Metroparks sails into a new era with first phase completion of historic Coast Guard complex

A historic U.S. Coast Guard station is now serving a new purpose following Cleveland Metroparks' first phase of renovations on the 1940 three-building complex. Situated on West Pier at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River on Whiskey Island, the station is now home to some of The Foundry’s sailing programs and the Metroparks' learn-to-sail classes, as well as an ideal location to appreciate Lake Erie’s beauty.

The Coast Guard used the station until 1976, after which it sat essentially abandoned. In 2016, the Metroparks took over the complex—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—and began the first phase of renovations last year.

“The main goal, which we’re proud to achieve, is to make it clean, green, and safe,” explains Tammy Oliver, Metroparks’ director of project development. “In this first phase, the exterior has been painted, landscaping has been done, and the flag pole has been [fixed].”

Additionally, Oliver says any original windows have been restored, and the remaining windows are historic replicas. The solid concrete roof has been secured, and structural steel has been replaced. “The infrastructure was built for a couple of lifetimes,” says Oliver. “It’s in really good shape.”

The complex includes a 60-foot observation tower, an operations building and garage, and a boathouse. When in use by the Coast Guard, the complex housed living quarters and a dining room. Today, the interior has been gutted, with Foundry Sailing Center set up in the garage near a state-of-the-art floating steel dock system outside with the capacity to hold various boats in the Foundry’s fleet.

The building was designed by Cleveland architect J. Milton Dyer—who also designed Cleveland City Hall—in an architectural style similar to architect William Strudwick Arrasmith’s Streamline Moderne design style of the Cleveland Greyhound station. The Coast Guard station’s design is meant to mimic the streamlined profiles of ships on the water.

Oliver says they have received positive feedback from Coast Guard veterans who served in the former station before it moved to its current location in Cleveland Harbor on E. 9th Street. “We’ve had an outpouring of love from previous Coast Guard members,” she says. “There are a lot of fond memories there.”

One little-known fact, says Oliver, is that golfer Arnold Palmer once served at the historic Coast Guard station off Wendy Park.

Oliver cites several partners that helped in the restoration and preservation of the station: The City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation, the Gund Foundation, Burning River Foundation, Sherwin-Williams, PNC Bank, Oswald Companies, ArcelorMittal, Kent H. Smith Charitable Trust, and O'Neill Brothers Foundation.

Furthermore, some of the recent renovation work was funded through Great Lakes Burning River Fest, an annual event held at the Coast Guard station on Whiskey Island for the past nine years. The fundraiser builds awareness of clean water initiatives and helps fund similar restoration projects through the Burning River Foundation. This year’s event runs Friday, August 17, and Saturday, August 18.

Oliver says a date for the next phase of renovations to the station has not yet been set—as much of the space is still raw, and utilities have not yet been installed. “We will continue to work with the City of Cleveland and our partners to go through the master planning process and identify what the full [potential] of the structure could be,” she says.

In addition to the Foundry’s sailing classes, the Metroparks will offer its Learn to Sail, Coastal Kayaking Basics, and Try-It paddleboarding classes at the Coast Guard Station. Sunset Paddleboard Tours are also being offered in June and July. For those who enjoy a more leisurely approach, the station serves as a great place to bird watch or take in the sunsets over the lake.

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Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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