halle's matching that of the Chicago store; ending the Mr. Jingeling tradition; and introducing cheaper lines of merchandise.
Ultimately, Field's dumped Halle's in 1981, and the store closed permanently the following year. Just as suddenly as Samuel and Salmon Halle had justified Alfred Pope's big gamble at a time when downtown had not yet "arrived," the building emptied. In the decades that followed, the Halle Building became what Pope had originally envisioned—an office building with a few small retailers (a food court and sundry services for office workers). It lived on as a department store only in public memory and, for a decade in the 1990s-2000s, as the fictional Winfred-Louder on ABC's The Drew Carey Show. Today it is an apartment building.