CLEVELAND, Ohio – Europe is rich in stunning 19th century arcades and galleries – the early predecessors of indoor shopping malls. These often brilliantly decorated and adorned strips of shops, restaurants, bars and offices – typically beneath a skylit ceiling that can soar stories above the ground floor – are nestled into nooks that add to their alluring vibe.
As examples, one might conjure Galleria Umberto I in Naples, Galleria Subalpina in Turin or the many examples that dot the Parisian and London landscapes.
Some exist in the United States, too, of course, including the lovely 1916 Plankinton Arcade that survives in Milwaukee, a remnant of an arcade boom on this side of the Atlantic around the dawn of the 20th century.
But Cleveland has three arcades huddled together in the heart of its downtown. The most stunning is simply called The Arcade and is considered by many to be the first indoor mall in the country.
These days, The Arcade, built in 1890 and colloquially known as "The Old Arcade," has a post office, a few restaurants, bars and shops, but is mostly given over to the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade.
The hotel’s lobby is tucked into one corner on the north end, and the hotel restaurant into another. The former offices on the top three floors of the arcade itself have been converted into guest rooms.
The Arcade is actually a 300-foot, five-story, 100-foot-tall connector between two nine-story office buildings – considered the first “skyscrapers” in Cleveland. The buildings face Superior Avenue to the north and Euclid Avenue to the south.
The complex was inspired by Milan’s towering Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It was funded by a group of investor that included John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil founding partner Louis Severance; Standard Oil investor Stephen Harkness; arc light and electric dynamo innovator and entrepreneur Charles Brush; and politician and businesseman Marcus Hanna, a high school classmate of Rockefeller’s.
Harkness and Brush were so key to construction of the $875,000 development that medallions featuring their likenesses are integrated into the Euclid Avenue facade.
The Superior facade is a fine work of Richardsonian Romanesque Revival and is constructed of Hummelstown brownstone from Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.
The Arcade and its towers were designed by architects George H. Smith and John Eisenmann, and the arcade built by the Detroit Bridge Company.
It is believed, based on other works by the architects, that Smith focused on the office towers and Eisenmann – who wrote the city’s first building code in 1904 – likely used his engineering skills for the arcade.
When it opened on Memorial Day in 1890, the Arcade reflected advances made in architecture and engineering.
“The Arcade reflects the time's rapid changes in building technology and contains a mixture of techniques and materials,” notes the online Encyclopedia of Cleveland. “First, the central entrance towers on both facades had load-bearing walls (before the 1939 alteration of the Euclid Avenue front, when steel beams had to be inserted).
“Second, the masonry facades above the ground story on either side of the towers are carried on I-beams that rest on brackets attached to steel columns, thus utilizing the skeletal principle that had been used in Chicago a few years earlier and that made the skyscraper possible.
“Third, the floors and roofs of the building are supported on a skeleton of iron columns and oak, wrought iron, and steel beams. The Arcade roof trusses were of a new type, being hinged at the base and the apex.”
Not only was the Arcade inventive, it was stunningly beautiful and remains so today.
Nearly every surface of the interior is decorated.
There are marble wall panels; brass elevator doors; gargoyles holding lightbulbs in their mouths; decorative wrought iron railings; mosaic floors with inlaid tile sections and terrazzo; panels depicting lion-headed birds; a pair of vintage clocks; fluted columns with corinthian capitals; a gorgeous staircase illuminated from behind with rows of opaque glass oculi on the risers; and on and on and on.
Each of the lower three floors has a different arrangement of retail facades.
The lowest level shops run right up to the walkway, while on the second level, shops have recessed entrances topped with gorgeous arched bronzework. On the third level, the spaces mostly return to abutting the walkway, with entrances flush with display windows, though near the ends the walkway jogs inward and the last window has a lovely curved edge.
Above it all is the Crystal Palace-like tracery of iron created by the Detroit Bridge Company to support the glass roof.
Interestingly, though to the naked eye The Arcade seems straight, it is built at an angle, according to the Case Western Encyclopedia of Cleveland.
“The level of the Superior entrance is some 12 feet lower than the Euclid one, so that in effect there are two main floors, connected by staircases at either end,” it reports.
“Since Euclid and Superior are not parallel, a passage leads at a 23-degree angle from the Euclid entrance to a rotunda at the south end of the arcade ... a 300-foot-long covered light court ringed by four levels of balconies, which step back above the Euclid Avenue level.”
Some of the interior appears to have gotten an Art Deco-era makeover, too, likely around the time the Euclid Avenue entrance was done in 1939.
Halfway along the second floor, a balcony – with a clock on either side – connects the rows of shops. On the ground floor, nestled beneath a switchback staircase at the Superior end, is a stand-alone kiosk, as elaborately adorned as the rest of the place, including with a backlit sign advertising a former tenant, The Fred G. Gollmar Cigar Co.
Another early tenant was Thomas A. Edison, who – legend has it – would break the windows of competing shops selling phonographs, a then-recent innovation for which he held a patent.
In 1895, the Republican National League meeting was held in The Arcade and it was there that William McKinley announced his bid for the White House.
The Arcade was the first Cleveland building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1975, and three years later real estate developer Harvey Oppmann bought it, restored it and modernized it by creating a food court on the lower level at the Euclid end.
As time went on, The Arcade fell on hard times and there was talk of demolition when, in 2001, it was again renovated and restored, to the tune of $60 million, and the Hyatt hotel opened.
But the 1890 arcade is not the sole example in Cleveland. In fact, just across Euclid Avenue sit the roughly parallel Colonial and Euclid Arcades, which run south to Prospect Avenue.
The Georgian Revival style Colonial – the more ornate of the two, and designed, like The Arcade, by George Smith – was built in 1898, and the Euclid went up in 1911 about 100 feet to the west.
The single-story, barrel-vaulted Euclid – designed by Franz Warner for developer John F. Rust – clad in white terra cotta, is the example that most resembles the Plankinton Arcade in Milwaukee in style, though it is less ornamented.
Like the Colonial Arcade, the Euclid, which has two dozen retail spaces, was also intended to connect to the Colonial Hotel at its south end. Both arcades are 435 feet long and 20 feet wide. The Colonial is 28 feet tall, while the Euclid rises to just 18 feet.
Amazingly, Colonial Coin & Stamp has been a tenant in the Colonial Arcade since 1921.
In 2000, the two arcades (added to the National Register together in 1987) were connected with a small, low-ceilinged food court as part of a $30 million renovation and were renamed the 5th Street Arcades.
The Colonial, at its southern end, hosts a Residence Inn in the former Colonial Hotel.
A fourth arcade – The Taylor Arcade – was part of the Taylor & Co. department store at 668 Euclid Ave., just east of the Colonial Arcade. It was open by 1910 and modernized in the mid-1940s.
Although that building has been converted to apartments, aerial views show a long skylight still atop the structure that suggests that at least some remnant of that arcade survives (though perhaps only the skylight).
Finally, a fifth: The Williamson Arcade, was located just west of The Arcade. Alas, the 16-story George B. Post-designed Williamson Building – constructed in 1900 – was imploded in 1982 (as was Burnham & Root’s 1892 Cuyahoga Building next door) and replaced with the 1985 BP Building.
Another arcade-like passage, albeit without a skylight, exists in the 1921 building that houses the Capitol Theater in the Gordon Square Arts District west of downtown.
These days, there is life in all three arcades – which are still a pleasure to stroll – but they’ve wrestled with the same struggles facing retail, including the suburban mall boom and later the internet era, that have affected downtown shopping everywhere.
“It is difficult to imagine today just how busy these arcades were in the decades after they first opened,” writes Michael Rotman at clevelandhistorical.org.
“This was an era when people came to downtown Cleveland to shop and the arcades were made to accommodate the customers.
“As interior spaces located away from the street, the arcades provided an escape both from the weather and the hustle and bustle of the big city. Women in particular were said to ‘naturally seek them out’ and spent ‘many a comfortable day flitting from store to store.’ It was remarked that in the arcades there is no noise, except the steady hum of conversation and the swish of shoes on the pavement’ and ‘all is clean and bright.’”
Rarely do I have the pleasure of writing about a building while sitting inside it, but that’s the case as I type this, surrounded by the splendor of The Arcade.
As midnight approaches, I realize that The Arcade is as beautiful lluminated in the evening darkness as it was when I first experienced it during a sun-drenched afternoon. It is truly a treasure.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.