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West Ninth and the Start of Cleveland

(Editor’s Note: This article was written for Leo’s Jeffres’ Specialized Writing class.)

Today, if one were to venture to West Ninth Street, located in downtown Cleveland, and take the time to walk up and down the street, it may not look so spectacular at first glance. It stretches just a few blocks from Superior Avenue to Lake Erie and is lined with seemingly old and dilapidated former warehouses and apartments.

Sure, there is a sense of modernity along the street, as evidenced by Constantino’s and restaurants such as Mallorca and TOMO Sushi & Hibachi. Other than these places, it just doesn’t seem as if there is anything truly noteworthy about this street. It’s just another brick and mortar infested street, an indication of the drab and dreary Cleveland lifestyle, and a downtown that is devoid of life and hope.

Right?

They couldn’t be more incorrect.

West Ninth is part of the Warehouse District, a historic 8-block district that Cleveland designated a Cleveland Landmark District in 1982.

As part of the Warehouse district, West Ninth housed one of the original residential areas of Cleveland until the 1850s when big business came along and razed a bunch of dwellings to make way for commercial buildings. West Ninth is blocks away from the Flats, which is the site of the original surveillance of Cleveland by Moses Cleaveland in 1796, with Lorenzo Carter making the area his permanent residence the same year.

With West Ninth located on higher ground, settlers began to move there from the Flats to establish permanent residences throughout the first half of the 19th century to get away from the lowland marshes that occupied the Flats and brought harsh winters and humid summers.

After the Civil War, West Ninth, then known as Water Street, developed into a part of Cleveland commercial and industrial powerhouse, housing warehouses and wholesale/retail establishments that made Cleveland one of the most important destinations in America.

This post-war commercial growth results from the close proximity of Lake Erie and the Ohio and Erie Canal, as well as the railroad lines that brought traffic from places such as Chicago and New York.

A few of the buildings located on West Ninth that were commercial powerhouses include the William Edwards Co., the William Bingham Co. and the Weideman Co., which all dominated Cleveland’s warehouse district from the mid 19th century to mid 20th century.

Additionally, the Western Reserve Building, designed by renowned Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, was built in 1892 for prominent Cleveland industrialist Samuel Mather and served as a building that housed different office buildings, is located on West Ninth.

The William Edwards Co. building is located at 1326 W. Ninth St. and was constructed in 1911. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the Williams Edwards Co. was “a pioneer manufacturer and wholesaler of food products in Cleveland…considered one of the foremost food distributors and food processors in the country.”

The firm was established in the 1850s and was part of the growing wholesale industry, where dried, canned, and bottled goods were sold to the burgeoning Cleveland population. The company was bought by the Weideman Co. in 1947, and eventually discontinued in the 1970s. The building today is occupied by the Bridgeview Apartments and Camino, a Mexican restaurant.

The William Bingham Co. was one of the Midwest’s largest hardware manufacturers and wholesalers, and the warehouse was built in 1915 with designs by noted Cleveland architectural firm Walker and Weeks. Located at 1278 W. Ninth St., the warehouse was one of the largest in Cleveland at the time.

William Bingham and Henry C. Blossom, in 1841, purchased Clark & Murfey hardware store and opened their own store, originally located on the corner of Water (West Ninth) and Superior streets. Since incorporation in 1888 as the W. Bingham Co, the company grew into one of the largest hardware companies in America and finally settled into a larger building, where it cost an estimated $10.3 million in 2019 for building costs and the purchase of the land, according to Wikipedia.

W. Bingham Co was shut down in 1961 and shifted through a variety of owners over the decades. Today the Bingham Co. building is home to the Bingham Apartments and Constantino’s Market, which open in 2004.  Across the street is a building where the late actor Paul Neuman used to work in his youth at a hardware store. 

The Weideman Co. according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, “was one of Cleveland’s largest companies and one of the largest wholesale grocery firms in the U.S. Founded by John Weideman, the company moved from the Flats to West Ninth Street in 1873, where the firm experienced unparalleled growth and became known as a seller of the “finest goods on the market,” including “fancy groceries, teas, coffees, spices, canned goods, tobacco, cigars, and liquors,” according to the encyclopedia.

After Prohibition, the company became known as “Ohio’s oldest beverage dispensary” and acquired such wholesale grocery firms as the William Edwards Co. Weideman Co. was itself purchased by the Consolidated Grocers of Chicago in 1952 and the building on West Ninth Street was destroyed in 1943. Today, the area is a parking lot, which also serves the neighboring Archer apartments.

The Archer apartments are located at what was the lakeside edge, until Lake Erie was pushed further back as land was reclaimed in the 1800s.  Today, the Shoreway elevated highway rises over East Ninth Street, which today passes the newest high rise in the area, the Ernst & Young Building, and the structure housing the Port of Cleveland at Front Avenue, when East Ninth Street swings left and continues its final path to Lake Erie and the port.

The current day Water Street apartments, located at 1133 W. Ninth St., right near Front Street, was home to Bardons and Oliver Inc., which was one of the largest machine-tool firms in Cleveland. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the firm “originally…manufactured bicycle hubs and the machines to make them; eventually it became a major manufacturer of turret lathes and parts, special machinery, etc.”. In 1995, the company moved the headquarters to Solon and later converted to the Water Street Apartments, where today it is home to hundreds of residents in what has become one of Cleveland’s most popular residential areas in the 21st century.

Additionally, the Western Reserve Building, designed by renowned Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, was built in 1892 for prominent Cleveland industrialist Samuel Mather and served as a building that housed different office buildings, is located on West Ninth, right on the corner of West Ninth and Superior Avenue. Today the building is home to K.A. Architecture, as well as other local businesses.

With the Warehouse District falling into a state of disrepair and becoming crime-ridden during the 1960s and 70s, according to Case Western, the area has since become a bastion for residential development. After being the heart of Cleveland for most of the 19th century, and housing hotels and theaters, the district fell into disarray during the Great Depression, and World War II saw most of the district being leveled for parking lots.

Today, West Ninth Strreet is home to some of best restaurants in Cleveland, with the aroma of foreign delicacies permeating the air. The abundance of residential buildings has made it one of the most populous streets in Cleveland, home to a number of apartment buildings that contain the area’s young professionals.

The buildings that once housed Cleveland’s powerful wholesale warehouses now contain apartments and restaurants that attract many people to take in the revitalization of downtown Cleveland.

The juxtaposition of the history of Cleveland and 21st century modernization of the historic area is one of qualities that stand out on West Ninth Street. It is apparent just how old many of the buildings are on this street; one only has to look up at the façade containing the faded names of the companies the buildings once occupied. West Ninth Street has to be one of the most historical streets of any city in Ohio.