At the junction of 6 streets: Eagle Street, Woodland Avenue, Broadway Avenue, Sheriff Street, Ontario Street and Factory Street, lies a prominent junction in downtown Cleveland. The junction seemed to be on the boundary between Lakewood in the west and Downtown Cleveland to the east. It functioned as an integrated network of street work and structure formed out of the buildings around it. It was as if the street junction dictated the stores and dwellings around it.
The location seemed be a perfect location for a market. Opened in the middle of the 19th century, Central Market attracted street vendors and farmers from outside of the city. As popularity grew, so did the value of the land adjacent to it. As a result, businesses and developers were attracted to the area and brought with them traffic and density. Stores of 2 and 3 stories tall lined the streets around this junction in the late 19th century. It became a significant retail district in the city. Essential to the success of the market was Cleveland Provision Company, functioning as a storage facility and a meatpacking and shipping center.
In immediate proximity to the market lay a bowling alley, several convenience stores and fresh produce stores, a tobacco store, and a few residential units. The single-family housing units along Eagle Avenue appealed to the middle-class residents who were attracted to the convenient location and able to live comfortably within the urban chaos that was occurring in the streets. As more vehicles began crowding the streets, these residents were forced to consolidate their property. Developers responded by building apartment buildings that could satisfy more than one family, a new school called “Eagle School” on Eagle Avenue, a bank, and a new shopping strip along Ontario.
As more tenants began flooding Central Market, more land was required and congestion became a major concern. On Sundays, when the market attracted the most buyers, it was almost impossible to drive through the junction. As a result, sanitation, hygiene, over-crowding, and littering became major problems. The city organized programs and took planning initiatives to manage these problems in effective ways such as widening the streets and directing traffic. However, it didn’t seem to resolve the congestion entirely. By 1910 Central Market was at its height.
In the early half of the 20th century, a fire broke out at Central Market, spreading quickly and fueled by the wood construction and poor fire-resistive materials. An entire strip of stores burnt to the ground in the matter of hours and was never re-built. The junction lost its appeal in the matter of hours. Residents moved away, dismayed by the effect the fire had on them and the land. They became attracted to the suburban towns that were quickly emerging adjacent to downtown. With the automobile becoming more economical and convenient, people found that they could drive to work in a matter of minutes.
After the great fire, the junction turned into a park. It attracted few people, very rarely able to expose its land value. With the constant flow of traffic through the site, the lack of maintenance and care, and an inability to redefine the land after the fire, the land as a result became disregarded and forgotten. A few buildings emerged, such as a new post office, the Cleveland Trade School, and a Packaging company. The buildings brought little success and lacked the ability to grow.
Traffic flow became a primary concern. New routes were established but didn’t seem to solve the problem. As highway networks appeared, Cleveland became immediately attracted to the idea of an infrastructure connecting it with the rest of America. The junction that once served the traffic of a few local streets and a main street now transformed into a junction of highways: interstate 77, route 8, and I-90. The junction once again was transformed. It no longer appealed to the people in the way it did decades before.
We see this junction as an interchange of road systems; structures that wrap and define boundaries, guide our movement, and cut through space. The “market-goer” is now the driver. The vendor is now the government official. What used to be a Market for social activity in now a network of concrete and asphalt. Few buildings surrounded themselves around the junction: an administrative building, a hospital, and a community college, among others. The junction was littered with parking lots and highways of railways and vehicles. The junction solved the problem of circulation but denied to resolve the character it once inspired.
Phillip Myers sat in anticipation. It was the middle of the day and he was sitting in Administrative Law, waiting for his professor to dismiss class. For most people, the day was over at 5:00 PM. They could go home and enjoy the evening by watching an episode of Friends and The Bachelor while eating a cooked meal and enjoying the comfort of a well slept, well planned, and well consumed life. But not law students. Phillips life consisted of a series of study sessions, seminars, and lectures; not to mention his internship at a law firm in Cleveland. He was eager to leave class, eager to set foot outside and dash to the Student Center to grab a bite to eat before his 5:30 class on the 3rd floor.
He waited in silence on the 2nd floor of Bert L. Wolstein Hall, the building dedicated to The College of Law. Moments passed and his professor continued his lecture on hybrid vs. formal rulemaking. Philip was having trouble paying attention; the exam was three weeks away and he had too much on his mind. Thinking about law school got him thinking in all directions. His mind was drawn to other subjects, and his eyes were drawn to other places. He began thinking about the environment around him. The tree out the window, which could be cut and made into rafters. The granite window sill, which was cut and shipped from a quarry. The metal mullions that made up the window seemed to form a frame in his mind, capturing a moment in time.
He looked outside at the busy street and an older man on the sidewalk. He appeared to be in a rush, holding a briefcase and anxious to cross the street. He seemed like he could be a law professor, in his early 60s, with a mind full of data and knowledge, and an appearance that showed it. He was waiting for the light to turn red so he could cross the street. It seemed like he was waiting for hours, and that his whole life depended on that light switching colors. The street formed a boundary, a division between campus, between the “good side” and “bad side,” between the north and south, the bright and dark, and the old and the new. The street felt like more than a street. It was four lanes, sometimes five, but felt like more. It was long and straight and held a solid ground with definition that everyone felt. The reality was that Euclid Ave. divided the campus in two. When you walk outside, you walk in straight lines. When you turn, you turn 90 degrees, much like an how you walk in a building. The street acted like a corridor, and the buildings acted like rooms. The function of the campus relied on that street. It divided and dominated the campus.
Finally, the light turned red but the red hand remained lit. Philip saw the man shaking his head in frustration, eager to continue his pacing across the street. The man immediately began looking for a walk button on a nearby pole as the cars came to a complete stop. Philip gazed toward the comfort inn hotel, the plastic blue and white letters that hung over the parking entrance. The street was littered with construction and imperfections: orange cones, tire treads worn on asphalt overlays and chopped curbs, potholes filled with tar, cracks from the weather, oil stains from a car or truck. It all seemed like a reality that couldn’t be found on a CSU advertisement.
The man waiting in anticipation reminded Phillip of himself. Soon he would be outside in the same spot waiting for the light to allow him to cross the street. Soon he would be pacing down Euclid corridor, waiting for the next bus to take him to his destination. While on the bus his feet would stop pacing and his mind would start. Eager to make the next move, he would begin sorting to-do lists and quoting thoughts from before. The corridor, it seems, was a place for thoughts like these. It was an in-between point. A place to recognize thoughts, even if it was the simple thought of turning your head and making sure there aren’t any cars coming from the other direction, or waiting for a gap in traffic to be able to cross again.
Finally, the red hand diminished and the white person lit up. The old man hesitated in relief and darted across the street to the center island where he made a 90 degree lefthand turn, pacing towards the bus stop. Other people began crossing the street as well, sometimes stopping in the center in hesitation and sometimes continuing without, always in straight lines and always turning only when they reached the island. The corridor seemed to serve its purpose: it interrupted the thoughts in your brain even if only for a brief moment. The boundary divided the environment: the people, the campus, the architecture, and the atmosphere were all affected. As the man stood waiting for the bus he looked at his watch then down the street. Realizing the bus was nowhere in sight and without a moment to spare, he began pacing again across the other side of the street, this time without waiting for a signal to cross. A few seconds later, a car drove past in the spot he once crossed. He immediately took a left-hand turn and continued down the other side of the street, feeling frustrated by the time he lost and the moments he wasted.
Brandon E. Young