RECREATION AND LEISURE. Leisure being a relative luxury in a pioneer community such as early Cleveland, recreation was largely an impromptu, catch-as-catch-can activity. The average national workday of 11 hours no doubt was even higher for many in the frontier milieu of the WESTERN RESERVE. Nevertheless, practically the entire population took a break on 4 July 1801 for the town's first recorded social event, a "grand Ball" given in LORENZO CARTER's cabin. Thirteen years later, a similar gathering in the cabin of the Rev. Stephen Peet featured dramatic readings and dialogues. According to one local historian, popular recreational activities for adults in the 1830s included picnics, berry-picking socials, and square dances, while children played such games as marbles, shinny, and pom-pom pullaway. The entire community gathered together for corn-huskings, house-raisings, and wood-chopping contests.
As the village of Cleveland grew into the city of Cleveland, individuals began to organize for recreational purposes. Sharpshooting was a practical skill as well as a recreational outlet, and a Nimrod Assn. was formed in 1830 to engage in target practice and trial hunts. Lectures became an indoors fixture, with a Cleveland Forum organized the same year to debate such questions as "Is Love a Stronger Passion than Hatred?" and "Ought the U.S. to Lay a Tax on Unmarried Men Over the Age of Thirty Years?" Naturalist JARED P. KIRTLAND presided over the first meeting of the Cleveland Horticultural Society, which was called to order in 1844. Sabbath observance was largely a matter of individual conscience; while some complained that saloons conducted a land-office business on Sundays, the first attempt to publish a Sunday newspaper failed in 1857 (see CLEVELAND DAILY REVIEW). Local government remained largely neutral on the Sunday question and a prohibitive tax on theaters was repealed shortly after its passage in 1854. In 1857 the city fenced in PUBLIC SQUARE to provide a central park, but business opposition forced its reopening to through traffic a decade later (see FENCE WAR OF PUBLIC SQUARE).
Industrial growth during the CIVIL WAR brought great fortunes to the city's business leaders and propelled the overall population beyond a quarter million by 1890. The wealthy classes found recreational outlets in the "sport of kings," patronizing the GLENVILLE RACE TRACK as early as 1870. During the winters the "first families" attracted spectators into the thousands to witness their sleighing races down the appropriately named "Millionaires' Row" of EUCLID AVE. GOLF was introduced to Cleveland by industrialist SAMUEL MATHER in 1895, though the city's most famous golf course was the private one laid out by JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER ca. 1900 at his FOREST HILL estate.
Recreational outlets for the working classes also increased as the average national working day fell to 10 hrs. by 1888. BASEBALL arrived in 1865 with the formation of the FOREST CITY BASEBALL CLUB, which turned professional 4 years later. The annual Case-Reserve FOOTBALL classic was begun in 1891 only 4 years after the local introduction of the sport on the scholastic level. Commercial recreational facilities gained in importance, best exemplified by the AMUSEMENT PARKS that sprang up at the ends of trolley lines. EUCLID BEACH opened on the east side in 1895 while PURITAS SPRINGS PARK began attracting west siders in 1898. For winter diversion, there were skating rinks such as the ELYSIUM, and the first movie theaters came along in 1903. Clevelanders continued to organize clubs to promote recreational activities such as the Cleveland Camera Club (1887; see CLEVELAND PHOTOGRAPHIC SOCIETY) and the GARFIELD-PERRY STAMP CLUB (1890). The "Mother of all Cleveland Women's Clubs," the CLEVELAND SOROSIS SOCIETY, was launched in 1891 to study such topics as "Cultivation of Repose and Grace by Means of Relaxation."
The increase of leisure time brought down the last barriers of Sabbatarianism. GORDON PARK hosted its first Sunday concert in 1897 while Sunday professional baseball was legalized in Ohio in 1911, a year after a game in Cleveland had been halted by police to the jeers of 5,000 fans. Concern grew on the part of social agencies toward promoting "wholesome" recreational activities. The YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. opened the first girls' gym in 1895. Social SETTLEMENT HOUSES such as HIRAM HOUSE also appeared in the 1890s to offer recreational activities, along with educational programs for their largely immigrant, working-class constituencies. Government continued to lag behind commercial and philanthropic forces in providing recreational outlets for Cleveland's citizens prior to the 1900s. Although a Board of Park Commissioners was created in 1871 (see PARKS), it did not have a significant park to oversee until WADE PARK was acquired in 1882; a zoo was established there in 1889. During the 1890s, the system was expanded by the addition of Gordon Park on the east side, EDGEWATER PARK on the west side, and BROOKSIDE PARK on the south.
Public recreational activities were greatly accelerated during the Progressive Era administration of Mayor TOM L. JOHNSON (1901-09). "The opening of the parks to their owners—the people—the removal of restrictive signs and the establishment of outdoor sports have given the people an opportunity to play," asserted Johnson's election literature in 1909. It estimated park attendance during the previous year at 2 million, including 100,000 bathers at Gordon and Edgewater and 187,000 children at summer playgrounds. Among other park activities enumerated were 4,000 baseball games on the 64 city diamonds and 85 band concerts. Not even rowboat rentals were ignored by the populist administration, which cut the rate on park lakes from 25 to 15 cents. Johnson's successor, Mayor NEWTON D. BAKER, emulated his mentor's famous 3-cent streetcar fare slogan by opening 2 municipal dance halls in the parks at a charge of 3 cents a dance, against the going rate of a nickel. The period cumulated with the creation of the city's Division of Recreation in 1916 and the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District in 1917 (see CLEVELAND METROPARKS).
Under the auspices of the CLEVELAND FOUNDATION, a survey of the city's recreational needs was conducted during WORLD WAR I. Citing the fact that juvenile delinquency during the previous decade had increased at more than twice the rate of population growth, the authors saw great dangers lurking for youth in the city's gullies, railroad yards, and unimproved lakefront, where truants were susceptible to the baleful influence of hoboes. "It is clearly wrong to expect boys and girls to keep from delinquency if they do not see how they are to fill up their spare hours with wholesome activities that seem to them worthwhile," observed one authority. Not even the leisure activity of a select group of "wholesome citizens" were entirely satisfactory to the conductors of the survey. The Clevelanders listed their favorite spare-time pursuits as: 1) reading, 2) entertaining, 3) theater, 4) visiting, 5) movies, and 6) walking or hiking—although motoring was already in 9th place. What bothered the authorities was the "deadly dullness" of adult past-times, particularly in their lack of individuality and physical activity. "The day of individualistic, laissez-faire methods has gone, in play as in industry," concluded a survey author. "The work of the expert in play is superseding isolated home direction, just as the home has been displaced in education by institutional organization."
One of these modern experts was John H. Gourley, later eulogized as "the man who taught Cleveland to play." A former Milwaukee teacher and city athletic director, he was brought to Cleveland in 1923 by the Community Fund (see UNITED WAY SERVICES) to serve as assoc. director of the Cleveland Recreational Council. That was the year steelworkers won an 8 hr. day, heralding the 44 or 48 hr. week for most workers. Leisure had become the heritage of the common man, as Gourley was named Cleveland Recreation Commissioner by City Manager WILLIAM R. HOPKINS from 1928-32. He built the Cleveland Amateur Baseball and Athletic Assn. (see SANDLOT BASEBALL) up to 20,000 participants and instituted Class F baseball for younger boys. He was also praised for bringing Cleveland's nationality groups into the recreation program.
Two massive public works projects between the world wars signaled the commitment of local government to the promotion of recreational activities. Though built primarily to attract convention business, PUBLIC AUDITORIUM also attracted Clevelanders to such annual events as the Sportsman's Show (see AMERICAN AND CANADIAN SPORT, TRAVEL, AND OUTDOOR SHOW) and the GREATER CLEVELAND HOME AND FLOWER SHOW. Even more grandiose in conception was CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM, completed in 1931, which became the home for diverse mass attractions ranging from professional baseball (see CLEVELAND INDIANS) to grand opera (see STADIUM OPERA CO.). "Although it was considered a part of the GROUP PLAN, such a building had not been dreamed of in 1903, when recreation was still a relatively private and small-scale activity," wrote architecture historian ERIC JOHANNESEN. Due to the Depression, leisure in the 1930s was only too abundantly available as the national work week dipped below 39 hrs. Unfortunately, annual expenditures for the city's recreation division also fell, from over $300,000 in 1928 to less than $200,000 in 1933. Some of the slack was soon taken up by the New Deal's WORKS PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION, which used unemployed workers to staff more than half the city's and 80% of the suburban recreation programs.
Following WORLD WAR II, the city's Division of Recreation more than recovered lost ground. John S. Nagy began a 40 yr. tenure as Commissioner of Recreation in 1943, and beginning in 1946 the city's recreational activities were coordinated with those of the CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS under a Joint Recreation Board. One of Nagy's precepts was a refusal to hire anyone with an IQ of 140 or more, on the grounds that they soon became bored with the work. According to a report issued in 1948, the program had provided 371,864 total hours of supervised recreation. Among its facilities were 150 playgrounds, 18 gymnasiums, 11 pools, 77 tennis courts, a Traveling Zoo, and a Showagon. With a total attendance of 2.25 million, the sandlot baseball program had outdrawn the Cleveland Indians in 1947.
Some of these gains were lost in the urban decline of the 1960s. The program's year-round employees fell from 593 in 1969 to 134 in 1971. Though the division's physical inventory looked impressive on paper, said a PLAIN DEALER reporter, "The trouble is [the facilities] are not open when they should be, are staffed by too few persons and even those employees are not necessarily trained for their jobs." Commissioner Nagy, widely known as "Mr. Recreation," was credited with keeping parts of the program going through his ability to secure donations. Nevertheless, the Division of Recreation in the 1990s was able to report a total of 559 regular and seasonal employees operating on an annual budget of $9.6 million. The city still numbered 16 recreation centers, 41 indoor and outdoor pools, and 100 playgrounds among its recreational assets. Cleveland's SUBURBS had also developed some impressive recreational facilities and programs from CAIN PARK in CLEVELAND HTS. to a nationally recognized program in BROOKLYN.
Individual and commercial recreational activities also made a comeback in the postwar era. These ranged from the passive perusal of TELEVISION to the almost frenzied activity of the physical fitness craze. Jogging was popular enough by 1976 to support a chain of 4 jogging specialty shops in Greater Cleveland and the country's first public Nautilus weightlifting center opened that year in ROCKY RIVER. Most of the old amusement parks were long gone, but major regional theme parks were within an hour's drive at Cedar Point and Sea World. While the work week had not declined significantly from its postwar average of slightly over 40 hrs., Cleveland launched 2 large-scale capital investments in the 1990s to attract the leisure spending of both natives and visitors. In what may be the wave of the future, the Gateway (see GATEWAY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORP.) sports complex and Inner Harbor (see NORTH COAST HARBOR, INC.) museum complex represent a partnership of public and private funding.
John E. Vacha