Jennifer Coleman, a native Clevelander, works as an architect in the city and is the founder of CityProwl, which provides free audio tours for downtown Cleveland. In this 2006 interview, Coleman, who resides in Euclid Avenue's Midtown district, provides a unique perspective of the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. She speaks about the buildings along the whole of Euclid Avenue and the development of the street throughout history. In offering her opinion on the continued improvement of Cleveland, she stresses the importance of a walkable city, a cohesive development plan, and a population that embraces its diversity.
Coleman, Jennifer (interviewee)
Gibans, Nina (interviewer); Yanoshik-Wing, Emma (participant)
American Institute of Architects
"Jennifer Coleman Interview, November 10 2006" (2006). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 951021.
Transcription sponsored by Leonard & Betty Boesger
Nina Gibans [00:00:00] This is Jennifer Coleman, and I'm Nina Gibans. And so really we should start with your background, I think, which is... So just tell us how you became an architect.
Jennifer Coleman [00:00:21] Okay. I was born and raised in Cleveland, went to Cleveland public schools, and in junior high school, went on to Laurel School and graduated in the eighties, let's say, and went to Cornell University to study architecture. And I came out in the mid-eighties and came back to Cleveland. I originally thought I would stay here for a little while and get my registration and then go to points east or points west. But it was a really great time to be in Cleveland because there was a really, the beginnings of a renaissance in development downtown. And some of the first projects that I worked on were the Tower City redevelopment, the CSU Convocation Center. When I first came out, I worked with Whitley Whitley Architects and worked on some fantastic projects there.
Nina Gibans [00:01:22] So you worked on the Convocation Center at CSU?
Jennifer Coleman [00:01:27] Right.
Nina Gibans [00:01:27] With Hisaka?
Jennifer Coleman [00:01:29] Actually, with... I was at Whitley Whitley and we were working with... I'm trying to think if it was the URS at the time or if it was Dalton. URS Dalton, probably.
Nina Gibans [00:01:40] Yeah. So this is after Hisaka.
Jennifer Coleman [00:01:41] Right. Right.
Nina Gibans [00:01:42] That building was already up.
Jennifer Coleman [00:01:44] Right. So at that point there were just lots of great projects happening in Cleveland. I went to work with Robert Madison's office towards the end of the eighties and, again, working on projects like the Gateway Arena and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and just a lot... I got great, diverse experience. Cleveland was really having a lot of exciting building at that time, and by the time I got registered, there were depressions everywhere else, and all my friends from Cornell were going back to school because they had been laid off and times were very slow for architects on either coast. So and Cleveland did not have that same sort of a commercial implosion. So I stayed here and kept on working on great projects and from...
Nina Gibans [00:02:42] Did you work on the Cleveland Public Library?
Jennifer Coleman [00:02:43] Worked a little bit on the Cleveland Public Library. I actually went from Robert Madison's office to URS, so I was on kind of the Madison's office was doing the renovations and URS was, I think, finishing up on the new library addition. So I got to see... I did not work on either project, but I was around and got to see the genesis of both of those and some of the design goals that were adhered to during the design. So from URS, I worked at what is now Westlake, Reed and Leskosky and stayed there for ten years. I left there in 2005 and started my own very small practice, Jennifer Coleman Creative, and I am very fairly newly minted within the last year and I am focusing my projects on projects in the Cleveland area because I really feel very strongly that I want to see the Cleveland area prosper.
Nina Gibans [00:03:47] Neat. Well, that's a quite wonderful twenty years there...
Jennifer Coleman [00:03:55] Mm-hmm.
Nina Gibans [00:03:56] That you've just expressed. Tell us, though, because obviously if you're from Cleveland your impressions of Euclid Avenue really started much before that.
Jennifer Coleman [00:04:09] My impressions of Euclid Avenue and just the downtown area, both my parents... My father was a longtime Cleveland policeman, and he was a Cleveland policeman for forty years and then he went on to RTA as Chief of Security there. But he would take me around in little jaunts on his days off, and sometimes I remember going down to the jail downtown and just all kinds of different places. So I had this very interesting view of sort of downtown Cleveland in the sixties, really it was the mid-to-late sixties. My mom worked in the Library Department at Cleveland Public Schools, so she would go from time to time down to the Board of Education. So these buildings really had a, you know, a rather grand mythology for me, the downtown coming from the Harvard-Lee area, which is pretty, very residential, sort of brick, brick square buildings down to this romantic place downtown that was still bustling in the sixties. Euclid Avenue was really shopping. Downtown euclid was all about shopping and going back to school and Christmas and Sterling Lindner's and lots of exciting places to be, taking the rapid down on, you know, whether, again, it was for the holidays or in August, I suppose, and getting clothes. So just making that promenade from Tower City or what was, I guess, the Cleveland Union Terminal at that point, up to about East 12th Street, East 14th going to Halle's, that was, as a very younger child, sort of my concept of Euclid Avenue. Right now I actually live on Euclid Avenue, and it's part of the Beacon Place development. And, you know, you get a completely different, even, you know, so late... You look at sort of my very early memories into my memories now or my experience now is is just fascinating. I love being able to get up—I mean, we're literally on Euclid Avenue—and when you get up in the morning and get the paper, you look out and there's Liberty Baptist Church and, you know, you see lots of Cleveland history. You have to kind of scale out the Kentucky Fried Chicken [laughs] and McDonald's, and pick it up like that.
Nina Gibans [00:06:35] Is that the Euclid Avenue Temple? The old...
Jennifer Coleman [00:06:38] Yes.
Nina Gibans [00:06:39] Yes.
Jennifer Coleman [00:06:39] So yes. And it's just to contemplate every day, you know, just the history of Cleveland and the different people and and diverse cultures that have passed through at different points in the last hundred years or so. You know, I'm always struck by by the transformation, you know, both the good and the bad and in between that has happened in our city.
Nina Gibans [00:07:03] Tell us about, I don't think anyone else has the living actually in that part of the city. And it's a new development, new-ish. So tell us about how you made your choice to be there and maybe who your neighbors might be or what they do, and their a response to it, too.
Jennifer Coleman [00:07:26] It was a pretty easy choice. My husband is also an architect, august Fluker with City Architecture, and Beacon Place was the, I think the pioneering residential project, sort of urban residential project about ten years ago. And although he's not in the housing portion of the practice, you know, as it was being developed, we looked on with a keen interest in what was happening downtown, in the fact that there was a, you know, a housing component that was being developed, and at the time in 1995 or so, it was still a bit of a crapshoot to see how successful it was going to be. We actually moved in the last phase. We moved in in 2000. It was a last phase of Beacon Place. They've started the second phase now. And there was a sort of hybrid townhouse, regular house hybrid and August knew about it because it was on the boards and was getting me excited about it. So we decided to move from Cleveland Heights down to Cleveland. And because, you know, with his practice and, you know, our feelings are very strong about being committed to the city, we both just simply loathed driving down [laughs] Cedar Road to work in the morning. That twenty-minute drive just gets you all out of sorts. So we thought, you know, you get the commute telescoped very much. At the time we were both working on Euclid. And again, you're just around so much history. You're right in the thick of things. So it's been great. Like I said, every day from 2000 since we've made the move, I think we both feel great about it. We've got the neighborhood, it's that first phase, there's about 96 units and it just completely runs the gamut from folks who are barely out of college, who are coming into town and some people are longtime Clevelanders. Some people are just brand spanking new to the area, empty nesters who moved from other areas, families. We were very surprised. My... One of my favorite stories is we had moved in, I think, on a Thursday and took all weekend to kind of get straight. So that Sunday we just relaxed. Let's go for a walk around the neighborhood. And it was about four or five o'clock, and we got to the part where the houses were, and all of a sudden it was, you know, all these kids start coming in and they all were about 3 to 4 years old, were little kids. And we were just struck by how many children were in the area. They're all older now, of course, but it sort of gave us a pause. We didn't really even think about that at the time, and now we have a three, four year old little boy, so it kind of fits into to the picture. But people are very, you know, their reasons for being in the city are very different ones, but everyone is very happy to be there and be part of this development.
Nina Gibans [00:10:39] Of course, you'll be right on the corridor and there'll be hopefully a stop in front of your house.
Jennifer Coleman [00:10:46] Yes, there will be. Right now, we have a big dirt pile in front of our house. So it will be... We're looking very excitedly to the point where we will have that. There is a stop already very close to the unit.
Nina Gibans [00:10:59] And what about the shopping center there? Is that doing well?
Jennifer Coleman [00:11:03] It's doing well. It's... I would, I would love to see completely... You know, I think in general, Cleveland could work on whether it's downtown or probably moving up, just sort of a place to kind of go and get your your shoes fixed or dry cleaners. I'd love to kind of have those services within walking distance, but it's great to have that shopping center. I'm probably in there at least once a week getting something or other.
Nina Gibans [00:11:34] I think the people in the Flats and Warehouse District probably would wish for some of those amenities and services.
Jennifer Coleman [00:11:43] Absolutely. And I know that there are plenty of people in the University Circle area who come down to that, to Church Square, to pick things up. So that just kind of shows you you've got people coming from north, south, east, and west to use that market. And even just the density of it could be a lot larger based on the use. And even those, the wonderful Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's, I hear those are the some of the most successful franchises in the region because of that area, you know, for commercial usage.
Nina Gibans [00:12:18] When you were a kid, was the Euclid-105th Street corridor dying or was it live then with the movie theaters and the, or is that before your time?
Jennifer Coleman [00:12:31] I think that was a little... I heard a lot of the discussion about that from my parents. And they were...
Nina Gibans [00:12:36] There was a market there that was...
Jennifer Coleman [00:12:38] Right. They were... They were, you know, that had a completely different feel. My father's... My grandmother, when she was alive, lived on East 103rd and Quincy and had been there for a good chunk of time, so, and we used to visit that area a lot. That was a little bit further south.
Nina Gibans [00:12:54] So by the time you were using Euclid Avenue as a person, there was no railroad.
Jennifer Coleman [00:13:00] There was no railroad. There was, yeah, everything... In fact, it was fascinating as they're digging up the street, Euclid Avenue, I've looked out—our bedroom looks out onto Euclid—and just sort of checking out, well, what did they dig up today? And there are all these railroad ties that they had pulled out of the dirt. And again, that makes, gee, you know, something that I hadn't really thought... I knew about sort of in an objective way but you could really sort of see some of the history coming out there.
Nina Gibans [00:13:31] Right. Well, we did that. We buried all that.
Jennifer Coleman [00:13:34] Mm-hmm. There's a lot of stuff buried there.
Nina Gibans [00:13:37] History is buried every day. All right. So let's start with Public Square and some of the buildings there. You talked a little bit about coming down to shop, but as an architect, maybe you have a different view of some of those buildings and which ones really you would never give up and...
Jennifer Coleman [00:13:58] Oh, goodness gracious, yes. One thing I did not mention, sort of another recent development that I'm doing now is recording walking tours of the city, downloadable walking tours that you go to a website, you can just download half an hour and sort of take a little foray around Cleveland to find out different information, whether you're a tourist or whether you're a longtime Clevelander. And in doing that, I have reacquainted myself in some cases with some of the, you know, fascinating stories of the buildings and the history of Cleveland. So it's a project that's that's becoming a lot dear to my heart because of just how exciting this city has been, is, and will be. And the first tour was of the lower Prospect area. The second tour is of the arcades. And, you know, just doing the research, talking to folks who are or were tenants within the Arcade has just been a fantastic experience. My only regret is that keeping the tours short actually was, you know, for the 30 minutes I have in there, there's probably enough to fill up 4 hours of really compelling information.
Nina Gibans [00:15:21] So who is your client for these tours?
Jennifer Coleman [00:15:25] The clients are literally visitors or anyone who's interested in finding out information about the city, and they've been a fairly diverse group of people. I've done a little bit of metrics to find out who my audience, who are really downloading the tours. And, you know, at first I thought these tours would go on to an iPod or MP3 players, that they'd be sort of these young, techno savvy folks. But it's actually the majority of folks are between 30 and 50 and half live in the city, half live out of the city, you know, in some cases even an hour or more out. So it's really... I've gotten incredible feedback, lots of support. I got an email from a fellow who said, hey, I hadn't been downtown and years and years and this got me downtown. I'm like, well, I'll be there, I'm done, I can stop now, because that's really what I want people to do is just understand and value the city core because you could live in Medina or, you know, all points out, but if the city of Cleveland starts to wither that's going to affect your quality of life, so everyone really needs to be engaged in the city. And the more they know about it, the more apt to be ambassadors for the city they'll be. So although it's not directly architecture, it is born out of my passion for architecture and it's been a gas.
Nina Gibans [00:16:54] So the old Arcade is obviously one of the stops.
Jennifer Coleman [00:16:59] Mm-hmm.
Nina Gibans [00:17:00] But what about some of the other buildings?
Jennifer Coleman [00:17:02] The other buildings? The Halle Building. Gee, you know, almost every single building in some cases, there's always something beautiful that you'd want to keep about it. I'm... I am waiting with bated breath for the county project to start and have the rotunda, the Cleveland Trust rotunda, open to the public again.
Nina Gibans [00:17:28] How do you feel about the way in which they're thinking about that?
Jennifer Coleman [00:17:33] I have been... It changes from day to day, to be completely honest, with the Breuer tower. It's a significant piece of architecture. Is it a beloved piece? Is it one of my favorites? Not necessarily. It's not one of my least favorites by a long shot. I actually really like the lobby of the building. I think one of the most compelling things will be what is the proposal going to be for it. That will tell really the tale instead of saying it's got to go or it has to stay. In what way it will be utilized, I think is something that I'm the most eager to hear right now.
Nina Gibans [00:18:20] There are some other buildings that are going to go.
Jennifer Coleman [00:18:23] Right.
Nina Gibans [00:18:24] Hisaka building.
Jennifer Coleman [00:18:25] Hmm.
Nina Gibans [00:18:26] How do you feel about that?
Jennifer Coleman [00:18:27] I think that especially on East Ninth Street, that...
Nina Gibans [00:18:33] Well, the historical one is at CSU.
Jennifer Coleman [00:18:35] Right. Well... Again, I think the art is in the planning of the buildings. I think that especially if you're traveling, some... One of the things, I was out on a plane with, I think when I was in college, is really going from Public Square out 50 miles on Euclid and just seeing, you know, the difference of how things change as you get further into the city and going further out. And because Euclid is so incredibly diverse, it has pretty much every type of building or non building you can get to on it on some part along the route. And the trip in Cleveland proper in the downtown area I think can be a really fantastic experience, and it has to do with having Public Square, the heart of the city, having an everchanging entertainment-mercantile district. Coming up a little further and we'll see how that actually goes. Having a university, having hopefully a biomedical district, if that actually happens, around East 55th. Midtown is starting to do some interesting things. And not only the universities, but also the hospitals. And it would be great to actually tell a cohesive tale. And I don't think all the pieces are in place right now. One thing that's fascinating that I haven't really seen or heard on the radar is what's happening with Cleveland Clinic and their campus, which is growing and being at, oh, about, what is it, East 93rd, and to see the vast throngs of people passing, crossing the street, going from one place to the other. It's a whole different world at that point. And it's not necessarily, you don't perceive it as the entrance to Cleveland Clinic, but it really is, you know, a key portal. And I know they've got some plans in place and I'd love to see a little bit more. But just the bodies, which we don't have in many places in the city, is key.
Nina Gibans [00:20:53] Aren't they the largest employer?
Jennifer Coleman [00:20:56] I believe they are, if not one of the... Definitely in the city, in the city proper. But again, to have an actual feeling, actual gateway at that point. You know, Cleveland does, you know, there is a question with this shrinking population is about critical mass of people for certain things to occur, mostly economic. But at the Clinic you've got that and you've got, everyone's there obviously for some sort of medical reason, but that's still a community that I think needs that.
Nina Gibans [00:21:27] Well, we certainly can get back to Euclid Avenue whenever you want. But if we've exhausted some thinking about Euclid Avenue, let's move to other plans, the lakefront, convention center and all that, which as a member of the landmark commission, I believe, right?
Jennifer Coleman [00:21:50] Yes.
Nina Gibans [00:21:51] You're going to have to deal with in some way, shape or form.
Jennifer Coleman [00:21:53] Absolutely.
Nina Gibans [00:21:55] So where are you on some of those projects?
Jennifer Coleman [00:22:00] I believe that the city needs to have... I would love to see a very cohesive plan for the projects, all the possible projects that are floating out there that might happen and that might not happen, whether it's casinos, because I'm sure they will be back to visit us in some way or form shortly. The convention center is also an issue that the city must deal with, and I would love to see the city actually have a cohesive plan on how these different items work within the city. How to make Cleveland... How they all work. And in the past we have or I'd say in the past 20 years, 25 years, we have been relying a lot on developers telling us where they would like to see things and it has been hit or miss. We've got beauties like Gateway, which worked out fantastic and really were sort of the beginnings of genesis in particular areas. But then we've had some things because, excuse me, I'm starting to lose my voice.
Nina Gibans [00:23:15] Would you like water?
Jennifer Coleman [00:23:16] Yeah, I'm, I'm getting over cold, so it's just going to be...
Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:23:20] Would you like some water?
Jennifer Coleman [00:23:21] I'm fine. I think I'll just cough it out. But with... We've had our our our projects that have been stars, and we've had projects that I think could have been in the... kept in the oven a little bit longer. And there have been possibly some regrets. For instance, the stadium, which is a great facility and we had to have it go at that particular time. The timing was very great on it. But how much more fantastic would it be if it were literally around the Gateway complex and we had a real, true district which might let us do some other creative things at the lakefront, and we don't have a document or an instrument in hand to actually react to and judge when we do have these potential projects, whether or not the locations and the plans of them are something that would be good for the city.
Nina Gibans [00:24:25] Whose job is that to get the planning here?
Jennifer Coleman [00:24:27] You're getting me into trouble, I'm sure, hut I think it is ultimately the city. This is where... The city knows ultimately, should know what is best for the city. So I think that that would be the starting place for a plan to be generated.
Nina Gibans [00:24:46] So does your planning director agree?
Jennifer Coleman [00:24:49] Yeah. [laughs] I suppose. You know that how different cities do it, I'm not sure. We did a fantastic job with the Group Plan a hundred years ago, a little over a hundred years ago. And you see how that suited the city. So, and we're still technically working on some of the components of that, as I'm sure the convention center could easily fit in on that front.
Nina Gibans [00:25:14] Right. We were reminded earlier that the transportation plan really has taken fifty years.
Jennifer Coleman [00:25:20] Right. And could conceivably go on for another. We're looking, as we're looking at the lakefront and the different changes, that's a multi-decade plan. So that's one component, really, of how this city is going to go into the rest of this century and onward.
Nina Gibans [00:25:40] And fifty years ago, when we dumped the plan for a subway, we were not ready to plan what happened fifty years from then.
Jennifer Coleman [00:25:53] Mm-hmm.
Nina Gibans [00:25:54] So it's hard to get that together.
Jennifer Coleman [00:25:58] Right. It's... It's no easy task. And in no way am I thinking that it is. It's a very hard task. But, you know, again, to see how the city flourishes, and every project is a step and you want the steps to go in the right direction.
Nina Gibans [00:26:17] So what are the things that were mistakes, in your view?
Jennifer Coleman [00:26:32] I would think that, again, I would love to see, have seen a stronger, maybe a more comprehensive plan for our lakefront. I think that's really kind of a ripple effect because you work that back in terms of you get the lakefront set and then you work how it's to tie back into the city. I think, again, the transportation plans with calming the highway and really making fostering a stronger connection would be a great thing. I think every architect is sorry to see the way that the, what was it, the Progressive building not be built on Public Square and we have that parking lot. That wasn't necessarily a mistake. It was just the nature of the economics at the time and the banks combining. But, you know, to have another skyscraper on Public Square is something that I think most architects are a little bit sad, shed a tear, when we pass that side. There's some exciting things happening with building up our housing downtown, and I think that's the frontier that's really going to be taking front stage in the next ten or so years. And again, making Cleveland a livable city where it's not just the architecture but, you know, the economics of what it's like to be a downtown dweller. And that will be absolutely fascinating to watch. It is a high stakes game because if it doesn't work or there's not enough people to support it, then it could not succeed. So we all have to kind of keep our eyes on that and keep... Keep an eye on some of the ways other cities have done that. Other cities that have been successful, how they keep their cities vibrant and keep people engaged.You know, I think on all fronts, it's such a daunting task. People... We also have to, I think, serve and our folks who do live out in the suburbs but who work downtown. Something I think that was left from... I know when I was a child, probably when my parents were children, when you came downtown, it was a big deal. You got dressed up and took whatever transportation and come downtown. We still had that idea. You know, when you go to a ballgame, even before we had the old stadium, you just sort of showed up and went in and took a seat and got a beer. Now it's, you know, you have to be a little, little sharper when you're coming down to Jacobs Field or the Q Arena. But instead of in some ways that works against us because people feel like it is an event to go downtown and not something that you just naturally do. Just to find out what's going on, let me go to where things are exciting. You know, you're.... Gotta get my... go to the ATM machine and get lots of money and put gas in the car and do all these different things. It should be more of a natural draw, I think. And as the vibrancy of the city grows, which means that the critical mass of people grow and having, you know, a little cheap sub shop or two that you don't have to spend $50 on dinner, I think will help that and just bring people down, whether they're taking the rapid or driving. Just someone who's just spending an exciting evening walking down on the street, I think will be something that I'm looking forward to see, just going down to hang out. Hopefully my son will be able to do that with his friends.
Nina Gibans [00:30:19] Okay. Have you talked enough about your favorite buildings?
Jennifer Coleman [00:30:32] My favorite buildings? Okay. You know, it's almost every day you look down and you see something, and that's my favorite building of the day. Um, let's see. I like... I like any of the old, old department stores that are still there. A couple of them have been demolished. A couple of buildings that I miss, I sorely miss, like that... One of my favorite stories, which I have on one of my tours, is the Hippodrome Theater, and which was on not only Euclid but on Prospect. It was just so colossal. And that was definitely on its last legs of, you know, it was, it was still in operation when I was a little kid, but I... Never at that point, it was not playing films of good repute. [laughs] And it was, seems to me it was a summer where I was with some friends and I think my mom was at work and someone's mom was looking after this group of about five or six kids. And it was just for that day, I believe, or a week. And somehow we decided to go down. We had a chaperone and we were going to go see a movie at the Hippodrome, and I knew that was completely unacceptable for my mom to even think about that. And it was, the movie was Blacula, which was a great Black exploitation film with the Black Dracula. And we got... And I was just sick with worry. I wanted to do this because it was very exotic and naughty, but it was... I would have just gotten in all heaps of trouble to do this. So I since I was with the group, I had no choice. [laughs] So we got on the rapid and came downtown and somehow got up to the Hippodrome and went in and the place was just... It was just sort of this den of excess. There was all this neon. They had all these, again these posters of these crazy movies that, you know, there was no way I was going to see them for ten, fifteen years until I was a full adult. And we saw, I don't even remember the movie, but I do remember the lobby. And there was all this gilt, gilt rococo-style ornamentation in it. But again, with this green neon or orange neon surrounding it and it was just surreal. And being seven or eight years old, it's just sort of emblazoned on my mind. And, you know, again, with this fear that my mom was going to come charging in the place any second and grab me and take me home and give me a twenty-hour lecture about not doing things like that again. I don't think she ever found out. [laughs] I don't think I even told her as an adult that that actually occurred. But that was just a fantastic building. I got to revisit that for one of my tours and actually learn some of the details of the history of the building and its significance and scale in the city and really in the nation, because it is a well-respected theater on its own right. So the Hippodrome is gone, again with the parking lot. What other buildings that I... The sort of silent buildings, and Cleveland is filled with buildings that have a particular demeanor when you pass by them every day, day in and day out. I worked in the Huntington Building and the bank lobbies are just fantastic. And, you know, I'd say the average person who might be aware of one of them, but maybe not all of them and that actually is going to be another one of my tours is to go in the ones that are accessible. Again, I think I'll miss AmeriTrust just by timing, but maybe I can add on to it. But the Huntington lobby is... It just goes on. You think you're done with it, and then you take a turn and there's a completely large scale, another area. And with the paintings, artwork that's in there, those are just fantastic, sort of hidden-away jewels. And there's so many of those with the arcades it's the same thing. You can pass by them walking up and down the street and not really know what happens within those buildings.
Nina Gibans [00:34:54] And the Society bank building?
Jennifer Coleman [00:34:55] The Society bank, National City Bank, you know, all those lobbies are just fantastic. And I like the idea that they are hidden to some extent, but it's just unfortunate that everyone doesn't just know
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.