Hollenden Hotel: Downtown Cleveland’s glamorous, colorful hotspot for nearly 100 years

Hotels were a feature of Cleveland’s landscape from its earliest days. The 1851 Forest City House located on the west side of Public Square was among the first. With the advent of the Hotel Cleveland in 1918 on the same site of the former Forest City House, a tradition of hospitality on the square has been maintained through the present day.

Several blocks east of Public Square, the 1885 Hollenden Hotel was acclaimed as one of the finest hotels in the country.

A large building standing eight stories high, it was located at Superior Avenue and Bond Street (today’s East 6th Street). The building’s construction was commissioned by “Plain Dealer” owner and real estate investor Liberty Holden.

Holden is notable in his role as president of the building committee in the creation of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The committee selected the museum site and supervised its construction. He was also elected in 1904 as the first mayor of Bratenahl Village.

The Hollenden Hotel architect was George F. Hammond—a native of Boston and a painter before studying architecture. He was a graduate of the Massachusetts Normal Art School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied with William R. Ware to develop the first American curriculum based on the Beaux-Arts model of architectural training.

He came to Cleveland in 1885 specifically to design the hotel.

A resident of Cleveland Heights, Hammond remained active in Cleveland through 1926. Other notable projects included the campus plan and five original buildings for Kent State University— Lowry Hall, Merrill Hall, today's Cartwright Hall, today's Kent Hall, and the Electric Building on Prospect Avenue—as well as the original 1905 South Brooklyn Public Library and the original 1921 McKinley High School (now a healthcare center).

Liberty Emery HoldenLiberty Emery HoldenAfter retirement Hammond lived in Falls Village, Connecticut where he died at the age of 82 on April 26, 1938.

The new Hollenden hotel encompassed 1,000 rooms. One feature of the hotel that would never pass muster today is the fact that many guest rooms shared communal bathrooms in the hotel’s original configuration. There were only 100 private bathrooms among the 1,000 rooms.

Unusual for its time, it featured fireproof construction and electric lighting used to illuminate the chandeliers in the lobby and lamps in the rooms.

The lobby was striking because of its size and beautiful woodwork. The hotel also had an unusually large bar which saw plenty of use in the years leading to prohibition.

From an early stage, the hotel drew more than its share of celebrities, including President William McKinley to a certain crooner who got his start singing in the hotel’s Vogue Room in 1940. That singer gained little fame as Dino Crocetti, but achieved superstardom under his stage name, Dean Martin. The hotel also hosted Albert Einstein, who stayed there during his first visit to America in 1921.

One of the final political figures to find his way to the Hollenden was John F. Kennedy, who as a U.S. senator stayed there while campaigning for president in 1960.

By that time the hotel’s days were numbered. Changing tastes and expectations had rendered its once sumptuous interiors out of fashion, and by the 1960s hotel guests took for granted private baths.

In 1963 new owners opted to tear the venerable landmark down. It was replaced in March 1965 by a modern 14-story Hollenden Hotel with 400 rooms. It had nothing in common with its predecessor but a street address. Its lifespan was a fraction of its 1880s counterpart, and its date with the wrecking ball came just 25 years after its construction.

After almost a century of welcoming Cleveland visitors, developer John Galbreath purchased the land and the Fifth Third Center was constructed by 1992.

No more carriages depositing guests and diners at the front door, no clink of glasses in the bar, no more Dino Crocetti singing in the Vogue Room—yet another vanished Cleveland landmark recedes into memory.

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About the Author: Tom Matowitz

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.