Onward to Cleveland

Navigating through towering weeds and trudging across rapidly melting snow, the remnants of the Republic Rubber facility emerged. This deteriorated complex is a testament to the impacts of globalization, mechanization, and corporate cost-cutting once tires and hoses are produced for the automotive and aerospace sectors. At its zenith, Republic employed 2,300 individuals with a payroll of $4 million. However, it succumbed in 1989, concluding a decade-long struggle under an employee buyout.

Republic Rubber’s plight is not unique. Situated in Youngstown, Ohio, a city once emblematic of the Rust Belt’s decline, it now undergoes a revival. Fueled partially by a surge in domestic oil and gas production, resulting in over a billion dollars in new industrial investment and a flourishing downtown adorned with new apartments, restaurants, and breweries, the city has undergone a remarkable transformation.

Moreover, the numerous vacant and abandoned industrial sites that previously marked every entrance to Youngstown’s city center have been demolished. Some have given way to industrial parks and recreational facilities, while ambitious plans for additional green spaces and urban development have been proposed elsewhere.

In the evening, I revisited the Newburgh Masonic Temple in Cleveland’s Mile Park neighborhood. A prominent city landmark, its distinctive brick and terra cotta facade was erected in 1916, gracing what was once the village of Newburgh’s public square.

Like other inner-city neighborhoods in Cleveland, Miles Park witnessed a substantial decline in population and status during the latter half of the 20th century, coinciding with the relocation, downsizing, or outright closure of much of the surrounding industry. The temple remained in use until 1977, when it merged with a lodge in Brecksville.

Large-scale industrial abandonment, such as at National Acme, is infrequent. Once a major manufacturer of machine tools in the United States, National Acme in Cleveland originated from the merger of two notable machine tool manufacturers: the Cleveland Twist Drill Company and the National Acme Company.

Like many manufacturers in the 1970s and 1980s, diversity was crucial for survival. Despite being one of the largest machine tool manufacturers in 1980, it faced a significant drop in total shipments within a few years due to an influx of cheap imports from low-wage countries. Record sales turned into record losses, leading National Acme to trim its workforce and shutter plants.

To navigate the turbulence, National Acme acquired telecommunication and electronic companies. By 1990, the company recorded profitable quarters but continued to divest itself of its former mainstay. In 1995, its cutting tool manufacturing operations were sold to DeVlieg-Bullard, and the company gradually moved operations to a modern plant in Twinsburg, completely closing the Cleveland plant in 2002.

After the facility was vacated, it became an illegal landfill. All Points, a garbage disposal company operated by Christopher L. Gattarello, leased National Acme’s factory for a proposed cardboard and paper waste recycling facility. However, the facility was never constructed, and instead, the building’s shell became a dumping ground for household garbage. Gattarello faced charges of illegal open dumping, operating a solid waste landfill without a license, and running a solid waste transfer facility without a permit.

The Warner & Swasey Observatory, a gift from Worchester Warner and Ambrose Swasey to Case Western Reserve University, opened in 1920. Light pollution from neighboring Cleveland eventually led to its closure in 1983.

In 2005, the abandoned observatory was sold at a foreclosure auction for $115,000 to Nayyir Al Mahdi and his girlfriend, Stacey Stoutemire. Initially planning to restore the building as a residence, their intentions were abandoned after the couple was convicted of mortgage fraud.

As bleak as the observatory’s current state was, it paled compared to the poorhouse we encountered the following day.

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