The former Cleveland Aquarium, located in Gordon Park in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, was a project that came to fruition by the Cleveland Aquarium Society, the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Society had been advocating for such a showcase since the 1940’s.
The aquarium was housed within Gordon Park’s bath house, which had been built earlier in the 1930’s. In 1943, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History converted it into a trailside museum, which contained displays of local flora, fauna and fish. It closed in 1953 when the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway was constructed through the park.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History built a new structure elsewhere for its collections, but donated its aquatic remnants to the Cleveland Aquarium Society. The trailside museum was renovated by Society volunteers for about $25,000 to house the aquarium and opened on February 6, 1954.1
The new facility, operated under the Natural History museum, featured 50 freshwater and marine exhibits, including sharks, swordfish, sawfish, seahorses, eels, squid, octopus and coral.1 It acquired some rare species as well, including a pair of Australian lungfish in 1966 and red-bellied piranhas in 1970. The structure, however, was overcrowded. A $300,000 gift from the Loonard C. Hanna Foundation allowed for the completion of a new Howard B. Cain-designed octagonal wing in 1967 that tripled the aquarium’s size and allowed the tank capacity to increase from 8,000 to 82,000 gallons.
Despite large crowds that taxed the building, the aquarium experienced financial deficits.1 It required a city council override of a mayoral veto to increase the cost of admission in 1979.
Structural problems with the aquarium forced the closure of the building to the public in June 1985.1 It ceased operations all together on April 1, 1986 when its exhibits were moved to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.3 The former aquarium site then became a dog training facility for the Cleveland Police Department.2
After years without a suitable replacement site near downtown, a new $33 million state-of-the-art aquarium was constructed within an old powerhouse in the Flats district and opened to the public on January 21, 2012.