As part of Cleveland Magazine's 30th anniversary celebration, the editors have chosen 52 of their favorite stories from the magazine's archives, and wish to share them with you.
A new story will appear every week at Clevelandmagazine.com. It might be controversial, comical, nostalgic or nonplussing. But it will be Cleveland.
From Cleveland Magazine, December 1987
What would Cleveland be today if certain brass rings had been grabbed?
Of all the wonderful things that were never built here, my absolute favorite is the World's Tallest Building. You may remember (if not, dor't worry about it) that a couple of years ago, a visionary developer held a press conference in a local restaurant and announced that he was prepared to erect the World's Tallest Building here if anybody wanted it. Nobody did. Well, that isn't quite true. I did.
It seemed to me that the World's ThIlest Building might be the ultimate answer to urban renewal. The population of the city was shrinking and many of its neighborhoods were becoming terribly blighted. It was my thought that if the World's Tallest Building could, in fact, be built here, the entire city could be placed inside it. The area around it could be a lawn.
The lower floors of the building, it seemed to me, could house businesses those service industries which have so splendidly replaced the old smokestack industries Burger King, McDonald's, Daffy Dan's, etc. The residential floors above the business district Could be designed to preserve the ethnic heritage so precious to the original, horizontal Cleveland.
The Slovaks and Slovenians would have their own floors plainly marked so you could tell them apart. The old Hungarian neighborhood on Buckeye Road could be resurrected, complete with Joe Raab's violin music piped into the elevators as they passed through the district. Murry Hill could be in there, too the lowest crime rate area of the building. The black neighborhood could be on the top floors so that the blacks, finally, would be able to complain about having to go through the white neighborhoods to get to work. George Forbes and Dennis Kucinich could each have his own penthouse on the roof. Locked. Key in lobby.
While I was still formulating this plan, the man who wanted to build the World's Tallest Building passed away. Which is to say that he appeared no longer on the 6 o'clock news. Same thing. Television let him live for a day because he had it drawing to hold up. Then he left us. Or we left him. It is an existential question. "What if a man continued to hold up a drawing after the television cameras had gone away? Would the man still exist?" I don't know. But I like "What if" questions.
There was a feeling a few years ago that, somewhere along the line, Cleveland had gone wrong. That we had missed the boat. Had let golden opportunities get away.
Back then, you would run into Clevelanders on the street who would glumly say, "We coulda been Detroit." Honest. That's what a lot of us were saving. Can you imagine that? Can you think of anything that better illustrates the depth of a municipal inferiority complex than for a city to wander around wishing it were Detroit? Not Paris, not Rio, but Detroit! By God. that's depression!
It certainly wouldn't have helped anything to point out that there were a few golden opportunities our city had, in fact, missed. Moments that we did not seize. But it's true. From time to time, in our city's history, there have been brass rings we failed to grasp. What were they? What if we had grasped them.
What if ... ?
What if Governor Rhodes had built a bridge to Canada?
The year was 1969. The trouble was, we didn't really trust Jim Rhodes. He was from downstate and said " feesh" for fish and "boosh" for bush. We weren't sure he really liked Cleveland. So when he proposed building a $651,000,000 bridge from Cleveland to Ontario, we though it might be some kind of a trick. Maybe it was a plot to get rid of Captain Frank's thereby robbing Cleveland of it's only waterfront restaurant with a view. (A view of the cars parked around it.) Canada was no help either. The Canadians refused to help pay for the bridge. So that idea was scrapped.
If it hadn't been scrapped, we would have had one of the wonders of the world right in our back pocket. The bridge would have hastened the development of the lakefront, probably brought us a few good hotels and made us a way station on the trip to Canada. We should have built it. You know how you get into Canada now, don't vou? Through Detroit. We coulda been Detroit! It would have Cost 10 bucks to get into Canada across the bridge. Try getting there cheaper.
What if Cleveland had built a jetport in the lake?
Return with me now to the days when we didn't know what to do with Like Erie. The Growth Association got behind a project to build a huge jetport five miles off the downtown shoreline. It would have been four times the area of Hopkins and would have cost $2.5 billion. It would have been built within it 13-mile-long sand and stone dike, and the landing field would have actuallv been 40 feet below water level. you can iniagine how many jokes surfaced from that idea. But suppose it had been built? In 1971, a Federal Aviation Administration official predicted that such a jetport would have captured 50 percent of the trans-Atlantic air traffic then using Kennedy. Cleveland might have become the gateway to Europe. And one thing's for certain. We would have finally gotten a Hyatt Hotel.
What if Willie Mays had missed his famous grab in the 1954 World Series against the Indians?
For an awful moment it looked as if New York Giant Willie Mays would catch the drive deep in centerfield. Indians first baseman Vic Wertz has taken a Don Liddle pitch and hit it some 450 feet, sending Mays into a head-long dash toward the wall in the Polo Grounds.
There were runners on first and second in the eighth inning of the first game of the 1954 World Series, and this was the most critical moment of the Fall Classic. Mays missed the ball by a mere fingertip and Wertz, no speed merchant, made it to third base and drove in two runs to break a 2-2 tie.
The Tribe went on to win the game and the series, and long after the Giants had moved to San Francisco their die-hard fans would live with the agonizing memory of the ball eluding the fleet Mays. More tan a decade later a veteran Cleveland sportswriter would say: "If Mays would have made that catch it would have been among the most brilliant plays in the history of the game. It was such a big play that it could have set Cleveland baseball back 30 years.
What if Henry Luce would have kept Time magazine in Cleveland?
A lot of us don't know Time was edited and printed in Cleveland from 1925 to 1927. It was in Cleveland that Time really started to fly. While Henry Luce lived here, he subscribed to the Cleveland Orchestra and the always said he liked the city, but he didn't like it well enough to stay. Suppose he had. Cleveland would have a 40-story Time-Life Buidling and would be the home of Time, Life, People, Money, Fortune and Sports Illustrated which, if it lived here, would never have predicted the Indians would win the pennant this year. Who knows dynamic, testy at times, always provocative, Cleveland Magazine might a Luce enterprise be. Backward then we all would have to write. Over spilt mil, however, there's no use crying.
Editor's note: Cleveland would now also be part of AOL's empire surely then Northeast Ohio would have no need to use a magnifying glass to find its tech community.
What if Paul Newman and Joel Grey had stayed in Cleveland to co-host The Morning Exchange?
Paul Newman was a Shaker Heights kid who was a child actor at the Cleveland Play house. When his father died in 1950, he spent 18 months running the family business, Newman-Stern sporting goods. He once said, "I wasn't driven to acting by inner compulsion. I was running away from the sporting goods business." He ran to Hollywood and the rest, as they say, is history. Joel Grey (nee Katz) was also a product of the Cleveland Play House. He went to schools in Cleveland and Cleveland Heights and the character of the master of ceremonies in Cabaret made him nationally famous. But what if Newman and Grey had stayed here to host Morning Exchange? The answer to that one is obvious. Joel Rose would have starred in Cabaret and our pal Fred Griffith would have had to stand there in his pajama bottoms and let Elizabeth Taylor try to seduce him in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I can see that scene in my mind's eye with Fred standing there saying, "Golly."
What if Radio City Music Hall had been built here?
The villian of municipal wishful thinking has to be John D. Rockefeller. He was a Clevelander (still is) and he did a lot for Cleveland. But the glitziest thing his money ever built was Radio City Music Hall in New York. What if he had built it here, a couple of steps from the May Company? Nobody would have ever heard of the Rockettes. The world would salute the Euclettes, instead. Cleveland would have become the "radio city." Rockefeller is still with us. He's buried in Lakeview Cemetery. And, on second thought, maybe we shouldn't be too hard on him. After all, we do have the Sohio Building. And guess who played Radio City last year? Madonna, Twisted Sister and the Grateful Dead.
What if Winton had driven Ford out of business?
Alexander Winton was a Scottish immigrant who first made bicycles, then started making cards in 1889 four years before Ford Motor Company was founded. In 1920, Winton reached peak production and manufactured 2,500 autos in his factory on Berea Road. "The trouble with Henry Ford," Winton reportedly said, "is that he's too in love with this assembly line business. America doesn't want a lot of cheap cars. America wants fewer cars that are better built." Winton was out of business by 1924. Ford? Well, you know. If Winton had copied Ford's technique, Cleveland could been Detroit. And the Winton Motor Car Company would have produced both the Taurus and Lee Iacocca. Taurus and Iacocca. Fifty bucks if you can spot what those names have in common.
What if the coliseum had been built downtown?
The night the coliseum opened way out there in the country there was a fancy press party and I rented a tuxedo and set out to hear Frank Sinara sing. Two miles from the place, my car overheated. The traffic jam was so great that the freeway looked like a parking lot. I coasted over to the edge of the roadand parked my car next to other overheated cars. Crowds of party-goers most of the men in rented tuxedos were climbing up the steep embankment. I joined them. We looked like waiters escaping from the Catskills. That was the first taste any of us got of how far away the coliseum really was. Gradually, it dawned on us that it was absurd to play basketball in the country. But it was too late. The coliseum perches out there on the moor like Heathcliff's ghost. It is the most graphic reminder of that period of time when Cleveland had given up on itself. What if it had been built downtown? We'd love it.