The CLEVELAND RESTORATION SOCIETY (CRS) is one of the country's leading historic preservation organizations and a partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Formerly known as the Downtown Restoration Society, CRS was founded by Maxine Goodman Levin, Dr. THOMAS F. CAMPBELL and Olive D. Tabor in 1972 to preserve and restore Cleveland's historic resources in the central city. The society has been an integral partner in the saving and rehabilitation of historic buildings and neighborhoods and has set a national standard for innovative and effective programs.

Under the leadership of President Kathleen Crowther since 1987, the society has prioritized bringing historic preservation into the mainstream of community revitalization strategies and created core preservation programs that provided direct technical and financial assistance to property owners in Cleveland's historic neighborhoods: the Heritage Home Program (formerly known as the Neighborhood Historic Preservation Program), launched in 1992, and the Sacred Landmarks Assistance Program, initiated in 1995. It also campaigned for the preservation of specific buildings and properties such as the SOCIETY CORP. (SOCIETY FOR SAVINGS) BLDG. on PUBLIC SQUARE and the Cozad House on Mayfield Road in UNIVERSITY CIRCLE.

In 1999, the society established its headquarters in the historic Sarah Benedict House, located at 3751 Prospect Avenue. The house, listed in the National Register of Historic places, was built by Sarah Rathbone Benedict, widow of CLEVELAND HERALD publisher George A. Benedict (see BENEDICT, GEORGE A.), in 1883. The Benedict House was donated to the society by Maxine Goodman Levin. Adjacent to the house is the Volunteers' Garden, which combines plants commonly used in 1880s gardens with elements of contemporary art to create a unique urban space.

The society became a regional organization during the late 1990s through its Preservation Resource Center of Northeastern Ohio program. Through the Center, the society made historic preservation knowledge and assistance available to municipalities, organizations, and individuals throughout Cuyahoga County and its six contiguous neighbors: Lorain, Medina, Summit, Portage, Geauga, and Lake Counties. In the 2000s, the Heritage Home loan expanded from three Cleveland historic districts to include neighborhoods associated with the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL. Beginning in 2001, the program expanded into three inner-ring suburbs: SHAKER HEIGHTS, CLEVELAND HEIGHTS and LAKEWOOD. The program has continued to grow and, through refinements since 2010, has expanded to cover 40 municipalities and almost the entire City of Cleveland. The Program currently (2019) partners with governments, banks, neighborhood associations and land banks to provide linked deposits and buy down loan rates for homeowners. The Preservation Resource Center was discontinued as the Heritage Home Program developed a regional footprint. The society has emerged as a leader in creating and maintaining regional partnerships to improve the quality of life in Northeast Ohio.

To commemorate its 40th Anniversary, CRS in 2012 launched a Legacy Project: Landmarks of Cleveland’s African American Experience.  The project included identification of properties, sites and areas significant to Cleveland’s African American heritage (see AFRICAN AMERICANS); landmark designation of significant properties for protection and economic development incentives; commemoration of significant properties and sites through the Ohio Historical Society marker program; and education and communication to Cleveland citizens and community leaders about what is discovered as a means to stabilize neighborhoods and attract residents.  The project resulted in 150 properties significant in Cleveland’s African American history being entered into the Ohio Historic Inventory and a new section to CRS’s website titled “Know Our History.”

Beginning in 2010, as Northeastern Ohio experienced property devaluation and record foreclosure as part of the Great Recession, CRS began to offer a wide variety of Preservation Services, such as building assessments, survey work and developing local and National Register of Historic Places nominations. Continuing the emphasis on surveying and designating African American and other under-represented resources, the Preservation Services staff carried out comprehensive surveys of several east side wards, resulting in more than fifty new Cleveland Landmark designations and three new Landmark districts. Other survey work of midcentury districts and designated buildings in the demolition pipeline were completed. Beginning in 2014, cultural heritage activities designed to collect local history for branding and place-making in the Lee-Harvard and Lee-Seville neighborhoods on Cleveland’s far southeast side resulted in collecting oral history interviews, hosting community storytelling and digitization days, designating local and national register historic districts, and surveying the properties developed by African American Builders. As of 2019, much of this work was being collected in book form.

CRS renewed its real estate investment and receivership programs and formed a task force involving the use of the historic preservation tax incentives by smaller projects. The resulting Small Deals Program has facilitated tax credit investments in the Scott Drug/Gund Brewing Building in the Market Square Historic District in 2017 and the Bristol Apartments in the Shaker Square Historic District in 2019.

In 2014, the Society began to utilize donated services from Trustees to complete comprehensive evaluations and reports for significant sacred landmarks through the Sacred Landmarks Support Committee. Volunteer Trustees participating in working groups and donating services resulted in saving significant historic landmarks, including the Asa Upson House, an 1836 farmhouse, a Van Sweringen Company demonstration home on Courtland Boulevard in Shaker Heights,  the Scofield Mansion (now held by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress) and Longfellow School (being developed as affordable senior housing). In 2019, the Society had task forces formed to stabilize and reuse the Dall-Mays Houses in Central and the Luther Moses House in HOUGH.

Advocacy and public education continue to play key roles in the work of the organization through its leadership in advancing historic preservation in Northeast Ohio through special programs, public forums, tours and educational sessions. The organization produces a biannual magazine, Façade, and Perspectives, a monthly e-newsletter. The society also works at the state and national levels to advance historic preservation practices and to demonstrate that innovative historic preservation programs can be utilized for neighborhood revitalization.

Updated by Michael Fleenor



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