Filed Under Businesses

Lorain-Fulton Square

Once the "Hub of the West Side"

Fulton Road is one of seven streets that were originally designed to radiate from Franklin Circle in accordance with the 1836 subdivision plat created by Ohio City pioneer real estate developers Josiah Barber and Richard Lord. Starting at the Circle, it runs for one-half mile in a southwesterly direction, intersecting several grid streets at sharp angles, before terminating--at least until 1905--at Lorain Avenue (then, Lorain Street). It is unknown whether Barber or Lord envisioned it, but the original terminus of Fulton Road was destined to become one of the most commercially important corners on the west side of Cleveland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Eighteen years after Barber and Lord recorded their 1836 subdivision plat, Ohio City was annexed to Cleveland, becoming that city's west side. At about the same time, German immigrants began arriving in Cleveland in large numbers and moving onto streets in the Barber and Lord and other residential subdivisions located on lands north and south of Lorain, and west of West 25th Street (then, Pearl Street). As the immigrant population swelled in these subdivisions, a neighborhood emerged and Lorain Street transformed into its commercial corridor. Retail merchants of German origin built and occupied store fronts along the street's north and south sides, and, before long, both sides of Lorain Street were lined with retail stores all the way to Cleveland's western corporation line which, in the post Civil War period, was just west of West 59th Street (then, Purdy Street).

A number of these early west side retail stores were built at or near corners of the intersection of Lorain with Fulton and nearby Willett Street, a north-south grid street which began on the south side of Lorain just across the street from Fulton Road's terminus. (In 1905, Willett Street would be renamed Fulton Road, creating the much longer version of the latter road that Clevelanders know today.) These two intersections (hereinafter, simply referred to as the Lorain-Fulton intersection) were from the start likely viewed by merchants as favorable places to conduct retail business. As noted above, the Lorain-Fulton intersection was just a half mile down Fulton from Franklin Circle, where the west side's elite were already beginning to build the mansions that would one day make Franklin Boulevard (then, "Franklin Street") the "West Side's Euclid Avenue." Moreover, the intersection was also just one-half mile down Lorain from the West Side Market, which had become, since it relocated to the northwest corner of Lorain and Pearl in 1859, a popular place where west siders gathered and shopped for their meat and produce.

The early retail merchants who located their businesses at or near the Lorain-Fulton intersection included grocers, butchers, shoe makers, saloon keepers, tobacconists, bakers, confectioners, milliners and tailors, to name just a few. A survey of period directories suggests that business failures among these merchants were frequent and it wasn't unusual for a merchant to sell one type of product one year and then an entirely different one the next. Two of the early merchants who located at or near the intersection, however, are noteworthy for establishing retail businesses that thrived for decades. One was Henry Leopold, a German immigrant from Hanover, who, in 1859, opened up a store near the southeast corner of the intersection where he initially manufactured and sold furniture and caskets. Eventually, his company would leave the casket business and devote its full attention to making and selling furniture. Leopold's store was a neighborhood fixture until the 1940s when it relocated to Cleveland's West Park neighborhood and, after that, to the suburb of Brecksville where it is still in business today. The other notable early merchant at this intersection was George Tinnerman, a German immigrant from Bavaria, who opened a hardware and stove store on the northeast corner in 1868. Tinnerman later developed a steel range stove which became so popular that, after operating his retail business at the Lorain-Fulton intersection for almost four decades, he finally closed it in 1915 to focus exclusively on manufacturing steel range stoves at a factory he built on Fulton Road just south of the Lorain-Fulton intersection.

In 1879, the businesses of Henry Leopold, George Tinnerman and the other merchants engaged in the retail sale of products or services at or near the Lorain-Fulton intersection were boosted when the West Side Street Railway (WSSR), then controlled by Marcus Hanna, bested Tom Johnson's Brooklyn Street Railway and secured a license from Cleveland City Council to build and operate a new branch of the WSSR streetcar system on tracks which soon ran south on Fulton from Franklin Circle to Lorain and then west on Lorain Chestnut Ridge (today, West 73rd) Street. Later, that new branch was additionally connected to the WSSR main line by a separate track which ran from the Lorain-Fulton intersection to Pearl Street. As more and more streetcar riders hopped on, got off or waited for a transfer at the Lorain-Fulton intersection, the businesses of nearby merchants grew as evidenced by the construction of many larger and more grand commercial buildings at or near the intersection in the decades that followed.

In the early twentieth century, another change came to the Lorain-Fulton intersection that reflected its continued vitality and key location on Cleveland's west side. Between 1903 and 1905, the Cleveland Public Library, armed with a promise of funding from Andrew Carnegie, conducted a search for a site for its new West Side branch library. A number of sites at or near prominent West Side intersections were considered, including one at the intersection of Lorain and West 25th near the West Side Market and another at the junction of Lorain and Clark Avenues. The Board, however, ultimately chose a site on Fulton Road less than a tenth of a mile north of the Lorain-Fulton intersection. The new Carnegie West branch library opened in 1910. It was then, and still is today, the largest of Cleveland Public Library's branch libraries.

In the same year that the new library opened, the City of Cleveland, spurred by the example of New York City, began naming a number of its more notable diagonal intersections "squares." (For example, the diagonal intersection of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland was named "Euclid Square" in1910. It was later renamed "Playhouse Square" in 1921 when theaters began to locate there.) While it is not known whether the City of Cleveland ever officially named it a square, the Lorain-Fulton intersection became popularly known on the West Side as "Lorain-Fulton Square" in this decade, likely as the result of a number of actions taken by merchants with stores located at or near the intersection. In 1914, a number of these merchants, including George Tinnerman and Henry Leopold's son August, formed the Lorain-Fulton Square Business Association to further their mutual business interests and promote the area as a great place for west siders, including those on west side street cars, to shop for all of their family and other needs. In 1915, the merchants sponsored a contest to create a slogan for their business area. The winning slogan was "The Hub of the West Side." The merchants later used that slogan repeatedly in "Opportunity Ads" that promoted their stores and advertised their "bargain" sales.

The 1920s opened with another sign of the continuing commercial vibrancy of the Lorain-Fulton intersection. On December 25,1921, John and Bertha Urbansky opened their beautiful new Lorain-Fulton Theater at 3321-3409 Lorain Avenue, adjacent to Leopold's four-story furniture store on the intersection's southeast corner. The theater seated 1,400 patrons; had a dance hall on the second floor; and had storefronts for retail businesses. In the years that followed, the intersection remained an active and busy commercial area, but as streetcars declined and automobile traffic increased, as upper- and middle-class residents (and the businesses that catered to them) moved to the suburbs, and as the city's deindustrialization began in the post World War II era, Lorain-Fulton Square began to lose many of its shoppers. By the 1950s, historic commercial buildings at or near the intersection were already beginning to show signs of deterioration and neglected maintenance. A number of them were torn down and replaced by parking lots, gas stations or fast-food restaurants which better served the needs of the more mobile--and more transient--population now frequenting Lorain-Fulton Square.

At least since 1993, when the Cleveland Landmarks Commission cataloged historic buildings on Lorain Avenue between West 32nd and West 58th Streets during the process that created the Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District, the City has been aware of the extent of the deterioration and loss of historic buildings at or near Lorain-Fulton Square. Before Landmarks Commission intern Don Petit walked up and down Lorain Avenue in that year, snapping photos of the historic buildings, many historic buildings were already lost--burned down, torn down or perhaps blown down in the 1953 Tornado. The photos he took were part of a City effort to save the remaining historic buildings. Many of the buildings that were still standing at or near the intersection of Lorain and Fulton when Petit walked the area in 1993, no longer are. Lorain Fulton Square has become a very different place than it was one hundred or even thirty years ago.

While other prominent West Side intersections such as Detroit Avenue -West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue -West 25th Street have for decades garnered attention from redevelopers resulting in the preservation of a number of historic buildings in those areas being saved, Lorain-Fulton Square has not. In 2022, however, there is reason for hope as Lorain Avenue west of West 25th Street is beginning to get redevelopment attention. While little of that attention has yet come to Lorain-Fulton Square itself, it seems inevitable that it soon will. It would be fitting to honor the rich commercial history of this historic intersection with redevelopment that recalls and reflects some of the height, massing and location of significant historic buildings. This would seem to be good for business branding. It would also instill some pride in new business owners operating there, as well as new residents choosing to live there, as they came to learn that Lorain-Fulton Square was at one time, and for good reason, known as the "Hub of the West Side."

Images

"Next Stop . . . Lorain-Fulton Square!" A street car traveling east on Lorain Avenue approaches the intersection of Fulton Road, once known on Cleveland's west side as Lorain-Fulton Square. This photo was taken in 1952. Source: Personal Collection of Jay Himes
Lorain-Fulton Square in 1912 The diagonal intersection of Fulton Road with Lorain Avenue became known in the second decade of the twentieth century as "Lorain-Fulton Square." It was one of the most commercially vibrant intersections of Cleveland's west side. This illustration of the intersection area is from Volume 2 of the 1912 Hopkins Plat Book of the City of Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Leopold's Furniture Store This circa 1860s photo shows a Civil War era building being moved west on Lorain Street past Henry Leopold's furniture store--the gabled building on the right--one of the pioneer retail businesses located on or near the intersection of Lorain and Fulton (then Willett) Road. As his business grew over the decades that followed, Henry and his family increased the size and number of their commercial buildings on and near the southeast corner of that intersection several times. In 1904, when the company erected a four-story building on the corner, the Plain Dealer reported that Leopold Furniture now had the largest furniture store in Cleveland. Source: Leopold's Furniture website
Tinnerman's Hardware and Stove Store The 1874 Cuyahoga County Atlas featured sketches of several commercial businesses located on or near the vibrant intersection of Lorain and Fulton on Cleveland's west side. The hardware and stove store of George Tinnerman was one of them. Tinnerman, a German immigrant like Henry Leopold, opened his business on the northeast corner of the intersection, across Lorain Street from Leopold's store, in the late 1860s. And, also like Henry Leopold, George Tinnerman's business grew over the decades and he built successively taller and larger commercial buildings on his corner of the intersection to accommodate that growth. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Steinmetz Livery and Stable Another early Lorain Avenue business that was featured in the 1874 Cuyahoga County Atlas was Andrew Steinmetz's Livery and Stable, located near the northwest corner of the intersection of Lorain and Fulton. Like Henry Leopold and George Tinnerman, Steinmetz was a German immigrant who opened his business near that intersection in the 1860s. Unlike the original commercial buildings erected by Leopold and Tinnerman, however, the Steinmetz building, erected in circa 1871, is still standing and is one of three buildings today (2022) occupied by Fridrich Bicycle Store, Cleveland's oldest retail bicycle store. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
A Larger and Grander Building for George Tinnerman. As a result of the growth of his business in the decades of the 1860s and 1870s, which perhaps was fueled by the construction of the Fulton Road branch of the West Side Street Railway (streetcar) in 1879, George Tinnerman razed his commercial building (featured in the 1874 Cuyahoga County Atlas) and erected in its place an elegant three-story commercial building that was designed by Cleveland architect Andrew Mitermiler. A decade later, he built on the north side of the building a substantial addition designed by the architectural firm of Sprackling and Matzinger. In 1915, after George Tinnerman closed his retail store on Lorain, the building was razed, and in its place, Lorain Street Savings Bank built the four-story Beaux-Arts style building which, as of 2022, still stands on northeast corner of the Lorain-Fulton intersection. Source: Tinnerman Lofts website
An early West Side Landmark is Lost. In 1903, Leopold's Furniture expanded its business footprint to the southeast corner of Lorain and Fulton (then Rhodes, and before that Willett), in the process razing an historic Greek Revival-style brick building that for many years had been the tailor shop and residence of Ernst Knippenberg, yet another merchant of Lorain Street who was a German immigrant. This photograph and article appeared in the October 3, 1903, edition of the Cleveland Leader. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
The Largest Furniture Store in Cleveland That was how the Plain Dealer described Henry Leopold's furniture store upon opening of the store's new four story addition on September 28, 1904. With its many large plate glass windows facing both Lorain and Fulton (then "Rhodes"), the new addition dramatically changed the entire look of the southeast corner of the Lorain-Fulton intersection. This photo appeared in the Plain Dealer on June 20, 1915. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
A Modern Bank Building on the Northeast Corner In 1919, the new Lorain Street Savings Bank building, four-stories tall and with a raised basement, opened on the northeast corner of Lorain and Fulton. It replaced the three-story building on that corner built for George Tinnerman's hardware and stove store. With the erection of this building on this corner, there were, as of that year, impressive four-story commercial buildings standing on both the northeast and southeast corners of Lorain and Fulton. The above sketch of the bank building was drawn by architect William J. Carter. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
A View West from Lorain-Fulton Square By 1914, the intersection of Lorain Avenue and Fulton Road was known as Lorain-Fulton Square. Earlier in the decade, Cleveland City Council had renamed a number of city diagonal intersections "squares," following a trend from New York City. It was during this era that the intersection of Euclid and Huron Avenues was named "Euclid Square," and then a decade later, when the theaters began to go up nearby, renamed "Play House Square." It is unknown whether Cleveland officially named this west side intersection "Lorain-Fulton Square," or whether it simply popularly became known by that name. Note the height and massing of commercial buildings on both sides of Lorain Avenue west of the intersection. Many of these buildings are no longer standing today. This photograph appeared in an ad placed by Lorain-Fulton Square businessmen in the Cleveland News edition of December 21, 1914. Source: Craig Bobby
The Lorain-Fulton Square Business Association. In 1915, businessmen with stores on or near the intersection of Lorain and Fulton formed a corporation to advance their mutual business interests in this area of the west side. The incorporators included representatives of families who operated businesses either on or near the intersection, including Henry Leopold's son Wilbert, and Charles Schott, the son of Emil Schott, a German immigrant who owned a hardware store on Lorain near the southwest corner of the intersection. The above article, which appeared in the Plain Dealer on February 24, 1914, notes that the association already had approximately 100 members, including two women, one of whom operated a millinery shop on the northwest corner of the intersection at 1994 Fulton. A number of the members of the new business association, like Wilbert Leopold, represented a second-generation of German-American merchants who were now principals in many of the commercial businesses located on or near Lorain-Fulton Square. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
Carnegie West Branch of Cleveland Pubic Library In addition to the larger and grander commercial buildings going up at the intersection of Lorain and Fulton in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, another sign of the importance of this intersection to Cleveland, and particularly to the city's west side, lay in the siting of the new Carnegie West Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, as well as a new city park called "Library Park," on a piece of land located on Fulton Road, less than a tenth of a mile from the intersection. Construction was completed and the new branch library opened in 1910. This postcard photo was taken in circa 1910. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection
Lorain Fulton Theater Another indication of the growing importance of Lorain-Fulton Square in Cleveland in the early twentieth century was the siting of a grand theater near the intersection in 1921. The new Lorain Fulton theater, designed by architect Henry Hradilek, not only had seating capacity for 1400 patrons, but also sported a dance hall on its second floor and store fronts on both sides of its building. In 1962, the large theater building, located adjacent to Leopold's furniture store, was torn down and replaced by a Pick-n-Pay grocery store. Source: City of Cleveland Architects Database
Decline on the Northwest Corner This 1954 photo of the northwest corner of the Lorain-Fulton intersection reveals early signs of deterioration in the businesses and buildings located there. The building on the far left at 3620-26 Lorain, designed in 1888 by the Cleveland architectural firm of Cramer and Fugman for merchant tailors Fred Walker and Henry Roegge, has a worn projecting sign, empty display windows and a torn awning. The building to the right of it at 1998 Fulton has severe damage to the cladding which had been added to its exterior facade. To the right of these two buildings is the Lorain Street Savings Bank building, the only one of the three buildings which is still standing today. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection
More Decline on the Northwest Corner. In 1993, Cleveland Planning Commission Intern Don Petit was tasked with the assignment of taking photographs of buildings on Lorain Avenue between West 32nd and West 58th Streets in connection with the City's National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) application to create a Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District within that section of Lorain Avenue. He arrived too late for the historic Walker and Roegge Building designed by Cramer and Fugman and the Michael Gerstacker Drugstore Building both of which appeared in an earlier photograph in this array. He was also too late for another building just to the west of the Walker and Roegge Building that was designed by Cramer and Fugman in 1888 for Joseph Machke, a grocer and real estate developer. All three of these nineteenth century buildings had been razed by the time Petit appeared on the scene. All that was left in the general vicinity was the two-story building shown in the foreground of this photo, which was likely erected in the 1920s. In 1993, it was home to Kuka's bar. Even that building has since been razed. Source: 1993 City NRHP application for the Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District
Decline on the Southwest Corner In 1886, a two and one-half story Queen Anne style commercial building with bay windows, designed by notable Cleveland architect Bernard F. Van DeVelde and built for German immigrant John G. Gerstacker, was erected on the southwest corner of the Lorain-Fulton intersection. This photo of the Gerstacker building taken in 1963, along with a review of other photos and maps, reveals, according to local architectural historian Craig Bobby, that the building subsequently underwent a major alteration--possibly as the result of damage suffered during a 1932 fire which destroyed the Leopold's furniture store on the southeast corner--with its original gabled roof, its top floor and most of its bay windows being removed during that process. In 1969, the altered Gerstacker building sustained more damage in another fire and, according to Cleveland building department records, was razed in 1970. Source: Cleveland Pubic Library, Photograph Collection
More Decline on the Southwest Corner. By the time Cleveland Planning Commission Intern Don Petit arrived at the southwest corner of Lorain and Fulton in 1993 to photograph historic buildings for the City's NRHP application to create the Lorain Avenue Commercial District, the Queen Anne style, two and one-half story Gerstacker Building, built on the southwest corner of the Lorain-Fulton intersection in 1886, had been razed. His camera instead caught the image of a one-story building on the corner built in the 1970s as a "Taco Luke" Mexican restaurant . By 1993, Taco Luke was long gone and the one-story building on the corner of Lorain and Fulton was now the sales office of a used car lot. It is fortunate that Petit snapped this photo when he did, because the life of that one-story building was even shorter than that of the Gerstacker building. Today, there is only a parking lot on that southwest corner of Lorain and Fulton. Source: 1993 City NRHP application for the Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District
Decline on the Southeast Corner Undoubtedly, Don Petit, the Cleveland Planning Commission intern, who photographed buildings on Lorain Avenue in 1993 for the City's NRHP application to create the Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District, would have loved to have photographed the gorgeous Lorain Fulton Theater building erected in 1921 and the imposing four-story Henry Leopold's Furniture Store building next door to it, erected on the southeast corner of Lorain and Fulton in 1904. But they were both long gone, the furniture store burning to the ground in 1932 and the theater building torn down by the wrecking ball in 1963 to make room for a Pick-n-Pay grocery store. So, when Petit arrived on the scene, he was greeted by, and photographed, a sprawling one-story Pick-n-Pay grocery store which had since become an "Antique Thrift Store" and an aging corner gas station which stood where Leopold's four-story furniture store once stood. Source: 1993 City NRHP application for Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District
The Unscathed Northeast Corner If you take a walk today west on the south side of Lorain Avenue toward Fulton Road, as I did in April 2022, and you see this beautiful four-story Beaux-Arts style building with raised basement on the northeast corner of Lorain and Fulton, you can't help but feel that it is entirely out of place at an intersection where the other corners are mostly vacant land, parking areas or gas stations. The Lorain Street Savings Bank Building should be gone, but fortunately it is not. It is one of only two nineteenth or early twentieth century commercial building still standing at the Lorain-Fulton intersection. Source: Jim Dubelko
The other survivor. The Italianate-style commercial building at 1998 Fulton, shown in this photo, is the only historic building left standing on the northwest corner of Lorain and Fulton. It was at one time the residence of the family of John G. and Katherine Gerstacker, German immigrants from Bavaria. Gerstacker operated a saloon in the store front of the building from the 1860s until he closed it sometime in the 1880s. The building has had a variety of uses since then. Like the Lorain Street Savings Bank Building across Fulton Road from it, the building at 1988 Fulton looks lost at an intersection which has lost so many of its historic commercial buildings. Source: Jim Dubelko
Catching a View of Three Historic Buildings. This 2022 photograph taken of the northwest corner of Lorain and Fulton, presents views of the Steinmetz Livery Building (circa 1871) , the Gerstacker Italianate Commercial Building (circa 1860s), and the Lorain Street Savings Bank Building (1919). All three are historic buildings and all are worth saving as they and the other remaining historic buildings in the Lorain Avenue Commercial Historic District face an uncertain future with redevelopment or new building construction proposals likely to be soon coming their way. Source: Jim Dubelko

Location

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Lorain-Fulton Square,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 29, 2023, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/966.