Tracy Kidder writes in Home Town ‘how small a piece of time the living occupy’. In this instance he is referring to a place where a mental hospital once stood, now a mound of dirt covered in snow where children go sledding. This transformation is just one example in Northampton, Massachusetts – the physical cornerstone of his delightful book written in 1999.
Kidder’s reference to mortality and how we reinvent things to suit our needs is true of any place in the world. Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio comes to mind.
I remember walking my favorite section of Euclid Avenue in the 1980s. Exiting a bus around 7 in the morning at Public Square and trekking 24 blocks to Cleveland State. I preferred a brisk stroll to transferring buses. After school I would head back to Public Square to catch a bus home to Garfield Heights.
I knew Euclid Avenue had seen better days, but there was something I loved about this old street. The grime and soot that caked its curbs. Steam rising from manholes and sewer grates. The bustle of bankers going to and from work on East Ninth. Construction workers with jackhammers hammering away. Potholes the size of craters swallowing full-size cars. Panhandlers and homeless people begging for money.
High-rises and skyscrapers. Theaters and financial buildings. RTA buses loading and unloading every 100 yards. Horns honking. Street vendors selling Polish Boys wrapped in silver foil. The Terminal Tower casting a shadow on the Old Arcade. And all those pigeons leaving white stains on the sidewalk.
I remember smelling fresh roasted cashews wafting from Morrow’s Nut House by May Company at Public Square. Seeing Terminal Tower drawing nearer. Racing to catch the 88X outside Higbee’s.
I was away from my parents and my home in the suburb, an ordinary place near a shopping mall where history did not run deep. It felt good being in my shoes on Euclid Avenue, with strangers chasing the American Dream and experiencing human misery all at once. I imagined the ghosts of Rockefeller, Tom Johnson, and the 1948 Cleveland Indians hanging out on Euclid. I wondered if they thought about history as much as they helped make it.
I wanted to put my ear to the ground and listen for the hooves of the horse-drawn omnibus trotting on Euclid Avenue in 1860 – before electric street cars, Cleveland Transit and RTA. Back when the avenue was known the world over, elegant and grand. When a row of mansions stretched from Muirson (East 12th) past Case (East 40th) and as far as East 89th Street and displayed how far Cleveland had come.
Euclid Avenue, from Public Square to Cleveland State, is the birthplace of Cleveland’s skyscrapers. It is where beautiful buildings, rich in European design, sprouted in the 1920s. With arcades and alleys that connected it to Prospect and Superior avenues. It is the story of world-class theater and hat boxes from Halle Brothers. It was the home of Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and where a world-class 10K used to start and finish.
Like many Clevelanders, my parents have memories of shopping on Euclid Avenue during Christmas. My father sold appliances at Sterling-Lindner, a department store that put up a mammoth Christmas tree every year. Mom and Dad remember when all of the stores on Euclid Avenue engaged in espionage and tried to outdo the competitors’ window displays.
Days fade away but Euclid Avenue sticks around for us to come up with something new for it. My favorite section of this avenue remains a beautiful part of Cleveland. I am amazed at how wonderful it looks, following its massive makeover that began at Public Square and ran all the way to University Circle. And the atmosphere on East Fourth and Euclid, where culinary, retail and music bump fists. In the words of MC Hammer, you can’t touch this!
Buildings get razed, new ones go up. Fresh footprints become neighbors with the ghosts of those who roamed Euclid before them. When I walk on Euclid I walk where Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession passed through on a rainy day in April of 1865. I walk by windows where businesses come and go. I pass buildings that might one day fall victim to a wrecking ball. Euclid Avenue is a work in progress, and it has the orange barrels to prove it.
I hope a hundred years from now Euclid Avenue won’t be a mound of dirt, covered in snow that children sled down. I envision it looking the same as it does today, with a few new buildings and some nice houses thrown in. Maybe some gardens where parking lots now sit. Maybe some parking lots where empty buildings now stand.
Wherever Euclid Avenue is headed, could anyone have imagined it back in 1796 when that guy named Cleaveland came over here from Connecticut?
“Euclid Avenue at Night” image above depicts a 3 x 5 in. postcard published by George R. Klein News Company (1930-1959 time period). It is part of the Walter C. Leedy postcard collection at http://www.clevelandmemory.org at Cleveland State University.