When you see an aging building or a rusted bridge, you are seeing nature and man working together.  If you paint over a building, there is no more magic to that building.  But if it is allowed to age, then man has built it and nature has added to it—it’s so organic.

–David Lynch,
Catching the Big Fish

In 2005 I lived in the Statler Arms building on East 12th Street and Euclid Avenue in Downtown Cleveland.  The Statler Arms was formerly the Statler Hotel, which also used to have a radio station on its top floor.  My great-grandfather worked as an engineer at that radio station, in the same building where I lived decades later.

Downtown Cleveland in 2005 didn’t look nearly like it does today.  East 4th Street was under construction.  The House of Blues had just moved in but few people knew it yet.  There was no casino.  LeBron was just breaking in with the Cavs.  Heck, Constantino’s market wasn’t open yet, so if you wanted groceries you’d have to drive out to the suburbs.  After 6pm downtown became ghost town, and there was very little to do.

Of course today the story is much different.  Cleveland looks to be entering another possible renaissance and downtown is booming.  Or starting to boom.  But the path to renaissance isn’t as clear-cut as we’d like it to be.

Another great-grandfather of mine had to flee rural Mississippi to try his luck at finding fortune up north, and ended up in Cleveland for one last roll of the dice.  Over time, his hard work paid off and he ended up dying a millionaire in the dining room of the Cleveland Yacht Club: a far greater success than even he could have ever imagined.

When I used to live downtown, I’d occasionally ride my bike over to my great grandfather’s old factory in the Flats.  The plant was closed but the building still remained.  In the parking lot you could see a faded, barely-legible sign for “Scottish Tool & Die Parking Only”, and it brought me comfort to see this link with the past still standing.  One day, I pledged, I’d buy that building for whatever company I ended up running.

Then last year, in a bout of curiosity, I figured I’d check in on the old building.  I went on Google Maps and was shocked to see that it had been torn down.  Further investigation told me that not only had my great grandfather’s building been demolished, but it was razed in favor of the construction of a “Larry Flint’s Hustler Club”.

I was floored.

Of course things change and life goes on.  Of course cities grow and shrink and people move in and people move out and people move on.  Time moves in one direction, but our actions can lead us down any number of paths, for better or worse.

Granted, Cleveland today is in a better place than it was seven years ago—but not everywhere.  It’s up to us to figure out which direction we want to see our fine city go and fight like hell to keep it on the right track.  Places like Brokaw are doing it.  Places like Greenhouse Tavern are doing it.  Places like Dredgers Union were doing it, but sadly didn’t make it.

So whether we want a Cleveland full of rehabbed historical buildings and independent businesses or vacant storefronts and Larry Flint’s Hustler Clubs is up to the people of Cleveland.  Let’s choose wisely.

I love you, CLE.  See you again soon.

Here’s hoping for nothing but the best of times.

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