Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cleveland and the 40th Rocky River High School Reunion

Prior to picking up Limo I went to the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River to celebrate my friend Vori's 40th High School reunion. Mine is coming up soon, but I think that with his, I have covered the bases from the safest distance. Also mine is in LA and living vicariously is not bad in this case. I attended this event to support my friend in this keystone life event and have similar support picking up my new puppy. I did not want to put Limo in a travel crate and have him traumatized by an 8 hour drive. All the books recommended that you take a friend who could drive while you play and bond with the pup along the drive. So this is what I did and Cleveland and the Reunion were a bonus.

All in all, Cleveland is a fabulous place that like Philadelphia and most other cities in the heartland, with few exceptions, have seen better times. Speaking as a planner, they have done themselves in by building tier upon tier of suburbs ringing the core and walking away from a wonderful downtown center which has not much by way of public transport to funnel people back and forth. Cleveland's location on lake Erie could not be nicer. Huge oak trees grow in parks along the lake. That is some accomplishments and thanks to the rust of the industrial belt the waters of Cuyahoga River that flow into Lake Erie, once known to be flammable are now cleaner than ever. People swim on Lake Erie and along the many historic communities that are scattered along the lake front.

The missing link here seems to be density. You can drive most places and encounter three people (my standing joke to Vori). You hardly ever see more than that and I continued to rib him that the same three people are moved around to give an impression of activity. The facts are that everyone here seems to have their own house and they are scattered everywhere so it is hard to see a person walking anywhere. Even malls seem to have few people in them. I toured all of downtown Cleveland parking anywhere and everywhere I chose in the civic center, the old commercial center, etc with parking places abounding. All day parking in downtown Cleveland is a bargain $2.50.

What I saw was quite eye opening and quite beautiful. It is clean and functional and although under populated it is not derelict like so many places in Philadelphia or Detroit (although I am sure there are neighborhoods that are less desirable). Just before departing for Cleveland a friend from Detroit sent me this latest poll attesting that Cleveland was the worst city in the country. He was excited because he lives in Detroit and it has just been upgraded to second worse. I have been to both places and I can't see what these polls are about. I think some people have nothing to do other than make lists for lazy people who can't figure things out on their own. Bottom line: Cleveland is quite nice. It may not be what it was, but then, what is?

Memorial Fountain Downtown Civic Center

Arcade Building now a Hyatt

Civil War Memorial Downtown

Simple Downtown Building Lobby

Louis Sullivan's Rockefeller Building

Deco Masterpiece Bridge Pylon

Rocky River as it meanders through the "Valley"

There is this chasm that locals refer to as "the Valley" that encircles Cleveland in a horseshoe type shape also referred to as the Emerald Necklace. This glacial scour from the last glaciation has left a valley of varying widths but roughly 300 feet lower than the the surrounding terrain and also stretching down the state for several hundred miles. It is certainly a wilderness and a city park system within the development all around Cleveland. Cuyahoga National Park is just outside of the city limits and explains the landscapes surrounding the confluence of the Ohio and the Erie Canals. These are some of the nicest parks and in the best shape I have seen in any American city.

25th Street Market

Vori enjoying old haunts

Cleveland Art Museum

On the east side of Cleveland is the University Circle with its grand institutions that serviced the historical city and is adjacent to the old rich suburbs of Cleveland Heights and, tonier still, Shaker Heights. The Cleveland Art Museum is magnificent in structure and collection. It is free to the public. Few institutions in the country aside from the Smithsonian, which we all pay for, are free. In the midst of all this culture and botanical gardens was the Peter B Lewis Building a new structure by Frank Gehry that is part of Case Western Reserve University. Wonderful! I worked on MIT's Stata building by Gehry which this resembles and also prone to masses of snow falling of its convex roof in winter. You decide, I think it is great fun.

Gate to Botanical Garden

Peter B Lewis Building by Frank Gehry

Rocky River High School Reunion at Clifton Beach Pavilion

Well this trip was about renewing our past, Vori with his reunion and me with my Dalmatian. In 1940 Thomas Wolfe's You Can't go Home Again was posthumously published - a testament that you can't go "back home to the escapes of Time and Memory". I wrote a blog about my failure to bring a past memory into the present last year. I guess like all generalities some things work and others don't. Vori's reunion was planned by a group of friends trying to regain some past and memories of youth, which is a challenge at best under all circumstances. This event worked as well as it did, because of the people involved. I know I may be sticking my foot in it, but there is something about midwesterners that is real and genuine and lacks pretense. Of, course there are exceptions, but generally speaking....

The reunion was held in a beautiful location called the Clifton Club in the beach pavilion overlooking the bluffs of the surrounding Valley and the immense lake Erie. About 150 people attended and wore buttons that had their name and a picture of what they looked back then. There was a general excitement about all these people seeing each other with the proverbial "you haven't changed" phrase coming out of their lips. I told Vori that they should be shot for that kind of statement because WE ALL HAVE CHANGED! Specially when you consider we are 40 years older than we were in high school. The spirit may not have changed, but we have. I just turned 59 and haven't got a clue what that means anymore because I still feel 29 or something like that. Regardless, change is the only thing that is certain in life. For three days the members of the Rocky River Class of 1970 had not, they were full of youth, vitality and charm - at least they were for me.

Sunset from the Clifton Club Beach Pavilion


  1. I know what you mean, I still feel 29, too! Loved your pictures, especially the Arcade and Rockefeller building - impressive.

  2. Makes me want to take a trip to Cleveland!

  3. Thanks for the kind words about my hometown. I received this link as a forward from family members who live in various suburbs around Cleveland. I read this as I sit in my bedroom in Melbourne, Australia always chasing the greener pasture on the other side of the hill. When I return home I often reflect how decent a place Cleveland is. Luckily people in other countries don't know of the poor reputation Cleveland has so I don't always have to cheerlead for its cause. In fact one of my co-workers, a true blue Aussie says Cleveland is on the top of her list of places to visit in the US...she is a rock-n-roll fan.

  4. Is Cleveland the home of the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame?
    If so, take me there tomorrow!!

  5. I forgot to mention something that Sarah and Ed discussed about Cleveland being the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is also situated on the shores of Lake Erie and quite an attraction for travelers worldwide. I have always been on a tight agenda and have never visited. Louise, lets go!

  6. As an ex-Clevelander I also find myself defending that which I know is beautiful and sublime against the bad press and falsehoods portrayed by those who have never been there.The Great Lakes region has never been understood by the smug Easterners who think the Alantic is the only ocean,let them continue to think that,and keep Cleveland the friendly,kind and welcoming city that it is.