Robert C. Gaede, champion for Ohio architectural preservation

Born in Cleveland Heights in November 1920, Robert C. Gaede was the son of Cleveland civil engineer Oscar L. Gaede. The senior Gaede was educated at Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Science.

While Oscar Gaede’s work is not widely recognized today, the fact that he inspired his son to become an architect secures his place in the history of Cleveland architecture.

Robert. C Gaede (second from left) with City Club Candidates Richard Murway, Robert. D Rudolph Henderson and Howard B. Cain in November 1962.Just 12 years old when his father died, Robert Gaede graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1938 and began his studies at the University of Michigan.

Like so many others in his generation, his personal plans were derailed by the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which subsequently brought the United States into World War II.

The attack and war led Bob Gaede to almost four years in the military—ending his tour as a meteorologist in the AAF’s 9th Air Force Troop Carrier Command in Europe with the rank of Captain. His war service delayed his college graduation until 1947.

Those who knew Gaede in later life were quick to recognize him as a mentor and a teacher. This was manifested early with an appointment as a faculty member at Kent State University several years before he turned 30.

He played an important role in launching the Kent State University Architecture program which went on to great influence across the region. His tenure as an assistant professor of architecture was interrupted when in 1952, he was recalled to active duty by the Air Force for the Korean War.

Gaede’s work covered a very wide range. Some of his best-known projects include designing the circular reception building at Nela Park in East Cleveland and the Shaker Heights Service Center.

John Knox Presbyterian Church in North OlmstedHe was also well known for his work in church design—some of the finest examples are Grace Episcopal Church in Willoughby, John Knox Presbyterian Church in North Olmsted, and Church of the Western Reserve in Pepper Pike.

He produced numerous town and city studies across the area. Communities involved included Willoughby, Hudson, Huron, Lakeside, Zoar, and Mantua, among others.

He also designed Century Village in Burton, the Ohio Historical Village in Columbus, and Historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton.

Gaede’s work as an architect included a profound interest in historic preservation and was known for his successful promotion of the field of historic preservation during the course of a career in architecture lasting six decades.

He was instrumental in saving dozens of historic structures. Notable structures impacted by this preservation studies and work include Westervelt Hall at Oberlin College as well as Wellington Town Hall and the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua New York.

In 1956 Gaede established his own firm, partnering with Herk Visapunuu. They were considered early advocates for historic preservation, which at the time was an unusual concept that they quickly mastered and promoted with notable success.

Guide to Cleveland ArchitectureOn a residential level, Gaede oversaw the restoration of a 1906 Rocky River home built for James Van Dorn, founder of Van Dorn Iron Works. The five-bedroom, five-and-a half-bathroom 3,343-square-foot home on Frazier Drive in Rocky River overlooking the Cleveland Yachting Club was destroyed by a fire in 1991.

The house was originally designed by the firm Searles, Hirsh, and Gavin. Using drawings prepared by Cleveland architect Jim Larsen, Gaede reverse engineered this to recreate details of the original house—details like wood archways, hardwood floors, and built-ins. It sold last year for $2.1 million.

Gaede was involved early on with the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, serving as its chair in the early 1970s.

He was also a co-founder in 1972 of the Cleveland Restoration Society and for more than a quarter of century served as editor of the organizations magazine “Façade.” Gaede also edited the “Guide To Cleveland Architecture.” Published in the early 1990s, the highly regarded book details most significant architecture in Greater Cleveland—describing commercial avenues, buildings, neighborhood streets, and 30 historic districts. The guide quickly entered a second edition and remains a frequently consulted source on the subject to this day.

Gaede’s excellent work was recognized by his peers in several significant ways. He received a gold medal from the Architects Society of Ohio in 1989. In 1984 he was made a Fellow of the Society of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1994 the Cleveland chapter of the AIA conferred upon Gaede its Garfield Award (named for Abram Garfield), recognizing outstanding achievement in the field of architecture.

820 BuildingGaede’s work was showcased in his own offices in the Romanesque Revival style Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Building, 820 W. 9th St. in the Warehouse District. Now known as the 820 Building, it was designed in 1922  by Charles Schneider, who is perhaps best remembered for his design of Stan Hywet Hall in Akron a decade earlier.

Ten stories tall and faced with limestone, the 820 Building was restored and remodeled under Gaede’s supervision in 1985 and he identified the result as a point of personal pride. Maintained in excellent condition, the building remains a desirable business address. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

His work extended beyond Cleveland’s borders. His projects included courthouses in both Miami and Henry Counties, as well as buildings on the Kenyon College campus in Gambier, Ohio.

Gaede was able to successfully promote historical preservation through his excellent writing, speaking, and negotiating skills. He was persuasive rather than strident and made preservation credible. Gaede died in April 2008. 

Editor’s note from Tom Matowitz: This writer gratefully acknowledges Bob Gaede’s warmth and approachability, as well as the hand of friendship he was quick to extend to those who shared his interests. I met Bob in the early 1990s when he was the architect consulted for a restoration project in which I was involved. We became friends through this association.

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.