Author taps nostalgic memories and history in ‘Lost Cleveland’ book

As a third-generation Clevelander and Plain Dealer arts and entertainment reporter, Laura DeMarco has heard her fair share of stories that begin with “Remember when Cleveland used to be…”

In fact, most lifelong Clevelanders wax sentimental whenever places like Euclid Beach Park, Higbee’s, or Municipal Stadium come up in conversation. So much so that DeMarco decided to write a book about these long-gone—and sometimes forgotten—places. Lost Cleveland will be celebrated at a book launch at Prosperity Social Club on Saturday, Sept. 16.

The book is DeMarco's ode to her hometown, providing a chronological history of the city's rise and fall from being the nation’s fifth largest city and industrial powerhouse to its modern resurgence. She comes by her passion for Cleveland's history honestly: “My grandmother and my father lived their whole lives here, and they always had interesting stories about Cleveland," says DeMarco.

At the Plain Dealer, DeMarco began delving into Cleveland lore and got hooked on the city’s past herself. “Exploring Cleveland’s past is very different than the Cleveland we know now,” she says. “We didn’t preserve lots of things, like skyscrapers. People kind of cheered when they blew up the Williamson and Cuyahoga Building in 1982.”

The implosion of the Williamson and Cuyahoga Building on Public Square was to make way for the Sohio/BP headquarters. But DeMarco also points out the demise of downtown shopping at places like Higbee’s and the Bond Store, once-treasured experiences that have now been "completely wiped out."

These are the places DeMarco explores in Lost Cleveland. She admits that she is too young to remember some of the places she covers, but argues they are worth rediscovering. Cases in point: public places like Luna Park amusement park and Gordon Park, which DeMarco considers a predecessor to today's Metroparks.

“Luna Park closed in the early 1900s, and Gordon Park had a magnificent bath house and beach house,” DeMarco explains. “These old places were where people could gather together for fun.”

Other areas of focus include the Cleveland Arena, home to the first-ever rock concert in 1952; the Hollenden Hotel on E. 6th Street and Superior Avenue, where Dean Martin got his start; and the Hippodrome Theater between Euclid and Prospect Avenues that opened in 1907 with an act that featured horses diving into a tank of water from the balcony.

And, of course, DeMarco covers the places that still linger in recent memory, such as Hough Bakeries and the Memphis Drive-In. The book features 65 entries and more than 200 photographs of Cleveland’s architecture, history, arts, urban planning, nightlife, and industry.

DeMarco says perhaps the book will serve as a lesson to the next generation as Cleveland begins to once again prosper as a city. “Hopefully, we won’t knock things down,” she quips. “It would have been hard five to 10 years ago to [reminisce]. But I think we’ve turned a corner and there’s a lot of civic pride now.”

Lost Cleveland is available at local bookstores such as Appletree Books and Mac’s Backs, and through Amazon.

The book launch party is open to the public and will be held on Sept. 16 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Prosperity Social Club (1109 Starkweather Ave.) in Tremont. The event will feature nostalgic Cleveland foods, such as mimosas made with orange sherbet—a treat that debuted at the Great Lakes Exposition—and Euclid Beach Park staple Humphrey Popcorn balls. Accordionist Stan Mejac will play classic polka favorites.

Watch the implosion of the Williamson & Cuyahoga Buildings back in 1982:

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.