Searching for the lakefront

Cleveland could have had a grand, inspiring, public lakefront like Chicago's, but it turned its public face away from the lake so that residents can only glimpse their Great Lake. The following article by David Beach was written originally in 1991 for the Cleveland Edition weekly newspaper. Little has changed since then.

Let's begin our search for Cleveland's lakefront at the corner of W. 117th Street and Edgewater Drive. To the west, our view of the lake is blocked by the wall of apartment buildings and condos of Lakewood's Gold Coast. So we head east into the city, along Edgewater, Harborview and Cliff drives.

Here we find the homes of one of Cleveland's most prosperous neighborhoods. If we look between the homes, we can catch glimpses of the lake. It's tantalizing. There's the blue water, a magnificent public resource, but a thin strip of private property prevents us from getting to it. Cliff Drive runs right along the bluff overlooking the lake, but there are "No Parking" and "Tow Away Zone" signs so that we can't stop there and enjoy the view. Thus, the first mile of Cleveland lakefront is owned by a few fortunate people.

Then we reach Edgewater Park. Here is a precious mile of true access to the lake. It's a public place that welcomes everyone without charge. And it allows people to actually reach the water's edge, see the waves, gaze across open water and experience the grandeur of one of the world's great lakes.

Unless we want to venture out on breakwalls, however, our access to the water is soon interrupted by chain link fencing around the Edgewater Yacht Club and Edgewater Marina. On the other side of the marina basin, public boat launching ramps provide a sliver of access. But then we come up against the sheer walls of the Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant.

From that point, we can't get to the lake for another five miles, until the start of Gordon Park past E. 55th Street. Yes, there's North Coast Harbor, but that doesn't count much as access to the lake, only as access to an artificial inner basin. The flag area at the north end of the harbor [now windswept Voinovich Park] has potential for decent lake access, but it's a remote area.

We can drive around the Westerly plant and try to reach Whiskey Island, but signs warn us that it's Conrail property: "No Public Access AllowedElectronic Surveillance Enforced." Ore docks occupy half of Whiskey Island's lakefront. Developers are trying to build a huge marina on the other half, a project that would allow people to go out to the island but would hide the lake behind an expanse of boats.

Having reached a dead end, we backtrack to the Shoreway, cross the Cuyahoga River, and head down to the lake on W. 9th Street. The street would take us to the shore by the mouth of the river. But our way is blocked by a guardhouse and gate to the Port Authority. The port occupies the lakefront from the river all the way around the Stadium to North Coast Harbor. The other side of the Harbor is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Then comes Burke Lakefront Airport. We take picturesque South Marginal Road and drive by chain link fencing for a long, long time. The fence continues past Aviation High School, Lakeside Yacht Club, the old Muny Light plant, Forest City Yacht Club, Sailing Inc., Gordon Shore Boat Club, Nicholson Terminal, and the E. 55th Street Marina.

Finally, we are allowed back to the lake at Gordon Park. There's a narrow strip of public shoreline wedged between the water and the vehicular bedlam of I-90. The access extends just over half a mile before we reach another private marina. The rest of Gordon's shoreline is blocked off by Dike 14, the disposal facility for dredgings from the Cuyahoga River and harbor.

The next slice of lakefront property, the U.S. Defense Department Finance Center, is locked up under tight security. Then, proceeding down Lake Shore Boulevard, we enter a different worldsylvan Bratenahl. Around the turn of the century, some of Cleveland's wealthiest families established Bratenahl as an independent enclave within the city. And to this day, its lakefront has remained off limits to the public.

Just beyond Bratenahl we pass the Easterly Wastewater Treatment Plant and re-enter Cleveland neighborhoods. Here we find a different way to restrict public accessstreet associations. The residents of the short streets running north from Lake Shore control and maintain sections of lakefront at the end of their streets. "Members Only" signs warn non-residents to keep out of the private beach clubs.

The Euclid Beach amusement park used to stretch from E. 156th Street to about E. 167th. But the park closed in 1969, and apartment towers now take up most of the site.

We get one last chance to experience the lake at Euclid Beach and Wildwood parks, which provide about a quarter mile of public access. (Euclid Beach and Wildwood, along with Edgewater and Gordon, are units of Cleveland Lakefront State Park.)

Beyond Wildwood, there are more private beach clubs. And the last stretch of lakefront in the city is occupied by Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School.

Altogether, our search for the Cleveland lakefront takes us about 14 miles from Lakewood to Euclid. But we can find only one and three-quarters miles open, accessible shoreline. The rest lies behind fences, signs and private homes.

It's a civic shame.



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