• Cleveland RTA: Heavy and Light Rail System

  • General discussion of passenger rail systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.
General discussion of passenger rail systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

Moderators: mtuandrew, gprimr1

  by BaltOhio
Shameless plug: Anyone with a serious interest in the Vans should get "Invisible Giants: The Empires of Cleveland's Van Sweringen Brothers," by Herbert H. Harwood, Jr. (Indiana Univ. Press, 2003). It's still in print, as far as I know, and you can get it through Amazon.com and other such outlets. As a warning, there's a lot of mind-numbing financial stuff in it -- unavoidable, since that's what the Vans were all about -- but enough on railroads, rapid transit, and Cleveland real estate projects to keep you awake.

  by Pulley4
I figured it was you, esp when you spoke of your Chessie background/connection plus your extreme knowledge of the topic. Some people prefer internet anonymity, so I remained silent... I'm ashamed to say I only thumbed through your book a few Xmas' ago at a Cleveland bookstore and made a promise that I'd someday buy it because it was by far the most comprehensive I've ever seen on the subject ... Definitely an Amazon bet. The Vans were such a mystery and, as the book, swept to the side of history, personally (perhaps modern leaders keep their distance because they cringe at the Vans' harsh anti-black/anti-Jewish housing covenants in Shaker.)

I think RTA and the County (via ODOT) has pretty much wiped out most evidence of the Vans' old East Cleveland line stations and station-stairwell openings with their bridge rebuilding and rehabbing. A few may exist in East Cleveland though, I’m not sure, as I’ve relocated from Cleveland also (I still visit frequently, though)… It appears the Vans only got a concrete start on the 4-mile East Cleveland branch but only Rapid reservations along the NKP west line. Years ago I read a 1920s Parsons Brinckerhoff plan, obviously prepared for the Vans, that called for the NKP east and west lines to be built, 1st, from the Collinwood/Euclid Border thru Lakewood on the west... I'm guessing since the Vans cos. owned NKP it was easier to build along NKP's east-west line than next to other rail lines entering the city.

Do you know why NKP stopped their extensive grade separation program at W. 110th street while proceeding much further on the east? (scold me if your book holds the answer... shame on me)

  by BaltOhio
Always delighted to sell another copy to some poor unsuspecting soul. Maybe at this rate I'll actually cover all my expenses for the project.

I don't really know why the NKP never got around to rebuilding its line through Lakewood, but ignorance has never hindered me. I can offer two speculative reasons: First, the NKP's West Side grade crossing elimination project took 7 years to complete, thanks mostly to WWI. It had been started in 1915, but not finished until 1922. After that the Vans and Bernet had to pump a lot of money into upgrading the railroad, and the Lakewood project simply kept getting deferred. (And by the mid-'20s, the CUT project, with all the attendant East Side access work, was the top Cleveland priority.)

Second, and maybe more likely, the costs of grade crossing elimination projects typically are shared jointly by the railroad and municipality involved -- sometimes involving several sources of public funds. It's entirely possible that Lakewood, being a relatively new and almost entirely residential suburb, simply didn't have the money to contribute and the railroad, understandably, wouldn't finance it all on its own.

This gets way off topic for a transit discussion, but your comment about the Shaker residential deed restrictions raises an interesting point. Most writers seem to have oversimplified this subject, and made things look worse than they really were. I've read that Jews and even Catholics were excluded, but neither was strictly true. Many Jews lived in Shaker Heights, including the department store owner Salmon Halle (see a photo of his mansion in Jim Toman's Shaker Rapid book, p. 17), although it's true that in the earlier days they were limited to certain areas of the community. It's also true that there were no Catholic churches in Shaker until after WWII, but, after all, some of the top people on the Vans' staff were Catholic, including J. J. Bernet, their chief railroad executive, John Murphy, their personal lawyer (later chairman of Higbee's), J. J. Anzalone, their chief accountant, and so on. All of them, of course, lived in Shaker along with the Catholic officers of their railroads and other companies.

As far as I know, the deed restrictions were never so blatant as to mention any specific racial, ethnic, or religious groups. They were more subtle than that, requiring any new home buyer to be "approved" by the next-door and across-the-street neighbors. That was enough to guarantee the community's homogeneity that was so well advertised in the Vans' sales literature. Even so, there were at least a couple of sales to black families who, to the community's disgrace, were quickly and rather brutally forced to move back out.

  by Pulley4
I was aware about the Halle mansion and about the Halle brothers deemed "honorary Christians' and allowed to move in. I agree, the black families' treatment you describe is disgraceful, even in those rather unenlightened times. But even if the rumor of the covenants exceeded reality, as they say: perception is reality, and as great as their accomplishments were as builders, the Van covenants are a negative part of Van lore -- as well as ironic, given that Shaker morphed into one of the most liberal/progressive, wealthy communities in the nation...

Back to the Van empire, obviously NKP grade separation was no mean feat. I've read that one problem in Lakewood may have been a sandy soil base there that would have made open-cut building more difficult and expensive.

It's always impressed me, as successful and outrageous as the Vans' were, they seemed to fly by the seats of their pants, with one project boot-strapping them to another level and sea of the unknown. Consider (and I’m sure you’ll correct my memory):

-- 1890s-(approx) 1905 -- they fail at RE in Lakewood (I believe).

--1905-09-- Vans follow Patrick C. Calhoun to the Heights and hatch rapid transit plan to sell wealthy RE.

-- 1916 -- along the laying out Rapid route, they cross paths/conflict with NKP, so they buy the RR, and by doing so, enter the RR business.

-- 1917/18 -- expand plans for grand Public Sq. RR AND transit terminal which, along the way, their friend (the ex-NYC owner turned RR admin chief) recommends thru terminal with segregated passenger service away from freight.

-- 1918 actually clear land and build Hotel Cleveland BEFORE passage of city ordinance choosing public square over Dan Burnham's Mall-crowning Union Station.

--- 1920s -- secretly, morph terminal plans for a monumental 52-story, revolutionary air-rights office tower over an underground station/terminal.

--- 1920s – continue and grow status of leverage masters to create a series of interlocking holding companies to build/electrify Union Terminals Railway, finish the Shaker Rapid’s tracks into the terminal and, then, develop their interurban/rapid transit empire … over time, obviously.

--- 1920s – Vans became RR moguls, buying up roads and consolidating power, obviously becoming reckless and over-extended, as you state, in buying such roads as MoPac…

--- Late 1920s – expand road building/estate development into the Shaker Country Estates plan stretching to the Chagrin Valley.

--- And, of course, as the empire crumbled when notes began being called in 1929, began to take concrete steps toward opening the East Cleveland line.

To me, against this background of the Vans’ Peter Pan approach to growth and planning, the Vans amazing success is as logical as their dizzying collapse.

  by BaltOhio
Well, yes and no.

The Vans were consistent to the extent that they pretty much stuck to two lines of business -- real estate and railroads, with rapid transit more as an adjunct to real estate development than as a business unto itself. And within those areas they followed a more-or-less logical geographic progression of new projects and acquisitions. But, as I've mentioned, O. P. had what was almost an irrational bullish streak. He was forever optimistic, and could see (or at least thought he could see) long-term growth prospects where others didn't. Thus many of his projects were designed to pay off not in months or even years, but decades. The original Shaker Heights was not planned to fill out completely for 25 years -- something that was anathema in the real estate business. It was this kind of thinking that caused the problems in the '30s, when the growth simply stopped but the financial obligations continued relentlessly.

There was a saying, which you've probably heard or read, that if the Vans hadn't gone west of the Mississippi and east of Green Rd., they would have been OK, and there was at least a little truth in that.

The pattern of their railroad expansion was interesting, and had a story behind it -- at least in the early stages. As you probably know, the Vans formed an early bond with A. H. Smith, who became the New York Central's president. It's a long, complicated, and partly speculative story, but it was the Smith-O. P. partnership that created both the Eastern Van Sweringen rail system (NKP-LE&W-Clover Leaf-C&O-Erie-PM) and the CUT development. Smith clearly persuaded the Vans to take the NKP and then guided them in their other acquisitions up to 1924, and made sure that they could get their financing. (The story that the Vans acquired the NKP simply to get an entree to the Public Square was a post-facto concoction; there was much more behind it than that.) Smith knew what he was doing, and the result (as of 1924, again) was a well-balanced, artfully constructed system. But Smith was killed in 1924, and it's clear to me that the Vans' railroad planning (including their merger strategies) faltered afterward. Actually, though, the MoPac acquisition was theoretically sound, if you follow O. P.'s long-term thinking, and eventually its performance justified O. P.'s hopes -- but too late for him.

There's no question that O. P.'s creativity kept running ahead of him, and that he'd change (usually by expanding) things as he went along. From what I've read, he drove the Terminal complex architects and builders crazy with a constant flow of new ideas as they were building.

But, as you said earlier, where would Cleveland (and much of the Eastern railroad system) be without him?

I make no apologies for the real estate deed restrictions except the rather weak defense that they were not unique to the Vans. In fact, the Vans' original model for Shaker Heights was Roland Park here in Baltimore, which, beginning in the 1890s, pioneered all the basic elements of the Shaker development including the deed covenants. This was thought at the time to be the basis for establishing "permanent" stability in property values, and, again given the thinking of the time, was a correct assumption.

My only point is that Shaker was never quite as restrictive as some have described it; there was always a more Midwestern casualness and egalitarianism that similar Eastern communities lacked. A Jewish friend of mine who grew up in Cleveland Heights during the late 1920s and early '30s told me that a lot of the Jewish kids he knew in that era lived in Shaker. In 1987 the S. H. Public Library published a nice collection of oral histories celebrating Shaker's 75th anniversary, and included in these were several reminiscences of Jewish residents from the '20s and '30s.

  by BaltOhio
A couple of extra thoughts:

My basic take on the Vans is that they were not true innovators in any area. Rather, they (or rather O. P.) recognized the promising innovations of otthers and were gifted adapters, refiners, and embellishers. Their basic Shaker Heights plan came almost entirely from Baltimore's Roland Park development, including the downtown transit link (which was only semi-rapid transit in Baltimore, but included an elevated section and lengthy boulevard running). The holding company idea dates back to the Pennsylvania Co. of 1870, and maybe even earlier than that. The concept of air-rights development came directly from the New York Central's GCT/Park Avenue project, and so on. In fact, the only area where they may have been on the brink of true innovation was one they were never given credit for because it never had time to jell. That was the concept of integrated, intermodal freight distribution. Through the Erie R. R. and the ill-fated Pittston Co., they controlled all the necessary elements: railroads, trucking companies, small-shipment consolidators, warehouses, and distribution agencies -- one-stop transportation shopping, if you will. I think O.P. may have recognized this, but the Pittston Co. was one of the first to get into serious trouble, and there was never a chance to pull anything together. And even now, I'm not sure anybody has, although CSX made a stab at it in the 1980s.

The second thought is that although neither of the Vans were managers themselves, they had a talent for picking the right people, giving them decision-making freedom (except:"Keep those dividends coming!"), and providing them with as much money as they possibly could. John Bernet, of course, is the sterling example, but there were numerous others, including all those clever lawyers. (As is well-known, the New York Central's A. H. Smith effectively gave Bernet to the Vans as one of the sweeteners on the Nickel Plate deal. What is lesser known is that Bernet was a bit of a thorn in Smith's side, and that -- according to rumor on the Central at the time -- Smith was jealous of him. True or not, Bernet tended to be blunt, outspoken, and impulsive.)

  by Pulley4
I lived near Baltimore briefly and had a friend in Roland Park; never knew it was the Van model; interesting.

Well, whatever one can make of OP's optimism/semi-recklessness, what clearly set him (and bro MJ in tow) apart was, the Vans' vision to build on such a grand scale for Cleveland -- Of course, as you note, many, if not most, of the Vans' work had precedent somewhere – in America or overseas -- in some form or another, as in Copenhagen's Amalienborg Square, for Shaker Sq; Rowland Park (and maybe Boston's Brookline, to a degree), for Shaker Hts, although the totally underground, air-rights skyscraper railroad terminal seems pretty much their own innovation, at least by US standards; even New York hadn’t quite done a Terminal Tower RR station (besides architecturally, of course, in NYC’s 1914 Municipal Building’s truncated spire which Van architects, the famed NYC firm of McKim, Mead and White, reproduced on top the stretched Public Square rectangle). The other distinguishing Van fact is how incredibly well they built, with all Big 4 Van projects – Shaker Heights, Shaker Square (including the magnificent Moreland Courts condo), the Shaker Rapid and the Terminal Group, not only surviving, but thriving today in pretty much their original (though each project having been expanded over time – a tribute to each projects’ staying power and success) albeit, in the Terminal’s case, in a slightly altered function with railroads and the station removed and a shopping mall in its place.

Back to the Rapid Transit:
And, of course, as we’ve been talking about, laying the concrete foundation for today’s RTA Red Line (and really, the ingress/egress for the Waterfront Line as well). My guess is there would probably been some kind of wealthy development where Shaker Heights is today, but of course, probably not as large, grand or well organized… Certainly without the Vans, there’d be nothing approaching Shaker Square meaning, I’m sure, no large scale, TOD-type apartment district with the retail/transit center we have today. The streetcar-influenced Euclid Avenue/Doan’s Corners up through Euclid Heights, in Cleveland Hts, would probably be the main East Side apartment district, today, absent the Vans… And of course, there would not be a rapid transit network like what we have today in Cleveland without the Vans… I dare say, without the brothers, Cleveland more than likely would have no rapid transit at all, esp here in the transit-conservative Midwest.

  by tommyboy6181
[quote="gt7348b"]Vehicles are Breda light rail vehicles for the Blue and Green Line built in the '80s and Japanese built cars for the Red Line also built in the '80s. One final thing about Cleveland is the there was a streetcar subway that ran run Detroit Avenue at West 29th Street (with a branch to West 25th Street) on the lower deck of the Detroit-Superior Bridge (now Vetrans Memorial) to a power at West 6th Street with stations at either end of the bridge. This little subway saw service from 1917 to 1954.

Red line cars are built by Tokyu Car Corporation of Japan, which also built the Buffalo LRV cars which are being rehabbed by Breda through 2010.
  by farecard
Some questions from the cellar of my brane...

A) Where were Shaker Rapid's shops? I thought they were near the http://tinyurl.com/7pz8t9 loop by CRF but now I don't recall for sure.

B) After the streetcars disappeared, and trackless trolleys arrived; did they too use the lower level of the Detroit Superior bridge, with the W28/29th entrance?

I recall that autos never were, as it was too twisty to get around the piers; so they widened the bridge instead.

C) Does anyone remember the Dinky?
  by gt7348b
In answer to "B" - according the book "When Cleveland Had a Subway" once the streetcars were gone, the lower deck closed so I'm assuming that they were not used by TT.
  by BaltOhio
Answering "A" - The original SHRT shops, which dated to about 1920, were located in Kingsbury Run, east of E. 55th St. and south/east of the present RTA complex. There was a tunnel/flyover complex to reach the yard and shop which may still remain. A projected spur to reach the NOT&L Akron interurban line was also supposed to pass by the shop location.

As for "C", the term "dinky" was generally used by the Cleveland Ry. to indicate any short shuttle line that connected with some mainline streetcar route, and at one time there were several of them scattered around the city. You may be thinking of the State Road dinky on the West Side, which I believe was the last.
  by farecard
BaltOhio wrote:Answering "A" - The original SHRT shops, which dated to about 1920, were located in Kingsbury Run, east of E. 55th St. and south/east of the present RTA complex. There was a tunnel/flyover complex to reach the yard and shop which may still remain. A projected spur to reach the NOT&L Akron interurban line was also supposed to pass by the shop location.
http://allthingsclevelandohio.blogspot. ... ridge.html

Finally found a cite. That's the suspension bridge overhead. The new shop is at to the upper left of
http://tinyurl.com/7pz8t9. You can see the bare spot that was the old ones.
As for "C", the term "dinky" was generally used by the Cleveland Ry. to indicate any short shuttle line that connected with some mainline streetcar route, and at one time there were several of them scattered around the city. You may be thinking of the State Road dinky on the West Side, which I believe was the last.

The story I was told was there was a dinky run from W28th & Detroit, where the lines dived down to the lower level for the Detroit Superior Bridge, to W25th and back, and forth, and back. All day. Run, stop, swap poles, repeat.

Until the day the operator, well...

"he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You
know. Just a little... funny. And uh, he went and did a silly

and started working his way from line to line..

They finally found him, and the dinky, at E305th St....
  by farecard
BaltOhio, a few years back:
At one time an NYC industrial spur crossed the transit line at grade. Perhaps that's still there, but I doubt it.
I just rode over it. The spur is on the north side of the Red Line tracks, and starts just after W117th. It goes past Trisket and at West Park, there's a crossover under the cat. The spur continues past there to just short of 150th station. It looks to be abandoned or at least unused for many years.
  by usroadman
Just wondering if anyone else has had any problems with photography around the system. I was in town a few weeks ago and while taking a couple of pictures had a police officer come up to me and tell me it was prohibited (since 9/11). I didn't care too much at the time since I needed to be going anyway, but was later checking the GCRTA website and couldn't find anything saying photography was restricted (although spitting is apparently a no-no). I may contact GCRTA directly and ask for an official policy, but just wondering if anyone else has had any similar experiences, or knows for sure about any restrictions. (It's not the easiest website to navigate so it may be that I just missed it.)