Cleveland’s Splendor Under Glass

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Cleveland’s glittering shopping arcade, almost a century old and recently acclaimed the city’s best building by local architects, draws thousands of downtown office workers daily. But an informal poll taken beyond the city limits reveals that the monumental landmark is virtually unknown. Why this should be is a mystery. Here, after all, stands the world’s largest glass-roofed arcade, the prototype of the modern shopping center.

 

Cleveland’s glittering shopping arcade, almost a century old and recently acclaimed the city’s best building by local architects, draws thousands of downtown office workers daily. But an informal poll taken beyond the city limits reveals that the monumental landmark is virtually unknown. Why this should be is a mystery. Here, after all, stands the world’s largest glass-roofed arcade, the prototype of the modern shopping center. Nearly three hundred feet long, five stories high, lined with shops, offices, and restaurants, and anchored at each end by a Romanesque-style office building, the structure is as filled with life today as it was in 1890, when the first stores opened for business.

The work of two city architects, George H. Smith and John Eisenmann, the arcade’s bold design abandoned conventional solutions. Eisenmann devised a system of vertical roof and floor beams that successfully bore the immense skylight’s outward thrust, allowing it to soar free of the visual distraction of the usual horizontal tie rods.

 

A well-publicized downturn in Cleveland’s fortune during the nineteen six- ties and early seventies cast its blight on the arcade. But in 1979, as the downtown area came back to life, new owners took over, restoring the complex to its first brilliance. The photograph at the right demonstrates the success of this effort. All that remains now is to spread the word and let the arcade gain its rightful place as one of the world’s great public spaces.

Mysteriously, outside of Cleveland this monumental landmark is almost unknown.