Plans for a federal highway system were already underway by 1944, but
not until 1956 and the passage of the Federal Highway Act did they receive
adequate political support and funding to materialize. Cold War fears
then legitimized spending money on highways that would efficiently transport
military personnel and equipment in case of an attack by the Soviet Union.
In early 1956, alarmed Cleveland Heights residents first got wind of plans
for a federal highway that would run from Euclid Avenue through the Forest
Hill development and east to South Euclid, Lyndhurst, and Highland Heights.
They were reassured that this "Heights Freeway" was 25 years away.
In December 1963, however, County Engineer Albert Porter made public
his proposals for the Clark Freeway (I-290) that would run east and west
along the Shaker Lakes to I-271 in Pepper Pike, with a north-south interchange
at Lee. The "Sun Press" immediately reported that the eight-lane highway
would eliminate 80 homes and five commercial properties in Shaker Heights.
Despite assurances that the freeway was in the distant future, Shaker
Heights residents, led by Mayor Paul K. Jones, mobilized immediately in
opposition to what they interpreted as a reckless destruction of fine
homes and priceless parkland. In response to 1962 federal legislation,
the Cleveland/Seven County Transportation/Land Use Study (SCOTS) was established
in 1963 and an early task was to assess Porter's proposal. At this stage,
Shaker Heights officials and residents played key roles in opposing this
imminent freeway since it posed the most threat to their suburb.
Cleveland Heights officials followed Shaker's lead. In 1963, County
Engineer's maps showed Cleveland Heights would be on the paths of three
future freeways: the Heights Freeway through East Cleveland, Cleveland
Heights, South Euclid, and Lyndhurst; the Central Freeway along Cedar
through the center of Cleveland Heights, and the north-south Lee Freeway
that would connect the proposed Clark Freeway to Interstate 90. The Clark
Freeway would also endanger Cleveland Heights since the northern boundaries
of the Shaker Lakes are in Cleveland Heights, and the freeway would take
some homes on North Park Boulevard. In January and February 1964, Mayor
Kenneth Nash pointed out that the freeways would carve Cleveland Heights
into segments. The proposed elevated Lee Freeway, he said, would create
"a Chinese wall dividing our suburb from the north to south." He promised
to join forces with Shaker Heights against both the Clark and the Lee
Freeways. Cleveland Heights residents organized and attended community
forums such as one entitled "Blight and Freeways" in January 1965, at
which future Councilman Philmore Hart told the audience that the Clark
and Lee Freeways would cost the suburb 1,000 homes. In summer 1965, Cleveland
Heights City Council passed a resolution against the Lee Freeway.
Opponents drew this map of the proposed
freeways knifing through Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights (Source: Western Reserve Historical Society,
In the fall of 1965, women’s organizations
proposed a nature center on the lower Shaker Lake that would serve the
schools of both suburbs. The proposal allowed freeway opponents to capitalize
on the negative impact of freeways on the lakes and watersheds, thus avoiding
what might otherwise have been interpreted as a rather crass battle over
the destruction of expensive property in wealthy suburbs. Supporters of
the nature center, including the mayors of both suburbs, hoped that it
would block both the Clark and Lee Freeways.
While SCOTS staff studied the situation over the next two years, the battle
continued. In 1966, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights maintained their
vigilance, both appointing transportation advisory committees. The State
Highway Department also released a detailed panoramic picture of the intersection
of the proposed Lee and Central Freeways that would have eliminated everything
at the Cedar-Lee intersection except for the High School. Despite assurances
from the State Highway Director that no final plans would be made until
the SCOTS study was completed, Mayor Nash again blasted the proposal publicly.
So did the School Board and the Heights Chamber of Commerce. (The manager
of Severance Center supported it.) In February 1967, Shaker mayor Jones
assured an audience that Governor James Rhodes had promised that the Clark
Freeway would not be built. Two weeks later, Porter assured an audience
that the Clark Freeway would be built—Shaker Lakes or no Shaker
Lakes. Rhodes himself, anxious to get the freeway route clarified before
federal dollars disappeared, appointed a local task force to study the
matter in hopes of reaching some agreement. Members included Richard S.
Stoddart, chairman of the Cleveland Heights Mayor’s Advisory Committee
on Transportation. (Stoddart became Councilman in June 1968 when Nash
resigned to become a Judge of the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court. Fred
P. Stashower replaced Nash as Mayor.)
In summer 1968, a preliminary SCOTS report suggested a northern route
for the Clark Freeway that would have touched only the northeast section
of Cleveland Heights. This route spared the Shaker Lakes, but it angered
officials and residents of Richmond Heights and Highland Heights. Cleveland
Heights Council initially adopted a wait-and-see position until the precise
route was determined, but in June, Council joined with the other affected
suburbs to call for a moratorium on all freeway building.
Suburban opponents of the freeways were joined by Cleveland Mayor Carl
B. Stokes. Cleveland had already experienced the destructive impact of
highways that not only drained residents away from the city but destroyed
the neighborhoods in the highways’ paths. Cleveland’s population
dropped from 914,808 in 1950 to 876,336 a decade later; freeways were
one of the reasons.
In December 1969, Porter won a major victory when he persuaded the Northeast
Ohio Areawide Coordinating Committee (NOACA), which had succeeded SCOTS
as a planning agency, to include in a “Recommended Highway System”
the southern route through Shaker Heights. Shaker Heights and Cleveland
Heights immediately hired a law firm to help them block freeway plans
and joined Cleveland in withholding dues from NOACA and condemning its
decision. Residents formed still another committee, Citizens for Sane
Transportation and Environmental Politics (CSTEP), headed by Cleveland
Heights resident Worth Loomis. “STOP FREEWAY STUPIDITY,” exclaimed
CSTEP’s advertising; “The Highwaymen are at it again! They
want to make the Heights Area into an asphalt jungle. Once more we must
stop these destroyers of our homes, parks, lakes, and neighborhoods.”
A crowd of 2,000 citizens jammed CSTEP’s public meeting in January
1970 to hear the proposal blasted by clergymen, State legislators, and
members of the Stokes administration.
And suddenly it was all over. In February 1970, Rhodes at a breakfast
meeting with suburban officials scrapped the plans for I-290 (both the
Clark and Lee Freeways). Rhodes was no particular friend of historic preservation
or the environment; he had earlier proposed an alternate freeway route
that would have eliminated most of the homes on Shaker Boulevard. But
he was running for the United States Senate and certainly needed friends
in these traditionally Republican suburbs. Rhodes lost his contest, but
the suburbs had won theirs.
A key player in this battle
was the editor and publisher of the weekly “Sun Press,”
Harry Volk. A former reporter for the “Cleveland News”
and a much-decorated veteran of World War II, Volk founded the “Shaker
Sun” in 1946 and merged it with the “Heights Press”
in 1948 to create the “Heights” and “Sun Press,”
later the “Sun Press.” Volk generally sided with the forces
for progress and development. He had little sympathy for the former
mansions of the Cleveland Heights elite, referring to them once as
“outmoded mausoleums,” but he instantly recognized the
devastating impact of freeways, and from the time that Porter revealed
his plans in 1963 to February 1970, Volk kept
the issue alive and Heights citizens informed.
Freeways were front-page headlines every week, and there was little pretense
of journalistic objectivity when, for instance, the proposed freeway was
described as a “concrete and steel monster.” In spring 1964,
“Sun Press”headlines prematurely shouted that, according to
a reliable source, “CLARK FREEWAY IS DEAD ISSUE.” When Rhodes
finally killed the freeway, he revealed that he had been Volk’s source
and gave the editor much of the credit for the freeway’s demise. Rhodes
did not say why he allowed the battle to continue for another six years.
Volk himself applauded the “angry, concerned citizens, acting with
intelligence [who] make our democracy work. This is people power.”
Volk was also a champion of racial integration and the preservation of the
environment and an opponent of the war in Vietnam. The death of the Clark
Freeway, however, was Volk’s most successful crusade.