John Eisenmann: Designed the iconic Arcade, Ohio state flag

John Eisenmann is responsible for the design of one of Cleveland’s most remarkable buildings—the 1890 Arcade Cleveland—as well as the state flag that has represented Ohio since 1901.

Eisenmann was a very prolific architect. He designed dozens of buildings in his heyday during the 1880s and 1890s in Cleveland—ranging from private residences to schools, to important commercial buildings.

View of Euclid Avenue showing The Arcade entrance at upper left in 1928Unfortunately, those buildings had a very low survival rate. Even his own residence on East 79th Street fell victim to changing times.

Eisenmann was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1851 and attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1871 with a degree in civil engineering. He then worked for several years as an assistant engineer involved in a survey of the Great Lakes in the  United States Lake Survey.

Like so many young Americans of his era who aspired to become architects, Eisenmann traveled to Europe in order to seek the technical training he needed—in his case this involved several years of study in Germany.

Eisenmann then returned to the United States and resumed work with the Lake Survey. He then worked as an engineer for the Mississippi River Commission before beginning his career as an architect. He came to Cleveland in 1882 to serve as professor of civil engineering at the Case School of Applied Science.

When the institution moved to University Circle in 1885, Eisenmann designed the first academic building on the new campus. He also designed several public schools in Cleveland. Two survive today—including the Brownell School which dates back to the 1880s.

The Brownell School, a complex of three buildings, is located at the corner of East 14th Street and Sumner Avenue in Cleveland.  Eisenmann designed the first building in 1885, and Frank Seymour Barnum built two additions in 1905 and 1909. The original building served as the first campus of Cuyahoga Community College and the buildings were placed on the National Register in 2006.

Eisenmann married Annie Theising in April 1882 and lived in Cleveland until his death at age 72 in 1924.

 It is noteworthy that working at the request of Cleveland Mayor Tom L. Johnson, he wrote Cleveland’s first comprehensive building code in 1904.

By 1890 he had entered into a partnership with George H. Smith. This firm’s most memorable commission is the Cleveland Arcade, stretching between Euclid and Superior Avenues. The structure consists of two nine story buildings joined by a five-story arcade. The arcade incorporates a 300-foot glass skylight.

The building cost $ 867,000 dollars to build—an astronomical sum of money in 1890. Funding was provided by a partnership which included John D. Rockefeller, Stephen Harkness, Marcus Hanna, and Charles F. Brush—a rollcall of Cleveland’s most influential business leaders.

The structure was dedicated on Decoration Day, May 30, 1890. It has been widely recognized as the first indoor shopping mall in the United States.

An early proponent of the use of structural steel in the design of commercial buildings, Eisenmann’s role in the design of the building was critical. He planned well. The building survives largely intact, except for what some regard as an ill-advised renovation to the Euclid Avenue entrance designed by Walker & Weeks in 1939.

The massive Richardsonian arched entrance on Superior remains largely unchanged.

Like so many other Cleveland buildings, the Arcade has had to adapt to change over its long life, with its upper stories being converted into a Hyatt Regency Hotel a number of years ago. The two lower stories house retail businesses and a food court and remain accessible to the public.

in 1975 the Arcade became the first building in Cleveland to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cleveland ArcadeEisenmann designed the Ohio state flag a century after Ohio became a state, in 1901.
It was developed in connection with his work on behalf of the state’s participation in the Pan - American Exposition in Buffalo, New York held from May to November 1901.

The flag’s design is noteworthy in that it takes the form of a swallowtail pennant, the only state flag to do so.

Eisenmann also designed the building representing Ohio at the event. This otherwise obscure event survives in national memory as the scene of the assassination of President William McKinley.

Buildings may fall, but Eisenmann’s design of the state flag will cause him to be remembered as long as Ohio exists.

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.