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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 a 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.

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, will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year. 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

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 plan to work with the Shaker Historical Society and Museum 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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