Then & Now: The Arcade
The restoration of a Victorian-era beauty
By Heather Tunstall
The first thing that inevitably happens when you walk into the old Arcade on Euclid Ave. is the uncontrollable urge to look up. And no wonder--the glass ceiling that arches skyward and spans the entire length of the building is stunning. Literally. You're stunned. It's always fun to look around and see who else is walking in for the first time (hint: they're the ones with their mouths agape).
As a centerpiece of Cleveland's architectural gems, The Arcade is made of two burgundy brick, nine-story towers--one at either end--and a five-story glass and metal atrium with a 100-foot high skylight ceiling connecting the two. Built at East 4th St. in the Historic Gateway District, the $875,000 building was financed by John D. Rockefeller, Steven V. Harkness, Louis Severance, Charles Brush and Marcus Hanna. It first opened in May-1890.
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Downtown Cleveland was an active hotspot—crowded and busy. This was a time when the city was one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest locations outside of New York. Multilevel passageways, called arcades, were built for people to escape bad weather and bustling streets; the Old Arcade was one such passageway between Euclid and Superior Avenue Both avenues have a main entrance, though due to elevation change, the Superior Avenue entrance is one floor below the Euclid Avenue entrance.
The Arcade was the first indoor shopping center in America when it opened. Nicknamed "Cleveland's Crystal Palace," it was designed by John M. Eisenmann and George H. Smith with inspiration from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy. The design wasn't just beautiful—it also showcased some of the newest technology and styles of the time, highlighting Cleveland's place in the global artistic and architectural stage.
At the time, The Arcade had shops, services and fine restaurants throughout five stories. The towers housed businesses and office space and were connected by iron balconies spanning 300 ft., meant not only for functionality and space, but also for great viewing opportunities of the skylight.
Cleveland was expanding, and was one of the political hotbeds of the time (sound familiar?). The Arcade served as the center of festivities for the 1895 Republican National League's annual meeting, setting the stage for the election of William McKinley (then Governor of Ohio) to the Presidency in 1896.
But as decades passed, The Arcade began to fall into disrepair and disuse. For years, it was a struggle for the city to come up with a viable plan for restoration, and many feared that the beloved Arcade would be lost. Despite being the first Cleveland building named a National Historic Landmark in 1975, it closed in the 1990s.
But then, at the end of the 20th century, a hugely collaborative public/private endeavor launched a $60 million effort to restore, renovate and convert The Arcade into 48,000 square feet of retail space, a 10,000-square-foot restaurant storefront, and a new, 293-room Hyatt Regency hotel.
This was no easy feat. In addition to adding updated plumbing and electricity and restoring decorative and structural detail, the 300-foot long steel and glass skylight had more than 1,800 new panes of glass, each of which had to be installed by hand in accordance with the historical society’s guidelines.
The renovation was completed in 2001 with efforts from Marous Brothers Construction, Dimit Architects, Cleveland’s Sandvick Architects, Brennan Beer Gorman Monk (BBGM)/Architects & Interiors, Hyatt Hotel Corp., LR Development Co., Skyline International Development, the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and the Cleveland community, among others, earning the National Preservation Honor Award (the highest honor) from the National Trust for Historic Preservation the following year.
Since the restoration, The Arcade has once again become an anchor of Downtown Cleveland. The Hyatt Regency occupies the two towers and the top three levels of the atrium, with shops and restaurants lining the bottom two levels. Restaurants including The Chocolate Bar, Rising Star Coffee Roasters, Presto Sandwich Bar and others draw Downtown workers and visitors alike.
But that's not the end of the story. The Arcade is continuing to evolve even to this day, with a vision to energize it into a "cohesive hub of artisanal activities." Most of the occupied retail spaces are filled with local vendors ranging from clothing to artwork to specialty gifts, each with their own individual style.
With an on-site hotel, a gorgeous setting, and plenty of open space, The Arcade unsurprisingly has become one of the most in-demand locations for stylish weddings in Cleveland. It's also the second-most-photographed building in Cleveland, behind the Terminal Tower. (Pro tip: Go see it all decked out during the holidays.)
Next time you're Downtown near East 4th St., the Warehouse District or Public Square, pop into The Arcade and see the Victorian-era splendor for yourself.