The development of Cleveland’s expansive suburbs can be traced to just a few families, specifically the Van Sweringen brothers, who built Terminal Tower and with it Shaker Heights, and the Ratner Family, who sold land and building materials to servicemen and women returning from World War II.
Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen had perhaps the greatest impact on real estate in the Greater Cleveland area, initially dabbling in real estate in Lakewood before earning enough by 1905 to buy land options in what would become Shaker Heights. Their idea was to build a community that was close enough to the city, but far enough away so its residents could be isolated from the masses and hustle-bustle of early urban life.
Realizing they would need a terminal and new offices, the brothers developed plans for what became the Cleveland Union Terminal Complex, including the 52-story Terminal Tower. When the Terminal Tower complex opened in 1930, the Van Sweringens had created a new suburb, revitalized a major portion of Downtown Cleveland and built a $3 billion real estate, railroad and industrial empire.
Forest City and the Ratner family gave birth to at least a half-dozen civic leaders, including the aforementioned Charles Ratner and his two brothers, Leonard and Max. Forest City became Forest City Enterprises in 1960, and Albert Ratner, Charles’ son, became president in 1973. Ruth Ratner Miller, along with her husband, Sam Miller, oversaw the investment of $400 million back into Terminal Tower, transforming it into Tower City Center. Max’s oldest son, Charles Ratner, became CEO in 1995.