“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”
The Cleveland Group Plan of 1903 is a majestic civic space, fronting on
Lake Erie, and
surrounded by monumental public buildings.
The Plan is a grand gesture made by visionary men. It was conceived as the fitting centerpiece
for a city that was a growing industrial powerhouse at the turn of the
twentieth century. Born within a dynamic
historical context, the Group Plan has a clear lineage from the World’s Columbian
Exposition of 1893. The design and
construction of the Plan raised interest in the principles behind the City
Beautiful Movement, and inspired the development of similar civic centers
throughout the country. The Plan proved
to be pivotal in the spread of the City Beautiful, and thus the Cleveland Group
Plan holds an important place within the history of urban planning in the . The
Group Plan, as designed, was largely realized over the years. This large space holds much promise for a
public life that might be found there, but that promise remains unrealized. The
Plan, as it exists in the reality of the twenty-first century, is a place of little life, devoid of activity, in
the heart of an aging rustbelt city. This
public space never lived up to the lofty goals of its creators. The
story of the Cleveland Group Plan is a cautionary tale that reveals many lessons
about the practice of urban planning. United States
At the time of the Group Plan’s inception at the turn of the twentieth century,
was a city clearly on the rise. It had grown from a population of only 17,034
in 1850 to a population of 381,768 in 1900.
By growing twenty-fold in the span of just fifty years, the city had become
the seventh largest city in the Cleveland (Condon 56). United
States Cleveland was a
major port for the shipping industry on the Great Lakes. The city was also a center for the manufacture
of iron, steel, automobiles, and the other goods of an emerging consumer
society. As a result of the wealth
generated by industry, the city became a powerful banking and commercial center
in the Midwest.
As a result of the city’s rapid growth, however, government officials did see a need for many new public buildings in
The Federal government intended to build
a new structure downtown that would house a post office, customs office, and
courthouse. In addition, County courts officials
could see that they had outgrown their existing facilities. The city government
also wanted administrative offices with modern amenities, and the Cleveland Library
Board saw the need for an expanded main library building downtown. Finally, to accommodate the increased railroad
traffic generated by the growing city, city leaders envisioned the construction
of a much larger centralized train station downtown. In the late 1890’s, a consensus emerged among
business leaders and government officials that this needed construction was an
opportunity to remake and improve the civic character of Cleveland .
Many of these business leaders, having traveled abroad with their newfound wealth, had seen
London, Rome, and
other great cities of Europe. They had admired the large civic spaces,
monumental buildings, grand avenues, and landscaped gardens of these cities,
and they hoped to emulate these urban amenities in their hometown. These businessmen began to have a nobler
vision of their city. They envisioned a
city with a strong focus to its downtown, and a central public gathering space
for its citizens. Cleveland’s mayor, Tom L. Johnson, hoped “through public
architecture and landscaping, to symbolize and articulate the metropolis’
riches, stimulating Clevelanders to love and enjoy their city and thereby
identify with its problems, assets, needs, and goals” (Hines 159).
In response to the imagery of the Court of Honor, and to the ideals put forth by advocates of the City Beautiful Movement,
civic leaders proposed that all the new public buildings that the city needed should
be grouped together in one location. In
August 1899, Herbert B. Briggs wrote in The Inland Architect: Cleveland
“How would she [Cleveland] be known if she were to so plan her coming public buildings as to present to the traveler a reality, in imperishable material, of the past Court of Honor at the World’s Fair. She would be known as the only city in the United States, having such an opportunity to grasp its import, to so wisely read the sign of the times, to see the necessity of solving the problem in no other way to meet the progress of the world” (Rarick 15).
In order to study the proposed grouping of public buildings, the
architectural community held several
informal design competitions. One early scheme
of 1895 proposed that a group of civic buildings be constructed on a site due
north of Cleveland Public Square,
which was the commercial center of the city at the time. Some of the properties on the proposed site were
occupied by existing structures, so city leaders rejected this proposal as too
costly. A few of the buildings on this
site were owned by members of the Chamber of Commerce themselves. This circumstance may have contributed to the
quick dismissal of the scheme (Fildes 60).
In 1900, the Chamber of Commerce advanced a new plan for a civic center. The new proposal utilized a site located northeast of
Public Square that was filled with “bars,
bordellos, and various unsightly establishments” (Rarick 19). This area of town was seen as “a miserable
and crime-ridden slum” (Hines 163), and as a place “notorious for its
criminals, prostitutes, and skid row drifters” (Peterson 157). By acquiring this land and demolishing its
structures, the Chamber of Commerce “hoped to rid downtown of one of its seedier districts.” Whether this area was in as bad a condition
as it was portrayed may be open to some debate.
Clearly, this land, on the lakefront and near the heart of the growing
downtown, was ripe for development. The
proposed location of the civic center satisfied the desire of Cleveland ’s social progressives to clean up a
disreputable area of the city. The decision
to develop this site, in lieu of the one directly north of Cleveland Public Square, had lasting repercussions
on the ultimate success of the Group Plan as a civic space.
In 1902, at the urging of the Chamber of Commerce and the Architectural Institute of America, the state of
commission to advise cities on urban planning issues. The commission was comprised of Daniel H.
Burnham, director of public works for the Columbian Exposition, John M.
Carrere, designer of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Ohio Buffalo,
and Arnold W. Brunner, the architect for the new Federal
Building to be built in . “Thus, the city’s business and governmental
officials had managed to provide themselves and Cleveland with perhaps the
three finest architects/city planners in the nation” (Rarick 16). Immediately after their appointment by the
state, the three commissioners set to work on the Cleveland Group Plan. Cleveland
The commissioners took as their precedents for the Plan the grand public spaces of European cities, as well as the Court of Honor at the Columbian Exposition. According to Hines, many of their ideas “as in much City Beautiful planning, came from abroad and from the past” (166). Brunner himself stated that the Place de la Concorde in
was a strong influence on the design. This mall, enclosed by structures of
consistent architectural style, and with its paired buildings at one end, is a
clear influence on the Group Plan. Paris Tuilleries Gardens
in , with
its formal plantings lined by stately architecture, was also a precedent. Other influences include the Champs Elysees
in Paris Paris, London’s
Hyde Park, and the Boboli Gardens in .
Finally, Florence , with its gardens, fountains, and extended
vistas, was also a clear precedent. Views of Versailles
bear striking resemblance to the long view to the lake that the architects
illustrated in their final plans. As
testament to the importance of these precedents in their work, the architects
included images of these spaces in their final proposal to the city (Hines
166). The designers saw the great
potential of this site on the lake, and sought to maximize its effect and
beauty by studying great civic spaces throughout the world. Versailles
The commission completed its plans and presented them to the city on August 17, 1903, in a document entitled, “The Grouping of Public Buildings at
.” Burnham and his colleagues presented a vision
for the city that encompassed an open mall fronting the lake, framed by
buildings with a uniform cornice line, similar height, massing, and materials,
and employing “historical motives of the classic architecture of Rome”
(Peterson 157). This civic space was to be 550 feet wide and 2,100 feet long. The main axis of the composition was centered
halfway between Cleveland Ontario Street
and East Sixth Street,
beginning at Superior Avenue
and running north/south to the lakefront.
The public library and the
would flank this axis at its
southern end. At the northern end, a new
train station would terminate the longitudinal axis and serve as a new point of
arrival into the city. The Federal Building hall and the county
courthouse would balance the composition on either side of the train station. The two long sides of the Mall were reserved
for civic administration buildings. The designers
proposed that majestic fountains be placed at each end of the mall’s long
axis. new city
The commissioners wanted the Mall to be a focus of downtown life. They envisioned a space that would serve as a central park and recreational center for visitors, citizens, and those that worked in the government buildings that would be located there (Hines 163). According to Condon, “This great complex of classical public buildings gave
, for the first
time, the look of a major city” (56). No
doubt the citizens of Cleveland
were struck by the notion that their smoky, factory-clogged city could emulate
some of the great capitals of the world. Cleveland
The commissioners produced a plan that captured the imaginations of architects and city planners throughout the country. In this way, the Plan put
Cleveland at the forefront of city planning in the (Rarick
17). The Plan was praised
enthusiastically by the architectural press, including Town Planning Review,
The Architectural Record, and Inland Architect.
Support for the Plan was “spirited and enthusiastic”, the architect Carrere
said at the time (Hines 169). According
to Peterson, “ United States ’s
project electrified the City Beautiful Movement” (157). Prior to the publishing of the Group Plan, the
cities of Cleveland Chicago, San
had developed proposals that followed the principles of the City Beautiful
movement, but none had implemented them.
Inspired by New York Cleveland’s example, however,
the leaders of St. Louis, Indianapolis,
among others, developed new civic center proposals for their towns. “ Buffalo ,
did more to popularize the grouping idea as a civic aspiration than any other
city” (Peterson 159). In Burnham’s words
from his 1909 Plan for Cleveland, Ohio : Chicago
“The dream city on Lake Michigan [The World’s Columbian Exposition], people said, should take on enduring form. . . cities throughout the country began to ask why they too should not achieve whatever of beauty and convenience their situation and their civic pride would allow. Among the first to feel the new impulse was Cleveland, a commercial city where at the time the forces of democracy were having fullest play. . .and high-minded, public-spirited citizens who were behind the movement labored until they brought harmony of action among the political agencies, and so placed the plans beyond the risk of failure” (Rarick 25).
Unfortunately, Burnham’s optimistic words alone were not enough to ensure the success of the Plan once it was implemented.
Construction on this grand plan for
Cleveland began in earnest with the groundbreaking for the
in 1905. At the groundbreaking
ceremony, industrialist William G. Mather proclaimed that “this noble
conception of a convenient, practical and beautiful civic center, which we call
the Group Plan, if carried out as now designed, will redound more to this
community’s reputation for enlightenment, esprit de corps, and civilization in
the highest sense of the word, than any accomplishment of the city since its
founding over a hundred years ago” (Rarick 35).
Construction on the Federal Building lasted six
years, and the structure was completed with much fanfare in 1911. The county courthouse and the city hall,
completed in 1912 and 1916 respectively, anchored the north end of the Group
Plan. The city built a public auditorium
on the east side of the Mall in 1922. The
new public library was built across Federal
Third Street from the Federal building, flanking
the north-south axis of the mall. With the
construction of the library, the south end of the Mall was completed in 1925. In the ensuing years, the city erected a music
hall and public auditorium at the northeast end of the Mall. And the Board of Education Headquarters, sited
south of the music hall, completed the east side of the Plan (Rarick 28). Thus, by 1930, the south, east, and north
sides of the Plan, less the train station, were essentially complete.
This progress towards realization of the Group Plan was praised by many at the time as a significant accomplishment. According to P. Abercrombie in Town Planning Review, the civic center was “one of the first to be projected . . . certainly the finest in design, and . . . the furthest advanced toward completion.” Herbert Croly, reviewing the Group Plan in The Architectural Record, pronounced the Cleveland Group Plan “an unparalleled success.” And Burnham himself stated that “many civic center designs have been adopted by American cities, but this Group Plan of Cleveland is the only one so far which has been . . . carried out. Nowhere else has such actual progress in civic improvement been made.” (Hines 170). Soon after these proclamations, however, construction of the Group Plan slowed considerably.
Progress on the Plan was slowed primarily by debate over the siting of the proposed Union Terminal train station. As early as 1906, the City Council had hired Burnham to design the station on a site at the north end of the Mall, the location proposed in the Group Plan. However, disputes concerning the property rights of the station site arose, and the city became embroiled in lawsuits with the railroads over these ownership issues. While these property concerns were being contested, two prominent
Cleveland developers, the
Van Swerigen brothers, proposed that the
station be relocated to the office complex they
were building at the southwest corner of Terminal
Tower Public Square. The Van Swerigens saw that a station in the
base of their office tower would enable easy transfer between the railroads and
the rapid transit lines that served the garden suburb they were developing east
of the city. They also recognized that the pedestrian traffic generated by the
railroad station would boost the economic viability of their planned office
Many in the city argued that the train station should be constructed on the Mall in order to ensure completion of the Group Plan as originally envisioned (Rarick 42). Others saw the
Public Square site as a more pragmatic location
for the terminal. To decide the issue, the
city held a referendum, and the voters chose the
site for the station. This wrangling over
the terminal site took place after Burnham’s death, so he did not have a chance
to protest this change to the Plan.
Brunner said that the debate might have been resolved differently if
Burnham “with his splendid enthusiasm, his force and personality, were here to
plead for the execution of the plan on which he had set his heart” (Hines168). Advocates for the lakefront station site
believed that moving the station to Public Square “meant the death knoll for
Cleveland’s Group Plan” (Rarick 47). History has shown that these concerns
were well founded. Terminal Tower
The Group Plan, as constructed, is grand in appearance, but it lacks the life and the vitality that marks a place that is truly the heart of the city. For several reasons, it has not lived up to its potential as a great civic space. The Group Plan’s first weakness was that it followed Burnham’s adage to “make no little plans” perhaps too closely.
’s Group Plan “rivaled the great
European centers both in scale and in format” according to Rarick (18). However, Cleveland at the time was not equal in
population or stature to the great cities that it wanted to emulate. At the turn of the twentieth century, the
population of Cleveland
was 4,536,500. In London , it was 2,714,100. Paris
had a population at the time of 1,675,000.
Within the Vienna United States,
the population of New York City was 3,437,200,
it was 1,698,600. In comparison, Chicago ’s population in
1900 was only 381,768 (Lahmeyer). Cleveland
While the city had grown a great deal in a short period of time,
still did not rival these great
cities in the size of its population. Cleveland was an
up-and-coming city with aspirations to greatness, but even at its peak in 1950,
the city only reached a population of 914,800.
And so Cleveland
never really rivaled the size of these great cities of the world. By
aiming so high and making such grand plans, the physical scale of the
Group Plan was overly large for a moderately-sized city in the Cleveland Midwest.
A second failing of the Group Plan was its premise of creating a district of singular civic use, without inclusion of complementary land uses that would ensure activity and life around the structures that were built there. In their desire to create a unified civic vision, the designers of the Plan made no accommodation for the retail uses, restaurants, or coffeeshops that serve those who would visit or work on the Mall. Few residential uses were ever constructed in the vicinity of the Mall either. So the Group Plan does not encourage inhabitation or lingering. There is no real reason to be on the Mall unless one has business at one of the governmental buildings found there. While the grouping of public buildings might seem a pleasant vision conceptually, the compartmentalization of functions within a city can ultimately lead to a lack of vibrancy. This strict segregation of uses can contribute significantly to the monotonous and unwalkable nature of suburban development.
The grouping of civic structures, one of the notable characteristics of the City Beautiful Movement, led to the compartmentalization of the city by function. Thus this tenet of the City Beautiful was one of the first steps towards the suburbanization of the American landscape. Public officials, business leaders, and the general populace embraced these single use districts by looking at the surface characteristics and alluring imagery of the Columbian Exposition and the City Beautiful Movement, without truly understanding the elements essential to the success of urban environments. Proponents of these civic centers modeled their visions after an environment intended for amusement and pleasure, a city of dreams, without consideration of the negative consequences that might result from the particularization of the activities within the city.
The Group Plan also falls short as an urban space by failing to address the scale of the pedestrian in its architecture. In addition, the buildings that surround the Mall fail to capitalize on their siting adjacent to this public space. Incredibly, few of the buildings on the Mall, despite their civic nature, actually have entrances fronting onto it. Only the Convention Center, Board of Education Headquarters, and the Society office tower address the Mall with pedestrian entrances. The remaining buildings on the Mall present impressive facades, but actually turn their backs on this large public space. For example, neither the Federal Courthouse nor the Public Library can be entered from the Mall. Each treats their Mall façade as little more than a service entrance, presenting imposing, closed-off ground floors to the Mall.
The Federal Courthouse, in response to security concerns, has a very unwelcoming below-grade sallyport facing the Mall. The pedestrian cannot enter this public building from the large civic space on which it fronts. The main library also misses an opportunity to allow its patrons to have a connection to the expansive lawns and picturesque fountains of the Mall. Many great libraries built in the
at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as the City of Los
Angeles Central Library and the New York Public Library in midtown , addressed their
nearby public spaces more successfully. Manhattan ’s library is a particularly strong example. This library fronts its main entrance onto
the busy thoroughfare of New
Avenue, and it has a second entrance providing
access to the building from Bryant Park.
Thus the library and the park onto which it faces are intrinsically
linked in the minds of New Yorkers. The New York
library, built fourteen years before Cleveland’s
facility, is a precedent that Arnold Brunner, the architect of ’s library, would have done well to follow. Cleveland
Other civic buildings on the Mall also fail to reinforce their presence there. The City Hall and
are monumental edifices at the Mall’s north end. These two buildings serve as bookends that frame
a view of County Courthouse Lake Erie, but their main facades do
not actually front the Mall. Instead, they
face Lakeside Avenue,
which runs along the Mall’s northern edge.
The shorter end facades of the two structures face the Mall, but because
their main floors are one story above grade, these side elevations present almost
impenetrable faces to the pedestrian. Finally,
the County administration buildings which complete the Plan’s west side present
undistinguished elevations without entrances towards the Mall. With few exceptions, the buildings that make
up the “walls” of this outdoor room fail to take advantage of their siting. The
occupants of these structures can neither enjoy this space nor activate it with
their presence. They can gaze upon the
Mall from their office windows, as if it was still a beautiful rendering from
the original 1903 plan, but the architecture itself denies them a physical connection
to this public space.
One of the most significant factors that kept the Group Plan from reaching its full potential was the relocation of the Union Terminal train station to the
on Terminal Tower Public Square. If the terminal had been constructed as
originally intended, at the Mall’s northern end, the pedestrian traffic
generated by the station may have made the Group Plan more viable. But the relocation of the station to the Van
Swerigen Brothers’ office tower complex deprived the Mall “of much of the vitality
and centrality its planners had envisioned” (Hines 167). The , with its offices, shops,
restaurants, rapid transit, and train station, acted as a magnet for pedestrian activity downtown.
With the completion of the tower and train station in 1930, the focus of
business and commerce in the city shifted to Terminal Tower Public Square, and away from the
Group Plan. This shift, due to the
terminal’s construction on the Square, resulted in a lack of pedestrian activity
on the Mall, strongly contributing to its lack of activity.
The final factor that challenges the viability of this civic space is the awkward physical relationship that exists between the Group Plan and
Public Square. The Group Plan connects to Public Square between the Society Tower
and the , at a pinchpoint on the
Square’s northeast corner. This tenuous
connection does not encourage a strong visual, physical, or pedestrian connection
between these two large public spaces. The Group Plan
suffers from its awkward relationship to the Square, and it has never been able to capitalize on its
direct proximity to the commercial activity that is centered there. The initial grouping scheme of 1895, which
proposed a location for the civic center due north of Federal Building Public Square, would have connected the
new government buildings directly to the Square, and also would have opened the
Square up to the lakefront.
But the Chamber of Commerce, in its plan of 1900, recommended a site for the grouping of public buildings northeast of the Square. The Chamber chose this site in order to save land acquisition costs, and to clean up what was perceived as a disreputable neighborhood near the center of town (Leedy 88). But had the Group Plan been built directly north of
Public Square, following the 1895 scheme,
the location of the train station in the base of
might actually have proved to be ideal. With
the station located in the tower, and the grouping of civic buildings
constructed to the north, the visitor to Cleveland, upon emerging onto Public
Square from the depths of the railroad terminal, would have been greeted with an
expansive view: all the public buildings
of the city arrayed along two sides of the Mall, framing a vista to the north
of Lake Erie, the body of water to which the city ultimately owed its existence
and prosperity. But the selection of the
site northeast of the Square meant that this arrival experience was never to
be. Terminal Tower
Undeniably, there is a grandeur to this urban gesture that is the Cleveland Group Plan. It is a formally beautiful Beaux Arts plan, but the vision of this plan is never fully realized in the actual space that was created. The space has never become the center of civic life that its designers envisioned. The Group Plan is now simply a collection of neoclassical buildings huddled around an underused public park. The Plan, as Burnham said, is a “noble diagram” that is physically embedded into the fabric of the City of
. Unfortunately, it is also a permanent manifestation
of the consequences that result from the making of grand plans without a clear
understanding of the successful characteristics of public spaces. The Plan reveals some of the secrets of
making great civic spaces, and also many of the factors that contribute to their
failure. In this way, the Group Plan is indeed a significant
artifact in the saga of American town planning practice. Cleveland
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’s Struggle for
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