Severance Town Center – once known as Severance Mall – has seen its fortunes decline recently as its tenet Wal-Mart moved down the road to Oakwood Commons, formerly the site of Oakwood Country Club. In 1963, Severance Mall opened with great fanfare as the first enclosed shopping mall in Ohio. As thoughts turn now to what may replace Severance Town Center if it continues to go downhill, it’s worth looking at what came before Severance Mall.
The land that became Severance Mall was once the idyllic, 125-acre country estate – featuring formal gardens and a lavish Tudor Revival mansion – of wealthy industrialist John L. Severance. Designed by J. Milton Dyer and Charles Schweinfurth, Longwood’s mansion housed a great art collection – much of which is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. In addition, two other Severance family estates were located near Longwood, both situated across Mayfield Road. Ben Brae, the estate of Julia Severance Milliken, was located near the northeast corner of Mayfield and Taylor Roads, and Glen Allen, the estate of Elisabeth Severance Allen Prentiss, sat to the east of Ben Brae.
After John Severance died in 1936, his nephew Severance Millikin inherited Longwood and lived on the estate until 1959. By the early 1950s, Millikin was making plans to redevelop Longwood, and he hired Cleveland’s Austin Company to plan a future use for the property, leading to the recommendation for a regional shopping center. Austin Company ended up acquiring the land and brought in a Seattle-based development firm as a partner on the project. While the decision to build a large mall on the previously undeveloped land caused some controversy, the city eventually gave its assent to the plan. The mansion at Longwood was torn down in 1961 and a groundbreaking ceremony for the mall was held during the winter of 1962.
Perhaps one day the land that is now Severance Town Center will revert to the grassy, country nature of the Longwood Estate. For now, though, it remains a concrete jungle, emptying as retail stores seek greener pastures elsewhere.