Downtown Architecture

As a Great Lakes legacy city, Cleveland still has a trove of impressive architecture in its downtown district. Like other cities, it has lost some architectural gems along the way, but this two-mile, self-guided walking tour loop curates surviving examples from every phase of downtown's evolution, including a 19th-commercial block, neoclassical public buildings, formative Chicago-style skyscrapers, splendid hotels, department stores, and arcades, and modernist and postmodern towers. This tour begins with the city's first skyscraper, the John Wellborn Root–designed Society for Savings Building (1890), loops around Public Square, east along the south side of Euclid Avenue out to Playhouse Square, returns west down Euclid's north side, turns north on E. 6th, west on Superior Avenue, and around the Key Center block on the north side of Public Square to its point of origin, where the Key Tower (1991), the city's tallest skyscraper, stands alongside the first skyscraper. In a couple of instances, "stops" on the tour are slightly off the route but visible from it.


Along the way, be sure not to miss some of downtown's grand interior spaces. You'll find a coffered stained-glass ceiling and fanciful murals in the old banking hall of the Society for Savings, a colorful barrel-vaulted entry hall to Terminal Tower, the duo of beautiful interior passages at the 5th Street Arcades, a soaring 60-foot-high Tiffany-style stained-glass dome and murals painted by an artist who died aboard the Titanic in the old Cleveland Trust rotunda (now Heinen's supermarket), a semicircular lobby with a bust of Marcus Hanna inside the Hanna Building, WPA murals in Cleveland Public Library, and—arguably the city's crown jewel—the Arcade.

On February 15, 1861, the streets surrounding the Weddell House, as well as the windows, porches and even rooftops that looked upon the hotel, were dense with faces eager to see the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln. Once inside his overnight lodgings on the corner of Superior Avenue and…
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Shaped like an "E" opening onto Superior Avenue, the 1,000-room Hotel Cleveland was built in 1918 by the Van Sweringen brothers on the corner of Superior and Public Square. The hotel was built long before the construction of the adjacent Cleveland Union Terminal (dedicated in 1930). The site where…
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Although today the first sign of downtown that a motorist is sure to spot from any direction is the Key Tower, prior to its completion in the early 1990s the first sight was the Terminal Tower. Despite its eclipse by a later, taller skyscraper, the 52-story, 708-foot-tall Terminal Tower was an…
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One of Cleveland’s first skyscrapers goes frequently unseen amidst the hustle and bustle of Public Square. But ask any long-term resident to conjure up an olfactory memory, and all of a sudden the place becomes crystal clear.
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The new May Company department store opened on Public Square in 1915. Containing over 800,000 square feet of floor space, it was said to be the third largest store in the nation. Built by world-famous architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (who also designed Cleveland's Group Plan and…
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Most people know about "The Arcade" in Cleveland. Some might be surprised, however, to find out that Downtown actually had three more of these incredible structures running parallel to each other between Euclid and Prospect Avenues. Two of them, the Colonial (1898) and Euclid (1911) Arcades, stood…
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The history of the Taylor Building highlights the rise and fall of Cleveland's downtown department stores as well as the recent revitalization of Euclid Avenue. It was part of the wave of department store closings that signaled the beginning of downtown's economic woes. The Taylor…
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The southeast anchor of Cleveland’s most prominent downtown intersection is a work of art that—in the true spirit of capitalism—began with a competition. In 1903, the Cleveland Trust Company (established in 1894 with $500,000 in capital) merged with the Western Reserve Trust Company. The combined…
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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…
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The Hanna Building was named after the famous U.S. senator from Ohio and oil and coal baron Marcus Alonzo Hanna and built by his son Daniel Rhodes Hanna. Hanna is perhaps best known for having endorsed William McKinley for president in 1896, spending $100,000 of his personal funds to support…
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Ellsworth Milton Statler was able to create a masterfully luxurious hotel in downtown Cleveland. Thanks to his fine attention to detail, creative touch, and modern amenities for the time period, the Statler exuded a magnificent stature.
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In the late nineteenth century, downtowns in the United States were the center of major commercial expansion and industrial growth. The construction of skyscrapers and tall business buildings was exploding and replacing old structures located in central cities. The New England Building is an…
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Spanning more than 200 feet along Superior Avenue and East 6th Street, the thirteen-story Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland sits comfortably among neighboring Group Plan structures in the city's Civic Center district. The building is a reminder of an era of unprecedented urban growth in…
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The Cleveland Public Library comprises one of the largest collections in the United States: nearly ten million items. The Library’s two buildings on Superior Avenue (the main structure, 1925) and the Stokes Wing (1997) command an entire city block between East 3rd and East 6th Streets. The…
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Cleveland’s 1903 Group Plan was a grand undertaking: one of the era’s most ambitious and successful attempts to turn what civic leaders saw as an irredeemable slum into a “City Beautiful,” replete with dignified new structures and striking public spaces. In 1910, the Group Plan’s first building…
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In the summer of 1886, former councilman and real estate broker James M. Curtiss met with acting Cleveland Parks superintendent and Case School of Applied Sciences professor John Eisenmann to express enthusiasm about a novel form of enclosed street called an arcade. After having visited an arcade…
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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers had never before had a leader quite like Warren Sanford Stone. In 1910, with Stone at the helm as their Grand Chief, the Brotherhood built the 14-story Engineers Building on the southeast corner of Ontario Street and St. Clair Avenue in downtown Cleveland. It was the first skyscraper in the country built by a union. That might have been achievement enough…
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When Plain Dealer architecture writer Wilma Salisbury interviewed Cesar Pelli about his plan for Cleveland's newest and tallest skyscraper in 1988, he cited not only the geometrical Art Deco designs of 1920s-30s New York but even the ancient Egyptian obelisk, biblical Tower of Babel, and Renaissance Italian campanile as inspirations. Indeed, the new tower needed to be inspiring because it was…
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