Steven Litt says County is going wrong way and must stop and consider other prospects

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 09/20/2006 - 00:16.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Architecture Critic Steven Litt is really stepping up to lead the march for a better designed Cleveland, as he has been the lone mainstream voice for intelligent redevelopment of the I-90 bridge and is the lone voice at all for saving the landmark Breuer Cleveland Trust Building on East 9th, between Euclid and Prospect, which for 15 years Jacobs demolished by neglect and now Cuyahoga County Commissioners want to demolish by force, all to build a replacement building for their offices, at great cost to taxpayers... this is the Jacobs Coast Guard Station fiasco X 1000, and community leaders are letting this one slide too.

While many leadership critics debate the wisdom of the commissioners buying the property in the first place - and challenge the premium they paid Jacobs in what can only be called a bail-out - only Architecture critic Litt has stepped up to defend the building itself as an important modernist statement for the world. As he says, in his 09/19/06 column in the PD, "The three Cuyahoga County Commissioners soon could decide to pull down a 29-story downtown office tower by Marcel Breuer to make way for a new county administrative center. That would be tragic and wasteful for a city with a limited supply of historic buildings worth saving from any period. In this case, apathy over mid-20th-century Modernist architecture is playing a huge role. Debate over the Breuer tower has been absolutely anemic."

I agree completely with Litt and suggest we all follow his advice, that "Public should speak up before tower comes down". Clearly, the Commissioners bought the Jacobs property for the lovely Rotunda... who wouldn't want to work in such an obviously beautiful building... I'm sure that is why Jacobs bought it too... ego tripping. What none of them seem to understand is art and architecture, beyond the obvious. This is one reason I am very skeptical about supporting the bid to raise takes from smoking to pay for arts... who decides what is worthy art. If it is these commissioners, they are spending taxpayer money destroying important art, and must be stopped rather than enriched. I feel the Breuer Building makes a statement about Cleveland at its peak, when the powerful Cleveland Trust Company that George Gund had grown and chaired brought great modern art and architecture to this mid-west town. How far Cleveland has descended since the days of George Gund.

destroying art/funding art

Norm you make a good point about our county commissioners wanting to get money from smokers to fund art while they consider destroying art and history. Where is the sense in this?  Can we get Jack Ricchiuto’s trust equation to work here?

    Steve is outraged that not more of us have spoken up about this issue. Did you send this comment to the PD for their letters section? I am going to forward it to Steve. The photos are great. It is difficult for those of us who read the PD online at to get a sense of what we might lose. These photos offer a convincing argument for the eye.


Where is the AIA on this issue? Have CUDC or Kent architects weighed in? What about any of the other illustrious individual architects or historians? Have we heard anything from Cleveland Restoration Society or the Cleveland Landmarks Commission folk? Where is our county planner on this issue?

    And my final question: can we please stop planning to tear down our historical buildings and agree or at least decide on a set of green building codes and redevelopment targets that include consideration of transportation, air and water quality and neighborhood revitalization before we remove any remaining shreds of our city's history?

Architecture is art - Breuer is a Portal

Imagine Cleveland leaders deciding to melt the Noguchi Portal sculpture Aggie Gund gave Cleveland for in front of the Federal Building. Same deal demolishing the Breuer. It shouldn't even be an option.

I remember the first arts summit when Commissioner Dimora made the opening comments, starting with something like "I don't know anything about art - I'm a food connoisseur" and he patted his stomach. He said he knew arts were important but doesn't know art. From Litt's article it sounds like Dimora is on the fence about the Breuer building so I suspect if told it is important he will side with reason. That will save the building.

Having suffered through enough of the bridge BS and seeing the Historic Landmarks Commission in inaction, and others in bad action, I find Steven Litt is the only person who speaks honestly and with open insight about what property is important in NEO - he doesn't need to sell out to anyone - so I'm glad he has taken the lead on the Breuer. I know CUDC agrees with Litt, so the other experts in town are on-board. I don't know about the professional architects in town, as they don't seem to have a voice in this community... I can ask Fleishman and van Dijk, as they've been around NEO long enough to have a real voice here... we'll see if they'll speak up.

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Steven Litt discussing Breuer Bldg. on WKSU

On my way to the CUDC for the Albini opening, I heard an interview with PD Architecture Critic Steven Litt on WKSU regarding his efforts to increase dialog in NEO about saving the Breuer building from demolition by the Cuy County Commissioners. I'm now more convinced than ever about this issue - both from Litt's insightful viewpoint and from seeing the Albini show. Albini worked largely in the early-to-mid-20th century in Europe and his designs are minimalist modern - bleeding edge then and now. As modern, they can be viewed as simple, and disposable - returing me to the appreciation of Warhol and the simplicity of many of his images, within the complexity of his delivery. Do we throw away a Campbell soup can painting by Warhol because it is modern - pop - presenting something innately disposable? Or do we recognize great modern artistic interpretation of a moment in time, by an artistic genius, and preserve that as important for all time? Throw away the Breuer - throw away all modern art. I have no doubt the County Commissioners would gladly do both, until they learn a Warhol Campbell Soup Can painting just sold at auction for about $12,000,000 - about half what the commissioners paid for the Breuer, and that they may some day be recognized as some of the most shrewd arts buyers in history, or the most foolish! The original 32 Campbell Soup Can paintings were bought for a total of $1,000 and sold for I believe $50,000,000 to MOMA so I would say seller Irving Blum (gallery director who gave Warhol his first exhibition, and bought the whole show) it the most savvy art buyer. We should all let Dimora know he could be up there on the same list of arts geniuses, or with Leo Castelli, who refused to give Warhol the early respect he deserved...

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County Commissioner just says NO to public and art

On the same day that ODOT said NO to the public, historic preservation, quality planning and design and the future of Cleveland, in their uninspired if not inept planning for the Innerbelt Bridge, the Cuyahoga County Commissioners agreed to destroy one of the only buildings in NEO designed by a historically important global architect, Breuer.

It is thus impossible to take serious their proposal to tax cigarettes for the arts - our community leadership does not care about the arts.

The only quality independent voice for architecture in NEO, Steven Litt, architecture critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, advised against these leadership project decisions, and was broadly ignored by all. So, over the next few years Cleveland will tear down a landmark building (actually, several), construct a lame replacement, build an unnecessary new bridge (and ribbons of new roadways and ramps), renovate a decaying bridge (which must be replaced later this century), and spend over a $ billion+ in taxpayer money in the process, all against the public interest. Nice to live in such a rich and powerful community.

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What came before the Breuer?

I'm saddened to hear that Cleveland's long history of destroying its architectural treasures still continues today. What great old building was on the site of the Breuer building?  And don't forget, the Breuer Building is only 1/2 a block from what was once Millionaire's Row. When you go to any great city in the world you can always take an architecture tour, what do we want on the  Cleveland architecture tour -- Crocker Park? Legacy Village? Lets just forget about offering an architecture tour of Cleveland. Its too embarassing how much we have destroyed here.

Herb Crowther on Breuer Building

At a Ronn Richards presentation on energy at CSU, Herb Crowther explained to Ronn the negative environmental impact of the County plan to demolish the Breuer Building. Ronn said he wasn't familiar with the building and situation - it was important the Herb brought this to Ronn's attention, and that Herb is keeping this in the public dialog!

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point of no return on Breuer

It is time for us to mobilize with letters to the County Commissioners on their proposal to tear down the Breuer building. See Steve Litt's article here.

I am appalled that the County Commissioners cannot see the benefit in retaining this important part of Cleveland's history. I am appalled that they would spend an additional 20 million of our hard earned tax dollars to tear it down, and you gotta ask, “Where will it go?” Will the demolition debris be the next bed for dredge that is placed in a new Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) whose site is yet to be determined? Or is a large part of the additional 20 million, the tipping fee for disposal of this massive amount of concrete? I just don’t have the facts… help, please if you know.

What I do know is that I worked on Public Square when the building that previously occupied the site of the BP tower came down. We watched in horror as these building were lost to demolition.
Cuyahoga Building

The Cuyahoga Building was located at the southeastern corner of Superior Avenue and Public Square. Along with the Williamson Building (located on the adjacent site to the south), the Cuyahoga Building was demolished in 1982 and the Sohio Building (now 200 Public Square) was constructed in its place. Many consider the loss of the Cuyahoga Building to be one of Cleveland's greatest architectural setbacks.

and the Williamson Building
The Williamson Building was located at the southeastern corner of Public Square (at Euclid Avenue). It was once the tallest building in the city. Along with the Cuyahoga Building (located on the adjacent site north), the Williamson Building was demolished in 1982 and the Sohio Building (now 200 Public Square) was constructed in its place.

We have lost so much... when will it stop? Having relocated here from a costal town in North Florida which had no interesting architecture to speak of, I have been thrilled to live in a home built in 1917 and in a region that has so much history in its built environment. I do not wish to live in a replica of Celebration, Florida. I love the stories out buildings tell us and I think it imprudent and anti educational, anti art history to continue this useless demolition – never mind the money and energy lost to these razing and rebuilding plans.

Consider what we may lose for the Innerbelt...

  • King-Otis Cleveland Mounted Police Stables, 1150 E. 38th Street
  • Wasson Street Freight Station, 3615 King Avenue
  • Brooks & Company Structural Iron, 3000 Lakeside Avenue
  • Ohio Boxboard Company, 1400 E. 30th Street
  • Michael Groh House, 3043 Superior Avenue
  • Loft Building, 2800 Superior Avenue
  • Artcraft Building, 2530-2570 Superior Avenue
  • William A. Howe Printing/Graphic Arts Building, 2630 Superior Avenue
  • The Musterole Building, 1748 E. 27th Street
  • Sterling & Welch Company Warehouse, 1800-1802 E. 25th Street
  • Apartment Building, 1900 E. 30th Street
  • The League House, 2344 Prospect Avenue
  • Independent Towel Company, 1802-1822 Central Avenue
  • Cleveland Rapid Transit Storage Company, 1022 Carnegie Avenue
  • Tactical Rescue Station, 312 Carnegie Avenue

  • Marathon Gas Station, 300 Central Viaduct
  • Broadway Mills, 300 Central Viaduct
  • The Central Viaduct Pier Ruins
  • Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company Steam Plant, 2470 Canal Road
  • The Nickel Plate Railroad Viaduct
  • Distribution Terminal Warehouse, 2000 W. 14th Street
  • Ferry Cap & Set Screw Company, 2151 Scranton Avenue
  • The Norfolk and Western Railroad Bridge over Scranton Road
  • Scranton Road Proposed Historic District, Fairfield Avenue to I-90
  • Engine Company No. 8, 2599 Scranton Road

Think of the energy embodied in these buildings! Where is the Restoration Society in this argument? Have they been knee-capped?

When will we see the sense in saving, celebrating and restoring our heritage; in conserving the resources, both material and human expended in creating what we have?

When will we have commissioners who are prudent with our money?
We need to get our letters written and submitted.

Does anyone have access to pictures of the Davis Brody Bond and Kohn Pedersen Fox/Robert Madison design images? Can we evaluate the future possibilities for the site or must we sit idly by and throw good money out the window when there are so many other uses for $20 million in Cuyahoga County? This article indicates that we will not see finished designs before 2008.


I am not opposed to change. But with this sort of planning, I am ready to scream, “Stop! Put on your thinking caps! Surely there is a more prudent solution!!!” And if there is, what does that look like? Here’s an IdeaCenter for ya, Commissioner Hagan. It’s got all the good thinking you need to wrap your head around, and it is right in your county’s downtown – you don’t even need to travel to Las Vegas to learn about it! Dude, you could even look at John Hay High School for an example. Then there is a 1918 bank building renovated as the Cleveland Environmental Center in 2003, which now houses many of the area's environmental organizations. You can read more about it here, here, and here.


I will repeat that a county that manages to launch another tax to support arts and culture needs to lead by example and model the behavior they collect our tax to support. If you say you support arts and culture, history and education and tear down this pice of art and achitecture's history, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth.

Will I say one day in the future to my grandchildren who admire the one remaining example of Breuer architecture in Cleveland at CMA, “Yes, we once had a 29 story tower designed by Breuer, but someone’s lack of foresight destroyed it…” all the while knowing that I did not protest?

Really compelling perspectives on Breuer

That is so well presented, both on the absurdity of the Breuer situation and on our overall destruction of the historic character of our city. I was just in Pittsburgh today and they have done so much better at retaining their historic buildings that the city still has a livable feel. We have really blown it by throwing away our historic character - latest tragedy is the City of Cleveland giving Wolstein demolition permits for all the old warehouses in the Flats, which any sane city would protect as a landmark district.

The only discussion I've heard lately in public about the Breuer was at the Ronn Richard presentation on advanced energy when Herb Crowther stood up and made a passionate plea to Ronn to preserve the Breuer. Ronn said he wasn't familiar with the issue.

I agree we should save the Breuer and we should figure out how to do that - this one doesn't have Ed Hauser behind it so it needs a like-hearted champion.

I think a good place to begin is educating Ronn Rochard and Stuebi on captive energy and the environmental harm caused by demolishing the Breuer and building a new structure... considering the Cleveland Foundation is in a great old historic building, I think Ronn will get this. We should propose to Ronn establishing a policy to consider captive energy in development planning, as part of our regional green strategy.

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