Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cleveland: A city changing while I was gone

This isn't the city I remember: river on fire, too many poor people all unemployed, polluted Lake Erie, boarded up buildings littering downtown, plants closed. That was the Cleveland of the more recent past, the one with the bad rep.

The Cleveland in my mind's eye from the 1950 was prosperous and aspirational in all aspects. Families grew and moved to better and better suburbs with larger homes and better schools, each increasingly distant from the city center. Downtown was where you went for big-time shopping and museums. Mom bought the furniture for our new house in Hudson at Sterling, Linder and Davis, downtown. I went on the bus and then the trolley to the Cleveland Museum of Art. The Cleveland of my youth was a good, solid place to grow up.

But this city of Cleveland in present day was, what? Completely redone. Downtown full of lofts, 20 and 30-somethings popping into cafes with their Mac Books. Is that a software development company I see in the Rockefeller building? Good restaurants and corner bars, all with a vibe and personality of their own. New towers going up, newer stadiums, and of course, that destination unrivaled by others: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Cleveland had a new personality. But pirogues and brats were still on her menu.

We stayed at a centrally located hotel right downtown, the Marriott Residence Inn Downtown, a historic hotel built in the last decade of the 1800s and now redone and symbolizing what Cleveland was and what it is now. We enjoyed the buffet breakfast in what must have been the grand ballroom, bedecked with fine stained glass windows, two in the ceiling and a bunch over windows. An arcade occupied one part of the hotel footprint and it was fun to walk down a balcony that in olden days held offices for various professionals, now mostly empty. The arcade main floor, and if you aren't familiar with their function in such cold weather locales then click here, holds a small and busy luncheonette, a chocolatier, a olde time barber shop, and numerous small but fascinating shops. It took me right back to the 1950s when Mom and I "went downtown" on the bus and trolley to shop.


The new Marriott Residence Inn that was the old Colonial Hotel.
(Photos courtesy the Marriott web site.)
Two of our old neighborhoods stayed exactly the same, excepting the new builds around the edges. We found Chagrin Falls and Hudson to be pretty much as we left them in 1964, with the addition of malls, larger stores, a supermarket or two, and of course plenty of new restaurants. The old stores had changed hands no doubt, and new ones took residence in their place.
Two ladies drinking tea at Sterling, Linder and Davis.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.
The big Christmas tree at Sterling, Linder and Davis.
Courtesy of the Cleveland Memory Project.
I love to think about the flash and excitement of going downtown to see the big department stores in the 1950s, especially at Christmas time. If you are a fan of that holiday staple, "A Christmas Story", you'll be all too familiar with The Higbee Company and their store windows. The Cleveland Memory Project has a dandy selection of images from all the department stores and you can find them on their main page for the "Golden Age of Downtown Shopping". Just use the menu at center to find your favorite store.
The Terminal Tower still takes center stage on the square, but the Higbee Company is gone. I was thrilled to see the big brass sign still in place on the side of the building next to one of the display windows.
We all talked and talked as we drove around, about the old times and memories from childhood. Nice to hear Mom's version of events that I half remember. Even my brother remembers shopping for furniture with Mom for the new house in Hudson.
Sure, Cleveland has changed, but I'm liking her quite a bit now. She's getting back to that up-and-coming spirit I remember so well. I could see myself living there, either downtown with all the young people and the cafes but probably out in Chagrin Falls or Hudson, my old turf. More about those next time.
The Halle Department Store's Japanese Tea Room,
our favorite lunch spot. I still remember the children's luncheon special with all the little compartments for food, when I was happy to eat my spinach because it came in a little ceramic hen!

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