GAEDE, ROBERT C. (6 Nov. 1920 - 16 Apr. 2008) was born in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, and became one of the most well-known and well-respected architect and historic preservationist in the city. Robert Gaede was the son of Cleveland civil engineer Oscar L. Gaede. The senior Gaede was educated at Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Science (see: CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY). While Oscar’s own work is not widely recognized today, the inspiration he provided to his son secured his place in the history of Cleveland architecture. 

Just 12 years old when his father died, Robert Gaede graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1938 and began his studies at the University of Michigan. His personal plans were derailed by the 7 December 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which subsequently brought the United States into WORLD WAR II.

Gaede would spend nearly four years in the military - ending his tour as a meteorologist in the AAF’s 9th Air Force Troop Carrier Command in Europe with the rank of Captain. His war service delayed his college graduation until 1947.

With his appointment  as a faculty member at Kent State University several years before he turned 30, began Gaede’s long career as both a teacher and a mentor. He played an important role in launching the Kent State University Architecture program, which went on to great influence across the region. His tenure as an assistant professor of architecture was interrupted when in 1952, he was recalled to active duty by the Air Force for the KOREAN WAR.

Gaede’s work covered a very wide range. Some of his best-known projects include designing the circular reception building at Nela Park in East Cleveland and the Shaker Heights Service Center. He produced numerous town and city studies across the area. Communities involved included Willoughby, Hudson, Huron, Lakeside, Zoar, and Mantua, among others.

He also designed Century Village in Burton, the Ohio Historical Village in Columbus, and Historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton.

Gaede’s work as an architect included a profound interest in historic preservation and was known for his successful promotion of the field of historic preservation during the course of a career in architecture lasting six decades.

He was also instrumental in saving dozens of historic structures. Notable structures impacted by this preservation studies and work include Westervelt Hall at Oberlin College as well as Wellington Town Hall and the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua New York.

In 1956, Gaede established his own firm, partnering with Herk Visapunuu. They were considered early advocates for historic preservation, which at the time was an unusual concept that they quickly mastered and promoted with notable success.

On a residential level, Gaede oversaw the restoration of a 1906 Rocky River home built for James Van Dorn, founder of Van Dorn Iron Works. The five-bedroom, five-and-a half-bathroom 3,343-square-foot home on Frazier Drive in ROCKY RIVER overlooking the CLEVELAND YACHTING CLUB was destroyed by a fire in 1991.

The house was originally designed by the firm Searles, Hirsh, and Gavin. Using drawings prepared by Cleveland architect Jim Larsen, Gaede reverse engineered this to recreate details of the original house—details like wood archways, hardwood floors, and built-ins. It sold for $2.1 million in 2021.

Gaede was involved early on with the Cleveland Landmarks Commission (see CLEVELAND LANDMARK STRUCTURES), serving as its chair in the early 1970s.

He was also a co-founder in 1972 of the CLEVELAND RESTORATION SOCIETY, and for more than a quarter of century served as editor of the organization's magazine Façade. Gaede also edited the Guide to Cleveland Architecture. Published in the early 1990s, the highly regarded book details the most significant architecture in Greater Cleveland - describing commercial avenues, buildings, neighborhood streets, and 30 historic districts. The guide quickly entered a second edition and remains a frequently consulted source on the subject to this day.

Gaede’s excellent work was recognized by his peers in several significant ways. He received a gold medal from the Architects Society of Ohio in 1989. In 1984 he was made a Fellow of the Society of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1994 the Cleveland chapter of the AIA conferred upon Gaede its Garfield Award (named for Abram Garfield), recognizing outstanding achievement in the field of architecture.

Gaede’s work was showcased in his own offices in the Romanesque Revival style Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Building, 820 W. 9th St. in the WAREHOUSE DISTRICT. Now known as the 820 Building, it was designed in 1922 by Charles Schneider, who is perhaps best remembered for his design of Stan Hywet Hall in Akron a decade earlier.

Ten stories tall and faced with limestone, the 820 Building was restored and remodeled under Gaede’s supervision in 1985 and he identified the result as a point of personal pride. Maintained in excellent condition, the building remains a desirable business address. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

His work extended beyond Cleveland’s borders. His projects included courthouses in both Miami and Henry Counties, as well as buildings on the Kenyon College campus in Gambier, Ohio.

Gaede was able to successfully promote historical preservation through his excellent writing, speaking, and negotiating skills. He was persuasive rather than strident and made preservation credible. 

Gaede died at his home in Shaker Heights on 16 Apr. 2008, after a long fight with lymphoma. 


Tom Matowitz

Last updated: 10/25/2022


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