Jim Herman has worked as an architect in Cleveland since 1963 at the firm that is now called Herman, Gibans Fodor. His area of interest is senior housing, and he has worked on a number of such projects in the city, including the Bruening Health Center at Judson Park. In this 2006 interview, Herman discusses his work in Cleveland, focusing on the challenges of building homes for the aging, the construction of the Jewish Community Federation Building on Euclid Avenue, the Tower City/Terminal Tower renovation, his opinion on Euclid Avenue's redevelopment, other opportunities for development in Cleveland, and challenges presently facing the city as it tries to attract more residents and tourists.
Herman, Jim (interviewee)
Storey, Sandra (interviewer); Tobey, Addie (participant); Yanoshik-Wing, Emma (participant)
American Institute of Architects
"Jim Herman Interview, 26 July 2006" (2006). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 951005.
Transcription sponsored by Leonard & Betty Boesger
Sandra Storey [00:00:00] ... for consenting to do this interview today.
Jim Herman [00:00:02] I'm looking forward to it.
Sandra Storey [00:00:04] Would you please tell us your name and your current position?
Jim Herman [00:00:07] My name is Jim Herman and I'm president of Herman Gibans Foder Architects.
Sandra Storey [00:00:15] And what was your neighborhood like when, that you grew up in?
Jim Herman [00:00:20] Well, I grew up here in Cleveland in Shaker Heights. And it was a pretty homogeneous neighborhood when I was growing up. I had a... I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood that were my age. We all went to elementary school together. It was... It was just a very easy and good time. Then I think I went through schools in Shaker. And the same thing continued until I finally graduated.
Sandra Storey [00:00:53] Where did you do your training?
Jim Herman [00:00:55] I went to Cornell in 19... Well, I graduated in 1958 in architecture. I have a Bachelor of Architecture.
Sandra Storey [00:01:17] What led you on that path? Why did you choose architecture?
Jim Herman [00:01:21] Well, I think for a long time, probably starting when I was 12 or 13, I enjoyed art. I was good in math and I liked to look at buildings and look at my environment. And I thought that made a lot of sense. And I met with a few architects early on. I was one of the... It was just lucky, I think, that I kind of knew what I wanted to do at a very young age, and I still feel that way. So that's that's unusual and very good.
Sandra Storey [00:01:52] Was there any one person or people that influenced you in your studies?
Jim Herman [00:01:59] No, I don't think so. I think it was just just a general feeling I had. I just I kept doing art, extra art classes, and I always enjoyed that. And maybe when I retire, I'm gonna do it again. [laughs]
Sandra Storey [00:02:14] [laughs] When you got out of your schooling, did you come right back to Cleveland?
Jim Herman [00:02:22] When I first got out, I went into the Army and it was a short stint because I was in the Army Reserve, so it was only six months and then six and a half years in the Reserves. But I came back to Cleveland after the Army and I worked with an architect called Outcalt Guenther for a little over a year. And then I moved. I went to Detroit and I worked with Minoru Yamasaki and Associates after that, who is a well-known architect and especially well known for being the designer of the World Trade Center. And I was fortunate enough to be there during that time period. So I had a had a wonderful experience, and I now have a lot of sadness about what went on. Special sadness.
Sandra Storey [00:03:20] Tell us a little bit about what you did in the design for the World Trade Center.
Jim Herman [00:03:26] Well, the building was structurally designed and it had columns every three foot, three inches on center, all the way up. And a key feature of the design was how to transfer those columns down into the ground and allow access to the building. Because if you transferred them down in the ground and you didn't spread them out or do something, you couldn't get in because there wasn't enough distance between columns. So I spent literally six months looking at options for different ways of doing that, building models that were... How to do it. And I think I feel pretty responsible for the way it ended up, which was at my young age, a pretty, pretty good thing to have happened.
Sandra Storey [00:04:21] I have to ask you one more question about that. When you were designing the columns for the World Trade Center, what were some of the factors that you were thinking about? Stability?
Jim Herman [00:04:37] Well, I think it was it was determined structurally that somehow those columns would be transferred so that three columns would become one. So you'd have instead of one, three feet three inches between columns there you'd have nine foot nine inches. And there's still a lot of different ways architecturally to make that transition. Structurally, there aren't that many different ways. There still has to be large beams that carry the load. So it was a matter of how to deal with that visually.
Sandra Storey [00:05:16] Interesting. And you said you had mixed emotions when the World Trade Center went down. Anything you want to share?
Jim Herman [00:05:24] Well, I just felt, I mean, obviously, everybody felt terrible about it. I just felt like because I had this special relationship with the building, that I needed to really think about how a building no longer exists and something that I had worked on and was very fond of. So it probably just bothered me even more than some other people. I don't know.
Sandra Storey [00:05:52] So you were in Detroit? From Detroit where did you go?
Jim Herman [00:05:56] Well, I spent about, a little over three years in Detroit and then came back here and, believe it or not, I came into the firm that I'm now with. So this was in 1963. And I'm still here. [laughs] And I'm still enjoying it most of the time.
Sandra Storey [00:06:15] What are some of the projects you've been involved in in this firm?
Jim Herman [00:06:21] Well, there's obviously an awful lot of them over this time period. I think that early on I was involved with the Westerly in Lakewood, which is a subsidized senior housing building. It was actually the first one in Ohio. And that was a... It was a good experience. We did... We did the Chesterfield Apartments, which is at 12th and Chester, and that was done in conjunction with an out of town designer. But I spent a lot of time working on the project and it again was, was probably the... It was the first urban elderly housing, not elderly housing, but I would call it luxury housing in Cleveland, in downtown Cleveland. So it was it was a very exciting project to work on. I worked on the Jewish Community Federation, which is at, on Euclid at 18th. Actually, that was one of the first jobs that I had when I returned to Cleveland. And I specifically remember laying out brick arches that were on a sloped surface so that they actually could be constructed. I don't know if you're familiar with that building, but it does have arches across the front and it's, and there are diamond-shaped columns. So when you get to the top, the one side of the diamond continues around, if you can visualize that. So it was difficult to figure out how to do that and how to make it work in a brick building.
Sandra Storey [00:08:11] How did you make it work?
Jim Herman [00:08:13] [laughs] Well, I think in the layout of a very large scale, but to scale, could figure out just how many brick it was gonna take to go around and how the tapered surface would still be okay as long as the joints didn't get to be too big. So it was kind of a challenging study. To go on, I don't know about buildings that I [am] proud of. Is that what you...
Sandra Storey [00:08:38] Well, I'm gonna back you up for a second. Can you describe a little more about the Jewish Community Federation building? Is it on Euclid Avenue? So.
Jim Herman [00:08:50] Okay. Well, first of all, it is true that we were the what they call the architect of record. But Edward Durell Stone from New York was the design architect. So we coordinated with him on the design. It's the headquarters of the Jewish Community Federation, and it's a four-story building that has about 30,000 square feet and a large plaza in front, which I think was at that time one of the few places where you could have some extra open space with a little fountain and patio area. So it was quite... It was quite nice and I think well, well fit into the environment at the time.
Sandra Storey [00:09:44] Go ahead. What did you... The next one along your journey of what you're...
Jim Herman [00:09:49] I'm most proud of?
Sandra Storey [00:09:49] Proud of. Yeah.
Jim Herman [00:09:54] Well, I think when we got into the field of designing facilities for older persons, the nursing home at Judson Park, which was called Bruening Health Center, was a project that I was the project architect on and was the main designer. And I really am proud of it because it had some new theories on how to deal with the residents of the building in terms of subdividing them, so that there were clusters of rooms that were served by the nurses and by the nursing aides and required less steps, less running back and forth between central station and and the people that they were serving. So decentralized all the services. And it was really an exciting thing to to do. And also the site itself, which which is unusual because it's about a 70-foot hillside site, which in Cleveland is hard to find. I don't know if you know, it runs between Ambleside and at the top of the hill is Chestnut Hills in Cleveland Heights. It also spanned Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, so we had some challenges to work out in that way, but I think building on the hillside was also quite a challenge architecturally and structurally, and that was a project that turned out to be very well and won some awards. So...
Sandra Storey [00:11:36] That's something to be proud of.
Jim Herman [00:11:37] Right. [laughs] Yeah, I kind of... If you were to ask, what's my feel like my most important achievement, I would say that building is the one I feel the best about. Now, that building, though, is something like 20 years old already, almost maybe 18. Since then, we've been involved with some other nursing home projects. The Gardens at MacGregor and Amasa Stone, which is in Cleveland Heights. Excuse me. It's not in Cleveland Heights. It's in East Cleveland, but it's adjacent to Cleveland Heights. Was a... Was a special project in terms of satisfying what the client wanted, which was really something that was special. And fortunately they had the dollars to do it and really it was exciting.
Sandra Storey [00:12:39] What was their specification?
Jim Herman [00:12:42] Well, they really wanted a lot of community space so that it wasn't a nursing home only. It served the community as well. That was one specification. They wanted larger rooms and all private rooms and all each with their own toilet room. And again, decentralized services of staffing and dining and activity, etc.. And I think the other... The other challenge about it, which wasn't necessarily their specification, but it was, again, a hillside site, we really took advantage of that in the design. And they call it the Gardens at McGregor because there are a lot of outdoor open space that's both private and public, different kinds. And it's a very important feature of the whole project.
Sandra Storey [00:13:46] What are you working on now?
Jim Herman [00:13:49] Well, now we have a whole bunch of elderly type projects, and we're working on a renovation at Judson. We're working on a new nursing home at Marymount Hospital, and we're working on a new nursing home that, it will be owned and run by Metro Health. They bought Deaconess Hospital and they're converting it into a nursing home and a senior center, and it's the senior center part of it. It's very interesting because they're really pulling together a lot of senior activity, and senior kind of therapy programs, and other kinds of programs, and ones in one spot, which is which is good. We're working on some additional housing at Kendal, at Oberlin, which is a retirement community. And several others working on renovations, both at Montefiore Home and Menorah Park. So it's really become a specialty of our firm.
Sandra Storey [00:15:08] You touched on this. What are some of the key issues that you think about when you're developing this housing for the elderly, whether it be the nursing home or whether it be more of a retirement community? What are some of the issues?
Jim Herman [00:15:24] Well, I think there's a whole lot of special needs for older persons. And so therefore, whatever the design is, it should support that person to be as active and as independent as possible. And I think some of the ways of doing that are kind of sophomoric in a way, but raising an electric outlet so you don't have to bend as much or having more light because eyes, as you get older don't work as well. Or thinking about easy ways of getting around without long corridor and without long travel distances to wherever you have to go. Making it feel calm. Noise is a, is a critical part of the design, or the lack of noise. There are a whole number of things. A lot of them are, are now Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. They weren't when we started this, but we were doing it because we were dealing with that kind of population. So we've still continue to incorporate those kinds of things from a design standpoint in the buildings that we do. We really like to have a common open area that's part of the building where everybody feels that they can participate, and so we really try to do that. In some cases, we've done atrium spaces where even if someone is living on another floor, they can kind of see what's going on and watch what's going on. And that seems to be a very good.
Sandra Storey [00:17:17] Your firm does a lot of designing for multi-family housing and, and designing for the elderly. It's... A main part of the description of your firm is to give these people dignity where they're at. How do you do that with design?
Jim Herman [00:17:40] Well, it's kind of a philosophical kind of question, but I think that it's letting people feel that they can make decisions, that they can be independent or more independent. Allowing that to happen in design is some of the things I talked about before. Like if you have to if you had to walk a long way to get to the dining room, you lose some of your independence because you might not be able to make it. That's sort of a specific example of that. But that relates to dignity. I think it's trying to design spaces that are uplifting, bright, cheerful, and yet functional. And easy to live in and easy to get around. And it all really, I think it all relates to the dignity of the individual.
Sandra Storey [00:18:42] I like for my students to understand what architects do and how they shape communities. So how would you, how do you view your job or give us a job description of an architect?
Jim Herman [00:18:58] Yeah. No one really understands what we do, I think. And it's complicated, but I believe that we start every project with understanding where it's going to be, and the environment that is around it, and how it's going to relate. And then we also develop what we call an architectural program, which is really listing the kinds of space needs that are going to be in the building and how one group might function with another so that we adjacent, adjacencies are determined. And we determine, at that time, things like equipment needs and furniture needs. Get as much information from the client as we can about how they plan to use the building, who's going to be in it, and how are they going to work together. So we really have to understand that in order to design something. But the design process is a combination kind of art and science and function as it all has to work usually has to meet a budget which is very difficult. It usually needs to fit in the environment like I talked about. And it should should in some way uplift the people that are using it, that they feel comfortable. They feel proud of being in the building. They enjoy being where they are. And that's what we... That's kind of what we try to do in our design work.
Sandra Storey [00:20:42] Yeah. How would you tell a student what the impact of good design... You've touched on it. Thinking that design shapes a community. A good design will shape a community. If you look at Judson Park or one of your projects, how has that changed the community?
Jim Herman [00:21:04] Judson may not be a great example because the building is in a very high-level residential neighborhood and it was, they were already there.
Sandra Storey [00:21:14] Okay, don't use it.
Jim Herman [00:21:14] So, so I may not use that, but I think on the other side of it, we did a building that's for persons with dementia. And it's very neighborhood oriented and it's feeling it's like it's not necessary. It's not necessarily that the neighborhood is going to be part of this building or vice versa, that the residents would be part of the neighborhood. But we we wanted it to feel like they were in a house that was in a neighborhood and belong there. So we, we very specifically designed a house on the corner. And where the rooms are, it's kind of in back, so you don't really feel like like it's that kind of a big institutional environment, very neighborhood oriented. And I think it was very successful. Matter of fact, the mayor thought we didn't tear down the house that was there. He thought we just added on to it so I thought that was good. So. But. Yeah. Well, tell me again. I'm sorry.
Sandra Storey [00:22:26] Well, let's look at like a lakeview type terrace. What's the name of it?
Jim Herman [00:22:31] Yeah.
Sandra Storey [00:22:33] Lake? The one that was designed in that community. How did that affect? It affected. It had ripples. The design had ripples. Explain how good design has ripples?
Jim Herman [00:22:47] Okay. Well, like the terraces is such a large planned community that it's almost in a way isolated from everything else. So, again, I don't know that it affected a community so much.
Sandra Storey [00:22:59] Or the city of Cleveland or how people thought about...
Jim Herman [00:23:02] However, yeah, I mean, it was built in 1937. And you just know, [it was an] award winner. And I think it was because of the way the the site planning was done and how the buildings related to each other and to the land and to the, to the views and, and to the lake. So it was, it was critical to do that. And, and it was very successful in the way it was done. You know, I don't know. We didn't design it but the Gehry building at the in case you kind of I mean, obviously that's a controversial subject. And you can say, well, it certainly doesn't fit in to the neighborhood, which is true. And on the other hand, maybe it's because I'm an architect, but I feel like it does fit. It's like if you're if, I like it almost better when you're away from it and you see glimpses of it from all kinds of places, like if you're going across the bridge to University Hospital and you look out the window and you see this piece of sculpture in the distance, it's, I think, terrific. So I, I think that one does a lot for the environment. And even if it's controversial and some people don't like it, it does a lot for people who to think about it and to discuss what they like and what they don't like about, about that building or about architects and architecture in general.
Sandra Storey [00:24:41] We're going to go into more specific buildings. I mean, your firm, I think, had a part of the renovating Terminal Tower. Did you have any. Okay, so tell us about that. What happened and what did you do?
Jim Herman [00:24:53] Well, the... As you know, the developer was Forest City Enterprises. They retained a firm called RTKL that's based in Baltimore and Dallas. And the Dallas firm was the, was the architect. They hired us as the local architect and—at the suggestion of the developer—and we worked on that project with them for about ten years. A long time. I think in the beginning we had a specific task which was really something we did on without their input was to do an assessment of all of the architectural elements that are in the concourse area of Tower City or the Terminal Tower at that time, and catalog them with pictures, and descriptions, and locations so that that they could be reused in the final design. So if you go around, you look at the balcony railing, it used to be a heating grill or there may be a light fixtures that were hidden away somewhere that are now out in the, in the open. But there were a lot of design elements that were reused. And so just that experience of cataloging was actually enjoyable, finding things that weren't too much, too well known or even noticed. We also had a, had a role of just mainly checking out existing conditions and making sure that what was being designed would fit properly with what was there. So we had a lot of local work that way. And the Prospect Avenue facade, the others, you know, the backside there was a specific job of ours to renovate that which, which we were, we did that part. We also did the cinema, that's their Hoyt's Theater. And that was a that was a special challenge in that it's on over the railroad tracks and the rapid transit. So from a noise standpoint, we had to really deal with special noise considerations so that you wouldn't be transferred into the theater. And it was successful, took us a little extra money and a lot of extra design, but both. [We] worked a lot on the food court specifically and we kind of. I think we are in some ways given specific projects that could be separated out from the entire project that we could handle on our own as well as help RKTL in, throughout the process.
Sandra Storey [00:28:02] How do you feel about the Terminal Tower building? Is it good architecture, I mean, besides what your firm did? But I mean...
Jim Herman [00:28:09] You mean the Terminal Tower itself? Oh, I think that that whole complex is terrific. I mean, I don't know that it's the world's best architecture, but when you look at a common public meeting spot and sort of a public image for the whole region, it does a good job. And it's terrific that it was done. And it, and it's a transportation hub, which wasn't being done at that time. And that, I think, is an important feature of it.
Sandra Storey [00:28:47] Too many childhood memories of the Terminal Tower or Euclid Avenue?
Jim Herman [00:28:52] Well, sure, I always used to go to Higbee's and the, during Christmas time. And I mean, I think I, I think I enjoyed walking on Euclid Avenue and looking at the storefront and the displays and, and the activity that was there and I wish it were still that way.
Sandra Storey [00:29:12] What's your favorite building on Euclid Avenue?
Jim Herman [00:29:18] Well, I like the Cleveland Trust building, 9th and Euclid, a lot. Well, I just think they handle being on a corner and being a special, special kind of building where it was welcome. I thought it was welcoming to the public to want to go in there and see it and actually bank there. So I...
Sandra Storey [00:29:45] Can you describe the building for me? Because I don't know that I've been in it.
Jim Herman [00:29:48] Well, it's got a big rotunda that you can see from 9th and Euclid, and it now has a big office building built around it, which wasn't there before. But fortunately the rotunda aspect of it was saved. So it's... I think that's, that's really. That's one of my favorite buildings. I think that Tower City probably because I had, had a role in developing it and, and working on it, and even maintaining, and restoring the Terminal Tower. So I think that's a building that I feel like I enjoyed when I was young and I still like it. Well, I'm trying to think about what else. I think, I think the Huntington Building, which is also at 9th and Euclid, is a very good building. And, and the Huntington Bank part of it is...
Sandra Storey [00:30:50] Why is that a good building?
Jim Herman [00:30:51] Well, I just feel it's very stable. It's very... It feels like... It's very permanent. Very well, well done. And then it also the banking space is kind of magnificent, really. So it's it's another one of those. And I guess the one building that I didn't mention that I probably should have started with is the Arcade. Because I think that that really was a unique building in its time and started maybe some movement towards malls but I think a downtown mall like that is, is wonderful. And it's just it's it's very well done. And it connects, connects this, helps to connect the city.
Sandra Storey [00:31:44] What do you think? How does Euclid Avenue get to be a grand street again?
Jim Herman [00:31:53] Well, so much of it has to do with the economy that I'm not sure that I can tell what's going to, what's going to develop along Euclid Avenue. But I think that it'll become more of a grand street when it's more pedestrian-oriented, which is certainly going on. I think. The... Well... Say... I think the more downtown living we have, the more potential there is for Euclid Avenue becoming a grand street. And that's happening and it's happening here in the Warehouse District, but it's also happening along Euclid and in adjacent areas. So the more activity that can be developed, the better we'll have for shopping. Again, I think there is, there still are a lot of people that prefer more urban type shopping than then going out to the new mall. I hope that's, I hope that's true or becomes more true. But I think you just have to create the excitement. And there's, this is starting to happen. It's certainly happening on 4th Street. That's, you know, so if it can become an entertainment district as well, which it has the potential of doing it, certainly with Playhouse Square and, and what else is happening. That plus, plus shopping plus public spaces where people want to be, whether it's for lunch, lunchtime or, or even outdoor dining, outdoor living can help make Euclid Avenue a grander place. I mean, that's it's, it's going to be tough and it's going to take a long time. But I am excited about the steps that are being taken right now and the steps that have been taken.
Sandra Storey [00:34:09] What do you see as the future of the Public Square?
Jim Herman [00:34:15] Well, I think that's a nine-acre site, which is very large. And it's always been an issue about how to, how to make it work as a public place. And I think what's what's there now is they've tried to make four different centers of activity, some being very passive and some being more participatory, like ice skating or a band or something in the one in front of the Terminal Tower or another one where it's more, more garden like and more benches and, and quiet resting. But I don't know what the solution is. I think that they're taking the streets away will, will give it more potential. It's awfully tough to do. I don't know that it's even reasonable. I think it'd be better, though, if it were more of a pedestrian connection between the quads of the Square so that you didn't feel like you had to cross traffic to get from one to the other or to to get together. I'd love to see it developed in such a way where it really could be a public space that's large because it is large. And that really houses a lot of people for special events and activity. And at the same time, it does have options for smaller resting or whatever. So it's a... It's a challenge and from a design standpoint.
Sandra Storey [00:35:58] You've used the lake in some of your designs. Can you talk about buildings so that they could see the lake. What do you see happening with the lakefront or what would you like to see happening with the lakefront?
Jim Herman [00:36:10] Well, I think that's, it's clear that, that our transportation system is kind of blocked off the lake. And we need to have much better access to the lake and much more activity on the lake. Some of it being private and some of it being public. But that's, that's really what we need. Part of that is the lakefront plan, I think is starting to address that. But how far that goes and how quickly that goes is anybody's guess. But the access the lake is, is important. And we can make a lot more out of the lake, obviously, as has Chicago, of course, and [other] places. So, it's an asset that we just have not taken advantage of. And I think it's... It has tremendous potential. What would I like to see there is everything. So.
Sandra Storey [00:37:12] Because you do so much with multi-family housing, I just wondered if you thought that that would be a good place to put the, you know, that would be...
Jim Herman [00:37:20] Yeah. I think, you know, as a living environment, if you could develop it so that you'd have access and views of the lake, it's, makes a lot of sense. I guess part of the reason it hasn't been done is because the feeling is there's not a market for people who want to live there. Not enough of a market. And I think that's, that's changing. I mean, people do want to live downtown and it's proven more and more. And I think there'll be more and more lakefront development. That's part housing. I would hope that if it's housing, that even at the, at the ground level or street level, there's some other activity going on. So that it's... It's not isolated.
Sandra Storey [00:38:06] What do you think? What mistakes or sacrifices has the city made?
Jim Herman [00:38:13] Well, there's been some good buildings torn down. I don't know if that's the city's fault or not. But that's a that's too bad.
Sandra Storey [00:38:21] What has been torn down that you would like to have seen still around?
Jim Herman [00:38:24] Well, there was, there was a building on Public Square that was torn down a lot, long years ago. And it was a, it was a very well-designed building. And there was certainly lots of controversy and lots of...
Sandra Storey [00:38:39] What was it?
Jim Herman [00:38:39] I'm trying to remember the name of it. So, you know, not, it's not coming to me right now.
Sandra Storey [00:38:46] That's okay.
Addie Tobey [00:38:47] The Cuyahoga Building?
Jim Herman [00:38:47] Yes, that's the one. Thank you. Cuyahoga Building. Anyway, that, that's a mistake. I think the most there's a mistake in terms of how the, how the roads were laid out and backing off the lake. It's there, there hopefully were other ways of doing that.
Sandra Storey [00:39:10] What sacrifices should the city have made or can the city make, should the city be making?
Jim Herman [00:39:18] Well, they should be very supportive of public and private development in the city, and they should also be in the forefront of planning that would allow for development in a, in a more planned way, but promoting it and, and planning for it. And I think, I think they do all these things. I just think they could do more of it. And, of course, money always being an issue. I don't I don't know. You know, everybody has
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