Friday 13 September 2013

Cleveland: The Mistake on the Lake vs Best Location in the Nation

Cleveland, Ohio seems to suffer from the same identity crisis as my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.  Both cities sit on a Great Lake.  Both cities came into being in the 1800's.  Both cities have a highly industrial background.  Both cities had a connection to the Mob.  And yet both cities can boast a lot of important firsts.  Both cities have produced a lot of successful citizens.  Both cities have had successful football clubs and renowned orchestras. I'm sure most Clevelanders are proud of their roots just as I am proud to be a Hamiltonian.

General Moses Cleaveland courtesy 

General Moses Cleaveland arrived at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in 1796 to survey the area for the Connecticut Land Company.  After setting up a new community at the base of the river named Cleaveland, its founder returned to Connecticut to pursue other affairs.  The village of Cleaveland was incorporated in 1814, the last year of the War of 1812.  An early city newspaper, The Cleveland Advertiser, shortened the spelling of the city's name in 1831 since it would not fit on its masthead.

Like the city of Buffalo, Cleveland benefitted greatly from the opening of the Ohio & Erie Canal in the 1820's and 1830's, providing a route for goods to be transported down the Ohio River to the Great Lakes.

Ohio River courtesy 

But an even bigger catalyst for growth in Cleveland was the Civil War.  Clevelanders were responsible for building railroad iron and gun-carriage axles for the war industry.  Forty-four percent of the naval aircraft for the Civil War were assembled in Cleveland by the war's end.  A city which had contained only 45,000 in 1860 had more than doubled to 92, 829 by 1870.  When veterans returned to Cleveland, they were treated to a breakfast and a parade.  Those who had passed away were given a dignified burial in Woodland Cemetery.

Cleveland's Civil War veterans honoured courtesy 

During the early 1900's, Cleveland continued to grow.  The First World War saw the enlistment of more men from the city on the lake.  The city also saw the development of culture with the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra in 1918.\

The Twenties saw prosperity rein in Cleveland.  Mansions sprang up on Millionaire's Row.  The arrival of steam cars built by White & Geeth and the electric car built by Bake excited motorists.  In fact, Cleveland had been the site of the first automobile sale back in 1898.  Cleveland could boast many firsts:  the first free home mail delivery (1863), the first electric lighting of public streets (1879), the first indoor shopping centre (1890) and the first X-ray (1896).

Mansion on Millionaire's Row courtesy 

The Electric Illuminating Company which set up shop called Cleveland "the best location in the nation".  The Terminal Tower, built in 1927, was the highest building in the world outside New York City for forty years.

The Terminal Tour courtesy

Migrants from New Orleans brought the new music called Jazz.  They would be joined by European immigrants including Henry Mancini, the composer who wrote the scores for the Pink Panther movies.

The Thirties brought the Great Depression and Prohibition.  Bootleggers proliferated, many members of Little Italy's Mayfield Road Mob.  Crime rose 38%.  With an incompetent mayor and a corrupt police department, Cleveland citizens suffered.  The infamous Eliot Ness was hired as the city's Safety Director.  He immediate fired the crooked cops and repalced them with talented rookies and unrecognized veterans.  The police raided gambling joints like the Blackhawk Inn and the Harvard Club.  Thanks to Mr. Ness, Cleveland crime rates plummeted.

Eliot Ness courtesy 

Like Buffalo, Cleveland hosted an exposition called the Great Lake Expo in 1936 and 1937, receiving an astounding 11 million visitors.

Great Lakes Exposition circa 1936 courtesy

By 1950, Cleveland's population peaked at almost 1 million residents.  Using the slogan of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, city officials called it "the best location in the nation".  The Cleveland Browns dominated the NFL from 1950 to 1956.  Cleveland was no stranger to excellent athletes:  one of its native residents was Olympic runner Jesse Owens.

Paul Brown, head coach and namesake of the Cleveland Browns, courtesy 

A Cleveland radio disc jockey, Alan Freed, coined a new tern in 1952:  "rock and roll".  The city on the lake was the site of the first rock 'n roll concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball, that same year.

The Sixties saw suburbanization and the same white flight that other big American cities experienced.  However, Carl Stokes became the first black mayor of a major American city in 1967 when he was Clevelanders voted him into office.  He orchestrated a $22 million federal grant to crack down on the city's crime in the 1970's.

Cleveland's urban decay courtesy

However, with the botched sale of the Municipal Light Company to the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, Cleveland lost its credit and became the first American city since the Great Depression to default on its loan payments.  Tragedy struck when oil and waste caught fire on the Cuyahoga River in 1969.  After these two tragedies, the international press nicknamed Cleveland "The Mistake on the Lake".

Fire on Cuyahoga River circa 1969 courtesy 

:But with a new mayor and a new decade, Cleveland made a comeback.  The 1980's saw a revitilization of the downtown.  By 1986, the city was out of default.  Cleveland was declared "An All American City" three times during the decade.


                                          Cleveland's skyline courtesy 

The Nineties saw the erection of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame on the shores of Lake Erie (where the Great Lakes Expo was held) and the Cleveland Indians Stadium.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame courtesy

Today, while holding its own, Cleveland continues to suffer financially.  Its downtown could be better.  Its public schools are in a state of "academic emergency" (native resident and author Langston Hughes would be horrified).  Its population sits at 500,000, only half of what it was 60 years ago.  While the city's numbers may have dwindled, its proud history remains.

Two of 1500 foreclosed properties in 2009 courtesy

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