DOAN'S CORNERS “definitely and accurately were the corners of EUCLID AVE. and what are now 105th and 107th Streets.” So wrote Cleveland historian CHAS. ASA POST, a product of the neighborhood, in 1930. Doan’s Corners takes its name from NATHANIEL DOAN, an early settler in Cleveland who in 1799 built a log hotel and tavern on the northwest corner of Euclid Ave. and Fairmount (E. 107th) St. Doan also built a store on the southwest corner and later operated both a blacksmith shop and saleratus (baking soda) factory. By the 1870s, Doan’s initial settlement was a flourishing crossroads town of stores, churches, small industries, a hotel, and a post office. The area became part of East Cleveland Twp. in 1866 and 6 years later was annexed to Cleveland. By the early 20th century, the expanding city had largely engulfed Doan’s Corners, whose Euclid-E. 105th intersection was the southeastern corner of the HOUGH neighborhood. In 1930 on the site where Doan had erected his log tavern, now stood a hotel and business block, surrounded by other hotels, theaters, banks, commercial buildings, and apartment houses. In the 1920s, vaudeville, and later motion pictures, brought thousands to the Alhambra, Circle, KEITH’S E. 105TH ST., Park, and University theaters, all located in what had become Cleveland’s “second downtown.”
Through the 1950s, Doan’s Corners—as it was still called—was a weekend shopping and entertainment haven for a generation of Clevelanders. However, demographic changes and institutional growth in the vicinity began to transform the “second downtown.” In the 1950s Hough attracted tens of thousands of AFRICAN AMERICANS, Appalachian whites, and PUERTO RICANS. Many were part of the Second Great Migration that commenced during WORLD WAR II, but many others were displaced by “slum clearance” in the CENTRAL neighborhood funded by the federal urban renewal program. Between 1950 and 1960, Hough went from 4% to 74% African American. For a time in the 1950s, a number of music and night clubs along this stretch of upper Euclid Ave. welcomed an interracial clientele, but this change provoked a series of bombings in 1953 at the Play Bar and the Towne Casino. Disinvestment accompanied the concurrent departure of whites to the SUBURBS and hastened after the HOUGH RIOTS in 1966.
In 1968, Winston E. Willis, a young black entrepreneur from Alabama by way of Detroit, formed University Circle Property Development, Inc., and began buying property in Doan’s Corners, which was becoming known as Euclid-E. 105th. Soon he controlled the entire block and operated more than two dozen shops, entertainment spots, and other services that employed more than 400 workers. The condition of the former Doan’s Corners was a matter of opinion. For suburban whites and powerful institutional leaders in and around University Circle, the district was “skid row.” For African Americans on the East Side, it was the “gold coast.” Since the 1960 unveiling of the University-Euclid urban renewal project, the city’s municipal and business leaders worked under the assumption that Euclid-E. 105th was blighted and should be redeveloped. Beginning during the MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF RALPH J. PERK in 1972, the city moved against Willis’s entertainment empire. Fire inspector crackdowns and police raids led Willis to place antagonistic billboards on the side wall at the end of his strip that charged a conspiracy against him. In 1983, Willis was sent to prison for a bounced check, and his properties were confiscated, demolished, and redeveloped. Apart from the former Fenway Hall Hotel, no remnant of Doan’s Corners remains today (2019), the area having been cleared for expansion of the CLEVELAND CLINIC FOUNDATION west of E. 105th St. and for the W. O. Walker Industrial Rehabilitation Ctr. (now also part of the Cleveland Clinic) on the south side of Euclid Ave. between E. 105th and E. 107th Sts.
Updated by Mark Souther
Pierre-Ingram, India. “The Miracle on East 105th: The Rise and Fall of Winston E. Willis’s Opportunity Corridor.” PressureLife 23 (Feb./Mar. 2019), 16-20.
Post, Charles Asa. Doans Corners and the City Four Miles West. Cleveland: The Caxton Company, 1930.
Souther, J. Mark. “Acropolis of the Middle-West: Decay, Boosterism, and Renewal in Cleveland’s University Circle.” Journal of Planning History 10 (2011), 197-218.