It was once considered America’s elm-lined avenue and “the Showplace of America.” From the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century, it was home to Millionaires’ Row, magnificent mansions lining its sidewalks. Residents included John Hay, Charles F. Brush and John D. Rockefeller, to name a few. It also was often mentioned in the same breath as the Champs-Elysees in Paris and New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s Main Street, has a rich and storied past. But, like many residents of the city, it fell on hard times during the Great Depression. The wealthy industrialists who called the thoroughfare home moved out when the city began taxing homes as commercial structures.
The “swells” moved east to suburbs on the heights overlooking the city, investing in cultural institutions in University Circle, such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and Severance Hall.
Eventually, Euclid Avenue’s grand mansions were converted to rooming houses for the downtrodden and destitute. By the 1950s, it became home to substandard housing and low rent commercial buildings.
However, a commercial core remained from Public Square to Playhouse Square, where its once grand theaters barely existed.
“Euclid Avenue has a rich heritage that mirrors both the challenges and great success of our city’s past,” says Michael Deemer, vice president of development for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). “As an organization, we are proud to work with our neighborhood partners, which include the Historic Gateway District and Playhouse Square, among others, to make Euclid Avenue Cleveland’s grand thoroughfare once again.”
Today, the resurgence of Euclid Avenue from Playhouse Square to Public Square is nearly complete. But like a 1,000-foot ore freighter, it took a lot of time and effort to turn the ship around.
Many Greater Clevelanders have fond memories of major downtown department stores such as Halle’s, Higbee’s, Taylor’s and Sterling Lindner Davis — stores that would keep the Euclid Avenue corridor alive, attracting commercial investment from firms such as National City Bank, Ernst & Ernst and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.
However, the rise of suburban shopping malls in the 1960s and 1970s offered new challenges to the Euclid Avenue Corridor. Many department stores closed and major theaters shut their doors due to competition from modern multiplex theaters.
Although Euclid Avenue remained at the heart of the city, the energy and vibrancy seemed lost. In the 1980s and 1990s, new office buildings were constructed around Public Square, putting further strain on the commercial properties along Euclid Avenue.
Recognizing the need for revitalization in the early 2000s, DCA’s founding neighborhood partners successfully advocated for the creation of the Euclid Avenue Historic District, which positioned property owners to take advantage of historic tax credits and combine them with multilayered financing tools.
The adaptive reuse of these historic buildings and success of the revitalized Playhouse Square Theatre District fueled a new momentum for Euclid Avenue, transforming the “9-to-5” business district into a vibrant and dynamic neighborhood.
Since then, DCA and its partners have worked tirelessly to help create an entirely new experience for visitors of downtown’s Euclid Avenue. In addition to the creation of the Euclid Historic District, Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program and E-Line Trolley, DCA has also worked for the inclusion of brick sidewalk and crosswalk pavers to enhance the experience of both 9-to-5 pedestrians and new residents. DCA also established and maintains planters along Euclid Avenue to further improve the environment and beautify the streetscape.
In addition to those beautification efforts, DCA continues to provide technical assistance and advocacy support to historic preservation projects. Its business attraction, retention and expansion efforts also have helped companies such as Dwellworks, Cohen & Co., Inforce Technologies and BDO bring hundreds of jobs to downtown.
DCA and its neighborhood partners were also early advocates of the Healthline, a route that has been nationally recognized by the Institute of Transportation and Policy as a leading model of a bus-transit line in North America.
Celebrating its 12th anniversary in 2020, the Healthline seamlessly connects downtown and University Circle linking the first- and fourth-largest employment hubs in the state of Ohio, and 24 percent of all the jobs in Cuyahoga County, with a 24/7 bus rapid transit service. It makes Historic Euclid Avenue a pedestrian and transit-oriented corridor and one that weaves historic fabric with contemporary buildings like the Beacon, the Lumen and the newly branded Statler.
When the curtain rises on the Lumen in the heart of Playhouse Square later this year, its residents will be able to experience a lifestyle that includes a sophisticated design, elegant surroundings and breathtaking views of the city — not to mention the 1,000-plus performances offered by the nation’s largest performing arts center outside of New York. They will also enjoy easy access by foot to Gateway professional sports, such as the Indians and Cavaliers. For its part, the Statler offers the same easy access to sports and entertainment venues, as well as beautiful views of downtown and the lakefront.
Both projects also will offer quick access to an ever expanding slate of retail business sprouting up along Euclid Avenue, from Public Square to Playhouse Square. Indeed, there are only a scant few surface lots that remain open for development.
By the end of 2020, there will be more than 1,000 housing units along Euclid, a main contributor to the 20,000 residents who will be living downtown. It’s a renaissance that DCA is proud to be a part of and provides a vision of a much grander future for the rest of downtown.