Nina Gibans Interview, 21 June 2006

In this 2006 interview, Nina Gibans, a poet, author, and active leader in Cleveland's art community discusses her early life and the work of her husband, architect Jim Gibans. Growing up in Cleveland and Shaker Heights, Ohio in the 1930s and 40s, Gibans was the only Jewish girl in Laurel School. Her father was the head of surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Later on, as editor of the Sara Laurence College newspaper, Gibans had to deal with the censorship of the McCarthy era. Gibans met her husband on a trip to Cuba and followed him to San Francisco where he studied architecture. Returning to Cleveland in 1960, Jim Gibans eventually became a part of Herman Gibans Foder, an architectural firm responsible for building much of Cleveland's public housing. Towards the end of the interview, Gibans gives her opinion on Cleveland's lakefront development, critiques the attitudes of past city leaders towards development, and lists some of her favorite buildings.

Participants: Gibans, Nina (interviewee) / James, Greg (interviewer) / Maggett, Gary (participant) / Turk, Mike (participant)
Collection: American Institute of Architects
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Nina Gibans [00:00:00] Oh, my.

Greg James [00:00:02] Actually, it's not first time. It's going for a while. I've interviewed before, but by the way I'm Greg James again.

Nina Gibans [00:00:06] Yes. Nice to see you. And you're at Euclid.

Greg James [00:00:08] Euclid High, right here.

Nina Gibans [00:00:11] But, you know, Mark, where is his, what? Yesterday he wore another college T-shirt. Someone might think he actually meant that.

Greg James [00:00:23] Oh, Carnegie Mellon, yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:00:24] Yeah. All right. And your name again?

Gary Maggett [00:00:27] Gary Maggett.

Nina Gibans [00:00:29] Okay. Lakewood, Euclid. And you are Mark, and you are Shaker, Addie Tobey.

Michael Turk [00:00:40] Michael Turk.

Nina Gibans [00:00:40] And I know most of you, but I just was... That was...

Unknown speaker [00:00:43] Orange.

Nina Gibans [00:00:44] Orange, right. That one of you was Orange. Okay, great.

Multiple speakers [00:00:48] [Discussing placement of microphone]

Greg James [00:01:04] All right. So, first of all, Nina, I'd like to thank you for coming out today, this afternoon, for this, you know, special opportunity to, you know, for this interview. I definitely appreciate that. And again, any pauses I have in between, just, you know, I'm going to go through and ponder and, you know, think about some of your responses. So we'll go with it from there. First question is, what community did you grow up in as a child?

Nina Gibans [00:01:27] Oh, that's so easy. I live one mile from where I was born. Okay. You really want to know that whole story?

Greg James [00:01:36] Yes, I do want to know the whole story.

Nina Gibans [00:01:37] All right. The whole story in about two sentences is that I was a two-pound baby. Okay, so think back those many years. I was a two-pound twin. So I was born at Mount Sinai. My father happened to be on staff. I don't think he was yet the chief of surgery and people... Though, the famous quote is, Oh, why try to save her from other people? That was a time when there wasn't all the technology we have today. So I feel very lucky ever since that point of life. Not only that, they lived right up the hill at Cedar Glen. So four months, five months later, that's where I came home to. That's across from Judson. And then we moved to the parking lot at Nighttown. That was an apartment building, a double apartment building. And we lived there until I was about ten. And significant things about that, I... Oh, do you want me to go into this now?

Greg James [00:02:54] Oh, yes, I do.

Nina Gibans [00:02:55] Okay. Significant things about life there was the walks around the corner, the candy shop, the, you know, Cedar Road. That whole thing was very similar to the way it is today. Except this apartment building was there. Famous moment, the murder. Murder of the janitor. Right in front of my eyes, my father is called down to take care of him. He's lying on the driveway in front of our garage, kind of thing. It was not only the janitor, but the murderer killed someone else in the next building. So it was a famous moment in life. I'm six years old maybe. I haven't followed that murder. I don't know if they ever caught him. I want to think anything more about it, except it was fairly traumatic. Fast forward life. I am now about eleven. We move out of that building. That building became Doctors' Hospital later. It then was demolished to make the parking lot that it is now and nothing else has happened. So we move up the hill to Fairmount Boulevard, lovely house on the corner of Woodmere and Fairmount. This is during the '40s, World War Two. Famous incidents on Fairmont Boulevard. I mean, the same walking tour of that area is pretty much the same walking we do. We go to Roxboro School at that point, and by then I have one sister. What I forgot to tell you is the other twin died. So I'm doing fine. And we have a sister. The block that I lived on, Woodmere Drive, was wonderful because it ended up in an alleyway where so we could bike and do everything right there. Famous incident. Roxboro School, World War Two, right on our corner someone said the Jews started this war, don't you know that? I'm now ten or eleven, you know, and that's pretty significant for me to think about. We hadn't talked about that at all at home. But anyway, that house was wonderful. It was absolutely terrific to live there. It was beautiful. It was not significantly historical, except that the man who built it, meaning designwise, because we're talking about architects, you and I are talking about architects, it was it was built by Mr. Stanley, who gave the right of way to the Van Sweringens for the RTA, for the rapid transit. Fairmount Boulevard, though, at that time had streetcars. So I traveled everywhere by streetcar. And that was... I think of it as fun. And when those went away, which was after we moved, I think that was too bad. Roxboro School was great. You know, it had all the folks from that community and we had street parties and the kind of neighborhood stuff that is just good stuff. We had people who lived on the street who I still am in contact with, who I took the Cleveland Heights history book by Marian Morton, and we went around to every house and we said, so-and-so, so-and-so lived here, so-and-so lived here. Do you remember Halloween here? And we had a ball, and we disagreed on some of those folks. She'd say, She lived here. And I'd say, No, no, no, she lived here. I went to birthday parties here. So that was life on Fairmont Boulevard. And my mother got sick and she died. So my father, the doctor, was then a single parent of me and my younger sister. So I'm early teenage. So then we moved up to Van Aken and Warrensville, that area, those apartment buildings. What I didn't know until recently was that that's when they were built, 1948 was when they were built, so they were new-ish when we were moving up there and, by then, well, this is part of the story of this early life that you better know, because it's kind of significant but I haven't done anything much with it, my father did not label cerebral palsy. Just... That's part of me. I lived for many, many, many, many years until about fifteen years ago, not labeling, but knowing enough to know what to be cautious of, the kinds of physical needs I would have, but his attitude is very important to the rest of my story here, because he believed we should do what we needed to do, wanted to do were interested in doing. He was terrific from that standpoint. So guess what, the hearing aids evolved. [laughs] So it just changed dramatically. And let's see if it will pop back. There. Okay. So he was... He was really special. He was by then the head of Mt. Sinai surgery. So he could do this and he could do it. But he sent us to Laurel School. Laurel School had no Jews. No Democrats. And why that is significant is that in third grade, I taught Hebrew from Sunday school, and my mother came to see how graceful I'd been to handle his fifth victory. This is Roosevelt now. So that was significant because later my classmates and I discussed that to a great detail. And so I learned only later what all the prejudices were. But the way it played out was not within the school community. It was about after school and the kind of social life you would have. Okay? So then we're at Van Aken when I'm in high school and I go away to college and we come back, and guess where we're living? Shaker Square. So that's the mile. That's the mile. And I've lived in one house in Shaker before that, and that is on Warrington Road, four blocks away from Shaker Square. So that's how one, you know, it's kind of interesting.

Greg James [00:10:21] Oh, it is. And I noticed that you said to some...

Michael Turk [00:10:25] When you're writing you're making little reverberations and tapping has...

Nina Gibans [00:10:31] I tapped?

Michael Turk [00:10:32] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:10:33] Oh, I tapped this, didn't I? Oh, Nina, you shouldn't do that!

Michael Turk [00:10:37] Yeah. So just when you're writing....

Nina Gibans [00:10:37] Right, this is not working, so it's the battery. Okay, so I'm gonna just listen. Okay? It's going to be playing you and me. [laughs]

Greg James [00:10:47] Very interesting home life there. I noticed one thing that you said, Nina. Your father worked in Mount Sinai. You grew up close to that. That's in the Cleveland Heights–Shaker Heights neighborhood, just for some of the....

Nina Gibans [00:10:57] Mount Sinai? It has disappeared. Mount Sinai was on 105th and well, at the juncture of of Martin Luther King. What is Martin Luther King now and the drive into the city, toward the lake, that was Mount Sinai, that hospital with the blue wall.

Greg James [00:11:20] Okay. Just very curious. \Yeah, yeah, that's Mount...

Nina Gibans [00:11:22] That's a very interesting, very interested in home life, and the second thing I'd. like to go into, you were noticing, and not noticing, you were telling us about your father being a doctor and I was also curious, what were your parents' professional backgrounds...

Greg James [00:11:35] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:11:36] You know, Like college, etc.. Your mother and father?

Greg James [00:11:39] Well, they are interesting. My mother came from New York City. She taught school there. She was the first in her family to go to Hunter College and she taught, well. I think, it doesn't sound to me like it was elementary school because she taught math, so it had to be middle or, you know, whatever they called it then. So she would describe life in New York City and that was where she came from. She met my father on a vacation when he was on his way to Cuba, and so was she. And they met on the boat and they got married on the way back.

Nina Gibans [00:12:21] Okay.

Greg James [00:12:22] [Laughs] I have the telegram that says "Married today to the most wonderful surgeon from Cleveland." That's the telegram to her parents. Only later did I know that she was part of a... She was a second, you know, purpose, second marriage and the whole family issues in New York were never, ever discussed with me. That's an era when you didn't discuss if there was an orphan living with you, where there were, and so forth. So I only met some of them later and loved them dearly. But she did not discuss an alcoholic father. She did not discuss all of that. She didn't like Cleveland. But, but she was feisty and started the Jewish Vocational Service here. That's what she did here. And she only lived till she was 39. So she married at 23, and my father was 40 when he got married because medical career had had eaten up many years. And I would say by then we had maybe five or six people who graduated from Case, first generation from his family. Oh, I haven't done a very good job about who, what, the medical career of him. Let's go back.

Nina Gibans [00:13:51] Okay.

Greg James [00:13:52] The family that he came from, which is the Friedlander family, is a family that came from Lithuania, from Vilnius, mainly, and through Buffalo, and so is first generation in the 1880s. And the story is that the horse died and that's how they ended up in Wooster, Ohio. So Wooster, Friedlander Theater, all of that, is our family. It's very contained in that generation of people who were the children of my grandparents. Grandparents didn't speak English, but my grandfather started the store, which is the Friedlander store in Wooster... I've quit this business of hitting the table. And so he left the store to his son at seventeen because he died. He had cancer and he died. They tried to take him back to Europe for health reasons and he died. Grandparent died. So my grandmother raises five children. And my father and another brother are doctors. You know, I've said five children. I think it's seven. Anyway, two doctors, the store owner-manager for the rest of his life, Herman, who stood by the door and said to everyone who came in, greeted them every day, and who felt that details only became problems if you did not take care of them. That was his legacy to us. My father and this other brother and others came up to Cleveland for their education. Two kinds of education. One was their religious education at the temples. And the second one was college. So the medical career was here. It was Case Western Reserve. They were... They were Phi Beta Kappas, both of them. They were bright. And they had a sister who was a teacher at John Hay who had a Ph.D., was the first Ph.D. at the New School, woman Ph.D., 1928. So those were the brothers, and they believed in education. They believed in all of that. So by the time I'm around, there's that legacy there. My mother had no other input in Cleveland because she was so young, yeah, when she died of cancer when I was eleven. Is that good enough?

Greg James [00:16:55] That's very enough. And, you know, going into that, you mentioned earlier, you were talking about that you had left to go to college, you had said, I'm just curious about your educational background, you know, what college you attended, and also, on top of that, you had just mentioned about, you said someone had been the first Ph.D. at John Hay. Was it typical of women also of this era that when you did go to college, can you also tell us about your educational background? Plus was it typical of women of that era to do some of those things?

Nina Gibans [00:17:27] All right. My aunt, who is my father's sister, who taught at John Hay, is, of course, the generation before me. She insisted that because my grandmother could not speak English, that she didn't get married and she went... She raised the kids. So she raised all those people that went to college. You know, that was her... That was what she told us always, that that's why she didn't get married. Most women got married or hoped to get married. I had another aunt who lived on Lincoln Boulevard in Cleveland Heights near Cain Park. We met everybody from Cain Park, the Lincoln Boulevard block parties are very famous. We pulled taffy and met all the actors and actors from Cain Park. That was part of childhood, but that's another aunt. That's not the aunt I'm talking about, the Ph.D. aunt. Okay, my educational background. I did go to Laurel, as I mentioned, and I went there from kindergarten. Our class... There are fifteen of us here now, I'll just put it that way, still in Cleveland. We meet about every quarter to half year. We have done that since our 25th reunion. Move backward, though. I was not comfortable at Laurel. I did my very best struggling with being the only Jew and being, you know, being this person that as a child, you can imagine what other children do with handicaps. They don't understand. The parents don't tell them to understand. That was a day when it was brutal. But kids are brutal to one another and you know that. So that's not... But that was part of my life. So I did things like writing. I wrote poetry right from that point. I was academically okay. I never wanted to go anywhere but Wellesley College from fourth grade on. I... Those were the things. I was academically okay. I was not brilliant. We have people in our class who were far more, far brighter than I. Put it that way. So onward I went to Wellesley, and after two years decided that the arts were going to be my future. Now, that decision was not met very well by the head of Laurel School. She said, "What do you think you have done to your child?" to my father, whose attitude by now, you can understand, was very fine. He let my sister and I make choices for ourselves, do what we needed to do to achieve what we needed to achieve, and so forth. So his attitude was great. I never had any problem with him. But Miss Lake at Laurel School, now, there is no one from our era who does not know Miss Lake. She was at least seven feet tall. She checked the way we looked in the morning. That was the kind of school it was, very rigid. So I went to Wellesley and that was fine, but I decided that I wanted to go into music, art and literature. I was going to be a music critic. That's what I wanted to be. So on my very own, with measles and everything in the picture, I sent my application to Sarah Lawrence and then told my father that that's what I wanted to do. All right. The next two years are absolutely the most important years ever in my whole life, because it was the learning process, very much the way we are doing what we do here now, was being done at Sarah Lawrence then, and it was Socratic. You had mentoring. You had small groups, discussions. You had classes that were large also, but you had magnificent professors, most of whom came out of the New York picture, you know, somewhere because they could commute. And it is in Bronxville, which is 45 minutes from New York City. New York City. The first thing is that it was experiential. New York City was our educational ground, museums, whatever. The Y and its activities that are still significant, the, you know, the Y on 94th, I think, and the New York scene. The people who went there were generally people who had struggled to get there because their parents didn't want them there. It was really that kind of place, just like Miss Lake had said to my dad, what do you think you were doing with her, they also had struggled somewhere to get to Sarah Lawrence. So when I got there, I was naturally a, you know, a new student. So I was entering a class that was already there. There were about 400 kids in the class, and that was its size then. It was just beginning to get some GIs. So it was just beginning... It was an all-girls school. Both of those were all-girls schools, but it was beginning to have men at the school. What am I supposed to do about that? Am I talking too much? No, I thought he was sleeping. That's why I... [laughs].

Michael Turk [00:23:24] Oh, no.

Nina Gibans [00:23:24] No, you're not. You're looking at your paper. Okay. Is this, is this what you want?

Greg James [00:23:29] This is what I want, yes.

Nina Gibans [00:23:31] Okay. All right. At Sarah Lawrence. So, I go to Sarah Lawrence in the September and the next March, I am asked to be editor of the newspaper. This is why this stuff is so interesting as far as what I do later. The newspaper has to come out just after spring vacation, and my first issue was recalled. The reason it was recalled was that, and I'm standing in the hallway taking a call from the president of the college saying, "We can't let this issue come out." And I hardly know what pica is, I've hardly put together a staff, because during spring vacation, the faculty of that school, every single one had been in front of the McCarthy committee, had had to testify, had been told that if they if they did not snitch on their colleagues, that they would be supported legally by the school. If they... In other words, if they were honest but not not tattletales, that they would snitch and they would be supported by the school legally. And they came back and there were just a couple of little things. One, the social studies professor had taken the Fifth Amendment and then later said, yes, he had been a communist, but had done that to fight fascism. All right. That's, that was important. And that's the second thing. So that was in the newspaper. The newspaper had what happened before he said that. That was the reason that had to be recalled. Anyway, I had to deal with academic freedom, freedom of the press, and what happened next is that around a table like this, the editors from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, all those colleges came down and said, so what are you going to do about this? So I grew up overnight. That was exactly when I had to make some decisions, do some writing. The first person that came to the campus was Arthur Miller, playwright. He had just written The Crucible or was writing it. He delivered our, forever, our saving moment because he could speak it. And he actually had done it. And whether or not he was one of those that was on the McCarthy list later, I don't know. But he probably was. But Arthur Miller was pretty strong voice. I guess I wrote an editorial that was pretty good. And I guess at that point I decided that the Sarah Lawrence newspaper was not going to deal with what every other paper was dealing with. We were going to deal with what was going on inside this college. I wanted to know, and I sent reporters. I sent my reporters into classrooms so that the story of what the education was being delivered was going to be what we reported. And so we weren't going to compete with The New York Times ever [inaudible] or with some of the others that were more like daily newspapers, you know, and that's what we did. So making those kinds of decisions. Also, the other thing was that at Sarah Lawrence, the big draw for me was that I could concentrate on art, music and literature full time and take as many hours as I could and wanted to. Also that the small classes and the don system, meaning you had a relationship with a professor that nurtured that, plus people like Joseph Campbell, who was there, and William Rubin who was there. Rubin became the curator at the Modern Museum, and for years... He just died recently. And people like that it was. And a poetry professor. Those were eternal influences. And also this method of learning was deeply embedded at that time. Everything else I did from then on was based on that kind of philosophy that you learned by doing that these issues, you know, were important and you had to participate and make, do something about them. So those parts of my life were pretty well established by my own choice of going to Sarah Lawrence, and having New York City there was a big help. My first job was writing the brochure for young audiences that was just getting started. So how to organize things like young audiences, which was about music for children at that point, just getting started, just being nurtured from a living room in New York City where I wrote the first brochure. Is that good enough?

Greg James [00:29:08] Oh, that's... [laughs] That's very good. I love the detailed answers like that. So I'm beginning to see that about your about your background and what kind of drew you into the arts is that I could see that, you know, you went to the school. I believe we know that I was talking to that you said your husband was an architect.

Nina Gibans [00:29:24] Mm hmm.

Greg James [00:29:26] How has any of his work influenced the way that you view things? Or has it been more so, or have you influence on any of his projects? Or maybe vice versa? Both questions in one.

Nina Gibans [00:29:39] Well, we've... First of all, what's been terrific for fifty years, and we just celebrated our 50th anniversary last year, what what's been important is that we really, really enjoy the arts together. He... Not all architects are this way, but he went to Yale. He was an only child in Akron, Ohio. He went to the architecture school at Harvard, where he, I mean, at Yale—what am I doing here—where Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, those were his teachers. So, you know, again, there's another mantra going through this, which is that people make the difference. Joseph Campbell in your life is something that makes a difference. You know, Bill Rubin forever gave me whatever philosophy I had for looking at art because he took us to the museum and showed us the work and commented on the work and we studied the work and, you know, and all and all. Those kinds of things made a difference. Anyway, Jim went to Yale. He got a Fulbright, went to Liverpool in city planning. He, you know, was one of... He got some awards at Yale and stuff like that. When he... When we met, and we met on a blind date. Parents put... That's, that's a no-no, almost, as far as longevity is concerned. But our parents did that. And so his friend in Akron knew my parents in Cleveland. And, you know, we went out, but one month after we met he was due to go to his Fulbright. So I was devising ways to get to Europe. Fulbright myself, travel. Do you think parents ever let kids travel alone? Women travel alone in that day? No, no, no, no, no. My father said no. So anyway, that's how we met. Now, his influence on me or mine on him is sort of a mutual thing. Once we... Once we really were serious about getting married, and we got married the next year on the day anniversary of when we met. He had been in Europe most of that time and we corresponded every day. I still have those letters. We... [laughs] Then we just went over together and he said, remind them. Remind them that you held the tripod the whole time we were on our honeymoon. [laughs] We took a lot of pictures, architectural pictures on our honeymoon. And we traveled by car through England and France and so forth. So we had, you know, that was... That was a long honeymoon because I was finishing his Fulbright. That was finally what happened about this travel to Europe to see him. And then we got married here. We had a double wedding. My sister had already been engaged. How about that for intrusion? And they... This was the Army time for everybody. Her husband was in the Army. It's mid-'50s. And Jim was drafted three months after we got married. Why? Because he'd been honest and he put his draft card... I mean, he told them he was married, so it came to the top of the pile, and he hadn't been drafted. And he was a few months before the cutoff age, which was 26, but he was drafted. So that first life of ours was in Kansas City or, well, really not Kansas City, but Manhattan, Kansas. Do you know, Manhattan, Kansas? It's dusty. And there was... What's the other, just the other side of Manhattan, we were located at Fort Riley. He was in the Engineer Corps because, darn it, he was not going to spend more years just to become an officer. So that's what he did. In Manhattan, what did I do? I started Young Audiences [laughs] and we enjoyed what we could. But Army life, look, we had four kids who were under seven at one point. So we have a lot of years there where we're starting a family. And our first was born in Kansas on New Year's Day. [laughs] And my father comes out. Here's my father in action. Comes out on a puddle hopper to Manhattan to be sure that everything's okay. And of course, the person, the resident has been here at Mount Sinai under him. So that was fun to have happenstance at the Army Hospital, it's Manhattan, Kansas. Nowheresville in those days. So... [laughs].

Greg James [00:34:59] That is... That's definitely quite a journey you go there. You say you had four kids?

Nina Gibans [00:35:03] I have four.

Greg James [00:35:04] Okay. That's also impressive. Now, with your husband and you, like you said, you lived in Cleveland almost your whole life here. And I think one time that you noted, that you said Cleveland was very reluctant to hiring Cleveland architects.

Nina Gibans [00:35:16] Right.

Greg James [00:35:17] You shared that.

Nina Gibans [00:35:17] Right.

Greg James [00:35:18] And I'm curious to see, can you tell us about any of his local works or projects? And did you have any influence over any of those local projects or works that he completed in Cleveland?

Nina Gibans [00:35:28] Yeah, the.... I'm going to back up for a minute because on our way to getting back to Cleveland, which happened in 1960, we're living in San Francisco. And the reason he goes to San Francisco after the Army is that there are no modern architects to work with here. The only one was Robert Little, who was in those times hiring, and he had just hired Bob Madison. He was the only one that he wanted to work with. So we went out to San Francisco where he thought that he could get started, and he started his career there. And I was a street poet there. So, [laughs] I was... He was wonderful. He... Just the coffeehouses, the bars were, are places of reading, and our famous moment was when Allen Ginsberg came back to San Francisco and he was the main act and we were the beginning act on the same stage, the same night. This is... He read, that night he read Kaddish. That was his poem to his mother's life and death. So I was a Beat poet. And I had gotten into that picture by applying to the library there for a program in poetry writing. And we all wrote and we read together. And in that group was, were some wonderful people. And San Francisco State had a wonderful, wonderful center for poetry writing. So I had a lively life from that angle of my interests. Jim's architecture... An architect getting started has, you know, not a pizzazzy life at all. But the interesting thing that we did do out in San Francisco that has influenced our thinking about housing, about architecture, is that we lived in. ... [interruption] Well, you want me to stop? Oh, okay.... That we lived in what was an Eichler house? Eichler houses today, in that day, it was a beginning house. You did your own landscaping. It was a development that was architected. That was the important thing about it. Eichler believed in small developments for... These were $20,000 homes. They were not big homes, but they were open. They were... We had plenty of room for the kids, and we had a lovely community in San Rafael, California. So that's very significant because that set the tone for the kind of living we would do. And most of our furnishings come out of that era. Still, we have them or from my father's move to the apartment when he had one of Cleveland's designers help him. He liked to start people's careers, and he gave Leon Gordon Miller his first commissions in Cleveland. So his office and our house looked very much the same [laughs], but he was known for that. So the influence of... Jim would describe to me at that point in time, the difference between his training in architecture and what he saw as the California training in architecture, which was much more formal and the aspects of it that were important were the drafting and the formalities, the technical part. At Yale, they had worked a lot on perspective, philosophy. What was what was the content of architecture? So that was a vast difference. And he would say about many times that that was a significant difference in how people were trained in architecture. When we got back here, and it was obvious, and the reason we came back was that my sister became ill and died at age 29. This is not the sister that died at birth, but my younger sister. So she has three kids that were in the Onaway area of Shaker. That's what we, why we purchased there. That's why we came back to Cleveland. And so we always thought that we would go back when everything settled down, that we were, kids were older, and all of that. But we we have really enjoyed what we've done here and never thought again about that. So when we come here and he is an architect, he works with... Here are the people he's worked with. He's worked with William Gould, the city planner. I mean, more interested in city planning than architecture, was interested in some of the ways in which the lakefront could be changed and East Cleveland could be changed. Bill Gould is an interesting interview for you. All right. Bill has done Art Space—that's what he's doing now—and dreamed of spaces where artists could both work and and live. The next thing he did was work with Don Hisaka. Don Hisaka was a Japanese-American architect who came to Cleveland and did... Well, he did your center building, though it's going to be torn down. Don has been internationally recognized. This is really too bad because he's internationally recognized. I've got all his material at home. And Don, if you want to do a telephone phone interview, is a really good interview because he came from—he and another one that died was [Fred] Toguchi—came to Cleveland out of internment camps and came here because of opportunity in the late '40s. So Hisaka would be.... He's not on your list. He was on my list. I took it out. But he's in San Francisco. I've talked to him many times. He's very articulate. Jim then worked for, after Hisaka, he was on his own with Bill Koster for a while. Koster, in the Arcade offices that they had. And then he has been with the firm of Herman, Herman Gibans Fodor since then. And the main thing that they have done and the main thing that that firm is well-known for is public housing. Lakeview Terrace, Outhwaite are his projects for about the last ten years. And they won awards for that. In the very, very beginning, they were written up nationally and ever since then that set that firm in that direction. They have also done quite a bit in the health world, healthcare world, Judson, Judson's additions on Cedar Road and other facilities. They worked on the Wyndham Hotel, they worked on the Tower City renovation, they worked on, they've done some nice things. But Jim in particular has been involved with the, you know, Lakeview Terrace and Outhwaite for the last few years. Then, enough? Or do you want a little more about him? He's...

Greg James [00:43:51] That's perfectly fine there.

Nina Gibans [00:43:53] He's... Okay.

Greg James [00:43:54] We're coming to a conclusion on the interview, and one of the things I'd like to ask you just very quickly, the first thing that comes to your mind on these last two questions because, you know, I want to take this...

Nina Gibans [00:44:03] Yeah, yeah.

Greg James [00:44:03] Talking about architecture, we've been talking about arts. And I got a little bit about your background, your parents' background, your husband's background.

Nina Gibans [00:44:09] Maybe too much.

Greg James [00:44:10] Oh, that's it's good. It's very good information that we can expand from. And I definitely appreciate that. You know that. The last two things I'm gonna ask you two questions, okay? The first thing that comes to your mind, as soon as you think of this question. What is your favorite building in the world?

Nina Gibans [00:44:26] In the world. I'm going to answer with two buildings.

Greg James [00:44:32] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:44:32] One is not here and one is here.

Greg James [00:44:34] Okay. Go ahead.

Nina Gibans [00:44:35] The one that is not here is the Gehry building in Bilbao. It is absolutely magnificent as a piece of architecture, a piece of sculpture, a piece that changes the city. A piece that is magnificent. The second one is Severance Hall.

Greg James [00:44:52] Okay.

Nina Gibans [00:44:54] Severance Hall is the most magnificent renovation I have ever seen. As a child, the one thing we did do was go to symphony a lot. And I can tell you where we sat when I was 12 and when I was 20 and, you know, I can tell you where we sat and where we choose to sit. And that's something my husband and I love to do. We don't have season tickets. That's too expensive. We share them with another architect and debating which we will go to is one of our fun things for the late summer to pick out what we will go to.

Greg James [00:45:32] Okay. And my last question to close interview and I guess this is one, myself only living in Cleveland for six years, and we see architecture, we see all the beautiful land space that we have, how come nothing has been done with the Cleveland lakefront as far as architectural designs, those types of things? What can be what can be done architecturally to fix that up? Or is that a finance problem?

Nina Gibans [00:45:54] It's a vision problem. It's a vision problem and a priority problem and a sense that the community really, really needs it. I mean, there are models like Chicago. That was the earlier model. There's models of lakefronts or riverfronts, at least in San Antonio. There are lots of other cities. I mean, San Francisco, we left the most beautiful riverfront you've ever known. But we have, and I think at my last count, there were something like 35 different plans for it. So the 1900s was just full of plans for the lakefront, but we've never been able to get that act together. We gum it up with, Oh, should we do the convention center at this time? Well, it maybe it needs to be a comprehensive plan, but you've got to have some dreamers there that want that kind of city. And that's what we lack. In the beginning, there were powerful people a hundred years ago or whatever, who came with their dreams from their European trips, wherever they were, and their dreams for their industrial power and what that should be like. But the dream, and they dreamed of Public Square pretty much the way it is, but give or take. And, you know, after that, we didn't... We didn't carry that much further. And I will blame the Van Sweringens for part of it. They destroyed the effort to build the railroad station there. And we left it. We left it go after that. They wangled their Shaker Heights idea and the rapid transit idea in front of city council and got it passed. When they did that, and lakefront was left and so it never was finished. And, anyway, I believe that that's why we've never done it.

Greg James [00:48:06] All right. Thank you so much for your time and effort.

Nina Gibans [00:48:08] Oh, you're welcome!

Greg James [00:48:09] Thank you so much.

Nina Gibans [00:48:10] I didn't realize you were going to spend a lot of time on my early whatever, but....

Greg James [00:48:15] Oh, there are a lot of things that definitely wanted to, you know, to go through, a lot of questions tied in with each other. And you just expanded on so many other things across so many different questions that we were able to go on and build off that. And the last responses, you know, are like your favorite building in the world and those types of things lead into, you know, we didn't really get into sacrifice the cities, maybe just answering your Cleveland lakefront answer. I mean, I'm able to expand off that answer.

Nina Gibans [00:48:43] Right.

Greg James [00:48:44] and build so many other things there.

Nina Gibans [00:48:44] Well, in recent years, I think we've lost enough corporate power, leadership, in that segment of our community. They don't stay here very long when they are here. They may commit pretty well when they are here, but not, you know, they move quite frequently. And I think that that coming together of people and Dave Debrico has to be one of the few that's still in power after ten years even. Takes a long time to do these things and people today aren't willing to understand that. They just haven't got the patience for it. We want it in our lifetime. No way. We want it tomorrow. We want it....

Greg James [00:49:34] I want the casinos.

Nina Gibans [00:49:34] Yesterday. We want it whenever we want.

Greg James [00:49:37] Put casinos on the lake. Put hotels. Put something over there.

Nina Gibans [00:49:39] Yeah. And give us... Give us more arts festivals.

Greg James [00:49:43] There's so much. I mean, there's so many different entertaining...

Nina Gibans [00:49:45] That's, that's what, I mean, that's what they think, is that that's the...

Greg James [00:49:50] We have the best athletes in the whole entire world living here, and we don't have anything to... Entertainers, and we can build off that, draw into that, and take that money that the city bring some entertainers into and invest that money back into our city and build off that.

Nina Gibans [00:50:03] Yeah. I don't... See, I don't know what your looks to each other mean, but... [laughs]

Greg James [00:50:11] He was just telling us we got to keep it down because the other interviews are going on over there.

Nina Gibans [00:50:14] Oh, oh.

Greg James [00:50:14] I was getting loud.

Nina Gibans [00:50:15] Okay, well. [discussion about interviewing logistics interrupts]

Michael Turk [00:50:51] I'm just curious. What did you think about what was done with Jacobs Field and the Gund. [crosstalk and background talking]

Nina Gibans [00:51:03] Well, the sports complex is a lovely sports complex. It really is.

Michael Turk [00:51:09] But you didn't think it was like a scar on the landscape or anything like that?

Nina Gibans [00:51:12] No. No.

Michael Turk [00:51:14] It was very well done, given what it is.

Nina Gibans [00:51:15] Yeah, given what it is, it's, It's pretty nice. But we also had a good stadium before. If it had been renovated.

Michael Turk [00:51:23] That's what my next question was going to be.

Nina Gibans [00:51:24] And... And...

Michael Turk [00:51:25] I loved the old Municipal Stadium.

Nina Gibans [00:51:27] Right. And it was a beautiful...

Michael Turk [00:51:29] It could have been renovated.

Nina Gibans [00:51:29] And it was a beautiful building. It was one of the Walker and Weeks building[s]. Yeah.

Michael Turk [00:51:37] Now we have a separate Browns stadium and a separate Indians facility. I don't understand why the Muny Stadium couldn't have been...

Nina Gibans [00:51:42] Right. This idea of collaboration. You know, my life in the arts here has been pretty extensive. [recording ends abruptly]

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…