New location, new exhibits: Children’s Museum will open November 6

More space, more outdoor areas, and more exhibits add up to an all-new wonderland for Cleveland's kiddos. After closing the doors to its University Circle location nearly two years ago, the Children’s Museum of Cleveland will re-open on Monday, Nov. 6 in its new location.

The museum closed in January 2016 after learning its lease would not be renewed. However, benefactors Dick and Doreen Cahoon graciously purchased the Stager-Beckwith Mansion at 3813 Euclid Ave. for the museum’s new home. The property had been vacant for five years prior, and the Cahoons were able to purchase it from the Cuyahoga Land Bank for $50,000.

“Our lease was not renewed, but we knew it wasn’t going to be prior to that,” says Maria Campanelli, the museum's executive director. “We’d been thinking for a very long time about the next step. We looked at 22 properties and Stager-Beckwith had all the amenities.”

The historic mansion provides four times the space of the old location and three times the parking, according to Campanelli. The museum is using 40,000 square feet of the mansion for programs and exhibits, compared to 10,000 square feet at the old location.

“The look of the building has allure,” Campanelli says. “It looks like a dollhouse on the outside, so we think it will pique a child’s imagination. Plus, there’s a grassy courtyard in front and a patio in back.”

The museum embarked on a $10.3 million capital campaign to renovate the mansion. So far, Campanelli says they have raised about $9.5 million. “We’re still seeking approximately another $1 million,” she says. “We’ll add exhibits once we raise the money.”

The Children’s Museum averages 100,000 visitors per year, and Campanelli says she was always confident that Cleveland residents would raise the money. “The first five years of a child’s life is [when] the brain develops,” she explains. “We know, at this age, we impact them for life. To me, it was unfathomable that Cleveland would not support the Children’s Museum.”

There are about 400 children’s museums around the world, and Campanelli believes the Cleveland museum—which opened in 1981—is among the best. “What sets us apart is we really focus on development of the young child,” she says. 

The new museum will have four galleries, with the key exhibit Adventure City  in the 4,000-square-foot ballroom with a town center and construction focus; Wonder Lab, a science experiment room with three water tables, a light table, and a magnetic gear wall; Arts & Parts to explore color and creativity; and Making Miniatures, a room full of dolls and dollhouses from around the world donated by Cathy Lincoln.

The museum has commissioned a dollhouse replica of the Stager-Beckwith mansion to go in the Making Miniatures exhibit.

Karen Katz, who designed the exhibits in the prior location, returned to the Children’s Museum after a 15-year hiatus to design the new exhibits. Campanelli assures visitors that the grocery store will retain its beloved status. “We still have the grocery store, but now it’s an open-air market,” she says, adding that the market, the water tables, and the climber feature were the most popular attractions at the old location.

The teams that transformed the mansion include AODK Architects in Lakewood and Richardson Design for the interior design work and new logo. The Krill Company provided construction management.

The building had water damage when the museum took over, but it has since been repaired. One wall was removed “to create better flow,” says Campanelli, and the inside required a “heavy-duty interior decorating job.” The moldings around the windows are intact, and the exterior marble accents over the windows have been painted teal. Many special touches remain, such as the four chandeliers in the ballroom that dazzle the Adventure City exhibit.

“It’s an old building, but it’s a kids’ museum,” Campanelli says. “It’s so filled with sunlight, and the rooms are actually quite spacious.”

While the old location catered to children ages eight and younger, Campanelli says the new museum has been designed for kids up to 11 years old with open-ended play activities. “Kids, no matter what their ages, love to play,” she says. “This beautiful, historic home not only respects childhood, but the parent and caregiver as the child’s first teacher. Families can play together. Come together and learn.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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.