Thursday, November 15, 2012


The landmark John Marshall High School is about to succumb to the wrecking ball.  At the beginning of October, I sent a plea to each of the Cleveland School Board members, to the School CEO Eric Gordon, and to Mayor Frank Jackson, asking them to to reconsider their decision to demolish John Marshall.  All of these public servants have the power to stand up and say, “Let’s not do this.”  But they have not spoken up.   They are choosing to remain silent.

It is almost too late now.  Within a few weeks, this beautiful structure will be gone. Some of the stonework is currently being removed, to be saved “for future reuse.”  I would still welcome some sort of stay of execution for this wonderful landmark.  But damage has now been done.  It is definitely the eleventh hour for John Marshall.

What they are about to do is a tragedy and a travesty.  

And there is nothing I can really do to stop  it.  A ‘Save John Marshall’ Facebook group, led by the indefatigable Satinder Puri, has lobbied the city administration and the school board for months to try to save the building, but their voices were not heard.  As mine has not been heard.  Maybe our voices have been heard, but not really listened to.  This pretty clear from the reply letter I received from School CEO Gordon (posted below), where he reiterates the same tired talking points about why the building must come down. 

Existing spandrel panel soon to be lost under a pile of rubble.

There are questions about the whole decision-making process.  Questions about the propriety of the Landmark de-listing hearing by the City Landmarks Commission.  Questions about the calculations used to compare the costs of replacing the building versus renovating the existing structure.  Questions about the accuracy of the square footage numbers used in those calculations.  And questions about whether the cost of asbestos abatement and building demolition were figured into the pricetag for the new building.  These questions have gone unanswered.  

CEO Gordon did offer me an image of the new building to be constructed in John Marshall’s place.  The reader can judge for oneself whether he or she thinks the new building will have the character and level of craftsmanship of the old, and whether the new John Marshall will ever stand a chance of being listed as a City Landmark.

Rendering of Proposed New John Marshall High School (Image courtesy CMSD)

Here is my letter to CEO Gordon:

4 October 2012

Eric S. Gordon, CEO
Cleveland Metropolitan School District Board of Education
1380 East Sixth Street, Room 152
Cleveland, Ohio 44114 

Dear Mr. Gordon,

I am writing to you to tell you that it is not too late.  Yes, the construction trailer is on site, the fences have gone up, and interior materials abatement has begun, but the solid shell of the John Marshall High School building is still wholly intact.  I am writing to you as a concerned citizen, neighborhood resident, and architect to urge you to STOP the demolition of John Marshall.  This noble structure can and should be renovated to continue serving the educational needs of our children for generations to come.  

John Marshall boasts beautiful brick and stone construction, as well as fine Art Deco detailing that cannot be replicated in a new building.  Overall, the structure is in very good physical condition, especially for a building that is 80 years old.  The brick is not spalling.  The foundations are not moving.  It has many pleasant, light-filled classrooms.  This solid and proud building has stood for many years as a true landmark in the neighborhood.  It is a part of the community, and it is an enduring symbol of our forbearers’ commitment to the ideals of a quality public education for all.

We all can agree that our students deserve top-notch facilities in which to learn and succeed.  The building as it stands may not meet all the needs of modern educational facilities.  But surely at least part of John Marshall, in particular the original core of the building that fronts on West 140th Street, could be saved and renovated for use as general purpose classrooms.  The City of Cleveland has stated that it wants to be a leader in the field of sustainability.  Saving and renovating historic structures is the most ‘green’ type of architecture that can be done, earning numerous credits under the LEED certification system.  Just as John Hay High School was renovated and is now a gem of the East side, John Marshall has the potential to be the pride of the West side. 

If you take action to stop this senseless demolition, I am fairly confident that at least 216 members of the Save John Marshall Facebook group, as well as the 2,000 signers of a petition to renovate, would change their votes from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ on Issue 107.  Because you will have done the right thing.  And you will have demonstrated to us that the School Board is taking Cleveland’s school system in a positive new direction.

Attached for your review, please find my Elegy for the School of the Arts, about another community treasure that was recently lost to demolition.  The location and particulars of the buildings are different, but both structures are architectural gems, built in a time when civic institutions were constructed with pride and intended to endure for many years.  It is too late for the School of the Arts.

But it is not too late for John Marshall.  I understand that the OSFC funding system makes it more challenging to renovate rather than build new.  But sometimes the more arduous path is the more rewarding path.  And it’s never too late to do the right thing.  Until it is, of course.  Until the first day that the backhoes start ripping into the hallowed brick and stone of John Marshall High School.  Then, it will be too late. 

As CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, you have the power to save this civic treasure.  I ask you to do so now. 

Daniel DeAngelo
Architect/Town Planner

Here is his response:

The City of Cleveland continues to head in the wrong direction by recklessly destroying its precious architectural legacy.  One day, we will wake up and look around, and we may find that there is nothing left of value in our city to save.  

R.I.P. John Marshall High School