Frank Porter Jr., of Central Cadillac-Hummer, discusses the history and role of the company in Cleveland's Midtown Corridor. He discusses the company's origins, the changing environment around the company, and its relationship with Midtown Cleveland Inc. Other topics include the debate over the configuration of the Innerbelt Freeway, the impact of the automotive industry on the area, accomplishments of Midtown Cleveland, and the impact of the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project on the Midtown area. Porter also recalls his childhood memories of the Cleveland area.


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Porter Jr., Frank (interviewee)


Bell, Erin (interviewer)


Midtown Cleveland



Document Type

Oral History


76 minutes


Erin Bell [00:00:00] This is Erin Bell. I’m here with Frank Porter Jr. of Central Hummer Cadillac. Today is August 9. Just go ahead by stating your name, date of birth, and place of birth.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:00:11] Okay. My name is Frank Porter. It’s Frank H. Porter Jr. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on 1–10–45. So I’m 62 years old.

Erin Bell [00:00:28] I meant to ask you this before the interview started. Are you related to the former county engineer?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:00:33] No way. We’re not related in any way, shape, or form.

Erin Bell [00:00:36] I couldn’t remember what his first name was, but I thought it was.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:00:39] His name was Albert, and he went to jail, and he has no relationship.

Erin Bell [00:00:45] I didn’t know that. Okay. So I read recently in Crain’s about some family land holdings you guys had in the eastern suburbs that you were developing. Can you tell me about those lands? They said it was a historic plot of land.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:01:02] Actually, this goes back, and since we’re talking about Euclid Avenue, this goes back a lot of years. My grandfather started in the automobile business with central Chevrolet, which was at around 70th and Euclid Avenue. And he started a Chevrolet store with the help of Motors Holding, which was the financing arm of General Motors, just one day before the stock market crashed. And talk about perfect timing. And he worked very hard and was very diligent and built the company up to be one of the largest Chevrolet dealers in the state of Ohio, eventually. And then they paid off General Motors from the money that he borrowed from them. And he was developing a used car lot. This actually probably goes after World War Two. He and my father were in business then together at the Chevrolet store. Two things happened. One, they were offered an opportunity to become a Cadillac distributor, because the current distributor, when they weren’t producing cars anymore during the war, said that he didn’t want to be in the business. And so they took over the servicing of all Cadillac automobiles out of kind of the back end of their Chevrolet shop, which was its 70th and Carnegie, on 70th Street between Carnegie and Euclid. And then after the war was over, General Motors then came back to them and said, if you would build a new state of the art showroom, we will allow you to keep this distributorship. So that was when they built the facility that we are still in, at 2801 Carnegie Avenue. But the other thing that occurred, there was a piece of land near the Chevrolet store, and they wanted to procure it. And the guy that owned it said, well, I’ll sell it to you as long as you also buy a piece of ground that I’ve got way out in the country on the corner of Chagrin Boulevard and Warrensville Center, right where route eight comes in. And so they. That was the only way that he would sell the property. So they ended up buying this used car lot, but they also ended up with this piece of property way out in the sticks. And that eventually, then they developed that and built a. My dad built a. An eleven story office building on that piece of ground called Tower East. But it’s interesting, that was the way that they ended up with that piece of ground in the middle of nowhere. So does that answer the question, or. It’s kind of going around the block. Sorry.

Erin Bell [00:04:20] No, that’s fine. I guess I was really wondering why Craine’s referred to it as a historic piece of land. I was wondering if there was some kind of.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:04:33] No, actually. All right. There’s another piece of land that we also owned out at I-271 and Chagrin. And that was historic in that it was part of the Van Sweringens Holdings. And the Van Sweringen Company was the company that developed the Terminal Tower, much of Shaker Heights and Pepper Pike and Beachwood. They laid out the street grids for a lot of those communities back - this would have been back in the very early twenties or even longer ago than that. So they were in the railroad business, but they were also in the land business. And this was the - they met ill terms with the stock market crashing, and their fortunes kind of disintegrated, and they ended up. Actually, the land holding company ended up with some parcels that they had not sold, and they were sold at auction to pay for the taxes, the real estate taxes, which were way past due. And my father bought those parcels, bought that entire group of land back in the early fifties. And the large parcel was partially in Pepper Pike, partially in Beachwood. And this was before 271 went through. It was probably about 400 acres. No, probably about 300 acres. And the freeway came through and took close to 200 acres of it. There was 100 acres left in Pepper Pike, and there was about 50 acres left in Beechwood. And the parcel in Pepper Pike we tried to develop for many, many years and had a long extended lawsuit with the city of Pepper Pike because they didn’t want us to build what we thought was the highest and best use for the property. And we also ended up having to have a lawsuit with the city of Beechwood on the other side, trying to develop some commercial activity. We won the lawsuit with Beachwood, and by the time we had won it, the project that we wanted to do had gone away. We also built an office building there, Enterprise Place. And that’s actually the residue of that property, is where we have just finished building a Hummer dealership and are operating a Hummer dealership. And there’s about 15 more acres to the that we’re developing there now. On the other side of the road in Pepper Pike, there was 100 acres. And that ended up going through 22 years of lawsuit. And we finally, in the Ohio Supreme Court, after winning a number of lower court decisions, were overruled very politically. So we sold that property to Forest City, and that’s where Sterling Lakes is now under construction.

Erin Bell [00:07:57] What was Pepper Pike’s objection? What was the problem with your plans? According to them?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:08:04] Pepper Pike - it was a one acre - Pepper Pike was developed with wells and septic systems. And because of that, there was a one-acre minimum that that was needed to build a house on. Because of the proximity of the freeway and because of a number of reasons, we needed city water and we needed city sewers to be able to do a project on this hundred acres. And it was our contention that because of that, we needed a lot more density than what one acre would allow. And so we needed to have somewhere in the neighborhood of close to three families per acre versus one family per acre. So that was what this lawsuit was over that. And we felt that you couldn’t develop it all in housing. You needed some commercial, you needed some multi connected town housing kinds of things, and then single family.

Erin Bell [00:09:19] Let’s go back and talk about Central Cadillac, and could you basically just kind of give me a rundown, some dates where it begins, some important things in the middle up to the present?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:09:35] And we’re now talking about Central Cadillac.

Erin Bell [00:09:37] Yes.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:09:37] Okay. Well, as I mentioned earlier, we have been a Cadillac dealer for this year. It’ll be 65 years. I’m the third generation. My grandfather was the original dealer. And we started originally at 70th and Euclid Avenue, across from the Chevrolet store that my grandfather owned. And this would be on the south side of Euclid Avenue. And then after the war, in 1949, we built the building that is located now at 2801 Carnegie. That was the latest state of the art facility. And because we were a distributor and distributed cars to really all the other Cadillac dealers in northeastern Ohio, we built a pretty good sized facility that has served us well over the years as the business has grown shrunk and grown and shrunk, as is typical, I guess, in the automotive business. But that was really the first brand new facility that was built after the war. And it was well engineered and well organized to the point that the building still serves us very well. It has gone through three remodelings since that time. But it continues to be state of the art and does a very good job for us.

Erin Bell [00:11:13] How has that Carnegie area changed? It seems like to put a dealership there right after World War Two is very different than having a dealership there at the present. And so what does it mean to be in the city to you guys?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:11:33] Well, we are the largest Cadillac dealer in the state of Ohio. And we’re the largest Hummer dealer in the state of Ohio. It’s still a very viable location. It works very well for us. There are several reasons why it works, why we are successful in an urban area when there aren’t a lot of auto dealers in urban areas anymore. Number one, I think it’s a testament to our great employees. I think we do a good job. But probably more importantly, we have a very viable downtown area that some cities are not that way. And probably more importantly than that is the freeway system that is very. It’s not overburdened and it gives us immediate highway access. So people from anywhere in Cuyahoga County can be at our doorstep within 25 minutes at max. So a lot of our customers passed by another Cadillac dealer to do business with us. Plus, of course, we’re very convenient to the downtown market. And there’s still a lot of people that live in the suburbs and work downtown.

Erin Bell [00:12:58] Do you think it adds like a level of prestige also to be in the city? Because like you said, it is somewhat rare. And it’s also a testament to how long you’ve been there because you really don’t see new dealerships springing up.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:13:14] Well, it’s interesting to see how many of our current customers are grandchildren of people that have done business with us for a lot of years. I don’t think there’s a level of prestige to be in the city per se, but we try and do business in a very professional manner. We do it in a very quality manner that hopefully sets us apart from most auto dealerships. And based upon that, hopefully people search us out and try and do business with us.

Erin Bell [00:13:57] You mentioned highway access. What is the current situation with the Innerbelt? There’s some talk about reconfiguring it and closing some exits.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:14:08] It’s interesting because we, central Cadillac was built before the Innerbelt. There was a school actually next door to us. And when the Innerbelt was built, it just happened to be that the exit ramp rolled right off almost into our parking lot on either Prospect or Carnegie. So it gave us tremendous access to the new freeway system that was building up around Cleveland in the fifties, and it has served us well over all these years. There is a move afoot in the second reconstruction of this freeway system that is going to close the exits on either side of us, and we’re fighting along with Midtown to preserve the freeway access that we think is so critical to our success and also to the success of Midtown. So stay tuned for the results of that. It’s still in process.

Erin Bell [00:15:18] So what is the argument for reconfiguration?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:15:22] The argument on ODOT’s part, which is the Ohio Department of Transportation, and basically they are leaning on the rules and regulations of the Federal Highway Administration, where most of the money is coming from for this project, which, by the way, is now priced at $1.5 billion – a lot of money – is that they are concerned about the closeness of the entrance and exit ramps. This creates weaving patterns and creates potential accidents, makes the throughput slower than what they would like. One of our arguments is that the highway system works very well, gives great access to many important corridors of downtown Cleveland, and it’s okay for the throughput, maybe to be a little slow at times to gain that access. But ODOT says that it’s not acceptable, and they cannot get funds from the federal highway administration without closing all these exit ramps and eliminating all the weave patterns that they claim are so dangerous.

Erin Bell [00:16:48] Yeah. The only ones I’ve ever noticed that seem dangerous to me are closer to downtown over by Jacobs Field. When you’re coming up onto the 71 exit, those are blind, but I’ve never noticed any accidents or anything over by your exit. That’s surprising to me. I didn’t know that.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:17:14] Well, ODOT will be very quick to pull out a whole sheet of accidents telling you that this stretch of highway is the most dangerous in the state of Ohio. I’ve lived there on the freeway system, not maybe live there, but I spend more of my waking hours there than I do at home, and I very seldom see an accident. So I think there are a lot of accidents at dead men’s curve, which was poorly designed, and there’s some other accidents, maybe fender benders. We’re leading off of 77. You know, that’s kind of a pinch section there. But overall, I think the system works very well and has for a lot of years.

Erin Bell [00:18:07] I also read that you pretty much had support from city hall on this issue. All the midtown businesses that have been fighting against the reconfiguration configuration of the Innerbelt. City hall is pretty bunch been with you guys all along, is that correct?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:18:25] I think that the councilmen have been, have seen our point of view and have been very vocal, particularly the downtown councilman, because he really sees what is potentially a disaster for downtown. That’s Councilman Joe trying to think of his name right now. Yeah, Cimperman. Right. He’s been very vocal and has really helped lead the charge. The mayor’s office has been fairly quiet on the whole process, has kind of waffled back and forth. So cities, I guess you can say that city council has been in our camp. I’m not sure the mayor has.

Erin Bell [00:19:21] Okay. Another issue that has affected car dealerships in the area was some proposed fencing regulations. It didn’t affect you because you were a new car dealership. But do you have any opinions on that situation? Can you describe that?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:19:43] Yeah, this goes back probably ten years ago, probably because of a lot of used car lots, particularly on the near west side, that were thrown up on vacant land and without a lot of attention being paid to what it looked like. And then to protect their inventory, they would throw up chain link fences and kind of haphazard, haphazard situations to address security that were very unsightly. And so the city passed an ordinance that said that you had to have so much of a buffer if you were going to put up any fence that had to be where it was facing the highway, it had to be a wrought iron type of fence. They now make an aluminum fence that looks like wrought iron. And the city, you know, I think what they’ve done is tried to improve the, you know, the visual quality of a used car lot. And a used car lot is not something that is particularly beautiful to look at normally. And I think that this ordinance probably helped a lot.

Erin Bell [00:21:02] So it was eventually passed?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:21:04] Yes, it was passed and is in effect. And if you notice, we just did a major reconstruction of our dealership, and all of our fencing has now been switched to the wrought iron fencing. And I think it, it matches what else is around. And it looks pretty good.

Erin Bell [00:21:24] Definitely looks nice. This is one of the nicer buildings on Carnegie really. What do you think?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:21:30] And we don’t have any fencing in front of our used car lot because we want people to be able to come in and view our cars at off hours when we’re not open. There are a lot of dealers that are worried about security. We’ve had very few security problems in our location. Matter of fact, our insurance company says that we have fewer security issues than do a lot of dealerships that are in suburban locations.

Erin Bell [00:22:05] So I’m sorry, I kind of lost my place here. So describe for me the area around your dealership on Carnegie.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:22:18] It’s, I think, the area, I’ve been in the business now almost 40 years. If I think back to what our area was like 40 years ago versus what it’s like today, I would have to say that our area has improved in those years. There’s more retail business in the area. There’s properties have been fixed up. There’s a lot more attention paid to what the area looks like, I think. And a lot of that is due to what Midtown has been able to accomplish. Before Midtown, there was a nonprofit organization called the Upper Prospect Area Association, which kind of melded itself into Midtown. That goes back to probably maybe 32 or 35 years ago that might have operated for eight to ten years prior to Midtown, and was really started in conjunction with a street remodeling situation that was paid for by the city with, I think, state funds. And it actually came about because of the historic district. And that was when upper prospect was designated as an historic area, and that was by the landmarks commission of Cleveland.

Erin Bell [00:24:02] And then so Midtown comes in and takes over for them around 1980 – [crosstalk].

Frank Porter Jr. [00:24:08] 25 years ago this year.

Erin Bell [00:24:11] So 82 roughly.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:24:12] Correct.

Erin Bell [00:24:13] Okay. Can you tell me about that? You were there at the beginning of that, were you not?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:24:18] I was right, actually. There was a fellow who owned one of the apartment buildings on prospect by the name of David Bloomquest, who had been very active with the Upper Prospect Area Association, and as were we. And we always, we felt like we would, every time we would make a step forward, we would find ourselves sliding backwards because we were just dealing with an area that basically encompassed upper prospect. And we really didn’t have stakeholders or control outside of that area. So as we would improve something, something would flow in from the street over one, over or two blocks away that would seem to disrupt the improvements that we were making. So it got to be frustrating after a while. And we really needed to, we thought, bite off a bigger area of the east side of Cleveland so that we could have our arms around the business area and really make some progress. So we actually sat down with Mort Mandel, and he said, it’s interesting that you’re here, because I ran into Tom Ralston, who was in the investment business and was just moving his office out to something like 40th and Chester. And we were talking about how we really needed to do something to improve this area. And so they were the ones that kind of put together a group of stakeholders and some outside experts in maybe some areas that we didn’t have expertise within the stakeholder group. To start the original Midtown then called Midtown Corridor. And that was put together with an outside. We hired somebody who came out of University Circle by the name of Peggy Murphy. And Peggy was our first executive director, and she kind of helped spearhead, get everyone together and spearhead the whole process.

Erin Bell [00:26:44] Are the boundaries of midtown. Was that devised by RTA, like some of the other districts in Cleveland?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:26:56] No, it was actually. The boundaries were set up by Midtown. And they were. We were. I think we were one of the first, if not the first, nonprofit redevelopment corporation in Cleveland. And we kind of staked out 22nd street as a boundary, and that’s kind of where the downtown area seemed to finish. And so we said, well, we’ll take over that turf. And we tried to then kind of carve out an area that was basically business, that was made up mainly of businesses, because we were a business driven operation, rather. You know, we didn’t spend a lot of time. We didn’t have a lot of residential. We didn’t have a residential component. And so we strictly revolved around business. And that basically then went from Cedar over to Chester and out as far as 55th Street. And then after several years, we decided that we really needed to also address the area between the Clinic and our easterly border, because there was kind of a no man’s land there. And again, that was kind of spilling over, and we really needed to address what was going on there. So we then talked to some stakeholders up on Upper Carnegie and Upper Euclid. And so we extended our boundaries all the way out to, I think it’s 76th or 78th, something like that. And so that’s our easterly boundary. And then we. Then we also did the same thing over in the Payne area. We expanded our boundaries and went further to the north there to kind of pick up some areas that weren’t covered by other nonprofit organizations as they developed.

Erin Bell [00:29:00] By stakeholders, you mean business owners, generally.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:29:05] People that either have a business, maybe they don’t own the property, maybe they just have the business in the area, or it could be a landowner, a property holder, that maybe he doesn’t have a business there, but he’s just leasing his property. So anyone that has a tie to the area.

Erin Bell [00:29:23] Are there any private homeowners?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:29:28] There are some. Not a lot, but there are a few private owners, I think, of the row houses on Prospect are individually owned, and all of the owners of those row houses over the years have been members of our organization. And then there were some apartment buildings that had a residential mix, and typically, the owners of those apartment buildings have been members of the association.

Erin Bell [00:30:04] So how has the housing stock changed in the Midtown area? You mentioned that there wasn’t that much at the beginning.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:30:10] There was not. Up on Upper Euclid, from about 70th Street to the east, there has been a bunch of new housing that has been built, and that’s an area that our master plan calls for some, some residential development, and there’s actually some office or there’s some warehouse. There’s some warehousing that is being converted now on Euclid Avenue just to the east of 70th Street. Between 70th and 71st, that will have condominiums. I think there are like 100 condominiums in the old Victory building. And of course, there’s been a lot of, there’s been a ton of new housing that’s been developed off of, to the south of Cedar, you know, on our southerly border.

Erin Bell [00:31:14] How does Asiatown fit into the Midtown boundaries? Is that part of it?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:31:22] There are some components of Asiatown, and actually, we are doing a study right now. Midtown and the Asian community are doing kind of a master plan of that area from Perkins and Payne over to our northerly border. So I think there’s a, and there’s a big residential component over there.

Erin Bell [00:31:47] Of course, another thing that I’ve noticed, actually know some people that have opened a gallery just west of the Asiatown. And I read recently that Bill Busta is also opening a gallery in the Midtown area, although I don’t recall where. Who is art dealer William Busta? Are galleries part of that master plan? Is there an arts component to that? Like, you see that with Tremont and Ohio City and a little bit in Detroit Shoreway? Is that a conscious thing or just like a fortunate coincidence that that seems to be happening?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:32:32] No, I think that that could be very much of a component of the retail businesses that have sprung up on Prospect and Carnegie have been driven to a great extent by the traffic off of the freeway, and they tend to be more convenient fast food operations and car repair kinds of facilities. But as a residential community develops, I think there could be, there could be a development of an art component of that. As a matter of fact. Coticchia, Don Coticchia is an artist and has several buildings in midtown. And he had a studio, which actually he now has a studio. I think he’s moved everything over to Tremont, but he had a studio early on, on Carnegie. Now I think it’s a preschool.

Erin Bell [00:33:49] So what do you see as the major. Well, first of all, are you still involved with Midtown?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:33:54] Yes.

Erin Bell [00:33:56] As a board member or.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:34:00] I’m a past chairman of Midtown. I was chairman for a couple years. I was head of the development committee. I’ve worked very diligently over the years on the membership committee. I right now am a co-director of the development committee along with a prior past chairman, Dan Sussen. So, yeah, I’ve been very active with Midtown right from the inception and probably will as long as I’m at Central Cadillac.

Erin Bell [00:34:42] I didn’t ask you too many questions about Midtown. If you were like, oh, there’s a thing from the past.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:34:46] No.

Erin Bell [00:34:47] Okay, so what do you see as the majority, the major accomplishments of Midtown at this point?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:34:55] I think Mort Mandel used to like to say that Midtown is all about hometown people addressing hometown problems with hometown solutions. And I think that just that whole process, people getting together, talking about shared problems and coming up with common solutions works. They also work as a buffer to kind of work your way through, at times a very difficult city administration. You know, when it comes to new construction or it comes to repairing things, it’s just sometimes very difficult to work with city hall over the years. And Midtown has been a conduit to help ease that process. We also obviously have spent a lot of time talking about ways to improve our area. We have done master plans. We actually have changed the zoning now in our area. So any new construction needs to come before not just the city planning and zoning department, but also our design review committee. So we have a say on what happens, and that’s a very important part of development in an area. So I think they made a huge change to our area of the city, a change that wouldn’t have occurred without it.

Erin Bell [00:36:47] So the design review committee at Midtown Cleveland is actually empowered to make decisions on behalf of the city for new development or in cooperation with the city. How does that work?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:37:02] It works in cooperation, but the city is still responsible for enacting the zoning codes on any new construction. So they have that process, but then the developer has to then come also before our design review committee made up of people that, many of them architects, that have an opportunity to say, yeah, that’s good design, or it’s not good design. Is it something that will last and that’ll add beauty to the area or it’s not? And if it’s not, we make suggestions as to how they might improve it.

Erin Bell [00:37:45] What are some other goals that Midtown has for the near future or the long term?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:37:52] Well, we’ve always had several key committees, we kind of call them the core of our business, and that is to take underutilized property and find new owners for it. So property is better utilized. We’ve always tried to improve the visual quality, an area that gets painted by the impression that somebody has of an area as much as it does the actual facts. So, you know, it’s important to have the area look clean. And that’s the other component of all that is safety. So visual quality, safety, development, those are kind of our key goals, our core goals, if you will, as an organization.

Erin Bell [00:38:53] You talked about some underutilized properties, and it occurred to me that in Youngstown, there, have you heard about the plan in Youngstown? They’re basically just tearing down buildings that aren’t being used at the time and saying, well, we’re just going to be a smaller city and we’re going to come to terms with that. Some people propose that Cleveland do something similar. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:39:17] I have read some things about the Youngstown plan. I haven’t read that much about it. I think that probably somewhere between where we are and where Youngstown is, is probably the right place to be for Cleveland. In the downtown area, there’s a huge transition going on from offices and warehouses to residential. The tape, the CD that I left with you about the old automobile businesses that were in downtown Cleveland and the near ring areas around downtown are fascinating to listen to. And it really shows you how much business can change, and obviously a city is going to change with that. So I think that some of our old buildings can find new uses. We certainly have been successful doing that. In the Midtown area, there’s been a lot of development, redevelopment of old facilities into new facilities that work pretty well. So I don’t think we should go through and tear down a bunch of buildings and just say we’re going to be a smaller city. Look at the number of people that are moving back into Cleveland. If you come up with a plan that makes economic sense and you can, you can bring people back, and that’s happening in the city of Cleveland right now. What happens with a core city is going to affect the entire area, and it’s very important that we preserve that core city.

Erin Bell [00:41:12] I absolutely agree. And it reminds me of the argument for a regional form of government. Can you talk about that if you would endorse such a thing?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:41:25] I very much would endorse a regional type of government. We’re partially there, but we haven’t jumped on the true bandwagon like, say, Columbus has or to maybe a lesser extent Cincinnati. But we have regional sewer division district, the regional water district. There are a lot of economies. There are a lot of economies of scale to say that many of our services that we provide to the regional area of our part of Ohio should be regionalized. And with that certainly comes government. There’s a tremendous amount of redundancy that occurs, and that adds cost, and it makes us non competitive and oftentimes non productive.

Erin Bell [00:42:31] How do you. Well, let’s go back. Midtown seems like it’s trying to really brand the area within the Midtown borders with t-shirts, banners, other kind of things that kind of promote the idea of Midtown as a cohesive whole, as a place. What are some other ways that Midtown is working on doing that or even talk about the existing ways that they’re trying to create a sense of place?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:43:09] Well, I guess a sense of place. You know, early on, when we were calling ourselves by the name of Midtown Corridor, we all of a sudden woke up with the realization that a corridor tends to be a very narrow piece of ground that people drive through rather than to. And we think that we can be a destination. We have a high group of. We have a number of businesses in our area. We have access, very good access to downtown Cleveland. We have available parking, you know, which is difficult in downtown Cleveland. We’re kind of a near ring. We’re a near ring to Cleveland. So to that extent, I guess we try and promote ourselves as a good business district to relocate to, as a place that you can get in and out of quickly, that your customers can get to you quickly. If you’re in the delivery business or you’re in the transportation business, you can get to and from most of northeastern Ohio pretty quickly. So it’s a good place to do business.

Erin Bell [00:44:33] So, the Euclid Corridor Project, what do you think will- What has been the impact thus far on Midtown?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:44:42] Well, this is something Midtown’s been actively involved in for probably twelve years, maybe even longer than that. I can remember when I was chairman, which was probably ten or twelve years ago, maybe longer ago than that, meeting with people in the same position. I was at University Circle, at Doan’s Corners, at St. Vincent Quadrangle, other nonprofit organizations up and down Euclid Avenue, saying, talking about the potential of doing something with this very important boulevard through all of our districts. And out of those conversations, and obviously a lot of other conversations that were going on in the city, RTA, you really have two hubs. You have downtown is a big employment hub, and then you have university circle as both a cultural and is becoming a huge employment hub. And why not connect them? And if you connect them properly, you’re going to spurn off of that connection a lot of redevelopment, and we’re starting to see it. Well, we’ve seen a lot of it already on Euclid Avenue, and I predict we’ll see a lot more as the. As this is, you know, as this occurs, the process we’re all going through. Thankfully, I’m not on Euclid Avenue. It has been a tough construction process. I think the contractor’s doing a good job, but it’s just tough to do the total reconstruction that they’re doing without really hindering your access and business.

Erin Bell [00:46:42] So some of the investment that’s coming to the Euclid Corridor is coming in advance?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:46:47] Yes. Yeah, there has been some already. I mean, there are some buildings that have been built. There’s property that’s been purchased. There are a number of pre development kinds of activities that have occurred up and down Euclid Avenue.

Erin Bell [00:47:05] Yeah, I mean, it really seems like with the Euclid Corridor, it’s only going to work if people really think it’s going to work. It’s kind of a strange situation where if people don’t believe it’s going to work, then the buildings, you know, the businesses that we’ve lost aren’t going to come back. There’s not going to be anyone to replace them. So I’ve always found that interesting, that it’s really just a matter of fit for that to actually happen. So it’s good that we’re actually getting some investment upfront.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:47:37] Well, as much of a transportation project, it’s also a redevelopment project. It is redeveloping a major artery in Cleveland, really, from building face to building face, the whole roadbed, many of the utilities underneath the road. So this will really be a state of the art kind of area with great infrastructure and is prime for development. And I think you’re going to see, I think in ten years from now, when you go back down Euclid Avenue, you’re going to be amazed at what you see. I mean, look at the housing that’s occurred up beyond, what is it, maybe 74th or 75th. A lot of that’s being driven by what’s going on at University Circle and the Cleveland Clinic. There’s a lot going on. There’s more going on right now in that area than almost anywhere else in the city, unless you’re building big box retailers.

Erin Bell [00:48:56] While we’re talking about Euclid, tell me about the CD that you brought.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:49:03] Okay. The CD that I brought and I think you’ll enjoy listening to was done. I think it’s dated. I think it’s 1977. It is a group of about a half dozen prior automobile dealers that were all part of a group of auto dealers here in Cleveland called the Greater Cleveland Auto Dealer Association. That organization still exists and has about 200 members. But as dealers retire and move on, there’s an organization called the Old Timers organization, and it’s made up of old managers and old auto dealers, and they get together two or three times a year and do various things. And my dad, my father was president of the association of the Old Timers group, and he got about a half dozen of these dealers together and talked to them. They just recorded for about a day and a half, just information about the automobile business that they remember. And this goes back, in some cases, before World War one. And I think all of these individuals now have passed away, and many of them passed away very shortly after this tape was done. And it’s just a way of capturing some of the history of the automobile business in Cleveland. And it’s fascinating to listen to. The CD actually is about 70 minutes of this day and a half conversation. So it’s boiled down. And what they actually do is talk about Euclid Avenue, Carnegie and Prospect, and talk about the number and the, the number of dealers and the varied kinds of dealers that were located on the different street corners and those highways. The major automobile market was right in downtown Cleveland at the turn of the century, or in the teens and twenties, and then it kind of marched its way out Euclid Avenue. And Euclid Avenue was automobile row for much of the forties and the fifties. And then they kept marching out into the suburbs, and many of those dealerships went away. But it’s also fascinating to listen to the varied numbers of automobiles companies that are no longer, no longer here, like Packard and Nash and DeSoto and Hupmobile and Pierce Arrow. And, you know, the list goes on and on. And some of those cars were produced right here in Cleveland.

Erin Bell [00:52:33] Yeah, there were. Is it Baker and Winton?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:52:37] Right.

Erin Bell [00:52:38] Were also Cleveland, right?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:52:39] Baker and Winton, yeah, that’s correct.

Erin Bell [00:52:41] Do you know anything about the history of any of these Cleveland?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:52:44] Well, I recognize the names, and I knew some of the individuals from when I first got started in the business. But on the tape is a good friend of my grandfather had passed away by the time the tape was done. But a good friend of my grandfather’s was Birkett Williams and Birkett Williams was the big Ford dealer in Cleveland. And he was located on Euclid Avenue, right at where the RTA garage is right now. As a matter of fact, the RTA garage, which would be at about 44th or so and Euclid Avenue right over here is his old dealership. And he was the largest Ford dealer in the city. And it was a crusty old guy who was a good friend of my grandfather’s. My grandfather was the largest Chevrolet dealer in the city. City. And they were obviously big competitors, but also good friends. And it’s interesting, my father was about the same age as Hugh Gibson, who was Birkett Williams son in law. Birkett Williams and Hugh Gibson, father in law and son in law, were in the Ford dealership together. And Birkett Williams, I guess, was not very easy to work for. And Hugh Gibson once got pretty upset with his father in law and said, I’m quitting. And so he actually purchased Central Chevrolet from. From us and went from a Ford dealer to a Chevrolet dealer. And so it’s interesting, they both, when they were growing up and going to Heights High, both my father and Hugh Gibson dated my mother. So there was a lot of competition going around back and forth there as well.

Erin Bell [00:54:54] That’s really fun.

Frank Porter Jr. [00:54:55] Yeah, it is. But one of the other people on the tape is Mark Feder, who was part of the Dowd-Feder organization, which moved up eventually to Mayfield Road, where it’s now Motor Cars. It was Dowd-Feder, and then it was Dowd, and then it became Motor Cars. And they had a Pontiac dealership on Euclid Avenue for a long time. One of the other people on the tape is Sam Marshall, was Marshall Ford, and he was in the business with a number of different franchises before he became Marshall Ford, which eventually moved all the way out to Mayfield Road, near where 271 is. I’m trying to think of some of the other people on the tape. In the introduction of the tape, it lists all the different people, but they tried to remember the names of the different dealerships. And it’s amazing to listen to how many people were in the business and how prolific the dealerships were. At one point, they pointed out that in the city or the greater Cleveland area, there were 42 Ford dealerships, which is mind boggling. And the factories in those days would go to a gas station owner and say, hey, how would you like to be a Ford dealer? Or how would you like to be a General Motors dealer? They would just spring up almost across the street from you. And because of that, the modern franchise laws were enacted to prevent the factories from putting, if you will, a dealer on every corner. In those days, the factory saw as a way of increase in volume. You just put more dealers in. And today they’re being a lot smarter about it and saying, geez, what we need are dealers that are successful so that they do a good job of taking care of our customers and can provide the services that are necessary to attract new customers. So that’s kind of gone full circle. But it was interesting. It’s also interesting to listen and hear about all of the activities that went on all the way down as far as 9th Street, 9th and Euclid Avenue. There were car dealers on the corner of 9th and Euclid, and then they kind of marched their way out. And you can look at, I think, Cleveland State as one of their buildings was once a car dealership. One of the buildings that the Cleveland Clinic has done up on Carnegie, it was once a Packard dealership. You can still see the sign for Packard, actually. There’s a building at Chester and 30th Street, a multi story building that used to be Tahoe Cadillac. And you can still see the Cadillac insignias on that building. The building just right next to the white terracotta building here on Prospect, going up, there’s a sign that says Packard on it. That was once a Packard dealership. So a lot of the buildings up and down Euclid and Prospect and Carnegie, if you look closely, you’ll find out that at one point they were showrooms. And it’s interesting to listen to the tape because it’s some history of the auto industry and how it influenced Cleveland, had a big influence on Cleveland.

Erin Bell [00:58:51] So what are some other ways that the industry has changed since then? You had mentioned the franchise laws and some other things. How has your business in particular changed?

Frank Porter Jr. [00:59:05] Well, we obviously, we’ve become, you know, the business in itself has become a much larger business than it once was. It has become a lot more sophisticated, and it’s become a lot more business like. Some of the things that made us unique over the years, tight financial controls, well managed consistency, are things that made us stand out as an organization from everybody else that was in the business. Now, if you’re not that way, you’ve probably gone out of business. You’ve got to be pretty sophisticated today to run the business. We’re not talking about big profit margins, but we’re talking about a lot of dollars. Our small business last year did $70 million in sales. That’s a pretty good sized business, and you better have tight controls on what’s going on. If you’re going to satisfy your customers and produced the sales and the revenues necessary to keep the business open.

Erin Bell [01:00:42] Do you have anything else you’d like to add? Looks like we’re coming up over an hour now.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:00:48] Just about Euclid Avenue. I can remember some other things that you might. Recollections of when I was younger, I can remember Euclid Avenue at Christmas time. Lower Euclid, this would be. And you’d go to Higbee’s and to the May Company and to Sterling Lindner. You always go to Sterling Linder to see the tree. And those were right on Public Square was Higbee’s, and then the May company was right there on the other corner of Ontario. And then you go up a little, you know, up to 12th street. Was it 12th? Yeah, I guess, yeah. 12th street was the Halley building, you know, a multi story department store. And then kind of caddy cornered across the street on the north side was the Sterling Lindner company, which was another big department store. And they always had a huge Christmas tree. And I can always remember on Christmas, we’d go down on the rapid as a family and go out for dinner and go to Sterling Linder. That was kind of the start of the Christmas season. And I can remember also going down the rapid and walking up Euclid Avenue to Playhouse Square and going to the movie theaters there in Playhouse Square. Those were all movie theaters. And it was, you know, that was a big day to go down. I can remember going to hockey games at the old Arena, which was up at 30th. Well, 40th and Euclid, which now sits on the area where the Red Cross is, right next to what used to be the University Club, and it’s now Myers University and one of the original mansions.

Erin Bell [01:02:46] The arena also had other events, too.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:02:48] They did.

Erin Bell [01:02:49] Can you tell me about some of those?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:02:51] Well, the circus used to be at the Arena, and it would be like the Gund Arena is now. Or, you know, the arena that was built down, you know, kind of in between Akron and Cleveland. And what was it? Not Streetsboro, but Richfield Coliseum. Richfield Coliseum, right. But, you know, that was one of the things that kind of started the slide in the Midtown area was when the Arena moved to Richfield. All of the businesses that were around here, the restaurants and the bars and the businesses that lived off of the almost nightly activity, either closed or had to do other things to attract business. And that was what brought some really seedy activity in. It brought in prostitution and all sorts of bad night spots and things like that that really caused the whole area to sink pretty rapidly. And that was why Midtown was formed, was to try and address some of these issues, and we kind of fought our way back.

Erin Bell [01:04:13] I’m very interested in the Arena, and I wonder why they chose to close down. Was it the size, or how did they end up going all the way out to Richfield? Do you know these?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:04:25] Yeah. The guy that owned, I think his name was Ted Stepien, owned the Cavaliers. Well, first of all, the Barons, which were the hockey team, for some reason, either lost the franchise or hockey became unpopular. But the Barons were no longer there, and basketball was becoming a bigger and bigger thing. And so I think it was. No, it wasn’t Ted Stepien. It was somebody else before Stepien that moved it to Richfield. Another businessman bought the Cavaliers, and part of his deal was that I want to, if I move to Richfield, I can attract crowds from both Akron and Cleveland. That was his thinking. And so they put this thing out in the middle of nowhere and just did huge disservice to downtown Cleveland. And it became obvious pretty quickly thereafter that if you draw everyone out of the city of Cleveland at night and for sporting events and for other activities, it’s not good. And so then you saw a real move afoot to build a new ballpark and to bring the arena back downtown, making sure that the football stadium stayed downtown, opening Playhouse square, and bringing those venues. And if you have the right facilities, people will come to them, and it becomes. It helps an area. It makes the downtown vibrant. It brings activity which is so necessary for the core city.

Erin Bell [01:06:22] You also mentioned. You mentioned some of the crime and prostitution problems, presumably beginning in the seventies.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:06:31] Oh, before then.

Erin Bell [01:06:33] Before then.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:06:34] Well, when the Arena moved out was when it started. Well, it was back in the sixties, really. I think the arena moved in like ’60, maybe ’64, ’65, maybe it was ’68, I’m not sure. But somewhere in there you could look it up, and it was, well, in the mid sixties, let’s say.

Erin Bell [01:07:03] What was it like?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:07:06] The Arena?

Erin Bell [01:07:08] No, the situation where you have this beginning of crime and prostitution during that period.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:07:15] Oh, we had active prostitutes walking up and down Prospect Avenue, you know, calling to you as you, knocking on your window as you stopped, flashing you as you went by. I mean, it was unbelievable. And the whole area was, you know, really got seedy. And, you know, that was one of the things that spurned the Upper Prospect Area Association. You know, we had to, the businesses had to kind of bond together to address this issue, because the police, of course, would, and the judges would say, well, prostitution is a victimless crime, and it really isn’t. The victims are the, the businesses in the area that have to try and counter this very negative activity that’s going on in the street. It got to be very hard to hire employees. It got to be hard to attract new business. People would say, people were almost proud at one point of saying, well, I never go downtown. And you don’t hear people say that anymore, because there are things to do downtown. There are restaurants, there are sporting events, and there are plays at night to attract people downtown. If you let the core city die, the whole area is going to die. My opinion.

Erin Bell [01:08:50] I agree. Would you like to add anything else?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:08:56] No. I can remember working when I was in high school and college. We had a swimming pool company that was located up on 70th street between Euclid and Carnegie. This was the old, this was our old auto dealership. It was the old service garage. And up until just recently, we’ve still owned that building. It was 100,000-square-foot building, an old paper warehouse. And I can remember working in that facility during the summers and walking over to a restaurant. There were restaurants on Euclid Avenue, and there were still automobile dealerships on Euclid Avenue. And I can remember how active that area was and how much it has changed.

Erin Bell [01:10:03] Yeah, I’ve heard stories of people saying, oh, when I was a little boy, I just walk up and down Euclid and stop at every car dealership and check out all the really cool cars. Did you ever do that?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:10:16] No. No.

Erin Bell [01:10:20] Another thing, streetcars. Were they still around?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:10:25] Well, when my father was growing up, he grew up in Cleveland Heights, and there used to be a streetcar that went up and down Fairhill. And I can remember stories about that when he would ride the streetcar. Was it Fairhill or is it. I guess it’s the extension of Carnegie going up towards- Is that Fairhill or is that Carnegie?

Erin Bell [01:10:52] Cedar-Fairmount area.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:10:54] Yeah, up to the Cedar-Fairmount area, that main road was where the streetcars used to go up. I guess Fair Hill is off to the right by the water plant. But he used to talk about taking the streetcar down. He actually worked at the theaters to earn money when he was in high school. And so he’d take the streetcar down to the theaters down on Euclid Avenue. I think the streetcars came right up Euclid Avenue, didn’t they?

Erin Bell [01:11:27] Mm hmm.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:11:28] Yeah.

Erin Bell [01:11:29] And even down Detroit on the west side too.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:11:31] Right.

Erin Bell [01:11:32] They were all over. So where do you live now? Do you live in Cleveland proper or do you live.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:11:38] No, I live in Chagrin Falls. Chagrin Falls, which used to be the country. It’s not so much the country anymore.

Erin Bell [01:11:45] I’ve been driving through there lately on my commute. I just recently moved back to Kent. It’s nice out there.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:11:51] Yeah, very nice. You know, one year, my wife has a lot of allergies, and about seven or eight years ago, we actually moved downtown for about a six month period because we thought that she was really having some bad allergies. And we thought maybe it was the house that she was allergic to. So we moved out and just kind of mothballed the house and moved into downtown Cleveland to the Crittenden Court, which. Which was a brand-new apartment building. It was right on the east bank of the Flats. And we brought our bikes down. We used to ride our bikes everywhere. I used to ride my bike to work. And the downtown community, the number of apartments was just starting to grow at that particular point. It’s a very viable place to live. And we had a ball living down there. We found out that she wasn’t allergic to the house. She was just allergic to all the gardens that we had around the house. And so we made those. We took those out and put pachysandra in. And also the heat had a big deal to do with it. We never had air conditioning, so we added air conditioning to our house. We’re still living in that same house. She’s just fine.

Erin Bell [01:13:15] Yeah. Cleveland is definitely a good place to commute by bike, if you can.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:13:22] It is. Do you commute by bike

Erin Bell [01:13:22] Occasionally. Not as often as I should, obviously, now that I live in Kent again.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:13:30] Well, that’s a long.

Erin Bell [01:13:32] I’m not going to ride my bike to Cleveland. But do you know if the corridor is still including a bike path down Euclid?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:13:41] We do a fair amount of biking, my wife and I do. We think it’s a great way. We’ll go on a vacation to some foreign country or out of Cleveland, and we’ll go biking. We think it’s a great way to see a different area. And we, a couple times a year, will take the bike path that comes down through Martin Luther King and down to the lake shore and then all the way down to the lakefront and then kind of bike through downtown Cleveland on the west side, have lunch or go to the air show or something like that, and then bike back. It’s a great way to get around. They’re almost done with this Towpath Trail, which I guess is going to come all the way to Whiskey Island. And we actually rode that about a month ago. And there were sections done by Steelyard Commons there that they put some bike lanes in. And that’s all going to connect with the towpath. It’s actually almost connected now. That’ll be great.

Erin Bell [01:14:55] So it’s basically going to be one stretch all the way down to, what? Zoar, Ohio?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:14:59] Zoar, correct. Yeah.

Erin Bell [01:15:01] And so it’s connected as far as Steelyard Commons now?

Frank Porter Jr. [01:15:06] Well, it’s connected as far as the Alcoa plant coming up. And then. Have you ridden it?

Erin Bell [01:15:13] No. I know of it, though, one of these days.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:15:16] You should go to Rockside and go north, and you can’t believe you’re in the city of Cleveland. I mean, it’s like being out in the country somewhere. It’s beautiful. It runs right along the locks there, and you can’t see any buildings around. You know, there are deer, you know, running through the fields. It’s unbelievable. And then all of a sudden, you know, there you are right at. Right in the, in the downtown Flats area. It goes all the way to ALCOA. And then you take a couple of side streets and you hook right up with the, you know, with the new shopping center there, and their bike path goes around that. And then there’s a couple of trails that go up over the freeway, and they get you to the Near West Side. It will get you to Tremont real easily. And then from there, you can just get right on the west side. I think the path is going to go along the river, is what the plans are. Follow the river up.

Erin Bell [01:16:09] Cool. All right, I’m going to go ahead and stop.

Frank Porter Jr. [01:16:14] Are we good?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.