The project 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 1940s.
The aquarium was originally located in Gordon Park’s bathhouse, which had been built a decade earlier. In 1943, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History converted it into a trailside museum containing 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 which opened to the public on February 6, 1954. 1
The new facility, operated under the Natural History Museum, featured 50 freshwater and marine exhibits and included 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 building, however, was small. 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 let the tank capacity increase from 8,000 gallons to 82,000 gallons.
Despite large crowds, the aquarium experienced fiscal deficits. 1 The museum requested an admission increase, which required a city council override of a mayoral veto in 1979.
Structural problems with the aquarium forced the closure of the building to the public in June 1985. 1 It ceased operations altogether 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. It opened to the public on January 21, 2012.
- “History.” Cleveland Aquarium Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. Article.
- “Gordon Park.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 2006. Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. Article.
- “Zoo History.” Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. Article.