Don’s Lighthouse: The North Coast legacy created by a German immigrant and entrepreneur

The turn of the 20th Century Cleveland offered wide opportunity for thousands of immigrants. Many availed themselves of these opportunities to create remarkable new lives for themselves and their families.

A perfect example is the life and legacy of Otto Poschke.

Born in Germany in 1884, he was brought to Cleveland at the age of three. As a young adult he worked as a streetcar motorman.

Edgewater Park Bathhouse, 1927In his off hours he joined his wife, Elma, whom he married in 1911, in running a refreshment stand near the newly constructed Edgewater Park Bathhouse. The timing was great. The bathhouse drew large crowds who found themselves thirsty and hungry—and within easy walking distance of Poschke’s modest business. The menu was simple, offering popcorn, soft drinks, taffy, sandwiches, and a selection of barbequed meats.

The original structure was a square, just 10 feet by 10 feet, but as Poschke expanded to open five establishments, the collective profits were huge.

Having grown tired of being dismissed as the owner of “that little popcorn stand,” the prosperity of the Roaring 20s lead Poschke to feel that a major expansion of the refreshment stand was justified. And expand he did.

He hired architect Henry Hradilek to design a new establishment on the same site of his original refreshment stand. Hradilek was born in Moravia, in what is now the Czech Republic. He was known primarily as a designer of single-family homes in Cleveland Heights.

The contrast between his new design for Poschke and the old establishment could not have been greater.

The new structure provided a restaurant and bar on the first floor, with private rooms for parties on the second. The entire third floor was living quarters for Poschke’s large family, which grew to include five children. This living space measured 3,500 square feet and was reached by a private elevator. It also provided a rooftop garden with memorable views of the lake.

Poschke’s success lasted for nearly two decades, finally ending in 1941 when a series of business and personal reversals caused him to lose the property.

One year later the establishment reopened as a Howard Johnson restaurant, a function it served for the next 30 years.

In 1972 change came again when the building was purchased by noted Cleveland restauranteur Don Strang, a 1960 graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. He went to work for his father’s Strang Corporation—managing properties in four different cities before becoming CEO in 1971.

In 1972, Strang bought the former Poschke property and opened Don’s Lighthouse Inn (today known as Don’s Lighthouse Grille) on Poschke’s former property.

Don’s Lighthouse quickly gained an excellent reputation borne out by the fact that in an industry noted for short lifespans, the latest incarnation the restaurant has thrived for half a century—with a continued reputation for excellent steaks, seafood, and cocktails.

The business grew exponentially, with one its best-known local ventures being Don’s Pomeroy House, serving steaks and seafood. Strang bought the 19th mid-19th Century Strongsville mansion in 1975, restored it, and opened the restaurant in 1980.

One hundred years after Don’s Lighthouse was built at a cost of $250.000 the restaurant remains in the same location on Lake Avenue in the Edgewater neighborhood, serving the same function—a far cry from Poschke’s refreshment stand that once catered to swimmers from Edgewater Park.

Don’s Lighthouse is an island of stability in a world that has turned over many times since Otto and Elma Poschke first looked over the lake from their rooftop garden and marveled at how far they had come.

Read more articles by 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.