Norman Perttula Interview, November 17 2006

Norman Perttula came to Cleveland in 1961 and served as chief designer at the Dalton & Dalton architectural firm until the early 1990s. He also served on the design committee for the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. In this 2006 interview, Perttula shares his thoughts on Euclid Avenue, discussing the Euclid Corridor Project and some of his favorite buildings on the street. He also speaks more broadly about the urban problems facing Cleveland and offers several possible solutions. In addition, Perttula briefly describes his work on the restoration of Firestone's Akron headquarters and goes into some detail on Aurora's Walden residential complex where he lives and serves on the building committee.

Participants: Perttula, Norman (interviewee) / Gibans, Nina (interviewer) / Yanoshik-Wing, Emma (participant)
Collection: American Institute of Architects
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Nina Gibans [00:00:12] Okay. So this is Norman Perttula and I'm Nina Gibans, and I'm supposed to say that in the beginning. So.

Norman Perttula [00:00:19] It's... The pronunciation of the last name is PERT-tula. It's a Finnish name. If I gave you the Finnish pronunciation, it'd be accent on the first syllable and lots of rolling of the R, so it would be [demonstrates proper accent] Pertulla.

Nina Gibans [00:00:35] Ah. Nice. It sounds nice that way.

Norman Perttula [00:00:38] Yeah. [laughs]

Nina Gibans [00:00:40] All right. Well, I think that starting with your name is great and... But tell us what you're doing now and what you have done, and then we'll go from there to where you came from to Cleveland and all that.

Norman Perttula [00:00:56] Well, I've been an architectural designer all my career. I was brought to Cleveland in 1961 to join the Dalton, then Dalton and Dalton firm, as their chief designer. And I worked there on many projects in and around Cleveland, Ohio, and outside of Ohio. I sort of retired in 1991, but I still keep active on my own little projects just outside of my house. And every once in a while, my old firm, which is now URS, calls me in for a project. I've done this a few times. As it's turned out, mostly it's been in the Columbus, Ohio, office. I've worked on a couple of buildings at Ohio State with them there in previous years, and two years ago they asked me if I was interested in joining them for a project they were hoping to get, if I joined their team, and it sounded interesting to me so I said, Sure, I'll do that. I have the time and it sounds interesting. Well, that was October 2004. We were awarded the job through a series of interviews, but then it lay dormant for two years, various things. It's a federal funded project, but it just started actively this past August, late August. And what interested me about the project is it's at West Point, the Military Academy. So I'm working on it now and it's very active. I drive down to Columbus on Monday morning and usually come back Thursday afternoon, and I'm the only one in the office with the drafting board. [laughs] The scope of the work called, somehow, called for the submittal of the first report that we're working on now that the drawings... They recommended that the drawings be freehand. Well, it's right up my alley, so I fit in. However, it took about a month for the office to get me a drafting board. I was drawing on just the table, really freehand. But now I have a drafting board, but the rest of the office is all on computer and they come by and look at my drawings because I don't think anybody currently really knows how to draw very well, but they're all working away on their computers.

Nina Gibans [00:03:26] You aren't the first one to say that. But in this group, when did that start? Since you... [crosstalk]

Norman Perttula [00:03:33] My career?

Nina Gibans [00:03:34] Yeah. Let's go through your career a little bit.

Norman Perttula [00:03:36] Way back. Well, I'm from Minnesota, and I went to architecture school at the University of Minnesota. I graduated from there with my Bachelor of Architecture in 1953. I always liked to draw and the last couple of years I was in school, my senior professor hired me to come work part time in their office, and I was doing a lot of renderings. And then I worked there that following graduation for two years, and I was interested in going to graduate school. So Minnesota has had a long tradition of sending students on to graduate school, and many of the faculty and professors are alumni of Harvard and MIT. That was sort of the main popular schools. They had a long tradition of that, as I said. So I went to Bob Cerny, my mentor sort of, and he was principal of a large firm in Minneapolis and, where I worked, and he was the senior professor sort of at Minnesota. I told him I was interested in graduate school and he said, Well, where would you like to go? And I said, Well, I'm thinking of Harvard or MIT, and he said, Just apply to Harvard, because he was a Harvard alum. So I went to graduate school there. I finished there in 1956, and while I was at Harvard, I got a phone call from Eero Saarinen. That's this Finnish pronunciation. He had apparently come to the campus, as he used to do regularly, as I understand, looking for people that he might hire. I was apparently recommended to him by one of my Harvard professors, and so he called me and offered, said he'd like to have me come out to their office in Michigan for an interview. So I did that and was hired and this was like in March or April. And then I went to work at the Saarinen office, which then located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in May of 1956. I worked with Saarinen for five years, essentially worked on three major projects. The first one was University of Chicago Law School. I was a designer on the design team. Second project was the TWA terminal at New York JFK Airport. A very exciting project, very sculptural. We had a great team working on it. Then the third project was the Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., and I was the design job captain on that project, so I got to do a lot of things not ordinarily done. I was coordinating the work with the engineers and the production team and that finished its work in 1961. Eero died in September of 1961, but toward the middle of that summer, I was approached by Cal Dalton of the Dalton firm to come out and talk to them about becoming their chief designer. The office, the Saarinen office, was in the midst of moving to New, near New Haven, Hamden, Connecticut. They had purchased the property there and were planning to move the office, but unfortunately Eero became ill in the last part of August and died, I think, just at the end of at the end of August. He was only 51 years old. He had a brain tumor. I had given my notice. I had been toying with whether should I go to Cleveland? Should I stay with Eero? I had been there five years. I wanted to spread my wings. So I made the decision to move. But I told Eero six weeks... I gave him six weeks notice so we could finish all the work on the Dulles Airport. And it was in the last couple of weeks when he, when Eero died. I'd only been in the office in Cleveland, I think, three days, just like came the day after Labor Day in 1961, and Eero's funeral service was like a couple of days later. So that takes us to '61.

Nina Gibans [00:08:41] And it takes you to Cleveland.

Norman Perttula [00:08:42] And takes brings me [to Cleveland]. [crosstalk]

Nina Gibans [00:08:42] Is your wife from Cleveland? No, she's from South Dakota. We met in Minneapolis where I was going to school and working.

Nina Gibans [00:08:52] Right. Okay. Well, that brings you to Cleveland with a history that I think is unique among your peers.

Norman Perttula [00:09:02] Pete Van Dijk work... both working at the Saarinen office at the same time.

Nina Gibans [00:09:08] I see. Okay.

Norman Perttula [00:09:08] Pete and I... Background go back a ways. You might find this interesting. Pete was in grad school at MIT the same time I was at Harvard, and I worked for the Architects Collaborative in Cambridge while I was going to school. And we had three children when I was in grad school, so I had to have some income coming in. I used to work every morning and Saturday, so that was... And the Harvard Yard was just a couple of blocks away. Pete's wife, Donna, was, who was an architect also, but she was working full time at Architects Collaborative. So I met her at the office, and so I knew her before I had really met Pete. But we used to do a lot of things together, the two classes, Harvard and MIT, and there were quite a group of our Minnesota folks. We had three Minnesota people at Harvard and there were three at MIT. So we had our own little clique.

Nina Gibans [00:10:14] [inaudible]

Norman Perttula [00:10:15] But we did a lot of things kind of socially, as I say, between the two classes. So I met Pete in that period and we became friends and then we both ended up at the Saarinen office. So.

Nina Gibans [00:10:31] So did Pete leave before you, from the Saarinen office?

Norman Perttula [00:10:36] Yeah. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:10:38] And he, would he have had anything to do with recommending...

Norman Perttula [00:10:42] He was... pete was... I'm not sure how Pete got to Cleveland, but he worked on the Federal Building project. He was the designer of that, as he probably told you, and perhaps you knew. So the Federal Building project was a consortium of three firms in Cleveland. It was Dalton. Dalton, Outcalt, Guenther, Rode, Taguchi [sic], Bonebrake, I think it was at the time. And Robinson Flynn... I can't remember the third name, I think, Williams, Robinson Flynn Williams, I think, so the three of them set up the project, but they supplied people to a team. Pete was the head designer and they did that job. And during the course of that work, Cal Dalton apparently asked him, Do you have any recommendations? We you need a designer. And so he gave Cal my name, and that's how Cal contacted me.

Nina Gibans [00:11:46] Wonderful. At least we can trace that.

Norman Perttula [00:11:50] Yeah. So we've been friends and colleagues for a long, long time.

Nina Gibans [00:11:54] Right. So the first thing you worked on here was the Federal Building?

Norman Perttula [00:11:58] No, I didn't work on the project.

Nina Gibans [00:11:59] Oh, okay.

Norman Perttula [00:12:00] I went to work directly then for Dalton on their projects.

Nina Gibans [00:12:06] And what were... Okay. So let's follow you to Cleveland and...

Norman Perttula [00:12:11] Some of the projects?

Nina Gibans [00:12:12] Mm hmm.

Norman Perttula [00:12:13] Well, another one that interested me at the time was the Dalton office had a federal contract with the Agency for International Development, which is part of the State Department. And they had like an open-ended contract for work in Africa, mostly educational projects, and they had a project for a master plan for a new University of Liberia in West Africa. And so I... That started in 19, late 1961. And so I started on that project and did the master plan. At the same time as we were doing the master planning project, they had... They... There was an existing University of Liberia. They had a project with the, some professors from the year from Cornell University in education who were assessing the whole educational system in the country. Liberia is a third world country. In 1961-62 when we were working on it, it was a pleasant place to be, but it was very poor. They had, I think, some interesting potential that had Cleveland connections. They have iron ore in Liberia and Republic Steel had interests in there. Republic Steel was big in Cleveland at the time. They had a rubber plantation that was owned by Firestone in Akron and that was active. So there were those kinds of ties between Liberia and Ohio and Cleveland in particular, Cleveland and Akron. But the education professors found out that there really wasn't a substantial enough educational base to have a student group that could support building a university. The university would have been funded somehow through loans with the United States. But because of that deficiency in education, the project never went past the master plan. But we had other projects in Africa at the time, and I worked on other educational projects in Nigeria. And the story there, it was like a secondary school at what I think would be our junior college level. It was intended to be like a trade school. That was in a place called Port Harcourt. Well, the job was all designed, was out for bid, and their civil war broke out near Port Harcourt, and so that job evaporated.

Nina Gibans [00:15:13] Let's go back to Cleveland. Your impressions as you come to Cleveland, because this project is about Euclid Avenue, let's deal with your impressions and favorite buildings and that kind of thing.

Norman Perttula [00:15:34] Okay. Well, I lived on Euclid Avenue. Our office was on Euclid Avenue. Well, it was in the old Arcade in the Euclid tower. And so we were on the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth floors, and so we had a great view down Euclid Avenue and from there around out to the lake.

Nina Gibans [00:15:55] "We" is Dalton?

Norman Perttula [00:15:56] Is Dalton, yeah. And all the designers in the office, you know, would tell me about all the spots in Cleveland on Euclid Avenue. And one of the things that I found really fit my schedule and process very well, was at that time in 1961, the stores were open on Euclid Avenue on Monday and Thursday nights. It was a lively activity, really great. Lots of people around. I used to take the rapid in to work when I lived in Shaker Heights, when we first came here and used to take the rapid work in. So that was very convenient.

Nina Gibans [00:16:38] Is this the house around the corner?

Norman Perttula [00:16:40] No, we rented a house for a year on Scottsdale, and then the first house we bought was in Glencairn in Fernway School, and then the last one was around the corner. But it wasn't unusual to work past five o'clock, so I often worked till six or seven. But the stores were open till 9:30, so when I had to shop, Higbee's was between the Arcade and the Terminal, the rapid, so it was very, very convenient. That was terrific.

Nina Gibans [00:17:18] What else about Euclid Avenue at that tiem?

Norman Perttula [00:17:20] Well, it was the parade route. And I'm a big... I'm... Played in concert bands forever. And so a band is a particular interest for me. And you could watch the parade from those windows coming down Euclid Avenue and going along. It was, you know, it's a great spectacle to have. And the theaters were still active then but... And we'd occasionally come down with our children who were young at the time and go to the big theaters. We used to come down, of course on Christmas and go through Higbee's and all of their things, and we'd go and see the tree at... What's the name of that?

Nina Gibans [00:18:13] Sterling Lindner.

Norman Perttula [00:18:14] Sterling Lindner. My dentist was on Euclid Avenue. So, you know, there were a lot of things on Euclid Avenue.

Nina Gibans [00:18:25] But architecturally. Let's talk a little bit architecture, of course the Arcade is special.

Norman Perttula [00:18:31] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:18:32] But what else?

Norman Perttula [00:18:36] Well, my favorite building on Euclid Avenue isn't downtown. It's the Epworth-Euclid Methodist Church in University Circle. I'm a big fan of Bertram Goodhue.

Nina Gibans [00:18:50] Is that the oil can?

Norman Perttula [00:18:51] Hmm?

Nina Gibans [00:18:52] Is that the oil can?

Norman Perttula [00:18:53] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:18:54] Yeah.

Norman Perttula [00:18:55] Yeah. The oil can church.

Nina Gibans [00:18:58] And the architect again?

Norman Perttula [00:18:59] Well, this is the story, I think is correct. I don't give you... I can't give you specific dates, but Bertram Goodhue was partner of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. Big firm in Boston, New York, mostly working in and around the turn of the century and into the early 1900s. And the way I understood the story is he designed the church but then died during the progress of the church and Walker and Weeks, who may have been the coordinating architect anyway, finished the project. But the design, I think it was credited to Bertram Goodhue. He was a fabulous renderer, and I used to do a lot of rendering, so I was very interested in his work and it's just terrific. I acquired a book of his that was put together by his office around 1915 of his renderings. It's a nice, big portfolio size. And among the things that he did was the, were the buildings in San Diego for the Pan Pacific Exposition in 1915. Bertram Goodhue had a particular interest in Spanish Colonial Revival style, and all those buildings there are of that nature. And when I was working, still working at slash Dalton URS, it was then called the URS. They had an office in California in Long Beach. And I was... I went out there for a project that turned out to be in the California Mission style, which is based on this, on the Spanish Revival sort of. And so I was doing mission study research, and I went to San Diego to see Pan Pacific and to see their mission down there. And I really admired Bertram Goodhue's work. And so, because of all those associations, that's why that's my favorite building.

Nina Gibans [00:21:20] Right. Other buildings. Any other buildings?

Norman Perttula [00:21:24] Well, I like the banks. I like the old Ameritrust building on the corner, which is still to remain. I'm not sure the rest of it, the Breuer, is. I like the theaters. I like the Mather Mansion. That's been really the only remnant of the glory days of the houses along Euclid Avenue. Those are my favorites.

Nina Gibans [00:22:01] What about the Breuer building?

Norman Perttula [00:22:04] Well, I have been admirer of Breuer's as well. I have many heroes. Breuer was one. I just thought that the scale of that for a high-rise building and all was a different expression. Cleveland was going through the glass box era at the time, which was really not good architecture in my view. And this was a direct opposite to that, where you had the benefit of shade and shadow and a nice form, good quality materials.

Nina Gibans [00:22:41] What about the Breuer wing of the art museum?

Norman Perttula [00:22:47] Well, I like that building. Again, I think he was trying to respect the original classical form, but I thought made a very fitting composition using different techniques, different materials. But I thought the whole composition worked. And again, because I'd been an admirer of Breuer's work over the years, I thought it was a very nice piece of work.

Nina Gibans [00:23:21] Do you think Saarinen wanted to do any work here?

Norman Perttula [00:23:24] Saarinen? He may have. None that I'm aware of.

Nina Gibans [00:23:29] He didn't do any. But did you ever talk Cleveland with him?

Norman Perttula [00:23:33] No, because remember, I just came here and he died...

Nina Gibans [00:23:36] Right, right.

Norman Perttula [00:23:37] So I didn't have any chance to talk about Cleveland... [crosstalk]

Nina Gibans [00:23:41] [Cleveland] wasn't part of the conversation.

Norman Perttula [00:23:42] No. Other... Yeah. When he knew I was coming to Cleveland, he asked, Well, why are you... Why do you want to leave the office? Because I had a nice, responsible position, and there were other projects that would come. I said, Well, I just wanted to be in a position where I could make the main decisions. And he said—because all the design decisions at his office were really his, I mean, we all cooperated and made suggestions and things but he made the decisions and initiated the ideas—he said, Oh, you want to be like me? In terms of making decisions.

Nina Gibans [00:24:25] As you reflect on Cleveland, what comments about the Euclid Corridor project itself?

Norman Perttula [00:24:38] Well, I was on the design review committee for many years, and it included all of the presentations and review of the Euclid Corridor project as it went through its various phases. So that's where my association comes with it. I'm not a traffic engineer at all, so I had to kind of listen and learn what they were telling us. And I'm hoping that the project works. From what I understand, it's a little bit of a unique traffic system and it hadn't been utilized in many places around the world, as far as I know. There have been some areas. Talking about Euclid Avenue as it had been, one of the things that I mentioned at one of the big review meetings where there were all kinds of other departments and they proposed the center strip and everything, I brought up the parade. I said, Well, what do you do about a parade? Because, I mean, you divide the parade groups, half of the band is here and half of the band... It doesn't work. A float or something would be on one side or the other, and I really don't think they thought about that or gave it... If they did, they certainly didn't give it much consideration.

Nina Gibans [00:26:05] They might send it down Superior.

Norman Perttula [00:26:07] That's... They have to take an alternate route. But is that the best parade route? Euclid Avenue is the prime avenue. It's not the location now for those kind of prime ceremonial events. And I'm big on ceremony. I think we need as much of that as we can get. And it should be a thing that plays an important part in all of our lives as a historical remembrance and celebration of things where parades are part of it. So now it's had to change its route. I don't know whether it's gonna be as a successful when it's not the, what's supposed to be the primary avenue in town. We'll have to wait and see how that develops.

Nina Gibans [00:27:01] What about other challenges? We have planning challenges and the lakefront and the convention center.

Norman Perttula [00:27:07] Well, I thought about that a little bit. I think what's happened is that merchandising has moved to the suburbs. When I mentioned those old days of the '60s, Cleveland was the merchandizing destination and people would come here and it became a vital, active place for all of that. It was a special place for people to go. That's been taken away because of the move out. It's not just Cleveland, but it's all the, many of the cities in the United States. And I think that's too bad. How do you turn that around? Well, it may be happening a little bit. You know, you all know about the latest focus has been to the new old lifestyle center, you know, the Legacy Village, the Crocker Park, the Eaton Square, etc., etc. And it's happening... There's one in Columbus, Easton, and where the developers, whether they realize it or not, they're doing what the city's had in past years. So could it be that there's a merchandising solution brought back to the central city like Cleveland? I would hope so, but the merchandising seems to control it. And that's a challenge.

Nina Gibans [00:28:42] It seems to be a challenge too of the next generation, because the folks that are there now are going through a bit of trauma with their businesses.

Norman Perttula [00:28:52] Mm hmm.

Nina Gibans [00:28:53] The mom and pop businesses appear in the paper weekly as being, you know, quite traumatized by the building process. So.

Norman Perttula [00:29:06] Well...

Nina Gibans [00:29:07] That's normal.

Norman Perttula [00:29:08] Yeah, but you look, there are examples. You look around the world, and I certainly haven't been everyplace, but so many of the old European cities have managed to maintain that central core and they preserve the old buildings and insert new ones into it. And they have that vitality, many of them, in their central city and have managed to retain it.

Nina Gibans [00:29:36] What are some of your exemplars, perhaps?

Norman Perttula [00:29:39] Well, cities that I've been in that I like, I like the mid-sized cities, too, because there and really the small cities, because they're very pedestrian. They were designed for not the automobile, because the automobile has changed the scale, but the older cities don't. munich is the place we spent... Our youngest daughter and her husband and family lived there for a couple of years. They did the same thing in London for three years. And we... So those are... Now London's a huge, very huge city, very active. As I understand it, you have to get a, or you have to pay to drive into the center city in London with your car nowadays, because parking is such a mess in a big city like a big European city that you don't want to have a car. Toronto is a wonderful city. Quebec City is a medium-sized city that's very charming and interesting because it's preserved. It's old. It has wonderful geography. The historical buildings that are there have been well maintained, built out of granite, which is perhaps one reason, but they've adapted their use to commercial, and that's the kind of thing that has continued to keep it an interesting and active place for people to want to be.

Nina Gibans [00:31:12] So you're really talking about preserving the old and...

Norman Perttula [00:31:16] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:31:17] Bringing in new ideas and meshing them in some way that makes sense. What about our waterfront?

Norman Perttula [00:31:26] Well, I would hope that the waterfront would build more of that urban center. And, you know, it needs to expand from where it stops at the, where the tracks are, and just expand out and become more dense and provide all of the kind of things that I was talking about that should happen in the central city. It needs to be more dense. Needs to have commerce and merchandising, residential, places of entertainment, restaurants, bars, shops, so that it's a destination.

Nina Gibans [00:32:14] What about living?

Norman Perttula [00:32:16] Yeah. Living. Residential. Yeah. People enjoy living by the water.

Nina Gibans [00:32:27] What are some big mistakes we might have made?

Norman Perttula [00:32:31] One of the big things was letting the educational system go down, slide down. That's such a vital part of people's lives. I mean, that's what people with children look for. They want to go to live in a place where there's good or decent educational system for their children. And Cleveland, from what I read in the papers, because I wasn't here when our, when those days were on, that the school system was, had a excellent reputation. And you probably know more than I, if you've lived in Cleveland longer than I have.

Nina Gibans [00:33:19] Well, that's true. Its reputation was pretty strong...

Norman Perttula [00:33:24] Mm hmm.

Nina Gibans [00:33:25] Mid-century. Is there anything in particular that you would do with Public Square?

Norman Perttula [00:33:33] Public Square. Well, I made a note. Now what did I say? Well, I'd like to make it more accessible. More pedestrian. It certainly ought to be a dense urban area around it with 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. activities. I think now if you want to go around the Public Square at six o'clock, it would not be very active. And so you need to build those kinds of things that draw people there from eight o'clock to ten o'clock at night.

Nina Gibans [00:34:35] What's interesting is that I think you're the only person that mentioned the stores being open at night and making that viable. Of course, that is part of lifestyle.

Norman Perttula [00:34:54] Right.

Nina Gibans [00:34:56] So have you got a big vision?

Norman Perttula [00:35:03] Well, in a bigger sense, I think it's important to get the city officials, the developers who make many of these kind of decisions and what's happening, so it's economics involved in that. The planners and the designers all need to be on the same page with the same focus on what the real values are that result in preserving the best of what we have. And they include all of these things. They include the education. They include Cleveland, downtown, becoming a destination again rather than just the people that pass through it. For those businesses that are still here and then they return back to their suburban homes at six o'clock, the downtown sleeps. So if that's important, the only way it can really be accomplished to bring it back to a vital, urban, interesting, active destination is all of these groups have to have that same focus and then they can do it.

Nina Gibans [00:36:17] Do you think we're close to that?

Norman Perttula [00:36:18] Hmm?

Nina Gibans [00:36:19] Do you think we are close to bringing enough folks together about a vision?

Norman Perttula [00:36:27] I, I really don't know since, I mean, I'm not that active in the downtown areas anymore since I'm essentially retired, but I don't see any real evidence, from where I see and what knowledge I have of what's going on, that we're close to it.

Nina Gibans [00:36:45] What about the idea of regionalism?

Norman Perttula [00:36:48] That... That's... [crosstalk]

Nina Gibans [00:36:49] Related to this.

Norman Perttula [00:36:49] I think I'd support regionalism. There was probably a good example of that, and I can't tell you how the politics work, but Toronto did that years back. They had a variety of suburban areas and they somehow consolidated. Well, architecturally that brought about the competition for the City Hall in that square space. And Toronto now is a wonderful, active, vital urban city, an enjoyable place to go. And it has many of these qualities of the downtown as an urban destination. And not unlike Cleveland, they have a variety of ethnic enclaves around the city which add to the vitality of the city. And Cleveland certainly has that. So over there, I think, is an example of regionalism work. How they accomplished it, I am not, I don't know. I'm not a politician. I don't know what happened to make it work.

Nina Gibans [00:37:55] Have you in your career worked on any of the restorations of those buildings on Euclid Avenue?

Norman Perttula [00:38:05] I don't think so. The... I must admit, I was interested in restoration early on, but I couldn't get our firm interested in it. They were... They're plenty busy with other things, so that wasn't the primary focus of their group.

Nina Gibans [00:38:27] But is there a restoration that you admire most?

Norman Perttula [00:38:31] Project I did? Well, I did a project in Akron for Firestone Tire and Rubber. If you remember or know the rubber industry, all the plants that were very active during the war and those years after, they began to move south to different areas where, for whatever reasons... And so these large plant buildings, which dated back to the early 1900s, were essentially empty. Firestone made a decision to stay there. They've since changed that decision. But during that time, and I think this was in like mid-'80s or something like that, they made a very sort of ballyhooed decision to keep their corporate headquarters in Akron, but they didn't have a corporate headquarters building. So we got a commission to design their corporate headquarters in their Plant Number 1, which I think dated to 1910. [telephone rings] That's a multistory brick building...

Speaker 3 [00:39:42] Well, hold on. Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:39:49] Okay. So we're talking about Goodyear.

Norman Perttula [00:39:51] Firestone.

Nina Gibans [00:39:52] Firestone.

Norman Perttula [00:39:53] Yeah. Yeah. You have to be careful.

Nina Gibans [00:39:55] Yes, right.

Norman Perttula [00:39:58] So we had this commission to design a corporate headquarters in an old 1910 plant building, brick building, columns very close together. And this big seven story tower, clock tower. And we first did kind of the routine things. We replaced all the windows, made them energy efficient and cleaned up the exterior, repointed the masonry and so on and so on, made it the sound and secure and all of that. But the interior was a challenge. And this is more of an adaptive reuse, which is another part of historical preservation that I'm very interested in. And so converting a 1910 plant building to a contemporary corporate headquarters was the challenge. And it came out, I thought, very successfully. They were very happy with it. It was interesting working with them because we were working with their engineering department, which is just, primarily they deal with building a new plant here, a new plant there, and so on. And so it was an opportunity for me to explain to them as we go through it with many drawings and sketches that I make of how this can be converted, what it would look like and all, and by the time the project ended, they were all on my side and making the recommendations to do this to their corporate people. So unfortunately, at some point after that, the corporate offices moved to Chicago. So I don't know exactly what the building is used for or how it's used now. I haven't been back there.

Nina Gibans [00:41:51] Firestone relates to Stan Hywet?

Norman Perttula [00:41:55] In a way. Stan Hywet I'm on the committee at Stan Hywet and I'm on the operating board. I've been involved there for maybe four or five years.

Nina Gibans [00:42:05] So that was the CEO's house.

Norman Perttula [00:42:08] Well, that was Goodyear, really. It's...

Nina Gibans [00:42:11] Okay.

Norman Perttula [00:42:13] Seiberling.

Nina Gibans [00:42:13] Seiberling.

Norman Perttula [00:42:15] Yeah. And he was one of the founders of Goodyear. And then later through various business operations, he formed his own company, the Seiberling Tire Company. That's a marvelous house, by the way. That's one of the reasons that when I was asked if I would be on one of the committees, I said, sure, I'd love to do that because I admire that house. English Tudor style. Supposed to be one of the best examples of Tudor Revival in the United States. And it's a very livable house. It's completely furnished. Have you been there recently?

Nina Gibans [00:42:58] Absolutely.

Norman Perttula [00:43:00] Good.

Nina Gibans [00:43:00] It's wonderful.

[00:43:00] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:43:02] Wonderful. And the history of Akron is right there?

Norman Perttula [00:43:07] Yes, right. It's...

Nina Gibans [00:43:10] And in a way, the history of Akron is in the the three rubber companies.

Norman Perttula [00:43:15] Right. And oh yes. It was the Rubber Capital of the World.

Nina Gibans [00:43:18] Right. So...

Norman Perttula [00:43:20] I did an earlier work for the corporate headquarters for Goodrich, B.F. Goodrich, which was a new building connected by a bridge to the plant facilities. And that's still there, but it's not Goodrich anymore.

Nina Gibans [00:43:37] I'm going to move to one other area that is not on this paper because I want... We, probably because we cannot get drawings, original drawing in Walden, a housing complex that you live in, we cannot get a model. They don't exist. Evidently. We have one book that Jenny Jones did of photographs.

Norman Perttula [00:44:04] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:44:04] Perhaps you've seen that.

Norman Perttula [00:44:05] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:44:06] And Bill Morris does not have any. But can you give me some comments about living there?

Norman Perttula [00:44:13] Sure. Well, it's many things. It's preserving nature. When you drive around there, you get an occasional glimpse of the residences. They're mostly one and two story with an occasional three story, if there's a grade on the exposed side, might be three levels. But from the original beginnings, almost the original buildings, the materials set the design palette there. Natural materials. Wood shake roofs or what we have now approved a substitute that looks like wood shake. A layperson probably can't tell, but it's made of steel. It has cedar siding. It has brick for the whatever masonry material is required, the chimneys and an occasional wall. And it all blends into the landscape. That's an important criteria of the design. I've been on the architectural committee since I moved out to Walden in 1986. It'll be twenty years the day after Thanksgiving when we moved in. The terrain has some gentle roll here and there. There's a number of ponds and a small lake on the site. We have developed a walking trail so that the residents can go in and enjoy the thing and walk off of the road. There's a golf course which many of the houses are built around. There's tennis courts. There's a[n] outdoor swimming pool. There's two restaurants on the original Walden property. And it's just the wonderful environment that we enjoy. We'd... We don't play golf or we don't play tennis, but we, you know, walk around and look at that. And we enjoy the restaurants and we enjoyed the people and particularly enjoy no view of traffic. I mean, the houses are oriented away from the streets. You have to have streets, of course, to get there. But they're not on a grid pattern. They're up and down hills and they curve around and all. And the signs are that tell you what street is on or low as a, if you come out there as a visitor in the dark in the wintertime, you'll probably have a difficult time the first time finding your way around, which we think is great.

Nina Gibans [00:47:10] Even in the daylight? The fact that it had a single architect, do you think that's important?

Norman Perttula [00:47:16] Sure. There's such a unity of that.

Nina Gibans [00:47:20] So Bill Morris...

Norman Perttula [00:47:21] Bill Morris...

Nina Gibans [00:47:21] Was a choice.

Norman Perttula [00:47:23] Yes. I don't know the whole story of the beginning, but I guess there were other folks that were asked [crosstalk] to participate.

Nina Gibans [00:47:33] [Taguchi] did a plan that wasn't...

Norman Perttula [00:47:35] Wasn't apparently accepted.

Nina Gibans [00:47:36] What they wanted and...

Norman Perttula [00:47:38] And the developer who was still there, but has turned over much of the management to his son in law. But the developer, Manny Barenholtz, still lives in Walden and had done other projects in Aurora—Walden is in Aurora, Ohio—and more traditional. Just around the corner from Walden, there's a place called the Four Seasons that is like that. It's very nice, but it's not the same feel. It's more traditional architecture. And the first two houses that were built on the Walden site were of that type. And then somehow between continuing on with that and getting Bill Morris involved, something happened where Manny saw the light, so to speak, to turn the direction around to what we have now.

Nina Gibans [00:48:46] Has he done others like it?

Norman Perttula [00:48:48] Manny?

Nina Gibans [00:48:49] Anywhere?

Norman Perttula [00:48:51] Not that I'm aware of. There's some other developments in the Greater Cleveland-Akron area where, you know, they may have wood siding and shingle roofs, but...

Nina Gibans [00:49:04] This is thousands of houses now. It's 1500, something like that.

Norman Perttula [00:49:08] I don't think it's that big. It's pretty much all built up. It's a series mostly of condominium units with 80 some houses on an actual lot.

Nina Gibans [00:49:22] Mm hmm.

Norman Perttula [00:49:23] A condominium is an association of people that get together and jointly on the property. Our particular association, I think there's 13 or 14 associations. Has 41 units, 21 buildings. So there's some singles, there's some doubles and few cases. There's some triples that are joined together.

Nina Gibans [00:49:49] Bill described some high rises that are happening now.

Norman Perttula [00:49:53] High rises?

Nina Gibans [00:49:54] Yes. In the future.

Norman Perttula [00:49:55] Oh, nothing built?

Nina Gibans [00:49:56] No.

Norman Perttula [00:49:57] And I don't think there's any room on the site, nor would the zoning permit, I don't think. But they may be somewhere else.

Nina Gibans [00:50:06] Right. Well, those are good comments because it's what we will need to bring that, bring light to what Walden really is all about.

Norman Perttula [00:50:20] There's a second Walden—it's called Walden Farms—which is much newer and a different style. The architect for those houses there, both houses and condominiums, but they're all single detached units. It's close by. The architect is John Terence Kelly. And it's a very nice environment, but it's different than Walden. It's not nearly as heavily treed, although it's, you know, it's not barren and the houses are mostly white or light colors with black roofs, but very nice. We have friends who live there.

Nina Gibans [00:51:01] The model houses is... I've been in it. That's where I was trying to get the model for...

Norman Perttula [00:51:09] For the current Walden Farm? I don't know. Was that designed by John Terence Kelly that...

Nina Gibans [00:51:15] Yes.

Norman Perttula [00:51:15] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:51:16] I think it was just sold actually. So that's unfinished, right? That section. True?

Norman Perttula [00:51:23] Yeah. There's an inn over there. Did you go into the inn at Walden Farms?

Nina Gibans [00:51:28] Sounds like it's wonderful.

Norman Perttula [00:51:29] Yeah, that's a wonderful place. And that's... If you join the Walden Dining area, you have access to those facilities, and we do have that.

Nina Gibans [00:51:42] Can anyone go there?

Norman Perttula [00:51:45] I think so. But the Walden Inn does not have a full restaurant like the club or the barn. They cater more to sort of smaller groups having a management meeting or something of that sort. And they have wonderful bedroom facilities there and they're not like a hotel room. They're really like a little suite and they're just finishing up the latest addition, which adds some bedrooms to the complex. I think they had twenty or so and maybe they're going to have thirty now. I don't know the number. Plus the spa. But they still don't have a full restaurant that's open five or six days a week.

Nina Gibans [00:52:31] So would you call it a bed and breakfast?

Norman Perttula [00:52:34] Yeah, sort of like that. Yeah, and if you went to stay there, you could have breakfast because they're open for breakfast.

Nina Gibans [00:52:42] Right. Well, that's great. Now back to Euclid Avenue. Is there anything else or suggested topics that you would address?

Norman Perttula [00:52:58] Well, I think the one of the things that, as I mentioned earlier, I'm interested in terms of the sort of historic preservation area is the adaptive reuse. And I think it's beginning to happen in Euclid Avenue downtown with the development of converting these solid old buildings into other functions, whether it's residential, and many of them are residential, and keeping then some commercial merchandising, retail activity at street level. I think that's a very good sign and I'd encourage that. It keeps the architecture there and makes it still vital and relevant.

Nina Gibans [00:53:47] Of course that's true of the Woolworth building.

Norman Perttula [00:53:50] Mm hmm. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:53:51] That's true of the Arcade.

Norman Perttula [00:53:53] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:53:54] True of the...

Norman Perttula [00:53:55] Along Fourth Street. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:53:58] The bank, which is going to be serving the county offices.

Norman Perttula [00:54:03] Mm hmm.

Nina Gibans [00:54:06] Anything else?

Norman Perttula [00:54:10] That's... I don't think so. I think we've touched on all the things I noted. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:54:20] So to summarize, you would call us a midtown, mid-sized city?

Norman Perttula [00:54:28] Cleveland? Yes. We're under 500,000 now. I've been in Columbus, which has more population, but their downtown is very slow. I mean, I go out for dinner when I'm there because I just, I'm staying in a hotel while I'm working on the project, and so I drive down High Street and at seven o'clock or so, there's nobody around. They've all moved out or the merchandising has moved out to the suburbs. And...

Nina Gibans [00:55:06] Anything else?

Norman Perttula [00:55:09] No, this been interesting to me.

Nina Gibans [00:55:11] Good.

Norman Perttula [00:55:11] Do you have any other questions?

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:55:14] Can we... Can I actually just get you to just spell a couple of people's names so we have them on...

Norman Perttula [00:55:19] Okay.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:55:19] The record. Eero Saarinen. How do you spell that?

Norman Perttula [00:55:24] E-E-R-O. Capital E-E-R-O. Saarinen is S-A-A-R-I-N-E-N.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:55:34] How about Bertram Goodhue.

Norman Perttula [00:55:36] B-E-R-T-R-A-M. G-O-O-D-H-U-E.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:55:45] And I'm just wondering, well, here's another one first. The Breuer wing of the art museum. Which wing is that? I'm familiar with who?

Norman Perttula [00:55:54] I think it's 1971...

Nina Gibans [00:55:56] Right.

Norman Perttula [00:55:57] Vintage...

Nina Gibans [00:55:57] Stripes.

Norman Perttula [00:55:59] With the horizontal...

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:56:00] With the entrance? Okay.

Norman Perttula [00:56:01] Yeah. And the... [crosstalk] The concrete canopy that projected out? I understand that remains and much of that facade remains.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:56:13] And I can't remember which other architect could have made this connection. But they... You were talking about the success of regionalism in Toronto.

Norman Perttula [00:56:23] Mm hmm.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:56:24] Do you... Have you ever thought about the differences, I guess, the difference in success between Toronto and Cleveland, being related to public transportation? Have you ever thought about that? Because...

Norman Perttula [00:56:37] Well, the... Toronto still kept the streetcar system. In fact, I understand that some of the streetcars in Cleveland went to Toronto.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:56:47] I just... I was...

Norman Perttula [00:56:48] But I, I have to admit, I enjoy going to Toronto, but we usually drive and either stay in Yorkville area, which is, you know, kind of a nice, that mix of old and new and adaptive reuse or right downtown and so then just to not use the transportation system but I guess it's very effective.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:57:20] And you were talking about the lifestyle centers of places like Legacy Village. Do you think there's any room or any possibility for something like that to be created in, say, the Flats? I mean, do you think that that would...

Norman Perttula [00:57:34] As a... Sure. I think so. With the marvelous collection of buildings that are in the Flats area and the Warehouse District. When the Dalton office was in the Arcade, we were growing pretty rapidly, and there's not a big footprint in the tower, so we were spread all over. We had departments scattered around the building, so it was very inefficient. If you wanted to communicate with somebody, you had to get on the elevator and it was not a good, workable situation. So we started to look at—and that's about the time Bob Little joined the firm—we started to look at other alternatives and I was a partner then, and Bob Yoder and I, who was another partner, a good friend of mine, a longtime Dalton employee, had recommended buying a building in the Warehouse District. This is before it became popular. This would have been, give or take, 1967 or '68. Well, we couldn't convince the other partners, but we were... We knew the potential that was there, but we couldn't convince the others.

Nina Gibans [00:59:03] So that's when the firm went out further?

Norman Perttula [00:59:06] Yeah. We looked at a number of places in downtown Cleveland. We looked at a building down where the old Stouffer's Restaurant used to be over by the Playhouse Square. Almost, almost seriously looked at buying that. We looked at building one of the sections in the, where the Erieview Tower is, you know, there's a seven-story building, that was built in chunks. We looked at building one of those chunks, but the footprint was only 10,000 square feet. So, I mean, we needed much more space than that. And ultimately, we bought the building in Shaker at the end of the Van Aken line.

Nina Gibans [00:59:49] Right.

Norman Perttula [00:59:49] That was one story with a small basement, 55,000 square feet on one floor. And then we had a second floor, and we're there until....

Nina Gibans [01:00:02] And that building is now...

Norman Perttula [01:00:04] It's... It... Well, it was...

Nina Gibans [01:00:10] OfficeMax?

Norman Perttula [01:00:11] Yeah. Was OfficeMax headquarters and they moved and I don't know who's in it now. Somebody just bought it I think. I don't know who it is.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [01:00:23] When they moved from that, where, there. Where did they go? What was the next move?

Norman Perttula [01:00:27] Next move was back to the Warehouse District. This was after I retired. So, no, wait a minute. They moved from the Shaker building to lease space in the office park in Beachwood, Commerce Park. They were leasing space in one of the buildings over there, and then they were there maybe two or three years. And then they moved down into the Warehouse District and were there a number of years and then a couple of years ago moved into Playhouse Square. So, [laughs] kind of made...

Nina Gibans [01:01:07] Right.

Norman Perttula [01:01:08] The circuit.

Nina Gibans [01:01:09] So they're at Ideastream right now?

Norman Perttula [01:01:12] Yes.

Nina Gibans [01:01:13] And that... Okay. And who heads that firm now?

Norman Perttula [01:01:21] Uh, the manager is Gary Hribar. I think he spells his name H-R-I-B-A-R. That's a whole different group of people there since, I mean, I've been retired for a number of years now.

Nina Gibans [01:01:48] I'm going to get the list of 100 houses so you can look for Columbus if you think we're done.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [01:01:56] Okay. Excellent.

Norman Perttula [01:01:57] Okay.

American Institute of Architects

The American Institute of Architects (Cleveland Chapter) Oral History Project. In 2006, in collaboration with Nina Friedlander Gibans, the Center began collecting oral history interviews with some of Cleveland’s best-known architects. 26 interviews in all were captured by Gibans and a team of researchers and students from the Center. These interviews help bring the city’s great buildings to life, and shine a light on current issues in architecture and urban design, making the series a major…