I was expecting a rusting, crime-infested, nowheresville. Instead I found a vibrant, classy city with one of the world’s top orchestras, stunning Victorian-era architecture, acres of parkland, posh hotels such as the Ritz- Carlton and the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, Tiffany stained-glass windows, and a crescent of museums and galleries.
Cleveland is no Mistake on the Lake; it’s a place worth a double take. Filled with landmarks from its robber baron heyday at the turn of the last century, Cleveland was headquarters to J.D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and the 1903 Rockefeller Building is still standing (now filled with luxury apartments). Severance Hall, home to the globally famous Cleveland Orchestra (number three in the world!) was built by John Long Severance (his dad was Standard Oil’s treasurer) in 1928-31. The hall’s lacy silver and cream lotus flower-patterned interior was painted to resemble Severance’s wife’s wedding dress. Another architectural treasure I discovered was The Arcade, now part of a Hyatt Hotel.
No, it wasn’t a dark hangout for pinball wizards. It was America’s first indoor shopping mall, built in 1890 and inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, Italy. A gorgeous goliath of a structure, it was five stories high, the ceiling was a football field-length of paned glass, the floors were laid with intricate mosaics and the staircases were adorned with majestic wrought-iron lamps. Right in the center of downtown’s Public Square, I found Tiffany stained-glass windows inside the Soldier and Sailor’s monument. Designed by Levi T. Scofield and completed in 1894, it is dedicated to the residents of Cuyahoga County who served the Union during the Civil War.
There was more Tiffany-style stained glass in the rotunda of the Cleveland Trust Building, a three-story Italian Renaissance bank built in 1905 and decorated with murals by Francis D. Millet (who died on the Titanic). To quench my cultural thirst, I went to University Circle, four miles from downtown and checked out the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Between gallery gazing, I filled my lungs with oxygen at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, a lush green haven filled with fountains and fragrant blooms.
Before heading back downtown, I nipped into the 200-acre Rockefeller Park, deeded to the city by Mr. Oil in 1897. Along with tennis courts, a greenhouse, a lagoon, it has the beautifully landscaped Cleveland Cultural Gardens dedicated to the city’s various ethnic groups.
Cleveland. Make no mistake, it’s worth a triple take.