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Ohio County Trippin' Part Five: Cuyahoga County - by Nick Taggart

Previous County Trippin' from Nick Taggart: Meigs County - Medina County - Champaign County - Seneca County -

          CUYAHOGA COUNTY

     “Making Ohio Great Lakes Again”  May 27-29, 2017

 

As soon as we selected Cuyahoga County as our next Ohio destination, we knew our biggest problem would be deciding what sights and activities with which to fill our itinerary.  The area is large and the “big city” of Cleveland offered more activities than could be squeezed into a weekend.  Even with the bonus day of a holiday weekend, we were aware we could run ourselves ragged if we allowed it.  In an effort to make it more enjoyable, we cherry-picked from the plethora of tourist destinations.

We also got a jump on our trip, leaving Columbus soon after the sun was above the horizon, and arriving in the county early in the 9:00 am hour.  If we were having trouble rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, the oft-dented and pockmarked Ohio State Route 8 was surely keeping us awake.  As we rumbled through the communities of Bedford and Warrensville Heights, I wasn’t sure what was annoying me more, the road condition or the snail’s pace of the 25 m.p.h. speed limit.  Perhaps the latter is necessary to keep one’s vehicle from rattling apart by the former.

Fortunately, road conditions improved as we traversed the posh neighborhood of Shaker Heights and the tree-lined boulevards of Cleveland Heights.  My mood had so improved that I barely registered the uneven nature of the quaint red bricks of Murray Hill Road as we came upon Little Italy.

The neighborhood earned its name in the mid 1800s when Italian sculptor Joseph Carrabelli set up shop here and other Italian immigrants followed.  Italian restaurants still abound, sustaining its ethnic identity.  The vicinity has also gained an arty reputation due to its array of galleries.

We parked our car and crossed Mayfield Road to Presti’s Bakery & Café, a neighborhood mainstay for over a century, ever since Rose and Charles Presti, Sr. opened a bakery in 1903, specializing in freshly baked bread.  We took a number and joined the throng of waiting customers.  There appeared to be a mix of local regulars and out-of-town newbies, like us.  The wait allowed us more time to peruse the display cases of delectable baked goods, so once it was our turn, we were ready. I opted for cannoli, while Michele selected an assortment of items that included a butter biscotti, an S-biscotti, and an apricot thumbprint cookie. We added coffees to our order, then found a table near the front window.  After a couple customers left with large boxes of pizza, we found our hunger growing.  For “dessert,” we split a slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza and a cappuccino brownie.  Even though the morning rush kept the staff hopping, they remained friendly and treated each customer with respect rather than as just another rushed transaction.

Just a half mile away from Little Italy, on the north side of Euclid Avenue, is Cleveland’s museum central.  Officially known as University Circle, named for the surrounding Case Western Reserve University campus, the neighborhood is full of educational opportunities.  The lots around the beautifully landscaped Wade Oval include the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Art and many others.  An entire weekend easily could be spent chasing brainy pursuits here, but that wasn’t our intention, so we selected an institution we’d never visited: the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

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Simply by walking through its doors and into the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse, you’re transported from a sunny Cleveland landscape into a Madagascar dessert filled with strange spiny plants, a baobab tree, and a multi-colored chameleon.  Another door leads to a Costa Rica rainforest teeming with butterflies.  If all that wasn’t enough to surprise us, we also ran into an old Columbus friend who now lives in the Cleveland area.

Along with the diverse biomes found indoors, outside the Glasshouse, a variety of gardens adds to one’s experience; eleven in total, laid out attractively over the extensive grounds.  There were quite a few people the day we visited, but we could always find a secluded nook just around the next turn to give us a spot of shade and a moment’s respite from the crowds.  Intermixed with the real nature were 13 wildlife sculptures built with LEGO bricks by New York artist Sean Kenney, including deer and a peacock

After our relaxing tour of nature, we stepped back out onto East Boulevard.  Directly across the street, the sun reflected off the reptilian roof of the Frank Gehry-designed Peter B. Lewis Building.  The unique structure serves as the university’s Weatherhead School of Management.

Back in our car, we drove north to the neighborhood of Glenville, a hit-or-miss kind of area where well-kept modest homes sit next door to neglected houses with yards that could double as nature preserves.  We were seeking two specific houses that represent ground zero in the world of comic book superheroes.  Jerry Seigel grew up at 10622 Kimberly Avenue, just a few blocks from the corner of Amor Avenue and Parkwood Drive, where his friend Joe Shuster lived.  Together, they created an iconic character known around the world: Superman!  It wouldn’t have been much of a pilgrimage except one of the houses was marked with a large red “S” out front and the other was adorned with enlarged Superman comic strips on its picket fence.

We made our way south back to Euclid Avenue, to one of the premier final resting places in the state: Lake View Cemetery.  The grounds are showered with interesting sepulchral architecture; many markers belonging to well-known people.  The most prominent monument is the Garfield Memorial.  It sits atop the highest hill in the cemetery and is a memorial to James Abram Garfield, Ohio native and 20th President of the United States.  If you didn’t know anything about Garfield beyond the size and grandiose nature of his monument, you might think he was one of the greatest leaders this country ever had, rather than a former teacher and Civil War general who served less than a year as president before being assassinated.

The structure is impressive and ornate and offers multiple tiers containing a series of domes upon domes.  After climbing stone stairs and entering the tomb, one passes a small gift shop before confronting a large marble statue of Garfield.  Additional steps lead up to an outdoor porch where views of downtown Cleveland and, beyond that, Lake Erie, support the cemetery’s name.

The Garfield Memorial. No silly, not the cat, the 20th President of the United States.  

The Garfield Memorial. No silly, not the cat, the 20th President of the United States.  

Returning down the steps, one can continue to descend, past a sign that requests, “Please refrain from playing Pokémon GO inside the Garfield Memorial,” to the crypt containing two sarcophagi: one flag-draped for the former president and one unadorned for his wife.  On the same level as the crypt is a restroom.  I adhere to the traveler’s adage, “Always go to the bathroom when you have a chance,” but as I stood relieving myself, mere yards away from the earthly remains of a martyred president, I pondered the respectability of my actions.  Does Emily Post speak on this topic?  Once finished and zipped though, I lost interest in the matter.

The cemetery grounds are vast.  It would have made for a pleasurable day to stroll among the graves and perhaps picnic near the lake, but our time was limited, so we opted to drive a portion of our tour rather than walk.  We came upon the grave of “Untouchable” law enforcement officer Eliot Ness. (He busted this guy)  I find it amusing what fans leave at the graves of their heroes, but it seemed appropriate that an empty bottle of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Eliot Ness Amber Lager leaned against Ness’s headstone.

Nearby, a collection of pens and pencils planted in the ground drew our attention to the marker for cartoonist Harvey Pekar.  A short walk from there we saw a black etched stone resembling a jukebox.  It belongs to deejay Alan Freed who coined the term, “rock & roll.”  Offerings there included guitar picks and symbolic rocks.

The final grave on our tour belonged to Raymond Johnson Chapman, a former Cleveland Indians baseball player who holds the dubious distinction of being the only major league player to have died as a result of being hit by a baseball.  His death occurred in 1920.  Old baseballs and Indians paraphernalia sat atop the large stone marked with his name.

Having satisfied our need to commune with the dead, we pulled back onto Euclid Avenue and took it west for a couple miles before dropping south a block to Carnegie Avenue.  Skirting the downtown, we crossed the winding Cuyahoga River on the Hope Memorial Bridge where cool “Guardians of Traffic” art deco sentries stand guard at each end.  We then turned left on West 25th Street to Clark Avenue and east to West 11th Street.  Once we saw the Lady’s Leg Lamp in the window, we knew we’d arrived at A Christmas Story House & Museum.

We injected $5 into the local economy by parking in the front yard of one of the museum’s neighbors.  Our timing couldn’t have been better as we arrived mere minutes before an hourly tour began.  Tour guide Gary led a group of 15 of us through the house that was used as the Parker home in the classic Christmas movie.  We learned all about the motion picture’s unlikely origin, explained succinctly on the museum’s website:

In the late 1960s, “A Christmas Story” director Bob Clark was driving to a date’s house when he happened upon a broadcast of radio personality and writer Jean Shepherd’s recollections of growing up in Indiana in the late ’30s and early ’40s. Clark wound up driving around the block for almost an hour, glued to the radio until the program was over.  “My date was not happy,” Clark said, but he knew right away he wanted to make a movie out of the stories, many of which first appeared in Playboy magazine and were collected in Shepherd’s 1966 book, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.”

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Clark’s adaptation, however, didn’t happen overnight. At the time, he was a journeyman director who specialized in low-budget B movies.  For years Clark tried to find a studio to finance the film.  But none were interested. Nevertheless, Clark held on to his ambition to bring Shepherd’s stories to the screen, and, in 1981, he directed Porky’s.  Which became a hit at the box office.  Suddenly he had some clout to bargain with.  In the wake of that hit, the studio wanted a sequel to Porky’s.  Clark agreed to make a sequel if the studio agreed to let him do “A Christmas Story” first.

None of the original movie set survives, but the house has been refurnished with period pieces to make people feel as though they’re visiting Ralphie’s home the year he wished for an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle.  Michele was even able to crawl inside the kitchen cabinet and cry, “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie,” just as a scared brother Randy did in the movie.

In the backyard, we could stand on tippy-toes and see in the distance the steeple of St. Theodosius Church.  Not only is it the state’s oldest Orthodox Christian church, but it’s also where the wedding scene in “The Deer Hunter” was filmed.”  Overall, it was a fun tour, but maybe, just maybe, about 15 minutes too long.  Hey, “A Christmas Story” is a holiday classic, but unless it’s the center of your universe, obscure trivia begins to wear thin after about 45 minutes. Only obsessed researchers need to know the production year of the Radio Orphan Annie decoder pin that Ralphie receives. (It was 1940, by the way.)

We drove back up West 25th Avenue to the Ohio City neighborhood, a resurging area home to two items on our itinerary.  The first was the West Side Market.  Built in 1912, it’s the only remaining public market in the city.  A young woman tried to bum fifty cents off us as we entered.

It was near the end of the shopping day, but many of the booths were still busy.  Customers were choosing from a wide selection of seafood and freshly butchered meat as well as cheeses, spices, and other edible products.  We were feeling a tad hungry so we purchased a bag of tortilla chips and a small tub of hummus.  We took it across the street to a concrete public park where we could sit at a table and watch the flow of humanity.  Shopping bag-toting tourists mixed with hard-looking transients. The latter group included a bald man with a fully tattooed head.  I would venture to guess he is not viewed by his peers as a wise maker of life choices.

After the last trace of hummus was licked off my finger, we walked a block to the Great Lakes Brewing Company gift shop.  We had a little time to kill before our scheduled 6:00 pm brewery tour, so we stepped into the gift shop and stepped out a few minutes later with a Great Lakes t-shirt, magnet, and sticker.

Great Lakes charges a nominal $5 for its brewery tour, but for that price, we were given four tokens, each good for a small 5 oz. pour of Great Lakes beer.  That’s worth the price of admission alone, in my book, but along with the suds, we also got a one-hour tour where the brewing process was explained.  The time passed quickly as we strolled across the street to see where the large vats do their fermenting magic.  Our tour guide, Peter, also did a nice job of mixing some Cleveland history and humor into his spiel.  

By the time the tour was over, it was dinnertime, and we found most of the city had chosen to dine out.  The brewpub had a 40-minute wait for a table, but we were told the basement beer cellar was governed by less formal rules and tables were available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  As luck would have it, a small one in the corner was open and we quickly nabbed it.  Service was a bit slow due to the demand, but with a Turntable Pils in hand and a deck of cards to pass the time, it didn’t really matter.  Once my cup of clam chowder and Cleveland Hero sandwich arrived, it tasted all the better for the wait.

After dinner, we drove back to University Circle where our weekend’s lodging was located.  The Glidden House is a beautiful and comfortable hotel set in a collegiate environment.  Sure, it requires a wheel barrow full of money to stay there, but it’s worth the splurge.  The red brick building began life in 1910 as the home to the Glidden family, who made their fortune in paint.  In 1953, Case Western Reserve University purchased the property and later converted the French Gothic Eclectic home into a luxury hotel.  We were warmly welcomed and lost no time falling into a state of relaxation after a busy day of sightseeing.

The following morning, we fueled up with a complimentary European-style breakfast buffet served in the sunroom on the first floor.  I pretended this was a level of service I was accustomed to as I perused with a discerning eye the offerings of cheese, eggs, potatoes, cereal selections, and a variety of pastries.  The pile of bacon I formed on my plate may have revealed my humble proletarian beginnings, but screw it, when it comes to most pork products, I lack pride and self-restraint.

Sunday’s itinerary was managed without the use of our car.  We exited the Glidden House on foot and found our first site of the day just a couple blocks away.  Hessler Court is a short street, only 60 yards long, but it holds the interesting distinction of being completely lined with wooden blocks.  It would be easy to overlook, but a close examination reveals the telltale swirls of wood grain.  Since before the time of the automobile, the street has been paved with blocks of Norfolk Pine.  I’m not sure what the original idea for it was, but it’s now become a local curiosity.  I read that people like to walk barefoot on the street, so we kicked off our sandals and did likewise.  It was pleasant to the touch and felt as though we were striding along smooth concrete.

A half mile away, we found a Rapid Transit Authority station and caught the Red Line Rapid downtown to the Tower City/Public Square stop, located in the bowels of Terminal Tower.  While the building is a tall drink of water at 708 feet, it’s not the tallest structure in Cleveland.  That honor is bestowed upon the Key Tower, catty-corner across Public Square.  At 950 feet, it is the tallest building in Ohio, as well as the tallest building between New York and Chicago.  If one is interested in such matters, it also ranks as the 24th tallest building in the United States and the 165th tallest in the world.

Despite the massive buildings that abound in downtown Cleveland, I was struck by the amount of green space and the number of large pieces of public art.  The first of the latter we encountered was the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.  It dominates a quarter of Public Square.  Its 125-foot column of polished black Quincy stone, topped with a statue of the Goddess of Freedom, was erected to commemorate the Civil War.  Its square base is so large, one can walk inside.

Northeast of it, at the southern end of the Cleveland Mall, is The Fountain of Eternal Life, also known as the War Memorial Fountain and Peace Arising from the Flames of War.  It depicts a male figure rising from a sphere that’s surrounded by four curved blocks containing various carved animals.  Its creator, Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks, claims, “The four granite carvings depict the geographical civilizations of the Earth.  The bronze sphere symbolizes the superstitions and legends of mankind.  The bronze figure is man rising from the flames and reaching for eternal peace.”  Some might find the interpretation to be rather grandiose, but it seems appropriate for a sculpture with so many names.

Our art tour continued a couple blocks away in Willard Park, where the whimsical Claes Oldenburg sculpture, “Free Stamp,” just begs to have photos taken of it.  I later learned of its interesting beginnings.  The original commission for the piece was made in 1982 by Standard Oil of Ohio.  It was to sit in front of SOHIO’s new headquarters on Public Square, but during the subsequent years of creation, the company changed ownership, becoming British Petroleum, and the commission was cancelled.  A committee to preserve the piece was created and space was eventually found in Willard Park, much to the delight of visitors.

Proceeding north on East 9th Street toward the lake, we reached the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  Since its completion in 1995, the I.M. Pei-designed glass triangle façade has become an iconic image on the city’s lakefront.  Gregg Allman had just died the day before and we heard “Whipping Post” as we entered the building.

It was our first time visiting and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’d heard all kinds of opinions expressed regarding this house of music.  Is it promulgating an important art form or sucking the life from it by treating it as a nostalgic commodity?  Is it commemorating a significant piece of our culture or neutering its spirit by institutionalizing it?  

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The answer, I suppose, is “yes.”  Being a perennial fence-sitter, I can sympathize with each side in this debate.  I can easily roll my eyes at the lifeless display of some musician’s old hat in the Roots of Rock and Roll hall before stepping into the Cities and Sounds exhibit, --dedicated to Detroit’s Motown, New York City’s punk, and Seattle’s grunge -- and getting all excited over Joey Ramone’s leather jacket.  I can audibly scoff at the image of Taylor Swift in the Right Here, Right Now room while giddily snapping a picture of the Royal Crescent Mob’s drum face where it’s featured with other bands from the Midwest.  Life is full of contradictions and I’m one of them.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will provide the visitor with whatever evidence he or she wants for whatever argument he or she wants to make.  I went into it with a positive attitude though, so overall, I ended up enjoying it.  That’s not to say it’s not over-priced and doing its best to wring every cent it can from the visitor.  In the end, I’m glad I went, but I probably won’t be returning anytime soon.

After a quick hot dog and burger from a food truck outside the museum, we meandered our way back to Superior Avenue where we found two of the four massive Beaux Arts buildings constructed around the Mall in the 1910s and 20s.  The five stories of the Federal Building, constructed in 1910, is graced with majestic gray granite. The Cleveland Public Library was completed 15 years later and made of Georgia marble.  Being Sunday, both establishments were closed, so we could only appreciate them from the outside.  

Directly across Superior Avenue is the Arcade, another architectural gem, but one needs to step inside to appreciate its best attributes.  Four levels of shopping and business arcade stretch back 300 feet.  Cast iron railings ring the balconies and a view up will reveal a glass ceiling.  The Hyatt Regency opened a 293-room hotel inside the Arcade in 2001.  As soon as we’re able to fill another wheelbarrow full of money, we’ll return and stay overnight there.  In the meantime, we settled for a couple of coffees in the Rising Star Café on the ground level of the building.

Heavy rain was forecasted for the late afternoon, so we returned to Tower City and rode the Rapid back to University Circle, arriving back at the Glidden House just before the first drops fell.

We’d previously made a date with Michele’s brother and sister-in-law, who planned to drive from their home in Huron to join us for dinner.  As the skies opened up and deposited huge buckets of water on Cleveland, Michele called her brother to ask if he wanted to cancel due to the weather.  When I heard her squeal with delight into the phone, I knew something was up.  It turned out that Jeff and Nancy had already arrived in Cleveland.  In fact, they had just pulled into the parking lot of the Glidden House, having made an impromptu decision to stay the night!

After settling in, we all met in the lobby and then piled into our car for the short drive back to Little Italy, where we had a 7:00 pm reservation at Mia Bella Restaurant, on the corner of Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads.  It was fortunate we’d planned ahead because the place was packed and there was a small collection of hungry diners waiting for a table.  

The meal had the proper ingredients for a successful dinner: convivial company and delicious food. I started with the Zuppa di Pesce, a spicy bowl of soup prepared with fresh seafood.  That was followed by an entrée of linguini mixed with homemade marinara, basil, garlic, and shallots.  I didn’t note what the others ordered, but no one seemed to have trouble cleaning their plate.  A shared bottle of California pinot noir from Redwood Creek Winery helped wash everything down.

The neighborhood experienced another deluge while we ate, but the rain had stopped again by the time we finished eating and walked the two blocks to our parked car.   

We returned to the Glidden House and hung out in the lobby area for another hour or so and then wished each other a good night and goodbye before retiring to our respective rooms.  Jeff and Nancy are early risers, so we were pretty sure they’d be long gone before we ambled out for breakfast the next morning.  We were correct.

After a leisurely breakfast, we took our time checking out before heading back out on the road.  We followed the now familiar route on Mayfield Road through Little Italy one last time.  Continuing east, we passed through the communities of South Euclid, Lyndhurst, and Mayfield Heights.  Mayfield Road probably isn’t the best route to view these areas as it’s just one long, boring, multi-lane, strip of nondescript commercial entities.  

When we turned south onto Ohio Route 91, also known as SOM Center Road (named for the fact that it runs through the centers of the original Solon, Orange and Mayfield Townships in Cuyahoga County), I was hoping for anything to break up the monotony.  The change was dramatic.  Suddenly, trees lined the two-lane road and I felt we’d just moved out of the city and into the country.

We turned left onto Hawthorne Parkway which led us straight into South Chagrin Reservation, one of Cleveland’s lovely Metroparks.  A forest of hemlock trees makes up much of the nearly 1,400 acres.  We followed the road to its terminus at the Squaw Rock Picnic Area.  Most of the parking spaces were already taken.  As we got out of our car, the aroma of holiday cookouts wafted delightfully toward us.

The rugged mile-long trail we chose was rather muddy in spots from the previous night’s rain, but we persevered as it led first along ledges of Berea sandstone and then down toward the fast moving Chagrin River.  Along its bank, we found the namesake for the picnic area: a large sandstone boulder known as a slump rock because it had broken off from the ravine’s cliff face at some indeterminate date in the past.  Its bank-facing side was the stone canvas on which blacksmith-turned-sculptor Henry Church, Jr. chiseled out a deep bas-relief of a half-nude Indian maiden beside a large serpent.  In the mid-1880s, he would hike the two miles from his home in Chagrin Falls and secretly carve his work by lantern light.  Other objects that fill the tableau include an Indian papoose, a quiver of arrows, and a reclining skeleton.  Once discovered, it became popularly known as Squaw Rock, but has since been given a more PC title, The Rape of the Indian Tribes by the White Man. It may have a more potent political punch, but pithy it is not.

Back at the picnic area, we whiled away some time at a cement table in the shade watching various family groups enjoy their Memorial Day weekend.

Back in the car, we drove to nearby Chagrin Falls, which is totally contained within Cuyahoga County thanks to a small bump in its otherwise straight line border with Geauga County.  The community of just over 4,100 residents must have had some sort of holiday celebration in the morning as there were still vendors and large groups of people filling the main street.  We purchased some overpriced gourmet popcorn and a couple of ice cream cones.  We leisurely licked at the latter while watching torrents of brown water speeding over the falls that give the town its name.  Down the street, we perused the reading material inside the independent Fireside Book Store.  One gets the feeling that Chagrin Falls is affluent, especially after spotting a Chico’s women’s fashion store, among the small community’s businesses.

With tickets in hand for a late afternoon Indians baseball game, we began our return to downtown Cleveland.  Our route took us through the suburbs of Bedford Heights, Maple Heights, and Garfield Heights, but neither County Road 53 nor State Route 14 offered much in memorable scenery.

Back downtown, we followed my brother-in-law’s example from previous baseball outings by parking in a private lot off Bolivar Road, just a couple blocks from Progressive Field.  At a cost of $15, it’s slightly less than its competitors while still being conveniently located.

Since money appeared to be no object on this county trip, we’d purchased club seat tickets for the day’s contest against the Oakland A’s.  That entitled us entry into an area where we could eat all the baseball stadium food we could shovel into our bodies at no additional cost.  I ate pulled pork and pasta and hot dogs and popcorn and pretzels and nachos.  (What, no peanuts?!)  I had to pull out my wallet in order to get a beer, but you can’t be expected to enjoy a baseball game in the sun without some sort of alcoholic beverage.

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It turned out to be a game of the long ball with a total of six home runs rung up by both teams, but in the end, the hometown heroes were victorious, topping the west coast visitors 5-3.  And of special note, Ketchup won the hot dog race.

We exited the stadium and made our way back to our car.  Traffic was a bit bogged as it tends to get after a large sports stadium disgorges its occupants.  Our weekend itinerary was complete, so we could have just hopped on the freeway and made a quick escape, but we stayed true to the county trip rules and followed Carnegie Avenue west across the Cuyahoga River one last time and then southwest on U.S. Route 42.  Despite a width of four lanes, the speed limit slowed to a seeming crawl as we passed through Parma Heights and Middleburg Heights.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and count Cleveland as a wonderful getaway destination, but after passing Strongville, I was so relieved to finally get out of the county, so I could make my way to the interstate and push the pedal to the metal.

 

Time spent in the county: 58 hours, 45 minutes

Miles driven in the county: 102 miles