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The History of Shaker Square

In 1922 construction of Moreland Courts began at Shaker Boulevard and what was then Moreland Circle, on land acquired by Josiah Kirby from the "Vans" real estate developers Mantis James and Oris Paxton Van Sweringen.

Architect Alfred Harris planned an ambitious series of apartments, with commercial buildings, including a theater and market, surrounding the Circle. Only a portion of the plan was carried out when Kirby's company went bankrupt. The Van Sweringens reacquired the property and enlisted architects Philip Small and Charles Rowley to complete Moreland Courts and develop plans for what would become Shaker Square.

Real estate developers and railroad magnates,
brothers M. J. and O. P. Van Sweringen.
Photo from the Cleveland Public Library collection.

Before Shaker Square (1922)
the Rapid stop at Shaker Boulevard and Coventry Road
Photo from the Cleveland Public Library collection.

The Vans saw Shaker Square as a focal point and gateway to their suburb to the east, Shaker Heights. Integral to their vision of "Shaker Village" and the development of Shaker Square was the creation of a rapid transit (light rail) connection to downtown Cleveland. The Vans were at the peak of their power, owning or controlling most of what would become Shaker Heights, the Nickel Plate and other railroads and the Terminal Tower (now part of Tower City) which would open in 1930 as the tallest building between New York and Chicago.

To accommodate automobile parking the design changed from a circle to an octagon. This plan suggested 18th-century European royal squares as a design source. Central pavilions flanked by lower wings can be seen in each quadrant. Shaker Square's style and detail are American Colonial - Georgian to conform with the vision for Shaker Heights. (More on the early years.)

Amalienborg Square in Copenhagen,
said to be the inspiration for Shaker Square.
Four mansions for Denmark's royal family.
Constructed 1750-60.

The Square, constructed from 1927 - 29, celebrated its 75th anniversary in November 2004. The Colony Theater was built in 1937. In the 1951 aerial view of Shaker Square, below, note the rapid transit turnaround loop in the center of the green.

An aerial view of Shaker Square - 1951

Who owned and owns Shaker Square?

Some years ago I traced ownership of the land on which my condominium, just a block east of the Square stands, back to Samuel P. Lord (as in Lordstown), a Connecticut tavern owner who was one of the investors in the Connecticut Land Company that surveyed the Western Reserve and sold land here.

Today the answer is clear: it's The Coral Company that owns the four buildings and the land they are on, plus the public areas and more.

Before them, but after the Van Sweringens, the ownership was complex.

In July 2000 Karen Kurdziel, then a reporter for the Sun Press, wrote a carefully researched story (more) about the two young men who were the "visible guiding lights" in the Square's $24 million renovation and the corporations that really owned the Square.

The owner before those two? Many (myself included) thought it was Larry Albert, but he may have been the manager for a group of absent and silent owners. (If you can shed more light on this subject, please contact me.) 

Why is Shaker Square in the Shaker Heights School District?

The story is not yet clear. Some published accounts may be incorrect. Old maps suggest that the Shaker Square neighborhood was never in Shaker Heights, but rather in Newburgh, which was annexed to Cleveland around the time Shaker Heights was carved out of Warrensville Township.

One old news account, from the September 5, 1912 Plain Dealer, tells of an exchange of land. Not from city to city (Shaker Heights to Cleveland), but between school boards: from the area served by the Cleveland City School District to the Shaker Heights School District. Here's the story link.

Such a "swap" would serve the interests of both communities. Shaker Heights wanted more students (and more taxes) to support a new school. Cleveland city officials and judges were glad to create an area where they could live in the city and still hold office, yet have their children educated with those of the city's elite who were moving to Shaker Heights. We will search for more.  (added 9/27/2011)

To learn more about the history of Shaker Square

Thanks to the Cleveland Landmarks Commission for much of the text and the Cleveland images shown on this page. We hope to work with the Shaker Historical Society and the Western Reserve Historical Society to create more history pages some going back to the North Union Shakers, and much of it more recent, intended to stir the memories of friends of the Square.


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