Euclid Avenue

A century and a half of development, decay, and redevelopment along Cleveland's Euclid Avenue.

Euclid Avenue constitutes Cleveland, Ohio's portion of US Route 20, a highway that runs west from Commonwealth Avenue in Boston all the way to US 101 on the Pacific coast in Newport, Oregon. The five miles of US 20 in Cleveland stretch from Public Square downtown, through a series of "midtown" neighborhoods, to University Circle, the city's cultural center, home to Severance Hall's Cleveland Orchestra and an extensive museum and university campus. Linking University Circle to downtown with a vibrant commercial and residential corridor has long tantalized Cleveland's planners, but their efforts have often resulted in further neglect of the neighborhoods around Euclid Avenue. For decades, city officials have pledged to bring the private sector "back in" to draft plans and develop the area. For decades, too, city officials and federal programs have targeted infrastructural and transportation-oriented "development" programs that promised to stimulate a private-sector solution for decaying neighborhoods. Yet these cyclical "silver bullets" often directly and indirectly contributed to further disinvestment in the very neighborhoods the programs were ostensibly to benefit. The neighborhoods along Euclid Avenue are still among the city's poorest and most neglected and are again being subjected to the most recent iteration of transportation-based development: the Opportunity Corridor project. This timeline reveals why the new project is simply the latest version of a venerable—and questionable—model of urban redevelopment that has been deployed and redeployed for decades.

1868-04-01 00:00:00

Millionaire's Row

From the end of the Civil War through the 1880s, Euclid Avenue was known as Millionaire's Row. The tax valuation of the mansions along the avenue far exceeded that of those along New York's Fifth Avenue. Residents included John D. Rockefeller. (Source: Michael Schwartz Special Collections Library, Cleveland State University; hereafter MSL, CSU).

1890-04-01 00:00:00

Center of Commerce

From 1890 to 1915, Euclid Avenue became the center of Cleveland's commercial activity, and some of the avenue's wealthiest residents began moving to suburban estates. (Source: MSL, CSU)

1920-04-02 00:00:00

Suburbanization Begins

In the 1920s, Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen acquired thousands of acres east of Cleveland and began developing Shaker Heights, which would quickly become one of the nation's wealthiest municipalities. Clevelanders who had occupied mansions along Euclid Avenue's Millionaire's Row relocated to Shaker.

1928-04-01 00:00:00

Terminal Tower

In the 1920s, the Van Sweringen brothers developed a city-suburban train line that led from Shaker to downtown. In order to draw business toward the terminus of the line, the brothers opened the massive Terminal Tower complex above the downtown rail station in 1928. The commercial center of gravity soon followed, moving west along Euclid Avenue toward Public Square.

1945-04-01 00:00:00

Postwar Evolution

Following World War II, the midtown east corridor along Euclid and to its north became home to working-class laborers and manufacturing plants. Many of the mansions were either demolished or subdivided into boarding houses. The avenue became home to a vibrant nightlife scene, including jazz clubs, ethnic immigrant, bars, and gay bars. By the 1950s, only eight of the original Millionaire's Row mansions remained.

1949-04-01 00:00:00

1949 City Plan Sets the Pattern

Thanks to Veterans Affairs (VA) and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages, many of the city's upwardly mobile working-class white residents begin their migration to the growing suburbs. Between 1945 and 1952 alone, 69,000 new units of housing—the vast majority of which were unavailable to African Americans—were constructed outside the city limits yet within Cuyahoga County. In the mid-1950s, builders annually converted 3,000 acres of rural land into new housing tracts. Led by city planner Ernest Bohn and private sector consultants such as leading corporate attorney and suburban resident Walter Flory, the city adopted the 1949 City Plan. The plan embraced downtown-centered development, new infrastructure, and transportation improvements to better link downtown service-sector and manufacturing jobs with growing suburban regions. Creating arteries rather than vibrant neighborhoods became the overwhelming focus of the city's "renewal" efforts, particularly along the Euclid Avenue corridor. During these years, the city began its precipitous population decline. Cleveland reached its peak population, 914,808, in 1949. In 2012, its population was 390,928.

1957-04-01 00:00:00

Private Sector-Led Urban Renewal / "Negro Removal"

Between 1957 and 1966, Cleveland pursued the largest and most costly urban renewal program in the country. Despite the massive federal subsidies, the Chamber of Commerce dominated the implementation of what they termed the city's "private sector" solution for redevelopment. The city targeted for slum clearance and industrial and commercial redevelopment a significant swath of the city running along the northern edge of the Euclid Avenue corridor. The neighborhoods there had become home to thousands of African Americans, many of whom had migrated to Cleveland in pursuit of wartime defense jobs and postwar manufacturing employment. The resulting clearance, however, exacerbated severe overcrowding in the Hough neighborhood along Euclid between E. 55th and E. 105th Streets. After nearly a decade of "investments," the city had spent $40 million in federal Urban Renewal funds, razed six thousand acres, displaced thousands of predominantly African American residents, often converting homeowners into renters, and yet had not completed a single project.

1959-04-01 00:00:00

Highway Construction

During the late 1950s, the city pursued an aggressive program of highway construction linked to its massive urban renewal program. In this image, the Inner Belt freeway construction proceeds south, bisecting Euclid Avenue at E. 27th Street. The freeway delineated the downtown business district and the midtown east area, increasingly home to overcrowded working-class and poor black residents displaced by renewal clearance. The highways offered suburbanites improved access to downtown jobs.

1966-04-01 00:00:00

U.S. Civil Rights Commission Hearings on Urban Renewal

In April 1966, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held hearings in Cleveland largely to assess the state of the city's urban renewal program. Mayor Ralph Locher blamed the troubled program on the city's black residents, many of whom had recently arrived from the South. Locher charged the federal government with developing programs to "acculturize newcomers" who were more accustomed to "life in a shack." Instead, the commission found that city officials had systematically allowed renewal-targeted properties to fall into further disrepair in order to secure a lower purchase price prior to demolition and transfer to the private sector. Thousands of residents were displaced, generating urban renewal's nickname: "negro removal." Most did not receive federally mandated relocation assistance. As a New York Times headline put it, “Urban Renewal Plans Scored as Cause of Decay.” In response to an impassioned plea from a young African American state representative, Carl B. Stokes, the Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed to suspend federal funding for the city's urban renewal program.

1966-07-01 00:00:00

Hough Riots

Turning off federal urban renewal funds was too small of a measure taken too late. Urban renewal-related slum clearance had already caused the Hough neighborhood to become terribly overcrowded. An influx of working-class residents and poor African Americans ballooned the neighborhood's population to 60,000. In July 1966, after a pair of black residents were removed from a white-owned bar (the owner had put out a sign that read "No Water for Niggers"), frustrated and antagonized African Americans erupted in violence. Over five days, four African Americans lost their lives, 30 others were seriously wounded, hundreds of fires burned, and nearly 300 residents were arrested.

Euclid Avenue

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