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Downtown Cleveland: City revival before the RNC storm

Written By | Jul 17, 2016

CLEVELAND, July 17, 2016 – I was briefly up in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio a couple of weeks back, stopping there overnight before heading further south to meet up with friends at the Ohio Light Opera Festival, which is currently underway in Wooster, Ohio.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to take a Sunday stroll through downtown Cleveland and take a few snapshots of what the area looked like before the predicted violence and chaos—meant to disrupt the Republican National Convention, blame Donald Trump for the destruction and mayhem—erupts with full force, likely commencing on Monday, July 18.

So before the political hurricane strikes, let’s take that stroll through downtown Cleveland and hope that Clevelanders and visitors to the city will be able to enjoy such tranquil views after this week’s events draw to a close.

The historic office building where the pre-Teddy Roosevelt Standard Oil conglomerate once ruled the energy roost. (Photo (c) T. Ponick)

The historic office building where the pre-Teddy Roosevelt Standard Oil conglomerate once ruled the energy roost. (Photo (c) T. Ponick)

Rockefeller Building and the Warehouse District

My Sunday visit to downtown Cleveland was blessedly and surprisingly tranquil. Although individuals and families were casually strolling downtown, there weren’t really that many of them. Most restaurants were open, but most other businesses were closed, so this normally bustling downtown seemed pleasantly open and almost bucolic. The result: While the photos I took don’t possess much big-city energy, the lack of bodies downtown allowed me to take some pretty good snapshots without hordes of people wandering in and out of my camera-eye view.

I parked my car with the greatest of ease in a free, non-Sunday-metered parallel parking space adjacent to one of Cleveland’s more interesting historical edifices, the Rockefeller Building.

Since so few young Americans know about let alone study history any more, it may no longer be generally known that America’s greatest-ever crude oil robber baron, John D. Rockefeller, made his family’s original fortune by operating the giant, vertically-integrated Standard Oil from beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio, and the Rockefeller Building, located not far from Public Square, was Standard Oil’s headquarters.

Read also: Downtown Cleveland: Public Square, Christmas Story and more

Of course, as “progressives” are well aware, Teddy Roosevelt targeted Rockefeller and Standard Oil as part of his famously successful “trust-busting” efforts. Standard Oil was ultimately forced by the government to split into a number of little standard oils, a bit like the original AT&T was trust-busted out of its monopoly telephony business by the judiciary in the late 20th century.

After Standard Oil was “busted,” its parts were split into various smaller flavors of Standard Oil, such as Standard Oil of New Jersey (aka, Esso) Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio), etc. Esso stations were all over the mid-Atlantic and eastern states for most of the last century, and Sohio dominated Ohio over that period as well.

Meanwhile, the trust-busted Rockefeller decamped from Cleveland to New York City to get closer to the East Coast operations he still controlled, and, no doubt, to get closer to his other robber baron pals and enemies. In this way, Cleveland and Ohio lost one of the biggest American businesses ever, likely (in my opinion) marking the beginning of a gradual decline of the Ohio Gang and the Republicans in Ohio as well as the decline of Cleveland’s fortunes.

The Blue Point Grille, one of this writer's favorite Warehouse District fine dining restaurants. (Photo (c) T. Ponick)

The Blue Point Grille, one of this writer’s favorite Warehouse District fine dining restaurants. (Photo (c) T. Ponick)

Beginning essentially right around the corner from the Rockefeller Building is an area of downtown Cleveland known as the “Warehouse District.” That’s because it was once actually a real warehouse district back in the day when Americans actually manufactured, packaged and shipped American-made (not Chinese) goods around the world, which, along with the mighty steel industry—belching fire and smoke and cranking loads of top quality product down in the the nearby Cuyahoga River valley—helped make Cleveland for a time one of the nation’s top three or four most important cities and one of the world’s great manufacturing sites. How time flies.

Read also: Downtown Cleveland: Playhouse Square, memory lane and beyond

The Warehouse District went into decline like everything else in Cleveland, a decline that only accelerated after Eisenhower wound down the Korean War in the early 1950s. But in recent decades, the area and its sturdily built edifices have taken on a vibrant new life, renovated systematically into trendy restaurants and watering holes at street level and housing small businesses and much-sought-after condominiums and lofts in the remaining space that have proven attractive to the hip young crowd that seems to be seeking out Cleveland and northern Ohio for its still reasonable housing and reviving night life.

Next: Public Square and Higbee’s

Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17