Joseph Ceruti, AIA
Cleveland, Ohio

(1) I started by working during summer vacations with my father, a building contractor, who emigrated from Italy to the United States in 1902. We worked in many trades -- stone, brick, plumbing, landscape, etc. That's how I got the "construction bug."

(2) My original career interest was engineering. I was particularly enamored of bridges, which I saw as dramatic, spectacular construction "events" throughout the world. While I was a sophomore at East Technical High School in Cleveland, I went to the Case School of Applied Science to interview for a possible scholarship in civil engineering and construction. My second choice was chemistry. Unfortunately, there were no scholarships for either major, but there were two scholarships in architecture available at Western Reserve University. I took the scholarship exam and was awarded one of them.

(3) My studies began in September 1929, on the eve of the Wall Street market crash in October 1929 and the Great Depression. The U.S. economy went down hill from there. I spent five years at Western Reserve University and a summer of the fourth year at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts outside of Paris. This school was founded by American World War I veterans for American students only in the field of architecture, sculpture, painting and music. Madame Boulanger was director of the music department. Jacques Carlu, Prix de Rome, was director of fine arts.

(4) I received a bachelor's degree in architecture in 1934, and with a diploma from the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts then moved on to Princeton University for two years of graduate study.

(5) After seven years of college, I had never worked in an architect's office even though we were required to have office experience during summer vacations. The offices were all closed and there was no work, even for no pay. This lack of practical experience caused an enormous gap between my formal education and what I could expect to find in an architect's office.

(6) After free-lancing in various architects' offices when there was work, World War II hit. In December of 1942 I applied for and received a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy with orders to go on active duty in the Pacific. However, the same week my father passed away and, as the oldest son with two brothers already in the service, I had to take care of a small family estate.

(7) At the time, I had the good fortune to become the resident architect for the Warner & Swasey Company, a defense contractor. At Warner & Swasey I learned about the importance of long-term maintenance costs to the owner and working directly with other people and mostly importantly living with one's own decisions. As it turned out, Warner & Swasey, its top executives and department heads became clients and contracts when I took the plunge and went into private practice in 1946.

(8) You would think after seven years in college that some genius on the architecture faculty, realizing that some of us would be going into private practice, would have required a course in public speaking. I never had such a course. Instead, I did have a senior project to design a place for an exiled monarch. To date, I have not had a single commission from an exiled monarch....

(9) I helped to organize a group of young architects and hired a college professor to give us a crash course in public speaking and we developed a series of topics for a lecture series. In a short time we were able to accept speaking engagements. I overheard someone say after one speech: "Well, it did not seem to help very much"; to which I replied: "Think of what it may have been had I not taken the course."

(10) Before World War II, architecture was primarily an elitist profession dominated by a small number of large firms who hired most of the graduates from the architecture schools. By 1890, thirty-six architects were listed in Cleveland's city directory and in the same year the Cleveland chapter of A.I.A. was founded. In the 1890s many clients sought architects of national reputation to design important buildings. Among the major architects represented were Burnham and Root of Chicago, Richard M. Hunt, Henry Ives Cobb, Shepley Rutan and Coolidge, George B. Post, Peabody & Stearns, and George W. Keller. After the turn of the century, these included Stanford White and Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson. Architects from Cleveland started coming along. Lehman & Schmitt, George F. Hammond, and Knox & Elliot began careers in Richardsonian Romanesque. Schweinfurth (1856-1919) was the first Cleveland architect to rank with those of national stature.

(11) Trained in New York, Schweinfurth came to design mansions and churches for the wealthy. His masterpiece was Trinity Cathedral.

(12) The group plan of 1905, which gained national recognition for the concept, was developed by Daniel Burnham, John M. Carrere, and Arnold W. Brunner. The mall was completed in 1936.

(13) A few Cleveland architects studied at the Ecole des Beaux- Arts in Paris and brought its teachings with them. In 1921 a group of architects established the Cleveland School of architecture with Abram Garfield as the first president. The school was affiliated with Western Reserve University in 1929. It became a department in 1952 and continued until it was phased out in 1972. Even during the Depression, we had several institutions offering architectural training: full-time at Western Reserve University; part-time at John Huntington Polytechnic Institute and Cleveland College.

(14) John Huntington offered a variety of courses -- art, architecture, engineering -- with top-notch faculty from Western Reserve University, Case, and the Cleveland School of Art. John Huntington provided an excellent opportunity for those who could not afford to go to college full-time. The charge for those who could not afford to go full-time was $5.00 for each semester and if you attended 80% of the classes the $5.00 was returned. The full-time custodian with whom I became friendly told me about an amusing incident that occurred one evening. A man came to pick up his girlfriend after class and stopped at the entrance. The custodian told him to move on because he was blocking traffic. The man became annoyed and said he should have some privileges for all the money he was paying for the tuition....

(15) Since 1972 we have had no institutions in Cleveland that offer full- or part-time courses in architecture. What a tragedy not to have a facility in the most populated portion of the state! The closest facility is at Kent State University.

(16) In the developing well-to-do suburbs of Lakewood, Bratenahl, and Cleveland Heights between 1895 and 1939, excellent eclectic architecture flourished. The best eclectic architects were Meade & Hamilton, Abram Garfield, Philip Small, Charles Schneider, Frederic W. Striebinger, Clarence Mack, J.W.C. Corbusier, Antonio Di Nardo, Munroe Copper, and John Sherwood Kelly.

(17) The development of Shaker Heights (1906-1930) was the most spectacular suburban planning in America. Curving roadways replaced the grid. Certain locations were reserved for commercial and certain lots were donated for schools and churches. Two favorite styles were Georgian Colonial and English Gothic. Even the gasoline stations were designed to harmonize with the residences. In 1927-29 the first planned suburban shopping center was built at Shaker Square. The Van Sweringens had great vision and planned far into the future and some eighty years later some sites are still available. To provide rapid transit for the residents the Van Sweringens bought the rights from the Nickel Plate Railroad and the result was the Terminal Complex at Public Square.

(18) From 1900 to 1930 there was increased demand for private institutional and public buildings. Two architectural firms dominated the field: Hubbell & Benes (West Side Market, Cleveland Museum of Art and Ohio Bell Telephone) and Walker & Weeks (Federal Reserve Bank and Public Auditorium, Cleveland Public Library, Severance Hall). One of the largest projects -- the Terminal Tower, the Terminal Group and Union Trust Building -- was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.

(19) The Van Sweringens succeeded in serving the vast needs of the eastern suburbs with the Terminal Group. However, in the process the Group Plan of 1905 was aborted because the magnet to attract activity to the Mall was to have been the building of the Terminal over the tracks at the north end of the Mall. Di Nardo did prepare a design for the tower which has similarities to the tower that was built at Public Square.

(20) The Depression era of the 1930s saw profound effects in architecture, including a decline in the number of practicing architects and the arrival of Modernism stemming from the European International Style. Federal public works came to the rescue. Ernest J. Bohn became the "father" of public housing and introduced the first enabling legislation in Ohio. The first three public housing projects authorized and begun by the Public Works Administration were built in Cleveland in 1935-37. The sites were largely located in blighted areas in the central city and Whiskey Island. The Cedar-Central project was planned by Walter McCormack, who delayed payments to his staff for considerable length of time. (Some had to seek recourse in the courts.) At Outwaite Homes, by Walsh and Barrett, the architects went to considerable expense to give the buildings some distinction, but the residents (mostly Blacks) took offense because of the unintended image produced by bands of black brick. Lakeview Terrace, by Weinberg, Conrad & Teare, was the most successful architecturally because of its adaptation to a sloping site and influence of the International Style.

(21) Other architects who adopted the new style were J. Milton Dyer, Harold B. Burdick, Carl Bacon Rowley, J. Byers Hays, and Antonio Di Nardo.

(22) The Great Lakes Exposition in 1935-36 provided a shot in the arm for a few firms, but general acceptance of the new style did not occur until after World War II. Greater Cleveland saw structures designed by two of the old masters -- Erich Mendelsohn and Walter Gropius. The most significant achievements in Cleveland architecture have been in large scale planning: the Group Plan, the Terminal Complex, Shaker Heights, public housing, and urban renewal. One cannot consider urban renewal a success when good areas of land went begging for takers. James Lister, Director of Urban Renewal and formerly Director of the Planning Commission, was a friend of mine since winning the Rome Prize in landscape architecture from Cornell. He became enamored with politics and proceeded to dominate Cleveland's City Hall by taking advantage of the federal programs which provided 90% of the funds to acquire land and 10% by the city with services in kind. One day I asked him why he kept accumulating land when there were no takers. His reply was, "We have to get our share of the federal largesse."

(23) Of the architects I came to know and work with, the most notable was J. Milton Dyer (1870-1957), architect of Cleveland City Hall (commissioned in 1904 and completed in 1912). Dyer was a genius. Although he was forty years my senior we became close friends and worked together on several projects while at Warner & Swasey during the war. We had a major project beyond the resources of the engineering firm. They retained Dyer as a consultant and when they no longer could afford to keep him on their payroll, I suggested to Warner & Swasey that he be brought on our payroll for a salary of $100.00 a week on a consulting basis.

(24) He left me his scrapbook, which is fascinating account of his projects. Because of his fondness for women and night-life, and because he would be away from his office for weeks at a time, his staff took his practice from him. When Mark Hanna wanted Dyer to do his building at 14th and Euclid, he could not be located, so Charles Platt of New York was selected and produced a very distinguished building. Platt was also the architect for the Leader Building at East 6th and Superior and the Mather estate in Bratenahl known as Gwynn.

(25) In lighter moments Dyer would regale me with some of his personal experiences. For example, when a debutante of a wealthy family fell in love with him, her father was not thrilled about the idea and made him a proposition he could not refuse. He was attending Case School of Applied Science and tutoring students at the University School, which was then located at East 71st and Hough. He lived nearby on East 71st Street north of Euclid Avenue. The father of the debutante offered to pay all of his expenses at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris if he would discontinue his romance with his daughter. He accepted, and when he returned to Cleveland he became the favorite of most of the wealthy clients. Among his works were the Tavern Club, the CAC Building, the Sterling and Welch Department Store, the American Standard Building, the First Methodist Church, the Burke mansion in University Circle (now Cleveland Music School Settlement), a mansion on the lake in Bratenahl, the Cleveland and Painesville city halls, the Warrensville Correctional Center, the Peerless Showroom at 93rd and Quincy, the U.S. Treasury building in San Francisco (which he won a National competition), and several major projects in the Akron area. While visiting the site of the Treasury Building in San Francisco, he would request large amounts of money, presumably for expenses but used for partying. The amounts were so large his sister, who managed his accounts, thought he was buying real estate.

(26) The next architect who became my mentor was Antonio Di Nardo (1887-1949). He hired me for my first job in an architect's office in 1936. He was working on a mansion for one of the Black family in Mansfield who, as founder of Ohio Brass, had sold out his stock before the Crash and had lots of money to spend. He built a mansion for himself designed by Munroe Copper and his son selected Di Nardo. It was fun having a job. He was twenty-three years my senior, but the difference in age did not make a difference. We dined together weekly at noon on Saturdays in the Tavern on Chester Avenue. It was my good fortune to know not only Dyer and Di Nardo but also Kelly, Maurice Cornell (landscape architect), and Onnie Mankki (architect and industrial designer). Bringing these men together was most exhilarating. Sometimes we would be in the restaurant when the dinner crowd began arriving. What fun!

(27) Di Nardo was a talented artist in watercolor and oil painting, chiaroscuro, and a renderer in both pen and ink and pencil. He became a designer in the office of Hubbell and Benes and designed the Pearl Street Bank, several churches, and the McGregor Home for the Aged, and made the original plans for the Belgian Village on Fairhill Road. In 1936 he designed the experimental modern structure for the Great Lakes Exposition -- the Transportation Building. His paintings were frequently exhibited in the Cleveland May Show and some have been purchased for the Cleveland Museum's permanent collection. In 1924, he published a volume of lithographs entitled Farm Houses, Small Chateaux and Country Churches in France. He gave me a copy. He also had a great sense of humor and had an infectious laugh. At one time he told me that he did a rendering for a major project for a prominent architect in Youngstown. It was customary in those days to charge by the square inch. It was a fairly large drawing and he chose to leave the sky as the dominant element with the building in the lower third of the paper; and it was most effective. When the architect received it with his bill, the amount of which was previously agreed to, the architect complained that since the sky was so dominant and since he was paying by the square inch he thought the bill should be reduced. Di Nardo replied, "Well, cut off the sky and return it to me." He was promptly paid in full.

(28) John Sherwood Kelly was from Tennessee. He found work in Columbus, Ohio, as a cartoonist and was acquainted with James Thurber, my favorite cartoonist and writer for the New Yorker. When Kelly got his first job in an architect's office as a young man with no experience he was asked to fill in the title block located at the bottom right-hand corner of all drawings giving the subject of the drawing (floor plan, elevation), name of project, and address and architect; and in smaller blocks, initials drawn by, checked by, revised. Well, Kelly did not get the idea so in each small box he put in his own initials, "JSK." His boss told him that he was not that versatile.

(29) Kelly gave me my second job, which was also a mansion, for the Levenhagens on South Park Boulevard. Her husband was executive vice-president of the Glidden Co. and gave her full authority to make all decisions. She would come to the office daily with her chauffeured Packard to go over every detail. Being a Southerner she had very definite ideas about style details and it came out as Georgian with a portico.

(30) Kelly, an authority on early American architecture designed the two-story gallery for the Cleveland Society of Artists on East 88th Street. I was a member since 1944 until it was phased out in the 1950s.

(31) Kelly was responsible for about forty houses in Shaker Heights some of which were shown on tour about three years ago. He was particularly gifted in designing houses and had great talent for detail. He designed the Telling mansion at Green and Mayfield Roads in South Euclid (later sold to the county library).

(32) Munroe W. Copper, Jr., came to Cleveland from Philadelphia, worked for Walker & Weeks, and helped design the Federal Reserve Bank. Copper was known for his Pennsylvania Dutch Style using fieldstone walls. He designed several mansions for wealthy families in Cleveland and Akron. I did work in his office for a short time when he was associated with Edward Conrad. He was a master of the Georgian style, the most familiar example of which was the Channel 8 station at the south end of 17th Street on Euclid.

(33) J. Byers Hays (1891-1968; active in Cleveland 1920-1963) was a multi-talented architect, artist, and pen and ink delineator. We collaborated on many chapter activities and I helped sponsor him for president of what became the revitalized chapter of the A.I.A. here in Cleveland. I later nominated him for an A.I.A. fellowship, which he received.

(34) He originally worked in New York for Raymond Hood (winner with John Mead Howells of the international competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower). He came to Cleveland in 1920 to work with Walker & Weeks. He became their chief designer and worked on the Federal Reserve Bank, the Great Indiana War Memorial, the exterior of the Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He set up his own office with Russell Simpson, also from Walker & Weeks. Hays & Ruth planned the first major addition to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1968 which contained an interior sculpture court separating it from the original structure. This addition was completely obscured by Marcel Breuer's 1971 addition. Hays and I restored Dyer to active status in the A.I.A. after Dyer had become inactive for a long period of time.

(35) Alfred Clauss and George Daub -- these names are not included in Van Tassel's Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. The following information is drawn or paraphrased from the article by Lawrence Wodehouse listed in the bibliography below. Clauss was recommended to Philip Johnson by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe to supervise his apartment in New York City. Clauss had been born in Munich, Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1930 and worked in Philadelphia for George Howe in Philadelphia on the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building. Here Clauss met Daub. Wodehouse writes that "Johnson persuaded his father to use his influence on behalf of Clauss and Daub in obtaining a commission from Standard Oil of Ohio for a filling station to be done in the International style."

(36) Wodehouse describes the station design as follows: "The Standard Oil filling station was a small structure consisting of eight steel columns, similar to the Barcelona Pavilion. The grid of columns for the filling station was irregular, but the roof cantilevered beyond the columns to the eave-line where a glass curtain wall enclosed the building. It was intended to be one of a series of forty stations; ultimately the company intended to construct 100 to 200 similar units each year at a cost of about $6,500 per unit."

(37) Clauss also designed a home for Charlotte Young, a curator at the Cleveland Museum. The house was redesigned when she married Kenneth Bates.

(38) Wodehouse reports further that "Clauss and Daub submitted some of their work to the Architectural League of New York. Although modernistic trends were accepted at the League, the International Style was not and their work was rejected."

(39) He concludes that "Alfred Clauss is not a name common to architectural historians, but his association over fifty or more years with Mies, Schneider, and Johnson makes him a formative architect in the beginnings of a significant twentieth-century phase of American architecture."

(40) Travis Walsh, Leo Barrett, Anthony Ciresi, and Richard Cutting were other architects I have worked with, as were Joseph Weinberg and Wallace Teare. They became prominent in shopping centers and senior citizens housing. Other architects I have known but not worked with were Harris & Robinson of Garfield's office, Philip Small, and Frank Draz. Through my activity in the American Institute of Architects, I came to know most of the practicing architects in northern Ohio and throughout the state.

(41) The Cleveland Stadium, seating 80,000 people, was built in 1930 with no advance planning. Walker was selected as the architect and when it came to selecting the site, there was no functioning planning commission and no staff so the result was that it fell on the lakefront on land owned by the city with no provision for pedestrian or vehicular access and no parking. You certainly do not go down to the stadium to look at the lake and it is an obstacle to future lakefront development for housing or public use: another mistake on the lake.

(42) Since the masterful Group Plan was developed in 1903 there was a vacuum in city planning until 1944 when Ernest Bohn reorganized the Planning Commission and became its first chairman with prominent Clevelanders as members.

(43) As part of the reorganization, Bohn set up the Fine Arts Advisory Committee to handle the hot potatoes for the Planning Commission. I was one of two architects selected to represent the Cleveland Chapter of the A.I.A. and served until 1990, when I was fired by Mayor Michael White. Others fired at the same time were Evan Turner (director of the Cleveland Museum of Art), Joseph McCullough, Viktor Schreckengost, and two other architects. We were replaced by non-professionals. The new chairman selected was a lawyer. (Now I think I will run for the presidency of the Cleveland Bar Association!)

(44) The Planning Commission was supported by a very able staff under the direction of John Howard, professional planner, and in 1947 came up with the first land-use plan for the City of Cleveland, according to which all urban planning involves designating open space for public, residential, industrial, commercial, etc., uses.

(45) Under Bohn's leadership, a comprehensive plan for downtown development was unveiled in 1957 with a grand affair in Public Hall, but Louis Seltzer, "kingmaker," had hand-picked Frank Celebrezze, state legislator, to be mayor of Cleveland and was planning to build his new headquarters at Lakeside and East 9th Street. Since Bohn's plan concentrated on the revitalization of Euclid Avenue, the heart of our city, it would not serve to appreciate the value of Seltzer's site on Lakeside Avenue. Therefore James Lister, then Director of Urban Planning set up to bypass the Planning Commission, for political reasons sold the mayor on having I.M. Pei -- world-renowned architect and planner -- to come up with Erieview I & II. Now the 1957 plan for downtown development was scrapped in favor of the Erieview plan. The Van Sweringens had aborted the Group Plan and Seltzer aborted the Downtown Plan. Politicians are not interested in long-range planning because it does not produce visible results in time for re-election.

(46) Howard left in frustration because his plans rested on shelves to collect dust. No meaningful planning was done until Hunter Morrison was appointed Director of City Planning and came up with a master plan for the city in 1987, or forty years after the 1947 Howard Land Use Plan.

(47) On public transportation we have lost ground since the early 1900s, when we had what was known as the interurban system which began at public square and served the south, east and west. Had the rights of way been retained instead of being abandoned, we could have had the best rapid transit system in the country serving the eastern, western, and southern suburbs. The advent of the automobile changed our lifestyle dramatically, but not necessarily for the better -- with most cars going into and out of town with one person taking 300 square feet of space in the inner city. We now have a little-used rapid system going east and west on the railroad right of way not easily accessible to the public and dependent on a substantial subsidy from local and federal government.

(48) Nor have we done anything with the public access to the lakefront stretching for thirty or forty miles from Mentor on the east to Vermilion on the west. In the 1920s you had Euclid Beach, Gordon Park, Edgewater Park, and Huntington Beach. The latter is the only survivor. It is a tragedy that we cannot take advantage of our privileged lakefront for public use, luxury-, and middle-class housing. This could easily be accomplished with a comprehensive plan to eliminate the stadium, the non- functioning Municipal Electric Light Plant, the Coast Guard Station, and Burke Lakefront Airport (which serves only a small number of privileged executives).

(49) When I decided to become an architect, helped by scholarships and fellowships, I made a commitment to myself that I would give at least ten percent of my time to community affairs for no pay. At that time, the difference between a profession and a business was quite crystal clear. Now it has become blurred due to a proliferation of specialists connected with building projects such as developers, construction managers, and the personnel of financial institutions.

(50) When I started practice the owner, architect, and contractor all had clearly defined roles. Now the areas of responsibility are less clear, with one result being that developers often are reluctant to compensate professionals for complete service.


Di Nardo, Antonio. Farm Houses, Small Chateaux and Country Churches in France. Cleveland, OH: J. H. Jansen, 1924.

Gaede, Robert C., ed. Guide to Cleveland Architecture. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1991.

Johannesen, Eric. Cleveland Architecture, 1876-1976. Cleveland, OH: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1979.

Van Tassel, David D. and John J. Grabowski. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Wodehouse, Lawrence. "Houses by Alfred and Jane Clauss in Knoxville, Tennessee." Arris 1 (1989): 50-62.

Copyright 1993 Joseph Ceruti

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