Cleveland Classics: Five Stylishly Repurposed Buildings

Horseshoe Casino Cleveland

Like most of the Rust Belt, Cleveland's economy has taken a lot of hits in recent decades. As the city's fortunes declined, businesses shuttered, leaving empty shells of buildings behind-some imposing and centrally located. But many of these old buildings are being stylishly repurposed into interesting new spaces, hanging on to history while the keeping the city's colorful neighborhoods vital.

Check out five of them in the slideshow below.

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Cleveland Classics: Five Stylishly Repurposed Buildings (PHOTOS)

This just-big-enough aquarium, which opened in January 2012, packs lots of aquatic life into a former power-generating plant for streetcars and railways. The red brick building on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Good-looking exhibits of and about aquatic life, local and exotic, are set among exposed brick walls, steel girders and wood beams. Pause to consider the design and construction challenges of fortifying the old building -- formerly the FirstEnergy Powerhouse complex -- to support tanks holding thousands of gallons of water. Architectural details such as archways are retained; a dark passage lit by the blue glow of fish tanks, once housed a coal chute. And the building's two smokestacks have been incorporated into the design; look up and see moon jellyfish floating in a circular tank overhead.

If you've seen "A Christmas Story" (and who hasn't), you've seen Higbee's department store, where Ralphie has his horrible Santa experience. Opened in 1931, the building connects with bustling Tower City Center; the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Dillard's bought Higbee's in the 1980s; the downtown store closed in 2002. When gambling was legalized in Ohio in 2009 and Caesars Horseshoe chose the first three floors of the Higbee building for its first location, locals blanched, fearful they would see the beloved landmark tarted up. But instead, Horseshoe polished the big brass doors, and renovated with respect, paying homage to the building's past—installing replicas of the store's original chandeliers, for example, and decorating Higbee's-style (including store windows) at Christmas. Of course, it's not easy to focus on the building today, with the whirring, dinging, clattering, chattering and flashing of 1,900 slot machines and 89 gaming tables and the throngs who come to use them. But with the casino and lively restaurant scene on nearby East 4th Street, the stately Higbee building is once again at the center of the action. 

Called the Crystal Palace when it opened in 1890, The Arcade indoor shopping mall is froufrou and ornate, as befits a grand Victorian space in the middle of downtown Cleveland. The five-story arcade, flanked by two nine-story towers, is all wrought-iron, gilding, and gryphon-head gargoyles. The spectacular arched skylight is a football field's length; engineers at the time said couldn't be built. The building cost $875,000 (more than $20 million today) from the deep pockets of some savvy Gilded Age millionaires, including John D. Rockefeller, Steven V. Harkness and Louis Severance. It was one of the first indoor shopping malls in America, and in 1973 was among the first ten buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over time, the building's fortunes fell, yadda yadda yadda, until Hyatt Regency came along and, with the city's help, embarked on a meticulous restoration, including replacing 1,600 panes of glass in the skylight, and putting LEDs in the gryphons' mouths, where there once were gas lights. The hotel opened in 2001 in the towers and three floors of the Arcade. Shops, restaurants and other businesses occupy the lower levels, just like in the old days.

Not all banks are too big to fail (or merge or move), and two of Cleveland's celebrated chefs have taken over two bank buildings in two of Cleveland's interesting neighborhoods. Crop (pictured) was already an established local star among restaurants when it moved from the Warehouse District to Ohio City, on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. Ohio City is shaping up to be a foodie neighborhood, with historic West Side Market, microbreweries, and restaurants. Chef/owner Steve Schimoler restored an opulent 1925 bank building. (The bank closed four years after it opened, when the stock market crashed. Oops.) The dramatic space has marble columns, 35-foot ceilings, gilt and murals. In the basement, the bank vault has been turned into a banquet hall that can seat 120. The bankers at the Lincoln Heights Savings and Loan were less optimistic; the bank vault at Dante, in the arty Tremont neighborhood, seats only five. Dante (not pictured) is the flagship restaurant of Dante Boccuzzi, named one of the top five chefs in America by the Robb Report in 2012 for his New American cuisine. The bank's entrance is flanked by massive columns. Inside, old architectural details mix with contemporary touches and art. 

The compact 1924 red-brick building in Ohio City first housed generators for streetcars that crossed the river. For a while, it was an art foundry. Now it's an art gallery of the highest order. Akron-based art collectors Fred and Laura Bidwell are behind the transformation, teaming with the Cleveland Museum of Art to purchase and restore the building. A complementary contemporary addition more than doubles the gallery space, to about six thousand square feet. The gallery will be shared in this joint venture, with the Bidwells and the museum sharing the year's programming. The decorative masonry and ironwork of the historic building have been preserved. Inside, the walls are white, light filters in through high windows, and from the 22-foot-high ceiling hangs a crane capable of hauling 15 tons, which portends large sculptures and installations. 

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