End of an era: The demolition of TRW's Lyndhurst Headquarters

The automotive, aerospace, and electronics company that would eventually become Thompson, Ramo Wooldridge, better known worldwide as TRW, was a large presence in Cleveland for 100 years—beginning as a small manufacturing company and evolving into a giant in the automotive, aviation, aerospace, and other industries.

As the company grew and thrived, in 1985 it built a 480,000-square-foot headquarters on 98 acres of the 110-acre Franchester estate in Lyndhurst. By 2002 Northrop Grumman Corporation, a global defense and security company headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia acquired TRW and subsequently donated the building and the property to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

The Cleveland Clinic then opened its Wellness Institute and administrative offices, but the sprawling space proved to be too much, even for Cleveland’s largest employer. Even with a few tenants and Clinic employees still operating out of the facility, the atmosphere was eerily quiet, with the sense that others had fled in the night.

The healthcare provider announced in 2019 that the campus was for sale, but no deal was made. In March the Clinic announced plans to raze the building and sell the land for development (the home of Frances Payne Bolton, which remains on another portion of the property, will stay intact).

Demolition on the TRW/Cleveland Clinic complex began in October and should be completed by the end of the year.

TRW headquarters demolitionTRW headquarters demolitionWith the demolition comes the end of a unique specimen of 20th Century architecture and a piece of a company that rose from a small enterprise at the turn of the 20th Century into a Fortune 500 company and worldwide industry leader that called Cleveland home from 1901 to 2002.

The company that would become TRW began strong in 1900 as a Cleveland manufacturer of connectors and fittings for the automotive industry.

Known as the Cleveland Cap Screw Company, it earned a reputation as an innovative leader in the automobile industry by 1904 with its automotive valves. Charles Edwin Thompson, who had joined Cleveland Cap Screw in 1901, became general manager of the company in 1905 when it became Electric Welding Products Company—now adding the welding of auto chassis and bicycle parts to its repertoire—before merging with two Detroit companies and becoming Steel Products Company. This was after Thompson created a high-resistance automotive valve from chromium, nickel, and silicon alloy. The company changed names for a fourth time, becoming Thompson Products.

Frederick C. Crawford was credited with growing TRW into an industrial world leader. He started with Steel Products company as a scrap collector after graduating from Harvard and learned about the automotive industry and instinctively related to workers on the manufacturing plant floor.

Crawford quickly rose through the company ranks—becoming president of Thompson Products in 1933. He continued to work closely with plant employees and met with them regularly to hear their suggestions for improvement.

Crawford is also credited with expanding the company into the aviation industry, and later into aerospace and government contracts.

A native of Massachusetts, Crawford made Cleveland his home while at Thompson Products and TRW. He was a trustee of Case Institute of Technology, and in 1965 he started the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum—in part, to house his collection of cars.

By 1920, almost all American cars used Thompson valves, and by 1927 Thompson Products was the world’s largest producer of engine valves with a proven record in the automotive and aviation parts industry.

In the 1930s and 1940a Thompson Products continued to grow and diversify, expanding its aerospace business to make jet engine parts, opening a production facility in Euclid, and entering the electronics and ballistic-missile development by investing in California-based Ramo-Wooldridge Corp. in 1953.

TRW HeadquartersTRW HeadquartersIn 1958 the companies merged to become Thompson Ramo Wooldridge, better known as TRW.

The company continued to grow and adapt to new technologies, working with the U.S. space program, producing one-third of the satellites in space, and building the descent engine for the Apollo Lunar Lander. 

By the late 1960s, the global company entered even more markets, including computers and credit reporting. As the company continued to grow, in 1985 TRW looked to Lyndhurst and the 110-acre Franchester estate, upon which the 1917 home of Chester and Frances Payne Bolton. The 27,350-square-foot Colonial revival house still stands today on the property.

The company hired Chicago-based Fujikawa Conterato Lohan & Associates to design the 476,000-square-foot main building with a 325,350-square-foot, 500-space underground garage, and a 1,300-square-foot maintenance garage.

The architects designed the building to attract and retain employees from around the world, with the focal point being an 8,000-square-foot four-story glass atrium, with plenty of foliage and a water feature. The space was intended to promote community and provide a lush, bright respite from Cleveland’s grey winters.

TRW headquarters interiorTRW headquarters interiorTRW hired a landscape architect and a psychologist to provide advice on how to create an inviting space in the atrium—with seating areas for socializing, meandering paths, and a calming atmosphere.

The atrium was flanked by four two-story wings for offices and the building also had exhibition, dining, and auditorium spaces. The exposed stair towers were clad in marble.

Locally sourced sandstone was used for the building base, with steel covered in bronze anodized aluminum for the rest of the structure. Sculptures were placed throughout the site and the grounds.

By 1995, TRW ranked 126th in the Fortune 500 and employed 1,800 people in its new Lyndhurst headquarters.

By 2001 TRW was the eighth-largest military contractor in America, and in 2002 military contractor Northrop Grumman Corporation bought TRW for $7.8 billion in stock and closed the Lyndhurst offices.

The demolition of this once-reveled design is well underway—leaving behind just Frances Payne Bolton’s home, local sentiment, and Legacy Village, which was also part of the original estate.

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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.