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THE 1903 REPORT OF THE GROUP PLAN COMMISSION, to the Honorable Tom L. Johnson, Mayor,
and the Honorable Board of Public Service

CLEVELAND'S GROUP PLAN, a Conference Paper by Arnold Brunner, FAIA
THE BETRAYAL OF CLEVELAND by John T. Flynn, Harper's Magazine
A NON-UNION UNION STATION by Robert Morss Lovett, The New Republic


Sirs: --The opportunity of grouping the principal buildings of a city of the size of Cleveland and providing them with proper setting in the way of approaches and other accessories, has never before come to any city, and your Commissioners have felt the great responsibility of the task, which, notwithstanding its marked limitations, has splendid opportunities.

It is very inspiring that public opinion should have risen to a full realization of this great opportunity. The problem has been discussed in the City of Cleveland for several years. The citizens have become familiar with its importance and many suggestions have been brought forth, from time to time. Your Commissioners have felt that their duty was to study this movement from its inception and to consider every suggestion which has come to them, whether of a public nature or made privately by individuals. They have also felt it incumbent upon them to discuss the matter with your public officials, your several Boards and Committees and with many of your citizens, so as to be perfectly familiar with the local conditions with a view to meeting all practical requirements.

They have found from its inception that the tendency was to develop the grouping of the buildings in the district between the public square and the lake, taking advantage as much as possible of the lake front between Erie and Seneca Streets; so much so, that prior to the appointment of the Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, acting in consultation with its professional adviser, had recommended placing two of the important buildings of the group-the Court House and the City Hall-on the four blocks bounded by Lake Street on the south, Summit Street on the north, Seneca Street on the west and Erie Street on the east. Regardless of the decision to purchase the4se blocks, and regardless of the lake- front, the Commission has nevertheless seriously considered every other possible solution of the problem. Four important buildings had practically been determined upon, namely, the Post Office, the County Court House, the City Hall and the Library, with a prospect of more buildings, among which is an Auditorium.

Of these four buildings, the Post Office was determined as to design and site, beyond any possible change. There were contemplated at this time a park and public playground on a large tract of land north of the railroad which the city is reclaiming from the lake.

Since its appointment the Commission has made numerous studies, and has spent much time in consultation and in the consideration of local conditions. Some of these studies are quite complete, and each is suggestive of different solutions of the problem. The Commission is fully convinced that with the conditions definitely imposed and those which are only partly so, the most advantageous grouping and development can be obtained in the territory already considered by the Chamber of Commerce, the main axis of the composition necessarily running north and south from the new Federal Building, now under construction, the secondary axis running east and west along the lake front. The determination of the exact position of the main axis was of the utmost importance, as the width of the Court of Honor or Mall depends upon the relation of this axis to the rest of the composition, and the amount of land required for the scheme, as well as the cost of its development, is influenced thereby.

Your Commission finally decided to place this axis approximately on a line with the center of Wood Street, to develop the Court of Honor or Mall east and west of this axis, and to provide on the south end of the Mall and on the east of this axis for a building similar in character and size to the Post Office, which will balance it and give absolute symmetry at the head of the composition. The treatment of the other end of this axis, however, has required much study.

With ideal conditions, the Commission would have preferred to carry out the popular idea of a park and playground with an open esplanade, where Summit Street is today, with the County Court House and the City Hall balancing each other on the sites already under condemnation.

The conditions, however, are not ideal, and your Commission is convinced that they are not only not ideal, but not practicable, for the reason that the railroad forms an insuperable obstacle. It goes without saying that the railroad cannot be removed. The future of the City of Cleveland, its growth and prosperity depend not only upon maintaining the railroad, but in providing it with every legitimate opportunity to transact its business and to expand on parallel lines with the growth of the City. Yet as long as the railroad remains on the lake front, any large park built on the reclaimed land cannot be made either practically or artistically a part of the rest of the scheme on the higher level, because of the intervening freight yard with its unsightly tracks, its many trains and consequent ugliness.

The conditions are bad enough with the present requirements of the railroad, but these will constantly increase and expand and, though the City might resist temporarily any encroachment upon its park, eventually it would have to allow the railroad to extend further and further north. The stretch is altogether too long to be covered with safety. In all of the cities of this country where railroads approach the towns through tunnels it has been a matter of great inconvenience, danger and detriment to the towns, and in time they have been forced to abandon their tunnels or introduce electricity as a motive power. While this is possible in a terminal station like the Grand Central at New York, it does not seem feasible at the present time in a through station like Cleveland. But this is not the only obstacle. Your Commission believes that a large park on this lower level with a northern exposure fronting on such a large lake, would be very difficult to make attractive, and during many months of the year it would certainly be a most dreary, unattractive and useless feature.

The position of the railroad station creates another very serious difficulty, as the building is so large and important in its character, that it must seriously influence the composition if brought entirely or only partly within its limits. When taken in connection with its approaches and yards, the land covered by the railroad station will be very extensive in length. The curves on the west make it impossible to move the station far enough in that direction to take it out of the group plan boundaries. The grades on the east might be overcome, but the station would have to be moved at least a mile in that direction to be out of the line of the composition.

In view of these difficulties, your Commission is of the opinion that, if the railroad station is to remain within the lines of the composition it is too important a building to be pushed to one side and should be placed in the center of the scheme. It should be not only a useful feature but one developed architecturally to its highest degree, and made one of the most beautiful and imposing features of the group plan. It should be placed as far north as possible, so as to obtain, by the extension of the present Summit Street towards the lake, a beautiful park on the upper level and still give the railroad every facility for the transaction of its business on the lower level. It is our belief that this will also be the most economical plan for the present and the future, as the railroad ought to be willing to make serious concessions to the city in exchange for these privileges. An arrangement can undoubtedly be made on this basis that will be to the greatest advantage of both parties, which means the greatest advantage to the City of Cleveland.

When the group plan is developed, the present population of the district lying between the public square and the lake, bounded by Seneca and Erie Streets, will have moved elsewhere. The new public buildings and the many others which will follow will develop this territory and extend the business center of the city towards to lake. We believe that it would not be desirable to have the station a mile or a mile and a half further east and so inaccessible from the business center of the city. We doubt whether, even with the present conditions, this would be desirable. It would, moreover, interfere very seriously with vested rights and property values as they now exist, and we feel convinced that it would not meet with the approval of the majority of your citizens. The development of this entire district and the removal of the present population, makes a large park and a public playground less desirable and less necessary in this particular locality.

Looking at the matter from the practical as well as from the sentimental and artistic point of view, it seems to us, therefore, that there is every justification for this solution of the problem. In the days of old the highways led to the cities and terminated in beautiful and imposing gateways, which in times of war were used as means of defense and were ornaments to the city. With our modern civilization the railroad has practically replaced the highway and the railroad station in its function at least has practically replaced the city gate. If this railway station can be made really imposing-a dignified and worthy monument, a beautiful vestibule to the town-it seems to us that this is a splendid opportunity of achieving great results. In bringing the visitor to Cleveland through a magnificent entrance into the most attractive section of the city, his first impression, which is usually the most lasting, would be a favorable one.

To city a parallel case, how imposing it is to arrive in Paris by the new "Gare d'Orleans," in view of the most famous section of the city which you are obliged to cross, no matter in what direction you may be going. In our own country could anything be finer than the approach to the city of New York through the Narrows and the beautiful Bay?

It remains to be seen whether the citizens of Cleveland, on the one hand, will be willing to concede part of the reclaimed land to the railroad and, on the other hand, what the railroad will be willing to do for the city of Cleveland in exchange for these privileges, not to mention the building of a really worthy, monumental and dignified railroad station, which is such a crying need and is so much desired by the people of Cleveland.

As to the park, every square foot on the upper level is worth infinitely more than many times the number of square feet on the lower level, from the practical point of view, on account of its accessibility, and, from the artistic point of view, on account of its relation to the rest of the group plan and immediate contiguity to the buildings.

Your Commissioners submit with this report a sketch plan marked "A", illustrating a solution of the problem, which practically eliminates the railroad from consideration.

If such a solution were possible, the lower and upper park could be made part of the whole composition and treated together with ramps, approaches, fountains and statuary; if the expense were not prohibitive, and if it were possible, after such a scheme were completed, to maintain it so that it would really be a thing of beauty and not a sad, dreary and neglected feature, it would be a splendid opportunity for an artistic effect and could be made as beautiful as anything of the kind in any other city. We do not believe that it would be entirely practicable to consider the problem in this light however. The severity of local climatic conditions, the northerly exposure, the expense of the original outlay, the tremendous cost of maintaining a feature of this character, which would need to be kept up to the highest pitch of perfection, and the practical elimination of the railroad from this section of the city, has deterred us from considering this scheme as anything more than visionary. We believe, however, that Scheme "B," presented b y us and also illustrated by drawings accompanying this report, meets the practical and artistic conditions in a satisfactory and reasonable manner.

We have given very careful study to the proportions of width and length of spaces and treatment of detail of the scheme. We have developed it on lines which we believe will give a satisfactory and beautiful result, with a minimum of expense for the original outlay, and especially with a minimum of expense for its maintenance, on lines which will make the landscape-work attractive during the largest number of days during the year-practically all the year around. The trees, which are one of the main features of the landscape, massed as shown on the plans will be an attractive feature when in leaf and also during the winter. We believe that it will be practicable to determine on some variety of evergreen, or a very hardy tree, which will retain its foliage during most of the year.

It has been our purpose to find a scheme which would be attractive without depending too much on individual detail. The arrangement of the Court of Honor or Mall on the north and south axes occupies the minimum of land adequate for a scheme of this importance, and it does not seriously interfere with any improved property of great value, as for instance, the power plants, which it would be difficult to move without great cost to the city and great inconvenience to many of the people of Cleveland who depend upon them. On the east of the Mall, Kent Street is eliminated entirely, and the lots remaining between the Mall and Bond Street and facing on the Mall are of proper dimensions for improvement by the erection of buildings thereon. The development of the buildings on each side of this Court of Honor may be very difficult, if not impossible to control. We have, however, every reason to hope that by city ordinance, by public spirit and general interest in the matter, these buildings can be developed on coordinate and harmonious lines, so as to form a great vista, and an imposing and monumental architectural background. One or two mistakes on the part of selfish interests, which it may be difficult to control would destroy much of the effect.

It would seem, however, of the greatest importance that the city should, if possible, acquire all the land facing on the Mall, when purchasing the rest of the property needed for this improvement, and that it then should dispose of it under well-defined restrictions, so as to obtain perfect harmony in the development of the architecture. In the same manner the city should control, if possible, the property on the north side of Lake Street, between Erie and Seneca Streets, to be disposed of under similar restrictions. While it would be unfortunate not to secure or control the grounds on each side of the Mall, it would not, however, be fatal to our scheme, which is complete and consistent in itself.

In grouping the trees as shown on the plan, we are forming a screen which is in itself beautiful and will to some extent mask the buildings should any of them be incongruous, and in any event, will preserve the harmony and continuity of the scheme. These trees should for this reason be rather formal clipped trees, so as to look really like a hedge thirty or thirty-five feet high.

In a general way, therefore, the scheme of the group plan, which is very simple, consists in placing the Post Office and the proposed Library at the south end of the Mall, symmetrically balancing each other. At the north end of the Mall and on its axis, a monumental railroad station-the vestibule of the City of Cleveland-is placed; and an imposing Court of Honor or Mall, lined if possible, with dignified and harmonious architecture, joins these two groups of buildings. On each side of this Mall, and next to the buildings, a roadway is provided for the ordinary traffic approaching them. Two other Avenues for general traffic are provided somewhat removed from the buildings and lined on either side by two rows of formal clipped trees, planted equidistant, with a sidewalk on the outer edge and a gravel parking with seats and drinking fountains placed under the trees the full length of the Mall. These virtually form a useful park, where adults can rest and children can play in the shade. The middle space between the inner row of trees is treated as a very simple parking, the center portion being depressed, forming a sunken garden where statues and individual large trees alternate with each other. Flowerbeds, fountains and other accessories are also introduced at various points as shown.

The fountain at the south end of the Mall, is intended to be a monumental structure into which a play of water is introduced. This, with the two subordinate monuments on the axis of the two main avenues or driveways, form special features of a secondary court at this end of the Mall, and furnish an attractive foreground to the Library and Post Office. The Court itself is defined by the termination of the trees at this point, giving the effect of a big open space where flower parterres are introduced. This court, taken by itself, is a very important feature of the scheme, as it forms the immediate approach to two of the principal buildings of the group-the Federal Post Office and the proposed Library. The northerly façade of the Post Office, originally designed to be very simple, though dignified, has been restudied by its architect, so as to make it quite as important as the southerly façade, in view of the fact that it is to face on the Mall.

At the north of the Mall on the east and west axes of the County Court House and City Hall, the effect of an open square is also obtained with a rich treatment of gardens and an elaborate fountain. This feature in connection with the approaches, terraces and steps leading to the buildings, is intended to give special character to this part of the plan without destroying its relation to the whole scheme. On the lakefront, from Seneca to Erie Street, a treatment of trees similar to that in the Mall has been adopted, while along the northerly boundary a monumental colonnade north of the trees forms a background intended to partly screen the smoke from the trains below.

Under this double avenue of trees it will be possible to provide accommodation for street cars coming to and from the station, either running on to the approach, or by depressed ways, reaching the lower level under the approaching bridge. The space between the triple row of trees and the building is treated as a parkway in the same manner as in the Mall, with the roadway next to the building. The land at the west of the County Court House and at the east of the City Hall has been treated as small parkings, though we understand a part of this may be needed for other purposes. The approach to the station has been made wide enough to continue the effect of the Mall. The monumental screen which terminates the esplanade on the north, returns on either side of the bridge, forming a covered way for foot passengers to approach the station. Parts of the bridge are treated as parkings in harmony with the rest of the scheme.

The triple row of trees and monumental screen will partly shut out the view of the lake. This view, however, will not be attractive when seen with the foreground of a railroad yard, and while smoke and cinders cannot be suppressed; no doubt, eventually, the railroad can be run without smoke or cinders, whether by electricity or otherwise, it would then be possible to remove the panels in this screen and thus form a beautiful terrace promenade from which a view of the lake will be wholly unobstructed by any objectionable foreground, and the view from the buildings over the trees will be even finer.

Another important feature of the scheme is that the City Hall and the County Court House are placed to center with Ontario and Bond Streets, so that in looking from the buildings, these streets will form a vista towards the town and will be at the end of the vista when looking down these streets from the public square and from Superior Street. All the main axes of this scheme are great vistas in whatever direction one may look.

In our plan we have suggested a small park on the east of the proposed library, between the Library and Bond Street. We realize that this land is very valuable, but the open space would seem most desirable for light, effect, and convenience of the Library; moreover, it balances the scheme perfectly, as it gives a park on the east of the Library corresponding with the park on the west of the Post Office.

It is proposed to extend Seneca and Erie Streets northerly over the railroad tracks, by viaducts with inclined roadways leading over the tracks and down to piers on the lake- front, which can be used for recreation piers, public baths, steamboat landings and other municipal purposes. Extending along the lakefront a beautiful quay with trees and parkings has been introduced, thus preserving unto the City of Cleveland the actual water rights, and providing a water front park of sufficient dimensions for all practical purposes of recreation and of public service. The width of this quay and park depends somewhat upon the requirements of the railroad and the limit to which the land can be reclaimed towards the lake. This quay with its parkings, admits of some very simple treatment of tree planting and gardening, as a frame or bordering to the picture when seen from the lake.

The scheme, as explained above and shown on the plans, seems so co-ordinate and yet so simple, that it is our belief that a maximum of effect can be produced at a minimum of expense, that the scheme can be carried out in its entirety within a reasonable short time, and that it is of such a character as to become more beautiful every year as the trees and the natural features develop. When the scheme is developed, it will recall in part many of the fine avenues we point to with pleasure, such as the Champs Elysees in Paris, or the Esplanade in Nancy. In many of these minor details, in the arrangement of the trees and the inner court, the Palais Royal gives a fair suggestion of the sort of beauty aimed at. The Sunken Garden of the Luxembourg with its wonderful treatment of rose bushes and flower beds on the sloping surfaces, suggests what can be done with the sunken garden in the middle of the Mall and the Esplanade. We append to our report a number of illustrations in the form of enlarged photographs, giving views of notable landscape work of a formal character, illustrating, each in its way, some feature suggested by our proposed scheme.

The beauty of a great design involving many elements must rest either, on picturesqueness, arising from various styles, or, on uniformity of style. It needs no argument to prove that in such a composition as this, uniformity of architecture is of first importance, and that the highest type of beauty can only be assured by the use of one sort of architecture. This was the lesson taught by the Court of Honor of the World's Fair of 1893 in Chicago; a lesson which has deeply impressed itself on the minds of the people of the entire country, and which is bearing much good fruit.

The Commission recommends that the designs of all the buildings of this group plan should be derived from the historic motives of the classic architecture of Rome; that one material should be used throughout and that a uniform scale of architecture should be maintained in their design. The cornice line of the principal buildings should be uniform in the height, and the general mass and height of all the buildings on the east and west of the Mall should be the same; in fact, these buildings should be of the same design and as uniform as possible. The same conditions of design should apply to the buildings on the north of Lake Street, between Erie and Seneca Streets.

It must be remembered that the architectural value of these buildings does not alone lie in their immediate effect upon the beholder, but much more in their permanent influence on all building operations of the city. An example of order, system and reserve, such as is possible here, will be for Cleveland what the Court of Honor of '93 was for the entire country, and the influence will be felt in all subsequent building operations, both public and private.

Your commission believes that all the buildings erected by the city should have a distinguishing character; that there is not a gain, but a distinct loss in allowing the use of unrelated styles, or no styles, in schools, fire, police and hospital buildings; that it would be much better to hold the designing within certain lines for these buildings, and that uniform architecture be maintained for each function, which shall make it recognizable at first glance. The jumble of buildings that surround us in our new cities contributes nothing valuable to life; on the contrary, it sadly disturbs our peacefulness and destroys that repose within us which is the true basis of all contentment. Let the public authorities, therefore, set an example of simplicity and uniformity, not necessarily producing monotony, but on the contrary resulting in beautiful designs entirely harmonious with each other. The City and County buildings can not all be monumental, but they may have a distinguishing character that shall at once mark their purpose; and relate them to the main structures of this group. Only in this way, as is so clearly established by the record of centuries throughout the older cities of the world, can a great city become also a beautiful city.

In placing the City Hall between Erie Street and the Mall, balancing the Court House, your Commission has had in mind the fact, that the City Hall seems to be the only other building needed in the near future, which will be large enough and of sufficient dignity to satisfactorily balance the Court House in the composition. On the other hand, it is a question whether the city will undertake to build a Library of sufficient importance to justify the use of the very expensive land upon which we have placed it, or to warrant a building of sufficient dignity and size to balance the Federal Building. In view of these facts, we have considered the advisability of placing the City Hall on the site indicated for the Public Library, treating the site upon which City Hall is indicated, temporarily at least, as a park, with the ultimate intention of placing the Library thereon at some future day. If the Library should not be large enough to balance the Court House, which is more than probable, it might be possible to place on this site two buildings of equal importance, so grouped and joined together by porticos and other architectural features, as to make the mass a complete balance to the Court House.

In submitting alternate schemes for the group plan, the Commissioners have fully developed the scheme marked "B," which makes the railroad station a part of the group plan, believing that the other scheme, marked "A," cannot be as successfully developed. In all of the studies and finished drawings which have been prepared on the line of scheme "A," ideal conditions have been sought, but as the studies progressed, the difficulties have increased, and have been found to be almost impossible to overcome without such sacrifices, as we believe, the citizens of Cleveland would not be ready to make.

In the other scheme, which we believe in every way the best and which we strongly recommend, we have substituted for the beauty of the park, another sort of beauty, that of noble architecture. Whatever decision may eventually be reached, we recommend that as much of scheme "B" as extends from the southerly boundary of the group plan, with the Post Office and the Library, to the northerly boundary of Summit Street, should be adopted; and that the part of the scheme relating to the treatment of the land on the lower level, including the treatment of the railroad, should be seriously and carefully considered, in order to determine, to what extent, it would be advantageous to the City of Cleveland.

Should it eventually be decided to abandon the scheme of making the railroad a part of the group plan, and of devoting considerable of the land on the lower level to its requirements, your Commissioners, while regretting the change, could then undertake the study of the development of a park on the lower level.

It also seems to your Commissioners that the outlying parks, which are now being made about the City of Cleveland, and the other parks and squares within the city itself, should be developed with as much harmony as possible and that a study should be made with a view to utilizing the most important avenues connecting these parks, by making parkways of them as distinctive from the ordinary street, so that in traveling from one park to another, there may always be some avenue of travel, not necessarily the shortest in distance, which will be attractive and agreeable, and afford recreation and pleasure to those traveling upon it. Your commissioners will take up the study of this problem with a view to suggesting some solution of the same, but it did not seem best for them to make any more detailed suggestion at this time, until the main part of the scheme-the grouping of the buildings-was more definitely determined upon.

In our studies, drawings and report, which we present to you herewith, we have developed the facts as we see them, and we lay them before you to the best of our ability. We now stand ready to assist in the execution of whatever course shall be deemed wise by you. No matter what choice you make, the Commission will do all in its power to see that your wishes are faithfully carried out.

Our report, as far as it goes, must therefore be considered as a first or preliminary report, intended to suggest what seems to us a desirable, attractive and practicable solution of this great problem. After it has received due consideration by you, it may have to be modified. In any event, even if it should be adopted as recommended, the scheme would have to b e further developed and receives very careful study in all of its details before its final execution. We therefore lay the matter before you, with the above suggestions and recommendations for your consideration and decision, and await your further instructions.

Very respectfully,
Board of Supervision for Public Buildings and Ground, City of Cleveland

Cleveland, August 1st, 1903