Hello CLE: Time Traveler

Discover Cleveland's past with a trip to some of the city's most historic places.

She's wearing a fur-collared coat and a snug, brimless hat, and she's looking out the window through binoculars at Cleveland. Sunshine gleams against the room's white- block walls and checkerboard-tile floor.

As I look out a window from the Terminal Tower's observation deck, I see a view much like the woman in the photograph did in 1929: Lake Erie's waves glinting with sunlight; City Hall and the public library framing downtown's Mall.

Around me, the tower's 42nd floor looks much as it did in 1929, thanks to a 2010 renovation that ripped out the '70s carpet, wood paneling and wallpaper, and restored the deck's Jazz Age glow.

A few months ago, an out-of-town friend came to visit me and raved about downtown's dazzling collection of landmarks from the late 1800s to the 1920s. Now I'm seeing Cleveland as my friend saw it, revisiting the era when we grew into the nation's sixth-largest city, a metropolis of 900,000 people. My surprise is how many of those landmarks welcome the tourist and staycationer.

That includes the three buildings that have stood on Public Square since the 1800s. The red-sandstone Society for Savings building, from 1890, marks one corner with an iron electrolier lantern. Its Art Nouveau design's black vines twist and writhe, hugging the building. Sometimes misattributed to Charles F. Brush, who demonstrated his electric arc lights in the square in 1879, the lantern was designed by a Chicago ironworks as a gas lamp.

During banking hours, the Society for Savings' first floor doubles as a tourist attraction. Though it's a Key Bank branch, no one asks me why I am gawking at the stained-glass ceiling panels and the Walter Crane murals, which tell the ultimate folktale about wealth and wisdom, the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Two museum-style displays lie beyond the red marble teller counter. A glass case shows off banker George Gund's curious collection of 19th-century mechanical coin banks, including a magician who covers coins with a hat to make them disappear. An exhibit about the Society for Savings' early years includes the tin box that held all the bank's assets in the 1850s. Bank secretary Samuel H. Mather sometimes kept it under his bed.

Across the street, I ring the doorbell at the Ontario Street side entrance to the Old Stone Church, Public Square's oldest building, built in 1855. I am buzzed in to visit the church sanctuary, which looks much as it has since its 1884 redesign after a fire. The Presbyterian church's Romanesque Revival style, with an arched ceiling and dark wood beams, communicates both majesty and humility. Four stained-glass windows were produced by Louis Comfort Tiffany's studio; the oldest, "The Recording Angel," dates from 1885. Amid the sacred stained-glass art, I spy a small window pane, dedicated to restaurateur and motel-chain owner Vernon Stouffer, which depicts local landmarks such as Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Terminal Tower and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Across Public Square, I step inside the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, eager to shake off my old, musty memories of it. Its renovated interior, once faded with age, is now alight with the same vibrant colors as at its 1894 opening. Bright yellow walls with red trim bear the names of every Cuyahoga County resident who served in the Civil War. Among the sculptures inside and outside the monument, look for the two African-Americans: the bare-chested sailor loading a cannon in the integrated U.S. Navy of the 1860s and the former slave rising determinedly from one knee as Abraham Lincoln liberates him from shackles and hands him a rifle.

Six miles east of Public Square, modern Cleveland falls away again as I drive through the gates of Lake View Cemetery. "Cleveland's outdoor museum," it calls itself. It's a crash course in 143 years of Cleveland history. I follow a self-guided audio driving tour, available on CD and rentable for $5 at the Garfield Monument and the main office. I thought I knew my way around Lake View — I can find John D. Rockefeller's obelisk and Wade Chapel without any problem — yet the tour leads me to surprises among the 285 rolling acres. Twenty Cleveland mayors are buried there, including Carl Stokes, who rests near the lagoon behind Wade Chapel. The tour guides me to the tombstone of Ray Chapman, the Cleveland Indian killed in 1920 by a pitched ball; the grave of Garrett Morgan, inventor of an early gas mask and the three-color traffic light; and Cleveland's other Millionaires' Row, where Rockefeller rests near the John L. Severance family.

My tour ends at a restaurant named for Rockefeller. In the 1920s, his son, John D. Jr., envisioned developing part of his father's Forest Hill estate into a massive French Norman model village. But the Great Depression hit, and he built only 81 homes (most on Brewster Road in East Cleveland) and a community stores building, the Heights Rockefeller Building in Cleveland Heights. Its second floor is home to Rockefeller's, run by chef Jill Vedaa, formerly of Saucy Bistro. Vedaa's guiding principle is to "respect the food" and "don't mess with it too much." Her menu, with contemporary twists on classic dishes such as trout, pork chops and duck breast, is inventive while still in harmony with the classic setting.

My date and I sit on a couch in the lounge, where diners can order from the three-course main menu or the modestly-priced lounge menu, and where people-watching and architecture-gazing are at their best. The main room feels like a hall in a medieval estate with its hand-painted ceiling beams, massive stone fireplace, iron chandeliers and sandstone arches. The former Cleveland Trust Co. bank branch is an elegant echo of downtown's majestic bank lobbies of the era. The kitchen and prep area are inside the old bank vault. It's another reminder of how Cleveland's businessmen, churchgoers and monument-makers of the past 120 years or so left us a physical legacy few cities possess. It may be a surprise to visitors, but it shouldn't remain a surprise to us.

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Historic Stops

Federal Reserve bank of Cleveland

The Arcade

Maltz museum of jewish heritage

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