Tom Morgan, President of the Harrington Electric Co., discusses the history and role of the company in Cleveland's Midtown Corridor. Founded in 1907, Harrington Electric Co. has been in Midtown for over one hundred years (as of interview date). The company has primarily performed electrical contracting for buildings in and around the city of Cleveland. Harrington Electric Co. has been involved in the restoration of the Allen Theatre, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall, Myers University, Mather Mansion, and the Stager-Beckwith House. The company also has worked on the May Company Building, Ontario Building, and the Cleveland Clinic. Mr. Morgan discusses the Midtown area when he started working for the company in 1978 and mentions his education, his view of the city, and his thoughts on the Midtown area as a young adult. He is hopeful that Cleveland will once again become a vibrant city and believes that Cleveland's Midtown Corridor can help with such a development.


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Morgan, Tom (interviewee)


Hons, Justin (interviewer)


Midtown Cleveland



Document Type

Oral History


34 minutes


Justin Hons [00:00:04] I’m Justin Hons with the Cleveland State University Euclid Corridor Oral History Project. I’m here with Tom Morgan from Harrington Electric. Tom, thanks a lot for joining us today. If you could start off telling us just kind of a brief background when Harrington Electric was established and how it got its start in the city of Cleveland.

Tom Morgan [00:00:26] Okay. The company was founded in 1907. The original address was 3522 Fulton Road. And sometime in the, I think in the twenties, the company moved down to the Caxton Building, which is down near Jacobs Field and the Q [Quicken Loans Arena]. And subsequent to that, I believe it was in the forties, the company moved to 30th and Payne, and, which is not far from our current location. That was where we moved in 1977, to 3800 Perkins Avenue, where we currently reside. And so we’ve been in the Midtown area for quite some time now.

Justin Hons [00:01:30] Can you talk a little bit about what the company did originally, kind of how it came to be the company that it is today?

Tom Morgan [00:01:39] Uh huh. Well, in the early days, matter of fact, our company just celebrated its 100th anniversary, and we had a party over at our place, and Mayor Jackson came and Councilman Joe Cimperman, and we at that time brought out a lot of old blueprints that Harrington Electric- We are an electrical contractor primarily, and in our history, we’ve also done engineering work. We still do design-build work. But anyway, we had blueprints from some old churches and schools up on display. The oldest set, I think we found was, I think it was from West Tech, and I think it was 1922, the electrical drawings that Harrington Electric did and did the installation. So the company did a lot of work in Cleveland public schools back in those days, also did a lot of work for the Catholic Diocese. And we were involved in some of the downtown department stores, that sort of thing. You know, moving into the, into the fifties. Harrington Electric Company was the electrical contractor on 55 Public Square, which was the first post-World War Two high-rise, modern high-rise building in Cleveland. And we worked on that. I can tell you about some of the other projects as we move into more current times. So, yeah, a lot of diversity of different kinds of projects. So we primarily did electrical construction work, wiring of these buildings. Mm hm.

Justin Hons [00:03:27] Your family is very much involved with the company. Did it begin that way?

Tom Morgan [00:03:33] Well, the name Harrington, our family is the third family to have ownership of it. My dad bought the company in 1971 from two brothers that were looking to get out of the business. Their names were George and Al Fuerst, F-U-E-R-S-T, and my dad bought the company. My dad was a foreman for the company, and he and an estimator project manager, got together and went to the bank and made the arrangements to buy the company. And then about four or five years later, my dad bought his partner’s share so that he then had the business 100%. And that was, like I say, back in the mid-seventies, I would say. And then today, my brother and I are partners in the business, 50–50 partners. My dad’s retired now. Actually, when we had this 100th anniversary celebration, we combined- Even though he had been retired for about a year, we never had a party for him. So we had a retirement party and a 100th anniversary party kind of combined into one.

Justin Hons [00:05:00] Could you talk a little bit about the Midtown neighborhood in 1977 when you moved into your current location on Perkins Avenue?

Tom Morgan [00:05:10] Yes. Well, let’s see. I started working for the company full-time in 1978 after I graduated. And, you know, it’s- I’ll just tell you the truth. One of the interesting things, when I think back about Midtown at that time, I think about Prospect, and Prospect, the transformation of Prospect Avenue from that time till now, it’s just incredible how nicely it’s been restored. Back in 1978, the buildings were run down, the sidewalks weren’t kept up, and there were prostitutes hanging around at the 36th and 40th Streets and Prospect. So it had a reputation for being kind of, kind of a seedy area, you know. And, you know, over the past 30 years, there’s been, I think, quite an improvement in this area for the better. And particularly on Prospect. It’s kind of a- It was kind of a process, I think, of sort of uncovering the gems that were there to begin with. You know, there are some really interesting architecture along Prospect, and some of which was covered over or not really very well-maintained. And so I think that’s what a lot of people have done, is they’ve seen what they had there, the raw material they had to work with. Maybe that’s not the right word, but like I say, the gems that lie underneath some of the old dirt and paint and whatnot, and they were able to uncover that. And I just think it’s a nice- It’s one of the nicest streets now in Cleveland, you know? So I-

Justin Hons [00:07:12] Actually, I want to come back to that, to that kind of development and how that changed then and maybe comparing it to some of the visions for the future now people have in the neighborhood. But real quick, I want to ask, where were you? Were you born in Cleveland?

Tom Morgan [00:07:26] Yes.

Justin Hons [00:07:27] Okay. And what neighborhood did you grow up in?

Tom Morgan [00:07:30] Grew up in East Cleveland and then moved to South Euclid in the first grade. And I graduated from Brush High School in South Euclid and then went to school at the University of Cincinnati for five years. I was in an engineering program there, and that was a co-op program. So I worked for a quarter and went to school for a quarter. And before I was married, I co-oped at a laboratory in Chicago called the Argonne National Laboratory in the chemical engineering division, where we were working on storage batteries for off-peak energy storage and also for the electric vehicle. And then I got married while I was still in school. I was a senior in Cincinnati and got married and finished my co-op work down there near Cincinnati at a nuclear plant. It was supposed to be a nuclear plant. It was supposed to be the Zimmer Nuclear Power Station in Moscow, Ohio, which is just east of Cincinnati or about an hour east of Cincinnati. And because of complications down there, they never completed it as a nuclear plant and instead converted it to a coal-fired plant. But anyway, I worked on that project and then graduated and then moved back up to Cleveland. And I’ve been working for Harrington Electric ever since. So that was in 1978, and so I’ve been there ever since.

Justin Hons [00:09:08] Can I ask you personally as a Cleveland resident, up to the point whenever you began working for Harrington Electric in 1978, could you just kind of describe Cleveland, what you thought of it, how you interacted with the city kind of as a young person before you went away to college, and then what it was like whenever you started working at Harrington, what was your view of the city? How did you see it?

Tom Morgan [00:09:33] Well, you know, being a young man, and in those days, we didn’t have the Internet and we didn’t get around quite the way, you know, people do today, so much so. As a young man, you know, in high school or graduating from high school, I kind of looked at Cleveland in awe that it was this sort of big city. And when I would come downtown, I was just sort of in awe of how massive scale it was compared to how things were in suburban South Euclid. So I remember things like coming down to the stadium to buy tickets for the Rolling Stones concert and stuff like that, you know, and standing in long lines to do that and that sort of thing. And I was just, it was just, to me, big stuff to come into Cleveland and, you know, see all these tall buildings and that sort of thing, you know. So it was, to me, it represented, you know, growth and opportunity and, you know, it, I guess I had a somewhat positive outlook on Cleveland at the time and just was sort of anxious to get into the flow of things, I guess, as a young man.

Justin Hons [00:11:00] How did you view the Midtown neighborhood? I know you kind of already described that. Is there anything you want to add, personally, how you viewed it? Did you hang out there? Probably not, but-

Tom Morgan [00:11:11] Well, no. I mean, over the years I hang out here quite a bit, but no, back in those days it was sort of, frankly, it was a place to come and work and do perform our work and then go home. And really I wasn’t as involved in Midtown as an area until much later. So now I’m happy to kind of be involved here, be down here on Saturdays and Sundays and take an interest in things, whereas back in those days, I guess I did not really. It was just a place to come and work.

Justin Hons [00:11:59] So you started working for Harrington Electric in 1978, and you eventually rose to become president of the company. When did that, how did you rise through the ranks of Harrington Electric or when did you become-?

Tom Morgan [00:12:15] Well, I pretty much did estimating and project management for a good deal of my career. And then I’m not actually sure when I was promoted to vice president of operations, you know, probably in the, I don’t know, maybe around 1990 or something like that. And then, you know, president maybe, I don’t know, 1998 or maybe something along those lines. Sorry, I don’t know the exact dates, but- So, yeah, so I was a project manager that we would, you know, I would estimate the job and try and sell the job and then, you know, work with the customer and get all the materials purchased and schedule the project and stay on top of it. And I really enjoyed that a lot, working on a lot of the projects here in Cleveland.

Justin Hons [00:13:18] Can you talk about some of the projects that your company has been involved with, particularly along the Euclid Corridor?

Tom Morgan [00:13:25] Well, yeah, I brought- I know the microphone can’t pick this up, but I brought a company brochure here so that you have some idea of some of the projects here. Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Allen Theater is on Euclid Avenue, and we’ve done a lot of work along Euclid Avenue. I was thinking last night and this morning about, you know, all the different projects I could try and, you know, talk about. But Allen Theater was one of our very proud to have been involved in that. It was a renovation of that old theater. I remembered being down there for some sort of a, oh, it wasn’t really a rock concert. It was like a jazz guitarist back when I was in high school or early college, and it was all run down and not very attractive looking. And so I’m not sure when this was done, I think early nineties. So I was interested in pursuing this project and we did Cable and Wireless USA was a telecommunications project in the Sterling Building, which is around 13th and Euclid. And that building went through a number of different names. At one time it was a Bank One Building and Sterling Building. I’m trying to think of some of the other names and then let’s see here. As a young man, I worked with a guy from General Electric. His name was John Kennedy, it turns- It’s a coincidence, but he and I worked together on the lighting of the facade of the art museum there facing the lagoon. And so I did the electrical drawings for that and worked with G.E. on specking out the lamp sources for that. And as far as I know, that lighting scheme still remains out there, although they’ve added to it quite a bit around the rest of the art museum. And then this is a photograph from Severance Hall, which is- We worked on that renovation and addition to Severance Hall. I think it was completed back in 1999. And, let’s see here. That’s not Euclid. That’s all the photographs I have on projects that we did on Euclid Avenue, but we also worked on the Myers University project over here. I’m not sure what the address is, but it’s like 38-something Euclid. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but that was the University Club and they tried to use it as kind of a private venture for having banquets and meeting space there. And I think there was maybe some pub there and some athletic equipment, that sort of thing. But anyway, Myers University came in there a few years ago and renovated the whole Beckwith-Stager Mansion. Stager, I think that was the name of the Beckwith-Stager Mansion. It’s one of, I think, I believe it’s only three mansions that still stand on Euclid Avenue, the one being the Mather on the Cleveland State University campus, the Myers University, and then I believe there’s another mansion out by the Cleveland Clinic there, just adjacent to the Cleveland Clinic property that’s still one of the original mansions. I might be wrong about that, but that’s my understanding, is I think there’s only three of the original mansions still standing. So we were very proud to have worked on Myers University in renovating that. Let’s see. Oh, gosh. I mean, we just did a parking garage at 6th and Euclid a couple years ago. For many, many years when I first started, we worked in the May Company building down on Public Square. It’s actually the first or second building on Euclid Avenue and also worked in that one, the Ontario Building, which is right on the corner. We did a lot of work there for KeyBank in both the Ontario Building and the May Company building. But I have a lot of fond memories of working at and for the May Company back in the day.

Justin Hons [00:18:19] When you were younger, you worked for the May Company?

Tom Morgan [00:18:21] No, from Harrington Electric. Our company did a lot of, we did really all the work for May Company there for a certain period. Yeah, that was fun to be involved with. I’ve also done work for National City Bank there. They have a few buildings down there, one at 9th and Euclid and one by 6th and Euclid. The Hanna Building. Gosh, we’ve just kind of done, in other words, these aren’t all major renovations or anything like that, but we’ve done work in a lot of the buildings along Euclid Avenue, from downtown all the way out to University Circle. Of course, at the Cleveland Clinic, we do a lot of work at the Cleveland Clinic. I guess you don’t tend to think of the Cleveland Clinic as on Euclid Avenue, but of course it is. It’s almost like a city unto itself now. But we were given the contractor of the year award in 2005 by the Cleveland Clinic, and for nothing in particular, just good service all around. We kind of did lots of different types of projects for them, and I think they just appreciated that. None of them were really huge projects. It was just a lot of different things, a lot of diverse services, and apparently they appreciated the good service, so they gave us an award for it.

Justin Hons [00:20:05] Can you talk a little bit about- I mean, that’s a pretty amazing set of different places that you worked on, on the Euclid Corridor. But one thing that really caught me was how you went to a concert when you were younger at the Allen Theater, and then, you know, later you’re working on restoring that.

Tom Morgan [00:20:23] Yeah.

Justin Hons [00:20:24] How did that feel? And I guess, like, what were your thoughts whenever you were working on the restoration of Allen Theater, and how do you see kind of your role as a business leader with an important and very specialized service in the city of Cleveland, as kind of part of the restoration of this neighborhood and part of the general restoration of the city?

Tom Morgan [00:20:45] Well, you know, I remember sort of making a conscious decision to, in the contracting business, you know, you have to do that. You have to sort of make a conscious decision to go after something. It’s not just kind of haphazard. You sort of make a decision, you know, this is a project I’d like to be involved in. So the Allen Theater was one of them. And as it turns out, it was, you know, probably the be, probably the beginning of- In other words, we, after the Allen Theater, we did a lot of projects that were related to the entertainment, you know, Severance Hall, and then we did a number of auditoriums and those sorts of things for like University School and, oh, I’m trying to think some other type of auditorium-type things. So I had an interest in the Allen Theater just because it was a cool old theater and it looked like it’d be a neat job to be associated with. And so we just kind of went after it. And it was a successful project. It was with Turner Construction Company, was the construction manager for it. But yeah, it was pretty cool to be involved with and to remember it from when I was a kid going to a rock concert or whatever and then whatever, 15, 20 years later, having an opportunity to work on the restoration of it. Same thing with Severance Hall. It was like, I remember going there when I was in third grade on the school bus and so on, and then to be involved in the renovation of such a really prominent building there. Some people believe it’s the nicest concert hall in the world. So it was a pleasure to be associated with that.

Justin Hons [00:22:56] How do you see that as kind of, how do you see the role you’ve played in and what have been some of the changes that you’ve seen? Kind of your role in Harrington Electric taking a part in the changes in Midtown and I guess just generally on Euclid Corridor in the city of Cleveland as a whole since the 1978 seventies, whenever you first started and you kind of described prospect as that seedy area, how has it changed and how do you feel about the role you played in that change?

Tom Morgan [00:23:29] Well, and you’re speaking about Midtown or Cleveland in general?

Justin Hons [00:23:34] You can talk about Midtown specifically, and then if you have some general comments about the city as a whole, that’s fine, too.

Tom Morgan [00:23:42] Well, Midtown is, and I’ll just say the sort of the east side of Cleveland here. I mean, it’s, you know, there has been development. It’s been in kind of fits and starts, as they say. And, you know, I guess I’m a little disappointed that, in other words, like, you see a company like Applied Technologies come in and build a beautiful modern headquarters there on Euclid Avenue, you would hope that that would be sort of an impetus for further development in the area. And it actually has, I think there has been other development along Euclid that is developing, but I guess I’d like to see it maybe develop a little quicker. I’d like to see Cleveland spring forward, rise up, as we said when we were in the basketball playoffs. I mean, it’s a nice- Cleveland is a sort of a small, large town, you might say. I mean, when I’ve gone to, like, Chicago and Philadelphia and some of the other large cities, I’m struck by the fact that they’re much larger than Cleveland. Cleveland is a large city, but it’s a smaller, large city at this time. I know that when I would look into some of these old black and white publications, I think at one time, Cleveland was at least the 7th largest in the United States, and it may have even been the 5th largest city at one time. And so that’s pretty impressive. And in a way, it’s kind of sad that we not that being big is the important thing, but it just seems as though, it just seems like we, instead of moving forward in some areas, like perhaps Chicago has, we have sputtered a little bit and maybe not taking advantage of certain opportunities at certain times that maybe other cities have. And I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t maybe some further development of the east side of Cleveland and Euclid Avenue. I mean, I’m very happy to see that it’s progressing, and I think that this Euclid Avenue Corridor project is going to be a tremendous help, you know, the future development of Cleveland. So that’s a good thing, I guess I’m just relating that it’s a little disappointing that when you go to Chicago and you see how nice it is and see how much development is there, and you say, geez, why can’t we be like that? We’ve got all the same elements that they do. Why aren’t we as successful as they are? And so it’s just, I’m sort of hopeful that somehow we as a city can turn that around and, you know, shed these jokes that we, you know, are sometimes the brunt of and that sort of thing. And the reality is, when you meet people that have come through Cleveland, they do see its redeeming qualities. They do see what we have here, and they also see that there’s a lot of buildings that are boarded up. And I’ve had, you know, visitors comment to me that they’re struck by the fact that they see, they see some development here going on, but then they also see, you know, buildings that are run down and abandoned and that sort of thing. And you don’t see that in a lot of the other large cities that I visit. You know, the downtown areas are very vibrant, and so we need to, we need to kick it up a notch and get it going here.

Justin Hons [00:27:33] Well, unfortunately, we are getting close to having to wrap it up. I feel like we can probably talk for at least another half hour, but time is always a factor. Let me ask you, how do you see the neighborhood today, the Midtown neighborhood today? What’s the state of it? How has it changed from the seventies, whenever you first started working at Harrington Electric? And what’s the interactions between your company and other businesses in the area, of business leaders in the area, working with Midtown Community Development Corporation and the residents of the area? How do you see all those pieces of the puzzle working together to create the neighborhood as it is today? And what’s the vision that you really see for the future? That’s kind of the question I guess I’ll leave you with.

Tom Morgan [00:28:27] Well, you know, I see this neighborhood, this area and the Midtown Cleveland. Yes, it’s a CDC, but it’s also a group of people that care about the place, that they come to work every day. And in some cases, some of us are down here on the weekends. And so it’s very much a part of our life. And I see there’s a lot of people here in this area that this is a strong organization. Midtown Cleveland is a very strong, successful organization, and it’s people working together to bring improvement to the neighborhood that they work in and live in. There are, as you say, there are residents in the area, too. And whenever we’ve gotten together, you know, business owners or tenants and the residents, it always seems to fit very well. The staff here is great at, you know, having programs like the Green Around Town program that encourages residents and tenants and business owners here in Cleveland to, to enter their, to take care of their landscaping and enter it into a contest if they’re very proud of it. So there’s a lot of encouragement for, you know, improvement of the area and collaboration with other business owners and residents in the area. And I just think it’s very healthy here right now. I think that we have a lot of potential to continue improving the Midtown area. And I frankly think that Midtown, it provides kind of a leadership role in Cleveland because it’s kind of showing the rest of Cleveland what can be done. And my vision is that, you know, I’m just so excited for this Euclid Avenue Corridor to open up. And, you know, I want to see a clean street with nice streetlights and, you know, nice, you know, sidewalks and, you know, everything, you know, nicely maintained and planters with flowers in them and that sort of thing. So as you drive down, you know, through Midtown, you immediately, you know, sort of recognize that you’re in the Midtown area. You can tell by the look of the buildings, you can tell about the way that. The way that things are maintained, that you’re in an area that, where people have done something to, you know, you know, improve and maintain the neighborhood. And I really think that Midtown plays somewhat of a leadership role in Cleveland to show other parts of the city what can be done. There are other CDCs in Cleveland that have things to be proud of as well. And so I think it’s really good for everybody to work together on improving things. Mm hm.

Justin Hons [00:31:14] Thanks a lot for your time.

Tom Morgan [00:31:15] Okay. You’re welcome. Yeah.

Justin Hons [00:31:17] Okay.

Tom Morgan [00:31:19] Yeah, I just- I brought some scans, essentially, from old magazines. And this one here was an ad. I think this was from 1919, a Builders Exchange magazine. And this was an ad. It’s actually blown up, but. So that was that. But then I came across some.

Justin Hons [00:31:37] Describe what’s on the ad.

Tom Morgan [00:31:39] Well, this is- Yeah, I’m sorry, I forgot this is oral. This is- At that time, we were located in the Caxton Building. And you see the phone number there is MAIN-6177. So I’m not sure if that six digits was used or seven digits at the time. But because I remember later after that, it was, like, MAIN-1 or EVERGREEN-1, you know? And I’m not sure. I mean, that might have been MA-6177. So it might have been. I’m not sure. That’d be an interesting thing to find out. And I don’t know what that cent. What that number is there. C-E-N-T period 7591-R. I don’t know what that is. But anyway. Yeah. Harrington Electric Company, electrical wiring and fixtures. And so then- So that was from a 1919 magazine. And then a friend of mine from the Builders Exchange, I’m on the board of directors of the Builders Exchange, Cleveland Builders Exchange. And the executive director of that is kind of a history buff, and he collects old nostalgic magazines and that sort of thing. So he came across- He came across a magazine, and I don’t know that I have the cover of it here, but in that magazine was a full-page ad here. It says, service where service counts. Harrington Electric Company. And this was in, as I said, the Cleveland Barons program and guide. And on this ad here is a letter to Mister George Fuerst, who was the owner and president of Harrington Electric Company. That’s dated November 1, 1937, and it’s from the Cleveland Hockey Club, a gentleman named Al Sutphin, president. And he’s just a letter there describing what a great job we did on the arena and so on. And then here’s a I’m not sure if this was the. No, this says Ice Follies for 1941. So I’m not sure. There was an article in here. Maybe this was the ad in the 1941 program, “Electrical Work in the Arena Installed by Harrington Electric Company; More Than 35 Years of Electrical Contracting Experience.” So anyway, I just printed out some of these things here for you in case they would help in any way with your project.

Justin Hons [00:34:10] Great. Thanks a lot.

Tom Morgan [00:34:11] Mm hm. Okay.

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