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Massive Heights Redevelopment Proposed in 1969

By Charles Owen

The year 1969 was a tumultuous time in America. The Vietnam War continued to rage as 250,000 Americans gathered on the Washington Mall in the nation's largest anti-war protest. It was the year that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and the Byrds sang "Hey Mr. Spaceman." It was also the year the legendary Woodstock Music and Art Festival was held at Max Yasgur's farm.

It was a time when minds were expanding and behaviors were changing. In Cleveland Heights, Coventry Village was Cleveland's center for counter-cultural life. Many in Cleveland Heights were worried that scruffy Coventry was emerging as the city's first slum, while others welcomed the transformation as modern and enlightening. While peace, love, and tie-dye seemed to be the new order, some believed that serious decay was beginning to set in. To many, the Cleveland Heights of 1969 was not considered particularly historic; it was just an old community that was getting older. Many citizens felt that something needed to be done before it was too late!

In September of 1969, Mayor Fred Stashower and Cleveland Heights City Council mailed to each household a consultant's summary of studies by the Battelle Institute of Columbus and Barton-Aschman Associates of Chicago. The summary stated that Cleveland Heights was a good community, but that the city needed to address its aging housing and commercial areas through redevelopment. The report outlined some community concerns and outlined some possible steps that might be taken in Cleveland Heights to attract "good developers and stimulate redevelopment in aging residential and commercial areas." The reports cited a growing need for public transportation and the need for Cleveland Heights to facilitate redevelopment of older neighborhoods like Coventry and Cedar-Fairmount.

Artists' rendering of Surrey Place, one of the developments proposed for the point at Cedar and Euclid Heights Blvd. Surrey Place would have featured a combination of new high-rise and low-rise dwellings, office space, and direct access to a new rapid transit line.

A few years earlier, in 1963, the original Severance Center "mall" was built at Mayfield and Taylor on the old Severance estate. Severance Center was a pretty big deal back then and was at the forefront of the new American shopping mall movement. Severance was viewed as the new downtown for the Heights with convenient and plentiful parking. Everyone was going to the new Severance. The mall had department stores, a movie theater, a drug store and many other shops. Some of the stores were very exclusive. Severance was seen the "new" Cleveland Heights.

In its study, Battelle strongly urged Cleveland Heights to promote an extension of the CTS rapid transit up Cedar Glen, Euclid Heights Boulevard, and through the neighborhoods (south of Mayfield) to Severance Center. Much of the new rail line would reinvent the route that the old streetcars once took to the Heights. The Euclid Heights portion of the line was proposed to be below grade in an "open cut" similar in style to the Shaker Rapid's open cut just west of Shaker Square. Ornamental acoustic walls to buffer the rapid would line Euclid Heights Boulevard.

In the study, the scenario deemed "most attractive" would have the rapid line coming down Coventry Road along Rock Court and then running behind the commercial stores on the south side of the street. It would then run eastward, south of Mayfield Road and through many residential neighborhoods, until it reached Severance Center. A terminus capable of storing twenty rapid transit cars was planned for a section of the Oakwood Country Club. It was envisioned that major transit stations should be constructed on Euclid Heights (between Cedar and Derbyshire/Surry), Coventry and Lee, as well as at Severance and Oakwood.

Preliminary drawing showing the dramatic changes that would have ensued in and around the Coventry business district. Note that Coventry Road would no longer connect to Mayfield, and that many of the homes and businesses we know today would have been demolished for construction of several high-rise apartment buildings. In addition, a new rapid transit line would have been established though the area, ending at Severance Center.

The proposal would have required that scores of apartment buildings, storefronts, and single family homes be demolished. In Coventry, dramatic changes were envisioned that would greatly alter the community. Most commercial buildings would be razed and a transit station featuring new stores would be built on a relocated Coventry. The residential plan boldly suggested clearing the land of numerous apartment buildings and in their place a series of high-rise residential structures would be constructed.

In the Cedar Fairmount neighborhood, massive demolition would take place in the Cedar-Surry-Euclid Heights triangle. Some very tall apartment buildings surrounded by townhouses would be built, as well as a sort of performing arts center/open-air plaza. Called Surry Place, it was seen as a dramatic and new "gateway to the Heights." It was even thought that the Cleveland Play House might be persuaded to relocate to the development!

While this massive Heights redevelopment proposal seems curious and even scary to us today, 1969 was a year of contrasts, and the plans represent what many hoped Cleveland Heights might become.

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