Don Hisaka Interview, 15 May 2007

Don Hisaka, the son of Japanese immigrants, grew up on a California farm before leaving to study architecture at Berkeley and Harvard. Arriving in Cleveland in the early 1960s, he eventually started his own architecture firm, designing such buildings as Cleveland State University's University Center and the glass atrium in Thwing Hall on the Case Western Reserve University Campus. In this 2007 interview, conducted over the telephone, Hisaka describes his recollections of architecture and design in Cleveland - particularly on Euclid Avenue in the 1960s and 1970s - and gives his opinion on current city planning projects. He also suggests areas of the city which could presently be put to better use.

Participants: Hisaka, Don (interviewee) / Gibans, Nina (interviewer)
Collection: American Institute of Architects
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Nina Gibans [00:00:01] Okay. Don Hisaka. I'm talking to Don Hisaka. And your name?

Don Hisaka [00:00:07] My name is Don Hisaka.

Nina Gibans [00:00:09] Right. Well, I'm glad we've connected finally.

Don Hisaka [00:00:12] Good.

Nina Gibans [00:00:14] I think the place to start after all of our discussions is really how you became an architect or your upbringing and then how you decided or who was your mentor as you were guided toward architecture.

Don Hisaka [00:00:35] Well, mine was an accident because when I was brought up on the farm country of Riverdale and Stockton in the Central Valley, and that was... My parents were non-speaking immigrants. And so architecture, we didn't know what it was even, and I was influenced by a couple of teachers, who thought I liked to draw and liked math and so forth, and persuaded me to go to the University of Berkeley, California. And that's how, accidentally, I got into the field. But it's only in America that these miracles could happen, because I was brought up in an impoverished farm country in central California, and then in one generation be able to go to a university like University of California, Berkeley, and even more so then be able to go across the country and go to Harvard University for a graduate degree. That's all in one generation, and it's just a miracle that I was able to accidentally attain.

Nina Gibans [00:01:45] Right. And tell me what your... Your parents were farmers, but your siblings... You had several siblings?

Don Hisaka [00:01:53] Well, yes, I was the youngest in the family. And so my parents and me just one year, one generation, first generation here. The... My older brothers had to help on the farm to make a living. And I was the youngest one, so I escaped that. I didn't like farm work. It was too hot and too hard, and I realized I had to find another way out. And that's when I decided to go to school without too much persuasion and was able to get to the University of California.

Nina Gibans [00:02:29] Were you in art and architecture right away or?

Don Hisaka [00:02:33] Well, I didn't know what architecture was, but I was living with some schoolteachers who realized I liked to draw and liked math and so forth. So they persuaded me to go to Berkeley and take architecture, which I didn't know what it was. And it was by an accident that I got into the field. And so I finished in architecture at Berkeley and then a year or two later went across the country, not knowing where and when, to go to Cambridge and went to Harvard. And in the '50s, out in California, no one spoke about Harvard and what it really meant. So it was a pure accident that I had heard that a person by the name of Gropius was going there to head the department. So I thought, not knowing what Harvard was, applied and got in. So I was able to go across the country and go to graduate school there.

Nina Gibans [00:03:37] There must have been some mentors, though, at the University of California who guided that trip across the country a little bit. Are there some?

Don Hisaka [00:03:49] No. (laughs) To tell you the truth, there wasn't. Mine was a pure accident, and because around Berkeley, no one spoke about Harvard and people like...

Nina Gibans [00:03:58] Oh, they, really? Hmm.

Don Hisaka [00:04:00] So it was really an accident and just that it happened that way. And I happened to see in a magazine, reading about Gropius, who was coming to Harvard from Europe, and that was the only persuasion. So we were lucky, you know, and to... And more than that, no one around the University of California spoke about Harvard. That was another world out there that had no interest in it insofar as my friends were concerned and my teachers and so forth. So...

Nina Gibans [00:04:33] That's fascinating. So you got to Harvard and then you did have Gropius, yes?

Don Hisaka [00:04:42] Yes. Uh-huh. But Harvard was very good for me because it opened the world to me. I think that never would have taken place. And so from that standpoint I think it was a very broadening experience, and to be able to have tasted California, then for 20 years Cleveland in the Midwest, and then go on to Cambridge and it was really an experience, a social experience that not many people had the benefit of enjoying.

Nina Gibans [00:05:20] Right. Where did you go straight from Harvard? Did you come to Cleveland straight from Harvard?

Don Hisaka [00:05:26] Let's see... From Harvard? Oh, that was 1960. Though from Harvard I went to Detroit. Oh, that's interesting. You talk about people of influence, you know, academically, you know, Berkeley and Harvard, of course, was the most influential. But professionally, I went from Harvard to Detroit to work for Yamasaki, who you may have heard about. He did the World Trade Center?

Nina Gibans [00:05:53] Yes.

Don Hisaka [00:05:54] And I learned more about the world in architecture and what it takes from him with his demonstrations of his dedication and morality in architecture. I learned everything about it and what it takes to do a decent job from Yamasaki, and I worked with him and was an associate with him for about five years. And it was really a wakening experience, even more so than Harvard and Berkeley, in the professional way.

Nina Gibans [00:06:25] That, that's fascinating. So you were invited to come to Cleveland as a designer for...

Don Hisaka [00:06:32] Well, what happened after Detroit was in the mid-'50s, I was lucky enough to attain the Fulbright, so we went to Europe and lived in Rome for a year and then came back in the late '50s and ended up in Chicago—I had an offer there—and so was there for about a year and a half. Then around 1960, I came to Cleveland, you know, from Chicago.

Nina Gibans [00:07:00] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:07:01] And at that time, Cleveland, unlike some of the cities like Chicago or Boston, wasn't growing as quickly or demonstrating growth, redevelopment and so forth. Not much compared to Chicago or Boston and so forth, so that was kind of... I thought it was a kind of a very open and vacant place to be and good for a starting architect because of the lack of competition, you know.

Nina Gibans [00:07:33] Right. So your competition in the '60s was, what, Jack Kelly?

Don Hisaka [00:07:41] Oh, Jack was, yeah, there.

Nina Gibans [00:07:42] John Kelly, and who else?

Don Hisaka [00:07:47] Well, truthfully, not much else. See, there you go. It's hard to name people, huh, and that was the thing that was attracting to me, (laughs) attractive to me because...

Nina Gibans [00:07:58] Taguchi was... Fred Taguchi was...

Don Hisaka [00:08:00] Fred was there, yes, Fred and John are the only two that I can recall who were of my vintage. And, you know.

Nina Gibans [00:08:07] Right. Did you start your own firm when you came here right away?

Don Hisaka [00:08:12] I was invited to be the chief designer for Dalton and Dalton, and I was... So that was the invitation that got me to Cleveland, and I worked there for a year and then I was able to obtain a project, large project in Milwaukee, so I did it from Cleveland. That was the start of my business.

Nina Gibans [00:08:31] And was Robert Little there at that time?

Don Hisaka [00:08:34] Yes, he was. Uh-huh. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:08:35] Uh-Huh. So he was another one.

Don Hisaka [00:08:37] Yeah. But you know, now, the redevelopment program, like other cities, wasn't as vivid in Cleveland, you know, especially when I compare it with living in Chicago in the, you know, inner city. That was a different experience altogether. It was, and so it's not fair to compare, but the fact of it is it wasn't as vigorous as a place like Chicago.

Nina Gibans [00:09:03] Well, Chicago is kind of unique, isn't it, architecturally?

Don Hisaka [00:09:07] Yes, I think it's unfair to compare anything with Chicago. It's so vigorous, you know.

Nina Gibans [00:09:13] Well, let's reflect, then, going from there, you were in your own firm.

Don Hisaka [00:09:20] Yes.

Nina Gibans [00:09:21] And it was at the Arcade.

Don Hisaka [00:09:22] Yes, it was. Uh-huh. Yes, it was.

Nina Gibans [00:09:27] And when did you do the Euclid Avenue building that has become so much a piece of conversation in this city?

Don Hisaka [00:09:39] Well, I forgot what year that was. What, would you think it would be?

Nina Gibans [00:09:47] It's 50 years old or more.

Don Hisaka [00:09:48] 60... In the '60s, '60s or '70s because I was in Cleveland for about, from 1960 to about 1980,.

Nina Gibans [00:09:55] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:09:56] It was in that interim that I was able to work on the CSU building.

Nina Gibans [00:10:00] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:10:01] You know.

Nina Gibans [00:10:02] And when you were, when you were designing that, let's look at Euclid Avenue at that time. Euclid Avenue is undergoing, as you and I have said, Euclid Avenue's going, undergoing some structural changes right now that will hopefully make it a transportation dream, so to speak. But at that time, think about Euclid Avenue. Think about the buildings that were maybe memorable to you, the buildings that you liked.

Don Hisaka [00:10:39] Well, Euclid Avenue, I think in those earlier days, from the Public Square to the Playhouse Square was not too bad, to say the least. I think it was intensely urban and the scale was very nice in the pedestrian sense, and from the Public Square to the Playhouse Square, it was quite coherent and urbanistic in feeling. In the middle of that, though, is the, one of the greatest buildings I know of anywhere is the Arcade, and where we had an office also, but the Arcade is a very special building that compares with any in the world, I think, and Milan has one that begins to compare with it, but it was unique in the whole country to have a building like that that goes from street to street and so inviting and can touch so many people, even the laypeople, in a very positive way. And that's unique, I think. But Euclid Avenue was, from Public Square, I always thought of it as a pedestrian passageway with two... Playhouse Square was pretty, you know, vivid and intense. From there, getting to the university it began to lose its intensity, you know. And so when we were working on the CSU student center building, I saw it as a kind of a first link, an invitation from the Public Square area to jump to this, this corner of the university campus to have a building that would kind of bring you in as an introduction to the campus. And and that's why the entrance is kind of distorted in the way it is, aiming towards the downtown area. And, the student... We saw it as a kind of a center, student center building. I thought that it was appropriate for there to be a place where the students could gather. And that's why the big Cage was built. You know, in warmer climates and so forth, you can have an open plaza where students kind of, like in Berkeley and so forth, kind of [inaudible] on the walkways and the green areas, but in Cleveland, with the weather that it is, I thought that a controlled environment would be much more useful than an open plaza as a place to gather. And that's why the big center Cage was suggested and built.

Nina Gibans [00:13:23] Right. And that has lasted until today when I guess they want to open it up or something. (laughs) it changes...

Don Hisaka [00:13:34] Oh sure.

Nina Gibans [00:13:35] Different administrations, as you know. But there's been a lot of controversy, a lot of discussion about saving that building.

Don Hisaka [00:13:46] Well, I wish they would. I think the interior of the building, you know, beside the cage, is very flexible. I think we have different ceiling heights and office-like spaces, and also like conference room spaces and even recreational spaces like, you know, foodservice and so forth. So it's a very flexible building, I think, for reuse. And then of course, you have the Cage, which is the gathering place.

Nina Gibans [00:14:16] What about energy. That has been a big item of discussion. Saving energy. Costly to heat kind of thing. What would you do in today's world that?

Don Hisaka [00:14:30] Well, in yesterday's world, we did... We were concerned about the energy. So what we... You know, the Cage is about, what, 6 to 8 stories high, I would think, and the people occupy just the first and maybe parts of the second level. So what we did was stratify the conditioned area. I don't think people realize this, but the conditioned space is only the first one and a half floors in the Cage because beyond that we don't care what the temperature is, you know, because no one else is up there and we conditioned the corridors surrounding it. But that Cage is not conditioned, heated and cooled for the whole height of the volume, but only the first 12 feet or so. People don't realize that.

Nina Gibans [00:15:27] Right. So you would be hoping, as some of us have, that it could be restored in a way that is appropriate today?

Don Hisaka [00:15:38] Oh, I would think so. You know, I would think so, and if one... Even if they wanted to reglaze it, you know, it would be a relatively simple because the structure is all exposed, the vertical columns and so forth, and a frequent level. And so these... It's not like doing a big renovation of a curtain wall, but these are kind of within rigid frames. So the... If they wanted to add another layer of glass, I don't think that would be so difficult to do. And whether the payback is there, I'm not sure. I think someone has to sit down and calculate it, you know, project the numbers and so forth and the cost. But I think the Cage worries me less than most people, I think.

Nina Gibans [00:16:27] Are there other buildings on Euclid Avenue that you think are as special as the Arcade? There are some Beaux-Arts buildings.

Don Hisaka [00:16:36] Well, you know, the thing... I was looking at some magazines on Cleveland and so forth, but there are a lot of historic buildings. You know, pseudo-Renaissance and pseudo-classic buildings that are plentiful in Cleveland, I think, you know. And even more so than the modern buildings. And it would be, especially if we get up closer to Shaker Heights and so forth, you know, it's really becoming very consistent. But I think Euclid Avenue had some larger mansions that were always distinctive. You know.

Nina Gibans [00:17:13] There aren't too many left. One of them is on the campus of CSU, Cleveland State.

Don Hisaka [00:17:20] Uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:17:21] The Mather Mansion...

Don Hisaka [00:17:22] Oh. Uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:17:24] Was one of the mansions during the spectacular days of Euclid Avenue's, you know, powerful dimension. Talking about Shaker Heights, you have a house that has won national awards that was for yourself in Shaker Heights. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided to build that? It's on a very special site. And today I found it in a book called Field... It's the Field Guide to Modern Architecture.

Don Hisaka [00:18:11] Oh, is that right?

Nina Gibans [00:18:12] Uh-huh.

Don Hisaka [00:18:13] Yeah, I haven't seen it. But that's an interesting experience we had. How that was ever made possible was the fact that we were doing the planning for Shaker Heights to help, for instance, keep some of the historic pieces and also at the time, introduce new buildings that can help the economic base and so forth and where to do it, and we were doing the planning for Shaker. And on an aerial photograph, I saw this vacant lot and so I inquired about it, and the lady next door, who was just great, had the land for years. And when I told her what we wanted to do, she, you know, acquiesced and offered to sell it for us, to us, about half the going price. And she was just terrific, and I was concerned that people might be intimidated by an architect coming in to do a building. But so I told her that I would work closely with her and that I would make a model and show her. And also I said I will take it to the neighbors. And she kind of smiled at me. She said, it's none of their business. (laughs) And she was so great. And she was... She used to write book reviews for the Cleveland papers, just a terrific person.

Nina Gibans [00:19:37] Right. I think I know who you mean.

Don Hisaka [00:19:42] She used to live right next door...

Nina Gibans [00:19:43] Yes. Yes.

Don Hisaka [00:19:44] She's a terrific person.

Nina Gibans [00:19:46] Right. I'm going to remember the name by the time we finish here, but she was very special.

Don Hisaka [00:19:53] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:19:53] She was very important to the Cleveland Public Library and she wrote, you're right, she wrote book reviews.

Don Hisaka [00:20:02] Yeah, she's really terrific. I didn't even know her, you know, it was just the first time...

Nina Gibans [00:20:06] Do you remember the name?

Don Hisaka [00:20:08] Oh boy, I should know it.

Nina Gibans [00:20:10] Yeah, right.

Don Hisaka [00:20:10] First time I met her was when I inquired about the land and so forth, and she immediately, you know, agreed to letting us have it after all these years that she saved it. And we were quite taken by it.

Nina Gibans [00:20:27] Right. So your family grew up right there.

Don Hisaka [00:20:30] Our kids did.

Nina Gibans [00:20:32] And went to, what, Boulevard School?

Don Hisaka [00:20:34] Yeah, uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:20:35] Through the Shaker system.

Don Hisaka [00:20:37] Yeah, Shaker has been just a tremendous experience for us, you know.

Nina Gibans [00:20:43] You must have been one of the few Asian-American families, though.

Don Hisaka [00:20:47] Well, we were, I think, the only ones there, and we were just coming in from Chicago and we didn't know where to move. You know, Shaker was Shaker. We knew about it but, you know, with two kids and so forth, and then we were looking for rentals and so forth. And that's a funny story, too, that we found this a house that we liked for rent and the owner was a little concerned. And so he asked me, you know, where I was coming from and what school I went to, and he was a lawyer. And so I just told him I finished at Harvard, I was coming down here. He said, You went to Harvard? I said, Yeah. He said, Well, fine, you can have this place. (laughs) No deposit. He was a Harvard lawyer too. So he offered, you know, the rental to us immediately without any lease or anything. And that's how we got to Cleveland. So we... But you're right. We were the only Asians there for a long, long time.

Nina Gibans [00:21:50] And the special woman was Eugenia Thornton. Yes?

Don Hisaka [00:21:54] Yes, that's right.

Nina Gibans [00:21:55] Exactly.

Don Hisaka [00:21:56] That was her. She's just, just a great person, I think.

Nina Gibans [00:22:00] Well, that sounds like everything fit into place. And as your luck kept growing...

Don Hisaka [00:22:07] Yeah. We, you know, we were met with such great reception and help and kindness. You know, whether we were in Cambridge or Shaker. That is phenomenal. You know, we talk about prejudice and so forth. But maybe because there aren't too many Asians on the East Coast and the Midwest that we were welcome. But our experience, you know, personally was nothing but good, you know, wherever we lived, whether it was in Cleveland or Chicago or Boston, whatever. So we were very lucky. Now, they were trying to persuade us when we first got [here] to look elsewhere besides Shaker, because they were concerned about the racial thing. And but, you know, I was a little blatant about these things. I said I didn't, I really don't care. I asked them where the best school system was, and they had to admit it was Shaker. So I told them, we're going to Shaker. (laughs) And so we've been very lucky, fortunate in our lives, I think, in terms of being welcomed in so many places.

Nina Gibans [00:23:15] Well, now you have a building that also anchors Euclid Avenue on the other end, which is the Thwing Hall...

Don Hisaka [00:23:22] Oh, yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:23:22] At Case.

Don Hisaka [00:23:24] Oh, yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:23:25] Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Don Hisaka [00:23:27] Well, (laughs) here again, you know, well, what we were talking, trying to do was somewhat... Hadn't been done too many time where we, you know, pull historic buildings together into a kind of a unified facility with a modern, modernistic center. It was not... It's a little inquisitive, I think. And but I think bringing the Hitchcock and the other Mather Building and so forth together, it really created a center that has some meaning, you know. Otherwise they were just two separate buildings, so it added to a larger third facility, I think. And everybody at CSU was so, so nice, I mean, at Case Western were so nice also working with me, the president and all, and the vice presidents there. They were so supportive and so kind to us and tolerant.

Nina Gibans [00:24:27] There's a great deal of a planning going on in University Circle.

Don Hisaka [00:24:33] Oh yes.

Nina Gibans [00:24:34] And Case Western Reserve's an important aspect of that, but there's a lot of building going on too at the museums. And you're aware that Frank Gehry did a building...

Don Hisaka [00:24:44] Oh, yes. Uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:24:45] On the [corner] of Ford... Ford and Bellflower.

Don Hisaka [00:24:51] Yes, I know. I think I've seen the building.

Nina Gibans [00:24:52] Yes, and it's a....

Don Hisaka [00:24:54] But you know what? But Cleveland is unique and to think that you have Public Square, huh? And then going eastward along Euclid, it has another great terminus in the, you know, University Circle area with the museum, the university there. And I know that a friend of mine, Pete Walker, who is a very well renowned landscape architect, is working on the Euclid Avenue plan at the University... Cleveland Clinic.

Nina Gibans [00:25:26] Cleveland Clinic. That area. Yes.

Don Hisaka [00:25:27] It goes all the way down to the 80th, but he's doing some very beautiful things for Euclid Avenue, and Euclid Avenue is so great in terms of the scale and so forth because Chester and Carnegie are a little more vehicular in its scale and ambiance, I think. But the Euclid Avenue is, unlike Chester and Carnegie, very commodious to pedestrian movement, I think. But so all the way from 106th to about 80th, they're developing a plan for Euclid from Carnegie all the way to Chester, actually, for the Cleveland Clinic, and so you have a start on that and you have the Public Square, you know, coming from the other side. But I think Euclid Avenue could be such an important, you know, core, I think, going forward.

Nina Gibans [00:26:28] I think that's what everybody's hoping.

Don Hisaka [00:26:31] Oh, I hope... You know, I think the difficulty is getting to fill the street edge, huh, in a way that would make it more commodious for people and pedestrian, I think, and for business too, of course.

Nina Gibans [00:26:47] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:26:49] But whether the market is there, that's the difficult thing to resolve. But I hope they will, because that would make it very important. And...

Nina Gibans [00:26:58] And I must say that Cleveland State has restored the Fenn Tower.

Don Hisaka [00:27:04] Uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:27:04] And it's beautiful. So when you...

Don Hisaka [00:27:06] Oh, is it?

Nina Gibans [00:27:07] Yes, so when you come, you should see that.

Don Hisaka [00:27:09] Well, yeah, I have to get to Cleveland.

Nina Gibans [00:27:11] You will.

Don Hisaka [00:27:12] I want to very much. You know, and uh...

Nina Gibans [00:27:16] All right. Well, let's see what else. Do you have any thoughts about our lakefront? It hasn't changed a lot since you left.

Don Hisaka [00:27:22] Well, you know, yeah, that... I was just gonna ask you something about it. You know, it's kind of... It's an accident, I think, but, you know, the lakefront is there. You know, Lake Erie? And so forth. But somehow, the downtown development, there's a big gap from the, you know, see, the Public Square to the lakefront. And in some ways, the development has turned its back in maybe a natural way because of the, you know, the streets and so forth. But it's beginning to fill up. But I thought that the downtown Cleveland kind of had turned its back to the lake, not by purposefulness, but by accident or whatever. And so if you're downtown at Public Square or downtown, you don't even know that the lakefront is there hardly. And I think it's reaching out towards the lake now, you know, the Rock and Roll [Hall of Fame] and, you know, the buildings. But there's a big gap, you know, that unfortunately exists from, you know, Euclid Avenue all way downtown to the lakefront.

Nina Gibans [00:28:29] Do you mean a disconnect in a way?

Don Hisaka [00:28:32] Yeah, yeah. Don't you feel that?

Nina Gibans [00:28:34] I do. I do.

Don Hisaka [00:28:36] There's no recognition of the lake when you're downtown.

Nina Gibans [00:28:40] Oh, way back when the Van Sweringens persuaded the city to allow them to build the Terminal Tower to Shaker Heights and so forth, that's when the railroad station on the lakefront was abandoned.

Don Hisaka [00:28:56] Oh, really?

Nina Gibans [00:28:57] There was supposed to be a railroad station at the lakefront. So it was at that moment, at least I think, that something changed drastically. But that was very early in the century when the Van Sweringens persuaded City Council to allow them to build the, you know, go out.

Don Hisaka [00:29:21] But you know, the lake is such a natural asset.

Nina Gibans [00:29:24] It is.

Don Hisaka [00:29:25] And we've turned a, not in a meaning way, but we unknowingly turned it back to it.

Nina Gibans [00:29:32] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:29:32] And that's kind of bad, too bad, I think.

Nina Gibans [00:29:35] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:29:35] But it left a big gap there, huh?

Nina Gibans [00:29:38] Right. So. Are there any sacrifices the city should have made to make things happen there, perhaps, instead of someplace else or?

Don Hisaka [00:29:54] Well, you know, the airport is still there next to it...

Nina Gibans [00:29:59] Yeah, it is, yes.

Don Hisaka [00:30:01] Yeah. Well, that determines a certain scale and, you know, priority, you know, pretty quickly. And so that decision had made a long time ago and I don't know, that's not conducive to too much development around there. I think too much room in the long, long way.

Nina Gibans [00:30:20] There's always a lot of discussion about changing the lakefront, changing the roadway to lakefront.

Don Hisaka [00:30:28] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:30:28] Making connections between the city and the lakefront. But it's not ever gelled, really.

Don Hisaka [00:30:34] Yeah, 'cause you know, Euclid Avenue, Public Square is one thing [that] has its own direction. And then, you know, some distance away, we have the lakefront, which is kind of, we turn our backs to it, huh.

Nina Gibans [00:30:47] Well, we... Every once in a while, we try to turn around and we don't quite make it.

Don Hisaka [00:30:53] Yeah, that's a difficult problem, I think. And what they have built is things like the Rock and Roll museum and so forth. They're kind of self-contained.

Nina Gibans [00:31:07] So far. Yes, yes. They sort of are not part of our total plan.

Don Hisaka [00:31:12] No. And then, you know, even the stadium is kind of an internal orientation... and the scale is so large.

Nina Gibans [00:31:23] Don, you've had work in so many other cities, and I wondered if there's any city that you admire especially that you'd like to tell us.

Don Hisaka [00:31:37] Oh, that's a toughie. Well, we like Boston and Cambridge, and we like Washington. We do a lot of work in Washington. We're still doing work in Washington, D.C., but that's the kind of ordered, you know, classical layout, and everything is consistent with it. But the... You know, I think there are some very good things about Cleveland, you know, the Cleveland metropolitan area, but you know, the University Circle and the Public Square, and then you get to a place like Shaker and Cleveland Heights. There aren't any places around anywhere in the country that compare with Shaker, I think. I still feel that way about it. And it's so consistent in its own doing. That's very unusual, I think. But there are beautiful cities like Baltimore, you know, which did a lot in its redevelopment. And of course, you can go to Europe and find all kinds of city, you know. We were recently in Edinburgh and we were doing a building there, and that's a beautiful city.

Nina Gibans [00:32:45] Right. Well, Baltimore made a big thing of its waterfront.

Don Hisaka [00:32:51] Yeah, it did. We did one of the... Well, as a matter of fact, we did the first building on the waterfront as part of the Inner Harbor redevelopment. We did it with [inaudible], about an eight-story high building there facing the water for a church group there. But Baltimore is very beautiful, I think, and well developed. Can you think of any cities that you... That...

Nina Gibans [00:33:17] You've named some. I like Seattle.

Don Hisaka [00:33:21] Oh, Seattle? Oh, I like Portland.

Nina Gibans [00:33:23] Portland. Portland is very human scale.

Don Hisaka [00:33:26] Yeah. Don't you think? I mean, even the inner-city area has a kind of scale about it and a welcoming, you know, ambiance to it.

Nina Gibans [00:33:34] When I think... When I think of Euclid Avenue and the future, I think of Portland's rail system and how you just get off and really have dinner right there.

Don Hisaka [00:33:47] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:33:47] At the restaurants, right, right at your, you know, at the curb.

Don Hisaka [00:33:51] It's amazing, huh? Portland is a good city, I think, and similar in scale with Cleveland.

Nina Gibans [00:33:59] Right. Yes, that's the other thing about it. It is on our scale, and we aren't growing right now, but we are thinking regionally, we hope. We're thinking more regionally so we can be more economically, you know, efficient, I would say. But...

Don Hisaka [00:34:23] I think of the two cities that we've just mentioned, I think Portland on the West Coast, on the East Coast I kind of like Baltimore in its later years after all the redevelopment in the waterfront development. And then if you get back into the inner city, there's some neighborhoods that are very nice in Baltimore, I think, but those two cities come to mind. And with similar scale with Cleveland on both of them.

Nina Gibans [00:34:54] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:34:55] And you know, there's places like Baltimore, or Boston and Cambridge, but that's a little more... The character changes. It's a little more vigorous, I think, and a little more of an urbanistic.

Nina Gibans [00:35:07] It's more crowded. (laughs)

Don Hisaka [00:35:08] Yeah, it's more crowded. Right. But we used to... When I was teaching there, we lived there for 15, 20 years, we had a house right in Harvard Square. And you know, that was okay though. (laughs) We liked it very much. Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:35:24] Well, we like your house right around the corner from Shaker Square.

Don Hisaka [00:35:29] Oh yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:35:30] Which has had its ups and downs.

Don Hisaka [00:35:32] I'm sure.

Nina Gibans [00:35:33] And when you come, you'll see that you can eat many meals there for many days now.

Don Hisaka [00:35:40] Yeah. Well, Shaker Square is still what it is, what it was and is. That's very special, I think.

Nina Gibans [00:35:47] Well, Don, it has had its ups and downs. It really has.

Don Hisaka [00:35:51] I'm sure.

Nina Gibans [00:35:52] So it's... It keeps getting revived in different ways.

Don Hisaka [00:35:56] Yeah, but you know, it's really a unique kind of a complex with, you know, shopping square and right next to it is the Moreland Courts and so forth, you know, high-rise apartments. So I think that... Does Margie Talley live there?

Nina Gibans [00:36:09] Yeah, she does. And Moreland Courts is undergoing great renovation.

Don Hisaka [00:36:14] Oh, great.

Nina Gibans [00:36:15] Historic preservation.

Don Hisaka [00:36:17] Uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:36:18] And it should come out just wonderfully.

Don Hisaka [00:36:21] Yeah, that's really so well located. And, you know, to have that density there, even the high rise there, I don't think it hurts the city at all. And it works as kind of a nucleus with the square, I think.

Nina Gibans [00:36:36] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:36:37] They work hand in hand. But Cleveland is so much... So there are so many good things about it, I think, and the eastern suburbs are a very nice. The west... There are some nice place on the west side.

Nina Gibans [00:36:50] There are. Lakewood....

Don Hisaka [00:36:50] Along the river, along the lake and so forth.

Nina Gibans [00:36:55] Lots of nice nice building[s] in Lakewood.

Don Hisaka [00:36:59] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:36:59] Nice green spaces. So, is there anything else that comes to mind as we sort of wind this down a little bit?

Don Hisaka [00:37:15] Not that comes to mind right away.

Nina Gibans [00:37:18] You know how this will be used. It will be used in ways that the kiosks on Euclid Avenue are developed so that someone can pass by and get some of your thoughts on Euclid Avenue. That's one way.

Don Hisaka [00:37:35] Uh-huh.

Nina Gibans [00:37:35] And then this conversation will be on a website on modern architecture and along with the other architects that have been interviewed, it will be on the Ohio Memory... or Cleveland Memory website, which is huge. And that's at Cleveland State.

Don Hisaka [00:37:54] Oh, is that right? Well, they should... You know, I think they should take another look at Public Square. I think it could be so much more improved. It's kind of a irony there because it's hard to realize whether it's is a pedestrian or a vehicular square, but it's almost two-dimensional and you don't get the feeling of something important being there, I think, other than the monument. But I think some work could be done. It'd make a big difference.

Nina Gibans [00:38:21] And do you want to go into that a little bit?

Don Hisaka [00:38:25] Well, well, I just thought that it's... You don't really hardly realize there's something important there other than the monument, huh?

Nina Gibans [00:38:38] The Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Yeah.

Don Hisaka [00:38:39] Yeah. And if the square had, whether it's a, you know, bosque of trees around the edge or in the middle or whatever, I think it would give a third dimension that would give some further scale and intimacy and presence to the open space and give it another stepped down scale and some visual niceties. I don't think would hurt the... It's an important space so something should be done to enhance it and make a little more accessible to people visually and otherwise.

Nina Gibans [00:39:17] Well, I think you've touched upon some important things like accessibility of the lakefront, accessibility of Public Square and making it really a people place...

Don Hisaka [00:39:29] Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah, because there's so much traffic going by there to the, you know, the rapid and so forth, huh?

Nina Gibans [00:39:36] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:39:37] And then the, you know, the Tower is still very nice, I think, right there by the train station.

Nina Gibans [00:39:45] Yes. Yes. Terminal Towers.

Don Hisaka [00:39:47] Yeah, Terminal.

Nina Gibans [00:39:48] It's now a mall. It's Tower [City] Center where people... There's a wonderful, big fountain there in the middle and people can shop and rest. Mm hmm. It's wonderful.

Don Hisaka [00:40:02] You know, with the train coming in and terminating there...

Nina Gibans [00:40:04] Well, no. The train... The rapid transit goes down to the Terminal, but of course, we don't have any real railroad.

Don Hisaka [00:40:13] Oh, is that right? Oh, well, that's too bad. But anyway, there's well, Cleveland has so much I think to offer and so much potential,I think.

Nina Gibans [00:40:25] Well, that...

Don Hisaka [00:40:26] And Euclid Avenue is one of the key things I think that could help to pull the city together, and what the Cleveland Clinic is doing with enhancement of... And with Euclid Avenue. So the plan goes from Carnegie all the way to Chester. Euclid Avenue is the spine that, you know, pulls it together. And that could keep going east and west, I think, from the University Circle all the way down to downtown Public Square.

Nina Gibans [00:40:59] Well, that's a wonderful statement, I think, to conclude what we're thinking here.

Don Hisaka [00:41:07] Well, thank you. Thank you so much. You know...

Nina Gibans [00:41:09] We'll be talking soon. This was terrific.

Don Hisaka [00:41:12] If I can help you in any way, let me know.

Nina Gibans [00:41:14] Oh, you'll be hearing from us. And thank you, Don. Thanks so much.

Don Hisaka [00:41:19] Well, thank you for even thinking of us. You know, I really enjoyed it. And, you know, Cleveland is still a home to us. (laughs).

Nina Gibans [00:41:27] Right. Something about where you build your home...

Don Hisaka [00:41:31] Yeah.

Nina Gibans [00:41:31] Is home.

Don Hisaka [00:41:32] It is.

Nina Gibans [00:41:33] Okay.

Don Hisaka [00:41:34] Okay, well, listen, I'll be talking to you, but thank you for including us.

Nina Gibans [00:41:38] Right.

Don Hisaka [00:41:39] And I'm very happy to be here.

Nina Gibans [00:41:41] Okay, thanks.

Don Hisaka [00:41:42] Thanks a lot, Nina.

Nina Gibans [00:41:43] Yep.

Don Hisaka [00:41:44] Bye.

Nina Gibans [00:41:44] Bye. (hangs up) Went well.

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…