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.
Brandon E. Young