Fourth greatest of the Great Lakes, ecologically challenged by industrial discharge and agricultural runoff, Lake Erie doesn’t get much respect. The same could be said of its largest city, Cleveland. But Lake Erie and Cleveland, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, have made a comeback in recent years (much like some aging Hall of Famers we know).
The Rock Hall induction ceremony won’t return to Cleveland until 2018 — Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller and N.W.A. will get their statuettes at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on April 8 — but the city is gearing up to welcome 50,000 Republican National Convention-goers, plus a few thousand protesters, July 18-21.
James Corner, designer of New York’s High Line, has been hired to remake Cleveland’s Public Square, a 10-acre open space that was on the 1796 plan by Moses Cleaveland (yes, spelled differently). Of the $32 million price tag, about a quarter is coming from the city and the rest from foundations and corporations.
The home of rock ’n’ roll
That kind of civic spirit helped to win and pay for the Hall of Fame and Museum (admission is $23.50; 1-216-781-7625; rockhall.com), a lakefront landmark designed by I.M. Pei — not that Cleveland couldn’t legitimately claim the genre that will never die.
The first rock concert, most authorities agree, was disc jockey Alan Freed’s Moondog Coronation Ball, a racially integrated event sponsored by Leo Mintz’s Record Rendezvous store and held March 21, 1952, at the Cleveland Arena, although it was almost immediately halted when the overcapacity audience became unruly.
Three generations (four, if you count the strollers) now wander the multilevel shrine, ogling relics such as Ringo’s drum set, Jimi’s couch and Gaga’s gowns. As a reminder of rock’s outlaw origins, one exhibit screens 1960s footage of albums being stamped on and burned by foes of sexual freedom, drug use, communism and godlessness, if not outright Satan worship. In a clip from 1985, Frank Zappa testifies against album censorship at a Senate hearing.
Minnesota’s own Robert Allen Zimmerman (you may know him as Bob Dylan) was tapped by the hall in 1988, the third year of the ceremony, along with the Beatles and the Beach Boys. A certain alumnus of Minneapolis’ Central High School (yes, Prince) was inducted in 2004, the same year as George Harrison as a solo artist.
Although the Cleveland Arena was torn down in 1977, the city has remarkably preserved and restored not one but five theaters from the vaudeville and silent movie eras: the Allen, the Ohio, the State, the Connor Palace and the Hanna. All but one opened in 1921 (the Palace opened in 1922) on or around the same block of Euclid Avenue. Merged into a single performing arts center known as Playhouse Square (1-216-771-4444; playhousesquare.org), these and smaller theaters host plays, concerts, dance performances and Broadway shows. Free tours are offered one Saturday morning a month (usually the first).
Home to Case Western Reserve University, University Circle is one of the most impressive clusters of cultural organizations in the country. A unique acquisition by the expanded Cleveland Museum of Art (free; 1-216-421-7350; clevelandart.org), an imperial tent created for 19th-century Persian ruler Muhammad Shah, is being displayed for the first time through June 26.
Another famed University Circle institution is the Cleveland Orchestra (1-216-231-1111; clevelandorchestra.com), its admired sound a marriage of musicianship and acoustics, the latter thanks to its octagonal auditorium, Severance Hall. The hall’s stylized silvery (aluminum-y, to be precise) lotus and papyrus decor is part Radio City and part Oz.
A 10-year tax on cigarettes, just renewed, has provided millions of dollars for arts and culture in Cuyahoga County, of which Cleveland is the seat. This revenue stream is evident not only in the health of the major arts presenters but in reviving urban neighborhoods such as Gordon Square on the west side and Waterloo Road on the east.
The Gordon Square Arts District (1-216-961-4242; gordonsquare.org) is the place to be on the third Friday of the month, especially at 78th Street Studios (78thstreetstudios.com), where more than 40 studios and galleries occupy what was once the Baker Electric Motor Vehicle Co. On the first Friday of the month, Cleveland visitors can Walk All Over Waterloo. Waterloo Road, formerly a Croatian and Slovenian neighborhood, has become the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District (1-216-692-9500; waterlooarts.org), a showcase of the edgy retro style that Cleveland has made its own.
Brite Winter (britewinter.com) on Feb. 20 is a music-and-arts festival on the west bank of the Cuyohoga Flats.
Miss Dyngus (etymology obscure) will be crowned on Dyngus Day (clevelanddyngus.com), March 28, the Polish celebration of the end of Lent.
Several of Cleveland’s top restaurants are in University Circle: Douglas Katz’s Provenance (1-216-421-7350; clevelandart.org) at the Cleveland Museum of Art and, both in former carriage houses, L’Albatros (1-216-791-7880; albatrosbrasserie.com) and Trentina (1-216-421-2900; restauranttrentina.com). For a taste of Slovenia, there’s Sterle’s Country House (1-216-881-4181; sterlescountryhouse.com), and for 50 hot dog toppings in a legendary venue, there’s Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern (1-216-231-5400; happydogcleveland.com).
A good downtown choice, up the hill from the Rock Hall, is the Westin (1-216-771-7700; westincleveland.com). The Metropolitan at the 9 (1-216-239-1200; the9cleveland.com) is part of Marriott’s boutique line. In University Circle, Glidden House (1-216-231-8900; gliddenhouse.com) is a converted mansion.
Cleveland is about 750 miles from the Twin Cities via Interstates 94 and 90. Several airlines fly between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Cleveland Hopkins.
Terry Robe is a freelance writer on travel and the arts based in Washington, D.C.