America’s First Indoor Shopping Center

The 1890 Arcade in downtown Cleveland was the first indoor shopping center in the country. It featured a 300-foot, five-story, dome skylight of 1,600 glass panels framed in iron connecting two nine-story towers. Its architecture mimicked the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy. Financed by John D. Rockefeller, it was dubbed Cleveland’s Crystal Palace.

The Arcade is located on Euclid Avenue, wherein its heyday an unprecedented amount of wealth resided there due to the universe around Rockefeller’s oil empire. “The Avenue” as it was known, exceeded the valuations of New York’s Fifth Avenue in the late 1800s, earning another nickname: The Showplace of America. And The Arcade was the cherry on top so-to-speak.

In the 1990s, the fabled jewel of Cleveland celebrated its centennial for demolition. As a young urban explorer of sorts, I wandered old Euclid Avenue to try and see what once was. When I walked inside a nondescript doorway on the side of just another old high-rise downtown building in need of a makeover, I stopped in my tracks just on the other side. It was like discovering a lost world strangled in the Amazon Jungle, only this jungle was of the concrete variety. In deep decay, you could see the grandiose architecture and history.

But back then, something about it was even more stunning than today even in its dilapidated state. And although my research cannot find any mention of it, the five stories of ornate railings and such were brass. And that brass shine, albeit in need of restoration, made this place sing like no other. And as a bird flew overhead, inside, in front of an old art dealer and only merchant to be seen, I wished someone with deep pockets could see the potential I saw.

A few years later, my wish was granted. And in 2001, The Arcade was reborn. Today, it again has eateries and boutique shops. But the old brass that stunned was now coated in what looks like some type of antique finish, probably because keeping up brass requires a tremendous amount of ongoing maintenance. Still, it’s a gorgeous site and has become one of the most photographed sites in Cleveland. Don’t be surprised to see glamor influencers doing a photoshoot there.

Oh, and if you are meeting someone there, specify which Arcade. It took, embarrassingly, about an hour to meet up with my cousin and his family the last time we were in town.

Our confusion went something like this:

“Where are you guys?”

“Where are YOU guys?”

“The Arcade.”

“You can’t be at The Arcade. We have walked the entire place half a dozen times looking for you.”

“Across from the tee-shirt place on Euclid.”

“You mean on the same side as the shirt place.”

“No. across, the restored old five-story Arcade.”

We each walked out of The Arcade and stood across the street from one another. The Arcade on the other side is a modernized shopping mall. It too is worth a visit. I mean, you’re right there.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun.

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