Driving improvement: State funds allow Crawford Museum to continue expansion

If it wasn’t for Frederick C. Crawford’s love of historic cars, the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum may not have existed.

The Cleveland industrialist began his historic car collecting hobby after the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, when he saved a 1910 Duryea from being junked and displayed it in his Thompson Products showroom as a symbol of automotive history.

Crawford continued to rescue and collect old cars and by 1943 opened one of the first car museums in the United State—Thompson Products Auto Album—which later expanded to add an 1890s-style Street of Shops, and a collection of airplanes.

Crawford’s evolving passion eventually led to the donation of his collection to the WRHS and the 1965 establishment of the Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum on the society grounds.

While WRHS has over the years made expansions and improvements to the museum, an ongoing improvement project got a little more help moving forward. In late December, WRHS announced it had received a $750,000 State of Ohio Capital Appropriation to continue its efforts to further make physical improvements to the museum.

“We’re thrilled,” says Kelly Falcone-Hall, WRHS president and CEO. “We’re going to make some critical improvements and get things up to date. We’re grateful to the State of Ohio and the legislature for their support.”

The museum is the anchor of the Cleveland History Center, and Falcone-Hall says half of the Crawford Museum is still in the original 1965 building. She says the money will be used for investments in mechanical systems and other needed work.

“Capital improvements, they’re not always sexy,” she says. “But they are fundamental for a really great museum experience.”

Falcone-Hall says plans have not been finalized yet, but she says about 25,000 square feet of the original museum on the lower level, which includes a gallery, storage areas, and a Street of Shops like the one in the Thompson Products Auto Album make up the outdated space.

Other areas of the museum received updates eight years ago. “In 2013 we completed a really major renovation of the main gallery, the rotunda, and public space on the main floor,” explains Falcone-Hall. “What we want to do is bring [the lower level] in line with the main level.”

With multiple facilities across 7.5 acres, Falcone-Hall says WRHS is continuously raising funds to keep exhibits current and bring new attractions to its sites. At the Crawford, one goal is to expand on what the museum already has.

“We really need to bring all collections to present day to make it more relevant,” she explains.

Falcone-Hall says the pandemic has been tough, but staff has gotten creative in offering online exhibits and events at some of WRHS outdoor venues.

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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