Millions in upgrades planned for historic Euclid WWII bomber plant, former GM Fisher Auto Body

Last week, HGR Industrial Surplus invited the community to celebrate the christening of its sprawling 12-acre building as the Nickel Plate Station. The company also unveiled a display showcasing the fascinating history of the property and kicked off a $10 to $12 million campaign to improve the facility.
 
HGR, purveyors of used and surplus equipment, purchased the property last year in a collaborative effort with the city and the Cuyahoga Land Bank (CLB) after it had been orphaned by its owner.
 
"One day the landlord just got up and left," recalls Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik.
 
HGR, a tenant since 1998, wanted to stay in the 20001 Euclid Avenue building. Per CLB director of acquisitions, dispositions and development, Cheryl Stephens, the property was in foreclosure and had more than $1 million in outstanding back taxes and some other liens. 
 
"It would have taken more than a year for this company to get access to this property," says Stephens. "What we did on behalf of the city of Euclid was cut through the time, energy and money of having to pay back taxes. We wiped the slate clean. We cleaned up the title issues and sold the property to HGR."
 
That was in 2014. HGR, which employs 120, has since upgraded the fire system and driveway. While future plans are still unfurling, they will include renovations to the façade, lighting and parking lot. The company also intends to improve and lease two large spaces, 160,000 and 50,000 square feet respectively.
 
Within the next few weeks, HGR will also install a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) resource center in its customer lounge. The display will feature literature from area colleges and technical programs, books, magazines and periodicals. The effort is a partnership between HGR, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) and Ingenuity Cleveland.
 
"They're helping to put the 'A' in STEAM," says Matt Williams, HGR's chief marketing officer, regarding Ingenuity's involvement. "You hear a lot about STEM, but the arts are so important."
 
With its massive stock of vintage machinery and a factory structure essentially unchanged since its 1943 opening, Williams also sees HGR as a place where middle and high school students can deconstruct manufacturing historically and literally.
 
"If you think about it, our facility is really an archeological site. All the different facets of manufacturing are represented when you look at the equipment," says Williams. "We want to be able to take young people through and give them a glimpse of what manufacturing is," he adds, citing the components of design, engineering, building, installation, operation and maintenance.
 
Most Clevelanders associate the giant Euclid Avenue structure with GM's Euclid Fisher Body Plant. Among other things, bodies for iconic cars such as the El Camino, Toronado, Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado were manufactured here from 1948 to 1993, but the site's history goes back to the late 1800s. What was once farmland became the subject of a long and contentious legal battle over zoning that ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
 
On November 22, 1926, the SCOTUS ruled on Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., in favor of the Village. The landmark case made headlines across the country as a definitive decision that enabled fledgling zoning laws. In 1942, however, Uncle Sam had a different vision for the 65-acre plot and usurped control of the site, announcing plans for a $20 million war plant despite protestations from residents and village officials.
 
Cleveland Pneumatic Aerol leased the plant, manufacturing landing gear and rocket shells for about two years until Victory over Japan Day marked the end of the War on September 2, 1945.
 
20001 Euclid Avenue essentially lay fallow until General Motors purchased it in 1947.
 
The new name is a nod to the Nickel Plate Road (also known as the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad). Built in 1881, the rail sliced through the Village of Euclid just to the north of the property. The building still connects to the famous rail line via a short spur that ends in an interior loading bay -- just as it did on the day this former WWII bomber plant opened more than seven decades ago. 
 
"Everything we do is about recycling, upcycling and reclaiming," says Williams. "We're reclaiming a building that would otherwise might have been knocked down and turned into a parking lot."
 
HGR stands for Hit the Ground Running and was inspired by Van Halen's 1981 rock anthem, "Unchained."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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