Neal Distad Interview, October 18 2006

Neal Distad grew up in Beachwood, Ohio and has worked as an architect and preservationist in Cleveland since the 1980s. The focus of this 2006 interview is the historical development of Cleveland's Euclid Avenue and some of its most significant buildings. Distad also talks more broadly about Cleveland's development, discussing topics such as Public Square, the Mall, and the lake and river fronts. In commenting on plans for improving the city, Distad stresses the importance of attracting new residents to the city and urges an increase in regional cooperation between city and suburban leaders in the Greater Cleveland area.

Interview Transcript

Transcription sponsored by Leonard & Betty Boesger

Nina Gibans [00:00:01] I'm Nina Gibans, and this is Neal Distad. And that's our discussion today. It is Euclid Avenue Corridor.

Neal Distad [00:00:14] Well. Would you like me to start?

Nina Gibans [00:00:17] Yes. Why don't you just start?

Neal Distad [00:00:18] Okay, I'll start with the first thing.

Nina Gibans [00:00:19] With your career.

Neal Distad [00:00:21] Well, I'm an architect and am practicing in Cleveland and have been practicing here for almost 18 years now. And it's... Currently, I am an architect with EwingCole. They're a firm headquartered in Philadelphia that has opened an office in Cleveland and has been here for about four years total. And I grew up in Beachwood, Ohio, as a matter of fact, on Community Drive, right across from La Place shopping center, and spent many years there as a young child. Beachwood was mostly undeveloped at the time, and so we used to be able to go run and play in all the fields that were along Richmond Road. But that was many years ago.

Nina Gibans [00:01:12] So that's where the Littles lived?

Neal Distad [00:01:14] No, Bob Little lives... Well, when I knew Bob, when he was alive, he lived on Little Mountain... Excuse me.

Nina Gibans [00:01:24] But he grew up right where you're talking?

Neal Distad [00:01:27] I'm not sure that he did. I, of course I don't know.

Nina Gibans [00:01:29] Oh. Because I knew his sister...

Neal Distad [00:01:31] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:01:32] Who... Josephine.

Neal Distad [00:01:33] Mm hmm.

Nina Gibans [00:01:35] Who... We had birthday parties there.

Neal Distad [00:01:36] Oh, you did?

Nina Gibans [00:01:38] When I was only six years old.

Neal Distad [00:01:39] Okay, well, there's a lot of history. A lot of history on that.

Nina Gibans [00:01:41] But this is opposite Blossom and The Hangar?

Neal Distad [00:01:43] Yes, yeah. Yeah. The Blossom family, I think developed the street initially in the 1940s. And the house I lived in was originally the Blossom's daughter's house when I was, when I was young.

Nina Gibans [00:02:00] Emily? Is that Emily? Or?

Neal Distad [00:02:01] I'm afraid I don't know the name. I apologize.

Nina Gibans [00:02:04] Oh, okay. All right.

Neal Distad [00:02:05] But the... Really, living in Cleveland, I spent my summers working at the Hale Farm at the time with Siegfried Buerling, who was the director, the curator there, and worked working with him, at the time, they were putting up the first glassworks barn. And so I worked as a summer laborer, a teenager, and really enjoyed the work and decided after working there to pursue a degree in historic preservation and attended Roger Williams College in Bristol, Rhode Island, where I received a B.A. in Arts, a B. Arts, in basically in American studies. And then went and practiced for a while around Durham, Connecticut with a restoration firm, and after several years decided to continue and get a degree in architecture. And I took the... I took a rather circuitous route to ending up as an architect, but attended the Boston Architectural Center on Newbury Street, which is a work-study program that began around in the 1890s.

Nina Gibans [00:03:15] Wow.

Neal Distad [00:03:16] Where architects trained their apprentices in the trade and profession of architecture. This is long before you had to be registered to practice. And finished there and moved to Cleveland. But along the way, I had worked one summer for Bob Gaede when Bob, Robert Gaede Architects, when he was in the Arcade. I think he was... It was still Visnapuu [and] Gaede at the time. And spent several summers working for Mr. Gaede and got a great exposure to preservation in Cleveland. And the Cleveland Restoration Society was still in its infancy at the time, so there was some very formative years in Cleveland when all of this was being developed. And CRS, as we know it today, has become a kind of a national leader in historic preservation and is...

Nina Gibans [00:04:10] It's wonderful the way that's developed.

Neal Distad [00:04:10] It really has become a great model in other cities have been following it is an example but the coming back to Cleveland after graduating in Boston, I met my wife there, Eleanor, excuse me, Marcella Anderson. I forgot the name there and she was working at Hale and Dorr is a paralegal. That's a law firm in Boston and also at the Harvard International Law Library. And she was living in Cambridge with some friends and got to know her. And we became engaged and married and had a, if you can believe, two children before we moved back here to Cleveland. And we we moved to Shaker Heights and have been living in the Fernway area ever since. I... Maybe I'm going on too far, too long with this.

Nina Gibans [00:05:07] No, that's fine.

Neal Distad [00:05:08] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:05:08] So this brings us to what? The '80s, you think?

Neal Distad [00:05:11] This was the '80s. And [at] first when I moved back to Cleveland, actually most of my career has been on and around Euclid Avenue, and I have spent ten years working for Collins Gordon Bostwick, used to be Collins, Rimer [and] Gordon, prior to joining with EwingCole. And so that kind of brings us up to date in a kind of a broad brush overview.

Nina Gibans [00:05:41] Okay. So in your path that you've just described, a Beachwood neighborhood is... Do you want to go into that further about its influence on you as an architect?

Neal Distad [00:06:00] Well.

Nina Gibans [00:06:01] With the importance of history.

Neal Distad [00:06:03] I think the community... I lived on Community Drive, and it was a planned community initially and was laid out by a landscape architect who worked with the Mrs. Blossom Senior in the design of that area, and her family lived across the street in what was abutting, I think, I believe the Bolton estate, which is now, was TRW and is now the Cleveland Clinic. Of course, if you go in that area today, you can see a new shopping center in Lyndhurst, which has completely replaced and obliterated the original buildings. So I guess that's progress. But the...

Nina Gibans [00:06:46] So the house you grew up in is not around?

Neal Distad [00:06:47] No, the house is still there. Community Drive is in Beachwood. There are two Community Drives and they used to continue through onto that site. But it was a planned community. And I think the... I don't know that it had any formative experience, influence aside from it being just a great place to grow up and, you know, having wonderful experiences as a child. Beachwood has, as we know, become a very successful city as a suburb of Cleveland, but at the time was really just getting started and many of the areas and homes were still being built. It was mostly undeveloped in the 19...

Nina Gibans [00:07:27] Is there a garden preserve, a garden preserve there?

Neal Distad [00:07:30] There is a garden that is land owned in common by the houses along Community Drive.

Nina Gibans [00:07:36] And this abuts Hawken School, right?

Neal Distad [00:07:38] Actually, this doesn't. That's... The area you're thinking is on the north side of Cedar. This was, this was between the intersections of Richmond and Cedar on the, what would be the southwest corner.

Nina Gibans [00:07:54] Right.

Neal Distad [00:07:54] That intersection.

Nina Gibans [00:07:55] Okay. We're talking.

Neal Distad [00:07:55] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:07:56] To that Blossom area?

Neal Distad [00:07:57] Right. That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:07:58] Okay. Well, that means it's less dangerous to cross.

Neal Distad [00:08:03] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:08:06] Okay. So the major influence really is it was a small place to grow up. And did you get downtown?

Neal Distad [00:08:12] Yes, we would go downtown. I, [my] parents would take me down to the museums and around University Circle. I think that we toured that area quite a bit. We also used to go down to, during Christmas, go down to Public Square, and at that time Higbee's and Halle's were still in business and we used to go up to the Silver Grille and have lunch there, and I used to get a hobo lunch. They used to have these wonderful lunches on a stick for children tied with a bandana, and you could go sit down at your table and eat. And it was, it was very exciting. And we'd see Santa Claus and attend. It was Mr. Jingeling, I think was popular then. So those were all wonderful experiences. And to see the people out on Euclid Avenue and to see those buildings used, it was kind of at the tail end of the success of the successful life of Euclid. At that end of the Square.

Nina Gibans [00:09:14] Now, didn't Buerling have something to do with the windows, though, at Higbee's?

Neal Distad [00:09:20] Siegfried Buerling? He may have. I honestly, I don't, I don't know the connection there directly.

Nina Gibans [00:09:24] Okay, because he was also a designer of note. Siegfried that you were talking about.

Neal Distad [00:09:31] Well, I didn't, I didn't know. I know he's a German cabinetmaker by training and he's now, he's worked for many years in the Hale, with the Hale Farm, which is part of the Cleveland Western Reserve Historical Society.

Nina Gibans [00:09:48] Right.

Neal Distad [00:09:48] But I didn't, I didn't make that connection.

Nina Gibans [00:09:50] Okay. All right. But those windows were wonderful.

Neal Distad [00:09:52] Yes, they were.

Nina Gibans [00:09:55] Okay. What are some of your favorite buildings? You've mentioned Higbee's, but let's talk about them architecturally.

Neal Distad [00:10:01] Well, one building that is of note to me is the Cleveland Trust rotunda. My grandfather, my mother's father, was in the Cleveland Trust department. And when I was a young child, we used to go down to have lunch and to visit with him. And he had a corner office in the rotunda overlooking the Square.

Nina Gibans [00:10:24] You never know. You never know where you're going.

Neal Distad [00:10:27] So this is a, you know, I was five or six years old and we used to go down there and have lunch. And then he would take us over to the Union Club and we would have lunch there. And so those were, those were some interesting and wonderful experiences, I remember as a very young boy. It's, of course, we know that Cleveland Trust became Ameritrust, which became Society and then became Key Bank. And, and they're no longer... The building is currently vacant along with the, the tower and I forget was it? It's not Breuer?

Nina Gibans [00:11:00] Breuer.

Neal Distad [00:11:00] It's Breuer tower. That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:11:02] So let's talk about that for a minute.

Neal Distad [00:11:04] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:11:05] The Breuer tower is in the news daily now.

Neal Distad [00:11:09] Yes, it is.

Nina Gibans [00:11:09] Have you any thoughts about the the Breuer tower and its relationship to the future or its importance?

Neal Distad [00:11:16] Well, I think the, I think the tower is significant as... When you think of buildings in the International Style in Cleveland, there is one designed by Walter Gropius that's here at, in Shaker Heights, actually, at Warrensville and Van Aken. And it's a very prominent building, and the Breuer building is one of the other, one of the two. I think there may be other significant examples of the modern International Style in Cleveland, and I may be missing a couple. But it's a prominent building downtown. I think it's a significant structure. And if it is feasible and hopefully that can be aggressively pursued, could be saved as part of the entire complex.

Nina Gibans [00:12:05] Right. There's a public meeting next week on that subject if you're...

Neal Distad [00:12:08] Yes. And of course, the rotunda is a, is a wonderful example [of] architecture. And, you know, there's a, there's a whole banking area down there with the Huntington Bank lobby, which is basically a Roman Forum directly across the street and the rotunda at the corner. These were formative buildings in the history of Cleveland that should be preserved and should remain as, as they were. Now, the use of that building may change, but the building itself should remain. And I know the Cleveland Trust Company did spend money restoring that wonderful stained glass ceiling about 25 years ago. And so, you know, I think it is most definitely an important building to stay in Cleveland.

Nina Gibans [00:12:56] Okay. Any others that you...

Neal Distad [00:12:58] Well, the Arcade. The Arcade we know has been changed into a hotel at this time. But the bulk of the Arcade has been preserved. And I think that gets down around what is East 4th Street. And we have the Colonial Arcade, the Euclid Arcade, and the main Arcade. And those are all buildings which are important that looked at the kind of Euclid Avenue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And is a very important shopping district that existed there. So I think they're all important and they should, they represent different periods in Cleveland's economic development.

Nina Gibans [00:13:44] That's a fair point.

Neal Distad [00:13:44] And in terms of other buildings, there are many. I mean, we have the Dunham Tavern, which is out... I think it's around East 78th Street [East 66th Street] or something, which is in which originally was a stagecoach. And if you look at early etchings of the city of Cleveland, it shows up on the map. It's a very important structure. And it's a currently, it's an important park in that area. I know there has been a master plan done for the midtown area and that building is an important park, an important green space as part of that development. So and I think it's been recognized as such. Severance Hall, I think we all recognize Severance Hall is an important building that was designed by the Cleveland firm Walker and Weeks, and it was one of the finest buildings and one of the finest concert halls in the country. And we're fortunate to have that.

Nina Gibans [00:14:38] What do you think of that restoration?

Neal Distad [00:14:41] I think the restoration... Well, you take one of two directions when you're working with a restoration. Either you work to blend in with the original style of the building, or you make an abrupt change and all new work is deliberately made different and also made so it can be reversed in the future if you want to change your mind and revert back. I think the restoration was successful. I think the interior spaces, the, the carport that had been converted to a restaurant was not a very successful space. And the way it is currently used as a gathering area in Severance is far more successful. The days of the families being picked up in their limousines and taken home have long gone. And it's a better use of the building. I think it's an excellent example of blending in with the original style. And I think it was well done.

Nina Gibans [00:15:41] There's anything else?

Neal Distad [00:15:42] Well, we you know, in terms of other, other buildings, the... I think the Union Club is an important building that was designed by Charles Schweinfurth. And these are prominent buildings along Euclid. In addition to that, of course, we have Playhouse Square and that whole area, and that's really a kind of a theater district. And it's important in the rebirth of Cleveland in the 1960s and '70s. And I think of who was it? Joel Grey, who had a kind of a running cabaret there for many years. Though, the theater complex in Cleveland has, has a larger seating capacity, I think, than... Than almost any other facility in the United States. It's hard to believe that we have that.

Nina Gibans [00:16:36] Right. I'm going to insert one thing. Joel Grey was with the Cleveland Playhouse.

Neal Distad [00:16:40] Oh, excuse me.

Nina Gibans [00:16:41] And the two.

Neal Distad [00:16:42] They're completely different.

Nina Gibans [00:16:44] Oh right.

Neal Distad [00:16:44] That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:16:44] Right.

Neal Distad [00:16:44] Thank you.

Nina Gibans [00:16:45] But you're talking Playhouse Square?

Neal Distad [00:16:46] Playhouse Square. That's right. And there are other buildings. But I think those are the ones that stand out.

Nina Gibans [00:16:52] I mean, they were movie theaters.

Neal Distad [00:16:54] Yes, they were Loews Theater and so forth. But I, the adaptive reuse that has taken place and adding fly lofts to some of the buildings and making them work successfully started out with Van Dijk, Pete Van Dijk's firm, and has continued all the way through to, you know, to modern day. I believe all the theaters this time have been restored, so we don't have any that are in jeopardy anymore.

Nina Gibans [00:17:22] Okay. So anything more about Euclid Avenue? Anything we should have done that we haven't done? Anything we did that we shouldn't have done?

Neal Distad [00:17:35] Oh, in terms of the questions. Well. I think in terms of the restoration process on Euclid, and how to make Euclid a grand street again, I think the course the improvements that, that RTA is making will help it bring people back to the street. And, and hopefully it's is a major experiment really, because people don't take public transportation as their primary source of travel in Cleveland the way they could in other cities. And I think it we're... I'm hopeful that this will become successful. I know there are many stores [and] businesses along Euclid Avenue that are currently in somewhat in, some distress because of the construction projects. And we're hopeful that they can all survive this. I know they're eliminating parking along the street and many of the store owners are concerned that they'll be able to maintain their same customers. But we'll keep our fingers crossed. I think it's a very bold move, and I think it's long overdue to make the connection between University Circle and Public Square and make it a strong connection.

Nina Gibans [00:18:54] And it will connect to University Circle?

Neal Distad [00:18:58] That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:18:59] Anything along the Avenue further up Clinic?

Neal Distad [00:19:06] Well, of course the Cleveland Clinic. You have... That's right. Euclid Avenue has a very large number of churches. I think there must be seven or eight along the stretch of, of that. And many of them are still active. Their congregations are thriving. I think the churches attest to the population that did exist in Cleveland at the turn of the century. And many of the churches, I think, date back to that time period. The Cleveland Clinic, I believe I know there, there has been a lot of controversy about their development. But I think they have been a good neighbor. I think they have stayed away from interfering with the churches in that area. But I think they, and they provide they're the second-largest employer in the city of Cleveland. Aside from the government, I think the government is the largest employer and then the Cleveland Clinic is the second largest. So I think they're doing a wonderful job with their campus and the housing development that has been occurring on Chester Avenue, which is not on Euclid, I think is a successful development as well.

Nina Gibans [00:20:20] You were talking on the south side. The south side.

Neal Distad [00:20:24] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:20:25] The condos.

Neal Distad [00:20:26] Yes, that's right.

Nina Gibans [00:20:28] What about the other side?

Neal Distad [00:20:30] Well, Cedar Avenue and what to do?

Nina Gibans [00:20:34] No, on the other side of Chester. The north side of Chester. Yes.

Neal Distad [00:20:40] Most. Well.

Nina Gibans [00:20:42] Where the houses have become bigger.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:20:45] Between Chester and Hough.

Neal Distad [00:20:47] Yeah. In that area. I think the key in my mind with Cleveland is to encourage people to reinvest in the city and to move into the city. I think we just hit our, what, 300 million in population the other day. And the new immigrants who move into this country have always played a critical role in moving into areas in the city that many people who are more established have moved out of. And there's a constant revitalization that's going on. You see this in the Chinatown area in Cleveland, which is around Asia Plaza, that has become a very successful community again. And I think it's this constant rebirth that occurs that is important. Well, in Cleveland, I think we also need to be attracting young professionals into the city and people from all walks of life. It's important that it become a diverse area with people who are successful because so many people migrated out of the city after World War II. And I think the population has finally stopped dropping, hasn't it? I believe we're at a point where I hope the population is no longer declining in the city.

Nina Gibans [00:22:02] Emma is taking classes that might inform us.

Neal Distad [00:22:07] Yeah.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:22:07] I don't know if it's stopped.

Neal Distad [00:22:09] It hasn't?

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:22:11] I, I don't know.

Neal Distad [00:22:12] Okay. Well, it's, it's hopefully will slow down and reverse at some point. That's important.

Nina Gibans [00:22:15] What about living downtown near the center of town?

Neal Distad [00:22:20] Well, this and this gets back. That's a very good point. This gets back to Public Square. And I know there's a plan to develop the vacant lots that are on the west side of Public Square. Initially, I believe it was Society was going to build a new bank tower there and they leveled the buildings, razed the buildings, and didn't build anything. So we ended up with a parking lot, which was a terrible mistake for, for such an important center in Cleveland. And I think developing housing downtown, the Warehouse District has already been rezoned as a mixed-use area, which will allow, you know, residents and shops and so forth to work and make it a successful urban community. So all the, all the pieces are in place to make this successful. We have a number of young interns and young architects in our office who are all living in the city and they're all working downtown. And they love that. Not all of them, but a number of them are. And they're very excited about the opportunities that this creates for their, for places to live.

Nina Gibans [00:23:30] The architects in your office are they out...

Neal Distad [00:23:32] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:23:33] In on Richmond Road are working downtown?

Neal Distad [00:23:37] Well, they live downtown.

Nina Gibans [00:23:39] Live downtown.

Neal Distad [00:23:39] Excuse me. Did I... If I said work, I meant living downtown. So I think there are many young professionals who are interested in living in the, [this] urban area. And I think that's an important start.

Nina Gibans [00:23:52] But what about other things like the Convention Center, the lakefront?

Neal Distad [00:23:58] Well.

Nina Gibans [00:24:00] They're bigger.

Neal Distad [00:24:00] Yes, I think the Convention Center, you've got to go back to the grand plan that developed by Daniel Burnham to look at how that, the Mall, Mall A, I believe, was originally intended. And we have the Civic Auditorium, which is a wonderful space. We have the existing Convention Center. And if you look on the west side of the Mall, there are a series of buildings that were improved in the 1930s, much like the annex to the Cleveland Public Library that was torn down, that are not significant buildings that could be replaced with a Convention Center that strengthens that core. I know there are many ideas about placing the Convention Center down in the Warehouse District down along the end of Tower City, looking over the river. But I think these are diversions that will weaken the city as a whole. I think it's important to strengthen that downtown area and to enforce that. Now, regarding the lakefront, the lakefront is another story because the access to the lakefront is difficult in the downtown area, especially with the bluff that Cleveland is. I don't know. It must be it's quite a distance above the main city area. And in Daniel Burnham's plan, there was to be a major train station at that location that the Van Sweringens relocated to the Terminal Tower when they developed Shaker Heights and the, and the whole Shaker plan. And so that has been a kind of a hole in the plan since that time period. And I think the Convention Center would play an important role in completing that Mall and making it an important destination for Cleveland. But in turn...

Nina Gibans [00:25:55] So you are really going back to history to do it. I didn't mean to interrupt you.

Neal Distad [00:25:58] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:25:59] You're really banking on our original history to build our future.

Neal Distad [00:26:03] Well, we have... We're one of the few cities that has a city beautiful plan that has been developed to the extent I don't think any other city has as advanced as Cleveland is. And so it would be a mistake to turn our backs on that and not complete it. And I think this is an important step. When the Sohio building was built that faces Public Square and at the time George Voinovich was mayor, we had a very strong city planning commission and who which consisted primarily of artists, and architects, and planners. And it was a very important group of people. They worked with the architect, and Voinovich gave them the latitude to develop that and make sure that it not only addressed Public Square, but addressed the Mall. And I think we need that type of input, influence. And it's important that the current mayor allow the planning commission to, to have significant influence on these future developments. But in terms of the lakefront, the lakefront currently, where we have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we have the Science Center, of course, we have the stadium, the 9th Street, which is still the U.S. Coast Guard, I believe, still has their offices there. And then very important parks as we continue west through Lakewood and then east along the shoreline. And I think the development of those parks as recreation areas for the communities that abut the lake are important. But downtown, it's very difficult to turn that into a destination. I tend to think there was a symposium at Cleveland State last year that, where we had a series of Dutch planners who came in and looked and they said we should look at the Cuyahoga River and the junction between east and west. We both, east and west Cleveland and develop that juncture, which continues all the way through the original steel mills and Tremont and all the way through the Flats and up through the lake. And that is there are far... There are many more connection points to encourage interaction along that point than there are along the lake in the downtown area. So my feeling would be to shift focus in the downtown area to that point and not try not to make the lakefront into you know, Chicago is probably one of the most successful examples of a developed lakefront. We are not going to get to that level.

Nina Gibans [00:28:45] So what would you do with the land that we're talking about on the east side? Of the stadium and the airport?

Neal Distad [00:28:56] Well, I think Burke Lakefront Airport. I've gone down to the air shows and taken my children down there. And it's, it's a great location. I think. It's important to allow public access down there and to develop park space. But I don't know that it will be as successful a destination as the river. I think my feeling is, especially if you've been down there in the winter, being along Lake Erie in the dead of winter, trying to walk from one building to another is nearly impossible. And aside from, you know, if we develop areas along the riverfront, I think those will be intuitively, I think, more successful in the long run.

Nina Gibans [00:29:48] Okay, what mistakes have we made?

Neal Distad [00:29:52] Well, Cleveland as a city, the mistakes go back to its original founding and the development of the suburbs surrounding it. Most other cities, like Boston and others, have been able to annex neighborhoods into the city proper so that there's a larger city whole when it comes to developing and making decisions on development, you have a larger group of individuals together. Cleveland, unfortunately, doesn't have that large of a pool. They're the people who traditionally used to run the city, didn't live in the city. And, and so there was this great separation between the two. But I think, I think it's making connections with the surrounding neighborhoods and surrounding communities and, and drawing on the important relationships that we all play together. If Cleveland is not successful, It will, it will pull down the surrounding communities. The inner ring suburbs have already banded together in an effort to deal with this outward migration that is occurring and new developments. And I think it's important that we all were teamed together to make sure that, you know, we're making decisions as one so that they in the long run, it's successful for the entire region.

Nina Gibans [00:31:09] Are you talking about regional government?

Neal Distad [00:31:13] Wow. I don't even know where to begin with that subject. But I think in terms of the Port Authority, and it, and the regional, and the development of areas; all major projects I believe in Cleveland. You can correct me if I'm wrong, start with funding and development through the Port Authority. And the Port Authority gets its money through taxes. And if you look at the constituents who are representing that area, it's important to make sure that people in the surrounding communities feel this so they have buy in in that. And when Haymarket Square was developed into the Cleveland Indians Stadium and what is now what's now the Q, which is for the Cavaliers, that was a major project in the late '90s that was has had a tremendous positive impact on Cleveland. But those are, those are very hard to make happen.

Nina Gibans [00:32:13] Is Haymarket something I don't know in Cleveland or is that Boston? Is that...

Neal Distad [00:32:19] It's...

Nina Gibans [00:32:20] The central marketplace?

Neal Distad [00:32:21] Well, the.... The Central Market?

Nina Gibans [00:32:23] Yeah.

Neal Distad [00:32:23] Yes, the Central Market. That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:32:27] Okay. I don't want us to say later, huh?

Neal Distad [00:32:33] Right. No. I was trying to recall the name of the shopping market that used to be in.

Nina Gibans [00:32:38] It's the Central Market.

Neal Distad [00:32:39] Central Market. Thank you. That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:32:43] Okay. So you're talking about connecting regionally? You really are. And your vision as you see it. And who can pull together a vision. You know, we've talked of little parts of it. The development of the Square and its high rises and...

Neal Distad [00:33:13] How we can? Who can pull it together? Well, that's, that's always been the challenge. And I think when I keep going back to when George Voinovich was mayor of Cleveland. I think he was a very inclusive man. I think he worked well with the surrounding communities. And, and hopefully, there are some lessons learned in that, in his during his administration that can be used again today. I don't know how those things would be pulled together. I really, I'm not an expert in city government, so I'll have to defer that to people who are better.

Nina Gibans [00:33:55] Is it public sector that's or is it public?

Neal Distad [00:33:59] It's got to be public-private. It should be a, it has to be a confluence of public and private. That's the only way it will, I think, will be successful.

Nina Gibans [00:34:08] It certainly was private sector in the beginning.

Neal Distad [00:34:10] That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:34:11] Took all that leadership. But also, as you were talking and the Van Sweringens pulled us from the lakefront, that was a key moment.

Neal Distad [00:34:21] Yes, it was. And I think there are many successful outcomes as a result of the regional, you know, the RTA and the transit lines that service both the east and the west sides. But I know that and I've gone to the airport taking the RTA before and it works well. The problem is, and I, hopefully the Euclid Avenue Project will help amend this is getting into the midtown area without having to go to Public Square and take a loop bus back out to your destination in the Midtown area. So I'm not sure how those connections work, but I'm sure this will make an improvement on that.

Nina Gibans [00:35:01] Okay. Is there anything else that we've forgotten that you want to talk about?

Neal Distad [00:35:15] I think we've pretty well covered the bases.

Nina Gibans [00:35:17] When you were with [Collins, Rimer and Gordon].

Neal Distad [00:35:20] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:35:21] Did you work on Euclid Avenue buildings or did that come afterwards?

Neal Distad [00:35:26] Well, I did work on the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District headquarters and the initial planning studies. And this used to be a, I think it was Bearings Corporation and it's around East 36th, I believe, and Euclid. And we were able to consolidate. It was an adaptive reuse of an existing building. So I had worked on that project on Euclid in terms of other projects. I have also worked on Dunham Tavern and helped in and was the architect in the design of their the Visitor Barn that's on the back of the building.

Nina Gibans [00:36:08] With the Botanical Garden. They work in conjunction with...

Neal Distad [00:36:11] Yes, that's right. With the Cleveland Botanical Garden. And so we have been involved in that project. And [that's] those were the two projects that I have been involved with.

Nina Gibans [00:36:22] Is that a model of organizational partnership that can help people get into the city, that Dunham Tavern–Botanical Garden partnership that pulls strength from the Botanical Garden at University Circle and Dunham Tavern, which is right know.

Neal Distad [00:36:45] I think it certainly could be I can't... I know what you're you're talking about. You know, I think the relationships between private and public are important. Now, they're both nonprofit organizations. And I know the, you know, they need, they need each other to survive. And I think we've seen this in, with the Cleveland Playhouse as a good example. There, they have fallen on hard times recently. They're still operating. They're still functioning. But they are trying to develop the land immediately around the Playhouse area. And they have a lot of infrastructure and a lot of overhead. And so, you know, it's important that these organizations find a way to continue forward successfully.

Nina Gibans [00:37:38] It takes a lot of dollars.

Neal Distad [00:37:39] Yes, it does.

Nina Gibans [00:37:44] Anything else, Emma?

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:37:50] I have a couple of questions. Are you still involved with the Cleveland Restoration Society?

Neal Distad [00:37:56] I am involved. I have, I can't say that I'm actively participated in meetings recently, but yes.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:38:05] With your work at EwingCole, are you, do you do restoration? Or... I mean, you mentioned adaptive reuse in some of your projects. Is that what is, I guess, your focus there? What is the...

Neal Distad [00:38:17] Well, my focus with EwingCole is primarily in higher education and currently, we're working with Case Western Reserve University on several, on several projects. But we... It's... I find architecture today... When you're dealing with historic structures or older structures involves adaptive reuse at least and preservation if it continues into upper levels. But you really have to have a thorough understanding of the subject. I don't practice historic preservation per se as a practice, but it does influence our designs and our decision-making in, in projects. We, as an example, where this is not in Cleveland, but this is at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. We're working on a campus that was designed in the 1970s by Benjamin Thompson. And this was a... The campus is entirely cast in place concrete, but using a waffle grid system that he developed. And so we're working with the adaptive reuse of this building. But we have to be sensitive to the initial design ideas that Ben Thompson had in our reuse of the structure. And so it requires, it's kind of an intuitive approach that you have to be aware of when you're, when you're working on projects.

Nina Gibans [00:39:55] Do you have any feelings about the Hisaka building on?

Neal Distad [00:40:00] Well, Cleveland State you're referring to. Yeah, the Student Center. I think it's an important structure. Cleveland State is growing, growing at, in leaps and bounds. And it's good to see it. It's important to have a public university in Cleveland in the center. And I think it's an, it's making a tremendous contribution. But I think they need to be careful in the way they look at their buildings on campus. You know, [the] Buckminster Fuller Dome that was on Chester was removed to make way for their new Recreation Center. Now, I think Buckminster Fuller never planned that to be a permanent structure, but it's an important consideration. And I don't know that those items are considered as thoughtfully as they could be in the planning process. And I am concerned. I think their current plans for Don Hisaka's Student Center are primarily I think it's going to be removed. I don't think there'll be anything left when they're done. So I think that's a shame. And I think that atrium, well, it's a very gregarious area space and I've been in it. And it is quite noisy when they're going to have many people in there could be adapted and reused in a different way. But I think they, Cleveland State needs to come to that conclusion on their own and hopefully they will in the future.

Nina Gibans [00:41:31] Well, there's almost 90% of the architects we've talked to really feel that way. I don't know what I'm going to do when I talk to Don, but among these...

Neal Distad [00:41:41] Don Hisaka?

Nina Gibans [00:41:43] I'll be talking to Don. Not about that building, but about his house around the corner.

Neal Distad [00:41:49] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:41:51] Which is a national award-winning home. And of course, I'm going to get into the subject of Euclid Avenue. But I don't...

Neal Distad [00:41:58] Well, he's living in Cambridge now isn't he or no?

Nina Gibans [00:42:00] No, he's in Berkeley.

Neal Distad [00:42:01] Berkeley. Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:42:02] He told me he retired.

Neal Distad [00:42:02] I remember when he moved to Boston and he renovated a house in Cambridge and there was a big write-up in the Boston Globe on him at the time.

Nina Gibans [00:42:09] Well, he's had a lot written up.

Neal Distad [00:42:12] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:42:12] Internationally. In Japanese even. And I have all those magazines in the room here. But I've been in communication with him about the prize-winning houses, one for Aggie Gund out in Peninsula and one right here, which was his own home. And I don't know if he knows about Euclid Avenue yet. So.

Neal Distad [00:42:38] He might not.

Nina Gibans [00:42:39] I may have to...

Neal Distad [00:42:39] You know.

Nina Gibans [00:42:41] Have to do something in the way of practicing on my delivery of that.

Neal Distad [00:42:46] Are you also, I imagine, talking to Tom Zung?

Nina Gibans [00:42:50] We haven't talked Tom. Is he?

Neal Distad [00:42:52] He is back in Cleveland. He is working with Bill McDonough, who is a important architect, who is kind of one of the pioneers of the sustainable design movement.

Nina Gibans [00:43:07] Right.

Neal Distad [00:43:08] And his... I don't have his, he spoke. Well, he was at the Cleveland AIA at the Cleveland but the Ohio AIA Convention, which was in Boardman, Ohio, last month.

Nina Gibans [00:43:20] Tom is important and I know Tom.

Neal Distad [00:43:21] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:43:22] Well, he worked with Tom.

Neal Distad [00:43:23] Well, he of course. Yeah. And he had an office. I don't think... I think it was on Carnegie for many years.

Nina Gibans [00:43:31] But he also worked in the Arcade, I think.

Neal Distad [00:43:33] Yes, he did. And of course, he took over a Buckminster Fuller's firm.

Nina Gibans [00:43:37] That's right.

Neal Distad [00:43:37] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:43:38] So Tom and he's in town, so I can find him.

Neal Distad [00:43:42] He lives... I think he's in Westlake.

Nina Gibans [00:43:45] I can find him.

Neal Distad [00:43:46] Yeah. Oh, he's in...

Nina Gibans [00:43:48] You're absolutely right. Tom should be interviewed.

Neal Distad [00:43:50] Yeah. He's a, he's a very he spoke at the Cleveland AIA last fall, which was down at Trinity Church.

Nina Gibans [00:43:59] It went very well.

Neal Distad [00:44:00] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:44:00] It's just we've lost touch. And I think the architecture community always...

Neal Distad [00:44:05] Well, I know he had a...

Nina Gibans [00:44:07] Came after the problem with the zoo.

Neal Distad [00:44:08] Oh, that was terrible. And I don't blame him entirely. I think he got... That, that was awful.

Nina Gibans [00:44:14] Right. Right.

Neal Distad [00:44:14] Yeah. But he's, he's.

Nina Gibans [00:44:17] Why don't you tell Emma a little bit?

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:44:18] I don't know about that.

Neal Distad [00:44:19] Tom Zung is an architect who was practicing in Cleveland for many years, and he designed the Rainforest for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the initial Rainforest, along with many other projects. And he basically took over Buckminster Fuller's firm in, in Cleveland. I don't know a lot about his recent, you know, his work in the past. Aside from the Rainforest project. But he's a significant architect and he has now come back and is working with sustainable design. And I think these are getting back to some of the principles that Buckminster Fuller initially implemented. But he is in Cleveland and I think he has had an important impact on Cleveland history.

Nina Gibans [00:45:15] He, he did the Sewer building on Lakeside?

Neal Distad [00:45:16] Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I think he must be in his seventies now. [crosstalk]

Nina Gibans [00:45:24] Yeah. Carol.

Neal Distad [00:45:25] He doesn't look it. He's in great...

Nina Gibans [00:45:25] I see Carol every so often.

Neal Distad [00:45:27] Yeah, well, then I think it would be great to talk to him.

Nina Gibans [00:45:33] So he's in Westlake.

Neal Distad [00:45:34] I believe was in Westlake. And his son, I saw his son at the AIA Convention and I talked to both of them briefly.

Nina Gibans [00:45:40] His son's an architect?

Neal Distad [00:45:43] He is. Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:45:46] We've talked to Bill Morris with the only persons that have said no are Jack Kelly. Not interested in his path at all. And. I'm losing my voice. Carl Droffers. Do you know Carl?

Neal Distad [00:46:14] No.

Nina Gibans [00:46:15] He did a wonderful... He was head of the faculty at Case Western Reserve School of Architecture.

Neal Distad [00:46:23] Oh, before the, they closed the school.

Nina Gibans [00:46:25] Right. He also did a wonderful house that he's lived in for 42 years.

Neal Distad [00:46:31] Who was that? One of the deans of the school he worked. He lives in Cleveland Heights.

Nina Gibans [00:46:34] Oh, Phil Hart.

Neal Distad [00:46:35] Yeah. Did you talk to Phil?

Nina Gibans [00:46:37] I, I think that Phil was interviewed by me.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:46:43] But I think Phil was actually interviewed for the Shaker Lakes Nature Center.

Nina Gibans [00:46:48] Which is...

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:46:49] That's the same. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:46:50] Right.

Neal Distad [00:46:51] Okay. Well, I know you're doing all this different work.

Nina Gibans [00:46:56] So. You know, Phil is important.

Neal Distad [00:47:02] And I'm sure you've talked to Bob Gaede?

Nina Gibans [00:47:03] Oh, yeah. All these people.

Neal Distad [00:47:06] Right.

Nina Gibans [00:47:06] Still talking about Gaede.

Neal Distad [00:47:08] He is an amazing man.

Nina Gibans [00:47:09] Let's say. We've talked to Malcolm Cutting. We've talked to... We're going to talk to Bill Gould. So, Collins.

Neal Distad [00:47:20] How about Jerry Payto?

Nina Gibans [00:47:29] No. Right now, the list came to us another way.

Neal Distad [00:47:32] Okay, well, I can think of all these people. But, Jerry sat on the Landmarks and now on the Cleveland Planning Commission for many years. And he also is a successful architect. He did the right there at 9th Street. What is it? He's done a number of significant buildings in the Cleveland area. It's, I don't mean to intrude, but I worked for Jerry for a time now.

Nina Gibans [00:48:00] Now, it's important. Jerry Payto. And where is he now?

Neal Distad [00:48:04] He lives in Brecksville. He's been there. His brother, Ron Pato, lives. Actually, they both live on the same street. Who else? Well, it looks like you've got a very comprehensive list.

Nina Gibans [00:48:24] We've talked to Dick Fleischman, we talked to Peter Van Dijk.

Neal Distad [00:48:26] Yeah, those are some of the key people.

Nina Gibans [00:48:28] We've talked to, we've talked to Norman Krumholz. And we talked to Hunter Morrison and we're planning to talk to Chris Ronayne.

Neal Distad [00:48:38] Yeah. The current director. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:48:41] And Herman. Gibans. Who else? Dalton. George Dalton. Van Petten.

Neal Distad [00:48:51] Oh, yes. He taught at Cleveland, Kent State for many years.

Nina Gibans [00:48:57] Paul Volpe.

Neal Distad [00:48:57] Yeah. He's. He's had a lot to do in Cleveland.

Nina Gibans [00:49:01] I still have to get a call back from Peter Spittler. And Jennifer Coleman. Bill Blunden. Norm Pertula.

Neal Distad [00:49:10] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:49:12] Has signed, finally signed up. John Bonebreak. We're about to talk to John.

Neal Distad [00:49:18] How old is he?

Nina Gibans [00:49:19] Well, I think he's in his eighties, by golly. His mind razor-sharp on the phone. He started in and I said, John, save it. Save it for our interview. He was very. He doesn't see well. We'll go there.

Neal Distad [00:49:34] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:49:37] So that's pretty much the list.

Neal Distad [00:49:39] Bill Collins? Looks like you've got him.

Nina Gibans [00:49:41] Oh, yeah we did.

Neal Distad [00:49:41] Yep. Wow.

Nina Gibans [00:49:47] So. So I think this was a list that Tony Hiti put together with the historic preservation group from the AIA.

Neal Distad [00:50:00] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:50:01] That's how it was developed.

Neal Distad [00:50:03] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:50:04] So anybody they mentioned we're talking to. And Tony is working with the little curator team on Cleveland Goes Modern. So we've been looking a all that.

Neal Distad [00:50:15] When will that exhibit be?

Nina Gibans [00:50:17] A year from now.

Neal Distad [00:50:18] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:50:19] But we need all the time. Well, the big thing is, who do you think is the best architectural photographer?

Neal Distad [00:50:32] Oh. There is a woman I can't think of her name. It's a woman.

Nina Gibans [00:50:37] Oh, Jennie Jones?

Neal Distad [00:50:38] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:50:38] Oh, okay. Okay.

Neal Distad [00:50:41] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:50:42] Jennie, I think Jennie would work with us.

Neal Distad [00:50:45] Jennie is spectacular.

Nina Gibans [00:50:46] I know. Yeah, she did some things for my book and I know her pretty well. She goes around in black at night so people don't see her.

Neal Distad [00:50:58] Like a ninja.

Nina Gibans [00:51:00] Right! She's wonderful.

Neal Distad [00:51:01] Jennie Jones as... And she's given a number of talks with, you know, a kind of photographic history of Cleveland. She would be, she'd be great. Anybody at the Cleveland Restoration Society, if you talk to anybody in those I mean, you're talking primarily to architects, but.

Nina Gibans [00:51:19] We're talking, you know, their history. Well, I mean, Tony himself represents.

Neal Distad [00:51:27] Right. Well, that's right.

Nina Gibans [00:51:29] But they've tended to work on houses until now. And, you know, and now, of course, their help in restoration is the main issue. And then they get the... I mean, they are the, one of the prime movers.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:51:52] Can I just before.

Neal Distad [00:51:53] Yes.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:51:54] Because I did have one.

Neal Distad [00:51:54] Yes, I know.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:51:56] Just.

Neal Distad [00:51:56] Before we ramble, we're getting way off subject.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:51:58] Can I interrupt?

Nina Gibans [00:52:00] Sure.

Neal Distad [00:52:00] Please do.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:52:01] I was just curious in terms you talked about the Dutch planners coming out and talking about the focus being on the Cuyahoga River. Where do you think that the Flats, what's already what already exists, exist down there? Where do you think the Flats fits into all of that? In terms of development would already exist, should it just be kind of completely overhauled?

Neal Distad [00:52:23] Well, you have a lot of industry, that, important industry that still exists along the river. And you can't lose sight of the fact that that's, those are important companies that need to stay in business. So I don't, I don't think it's a matter of moving people out or changing it. I think the Flats itself was very one-dimensional when it was developed a lot of bars, a lot of nightclubs and places, but didn't have a lot of depth. And it wasn't very interesting to families or people to go down and take advantage of. Now, you had the what was that great restaurant that was there for many years? The Watermark. Wasn't that it? Yeah, that, that was a great spot. But that was kind of a one isolated case. So I think, I think it needs to grow up and become something that is offers has more depth in, in terms of what it offers. I don't know that I would replace the buildings. I think it's just a matter of finding people to use it more effectively. The West Bank of the Flats is still very industrial and it is important, you know, you have the powerhouse and areas like that that are currently being developed. But there's a lot of, you know, industry over there that's successful. There are new housing. There's new housing that has been built. I [my] whole point would be to change the venue that's provided. And that's not something that you can plan. That's something that has to happen by, you know, companies and stores moving in and...

Nina Gibans [00:54:08] But isn't that a vision issue and a development issue?

Neal Distad [00:54:12] Yes, it.

Nina Gibans [00:54:13] Combination.

Neal Distad [00:54:14] Yeah. Yeah. I think right now it's kind of an entertainment district, really. And I think it needs to be. I think it needs to change and it will change. Many, the turnover in restaurants down there was amazing. These companies, they would open up and at two years later they'd be out of business. And so I think it's doing it on its own.

Nina Gibans [00:54:36] I think that when it started, it blossomed for a little bit.

Neal Distad [00:54:41] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:54:41] Because it had energy behind it from old convention bureau, that kind of group.

Neal Distad [00:54:48] That's true.

Nina Gibans [00:54:49] Yeah, but the minute it seemed unsafe for families.

Neal Distad [00:54:54] Oh, boy, that's it. People just stopped.

Nina Gibans [00:54:57] That's when it started to go down.

Neal Distad [00:54:57] That's right. Safety is an important issue as well.

Nina Gibans [00:55:01] So, whether it was unsafe or is unsafe or whatever. It seemed unsafe.

Neal Distad [00:55:07] That's a very good point, Nina. I think that, that certainly did coincide.

Nina Gibans [00:55:10] We have the same issues here at Shaker Square.

Neal Distad [00:55:12] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:55:13] Absolutely the same issues.

Neal Distad [00:55:15] Well, hopefully Dave's Supermarket does well.

Nina Gibans [00:55:18] Oh, Dave's is doing very well.

Neal Distad [00:55:19] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:55:19] The restaurants are doing very well. And during the day it's empty and the stores have moved out. The stores have gone east.

Neal Distad [00:55:29] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:55:29] Details. Ann Taylor. It's not that kind of destination. But in the evening, it is thriving.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:55:40] Can I also just get you to spell? I'm going to say the name wrong. Siegfried.

Neal Distad [00:55:46] Oh. I'll spell it and I'll probably be wrong, but it's B-U-E-R-L-I-N-G and Siegfried. I think it's phonetic. Isn't it?

Nina Gibans [00:56:03] Z-I-E- [sic]

Neal Distad [00:56:04] G-

Nina Gibans [00:56:05] G-

Neal Distad [00:56:05] F-R-I-E-D?

Nina Gibans [00:56:09] Emma, you work at the Western Reserve Historical Society, somewhere you are going to find him.

Neal Distad [00:56:14] Yeah. Oh, and he's still active. I think he's retired. He's no longer heading up the Hale Farm. But he did for that must have been 30 years.

Nina Gibans [00:56:24] Right, I used to work with him.

Neal Distad [00:56:26] Yeah, he's quite a character.

Nina Gibans [00:56:28] [inaudible]

Neal Distad [00:56:29] He's now working with the, the railway.

Nina Gibans [00:56:35] Erie Canal?

Neal Distad [00:56:36] Erie. Yeah. And the Erie Canal area.

Nina Gibans [00:56:38] Erie Canal area.

Neal Distad [00:56:38] That's right. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:56:39] Nobody has mentioned that at all in our interviews as an important thing that's developing in Cleveland. When I was writing my book, that was Steven Litt's important project. But the, connecting our history on the Canal Corridor.

Neal Distad [00:57:04] Well you're right, it is an important project. It's kind of, it's the northern end, it's the beginning of the whole pathway. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:57:13] Right.

Neal Distad [00:57:14] That's right. I'm trying to think who was the? That canal system. And I think bike paths and Towpath will continue all the way down through Marietta. I mean, it's I heard there's some enormous...

Nina Gibans [00:57:31] Oh, it goes a long way.

Neal Distad [00:57:32] Yeah. Yeah, it's a very long path system. But that's, that's true. That's an important factor. Cleveland as a vacation destination for many years. I think it's, you know, you wouldn't, people don't think of it that way. But there are many vacationers who do come here. And I think if we were to develop these areas more successfully, certainly counteract the safety concerns in the Flats and so forth, they'll come back. We almost got the Republican Convention, but we lost out. Anyway.

Nina Gibans [00:58:06] We'll get it some year.

Neal Distad [00:58:07] That's right.

Nina Gibans [00:58:09] Okay.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:58:10] Great. Thank you.

Nina Gibans [00:58:13] So are there any...

Neal Distad [00:58:13] There's a lot of rambling, I think, you know...

Nina Gibans [00:58:14] No.

Cite This Page: “Neal Distad Interview, October 18 2006,” Cleveland Voices, accessed August 8, 2022, https://clevelandvoices.org/items/show/1823.
Source Record: engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/crohc000/257