SHAKER HEIGHTS is a Cleveland inner-ring suburb 8 miles southeast of downtown. Originally part of WARRRENSVILLE TWP., it covers 6.5 sq. mi., bounded on the north by CLEVELAND HTS. and UNIVERSITY HTS., on the east by BEACHWOOD, on the south by WARRENSVILLE HTS. and Highland Hills, and Cleveland on the west. The suburb’s name was derived from the NORTH UNION SHAKER COMMUNITY, which occupied much of the area from 1822-1889. When the Shaker community dissolved speculators purchased the Community's lands. However, development did not begin until 1905 when ORIS P. AND MANTIS J. VAN SWERINGEN set out to create a comprehensive "Garden City" suburb. The plan was to leverage the area’s natural topography and lakes, and designate specific locations for apartments, commercial areas, public schools, churches, and several private secondary schools. The development seceded from (what was then) the village of Cleveland Hts. in 1911 and, with an estimated population of 250, incorporated as the village of Shaker Hts. A large tract in the village’s center was transferred to the SHAKER HTS. COUNTRY CLUB, which opened in 1915.
By the 1920s a coveted residential suburb had been created using strict (and often discriminatory) ZONING, tight architectural design guidelines, and exacting building and deed restrictions—all managed and enforced by the Van Sweringen Co. Partly leveraging the path of the Nickel Plate Railroad (see NICKEL PLATE ROAD), which they purchased in 1916, “the Vans” constructed the SHAKER RAPID TRANSIT line to downtown Cleveland. Comprising routes along Shaker Blvd. (the Blue Line) and Moreland (now Van Aken) Blvd. (the Green Line) the system opened in 1920 and contributed substantially to the growth of Shaker Hts. In 1920, the village’s population was 1,700. By 1931, when Shaker Hts. was incorporated as a city, the community’s population had increased 10-fold to 17,783. The new city’s charter provided for a mayor-council form of government with council members elected at large. The community’s third mayor, WILLIAM J. VAN AKEN, served from 1917-50. By 1949 the population of Shaker Hts. reached 23,393. The Van Sweringen Co. ceased to operate as a real-estate firm in 1959 but continued to oversee the deed restrictions for several years, after which the authority was vested in the city. In 1963 Shaker Hts. was reputed to be the wealthiest community in the country.
Shaker Hts.’ positive reputation has largely persisted and it often is cited as a model city for transportation, government, housing, recreation, and education. With numerous revamped stations, the city’s transit lines are well utilized. Its Thornton Park recreation center includes a 50-meter swimming pool and year-round ice arena. The Shaker Hts. Public Library operates a main library and the Bertram Woods branch. And much of the community’s northern border abuts the Shaker Lakes system of DOAN BROOK waterways developed by the Shaker Community in the mid-19th Century. Shaker Hts. schools—a high school, middle school and six elementary schools serving a total of 5,200 students—are highly rated, although entangled issues of race and student achievement often take center stage.
In the 1960s the unique and historic splendor of the Shaker Lakes system was threatened by a pair of proposed freeways. Spearheaded by County Engineer ALBERT PORTER, who labeled Shaker Lakes “a two-bit duck pond,” Interstate 290 (the east-west Clark Freeway) would have obliterated most of the lakes as well as the Roxboro Ravine, part of Doan Creek and a bucolic former quarry west of the lakes. A second expressway (the Lee Freeway) would then run north-south from I480 to I90, with an I290 interchange sited roughly at the intersection of Lee Rd. and S. Park Blvd. Despite endorsement from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), the project was eventually scotched by strong resistance from Cleveland Hts. and Shaker Hts. residents, and high-profile opposition by Cleveland Mayor CARL B. STOKES and Harry Volk, founder and editor of the Sun Press (see SUN NEWSPAPERS).
In the 1990s a new shopping area, Shaker Towne Centre, was developed at Chagrin Blvd. and Lee Rd. Another large shopping area at Warrensville Ctr. Rd. and Chagrin Blvd. (built in 1953) has been broadly revamped and redubbed the Van Aken District. In the process, the paths of several major streets, including Warrenville Ctr. and Van Aken Blvd. were altered. On the cusp of 2020, business in the Larchmere shopping district (part of which is in Cleveland) remains strong, while SHAKER SQUARE (also in Cleveland) struggles to find a niche beyond dining and entertainment (see BUSINESS, RETAIL).
Like many inner-ring suburbs, Shaker Hts. began a slow population decline beginning in the 1970s: from 36,306 in 1970 to 30,831 in 1990 to 29,405 in 2000. Approaching 2020, roughly 27,500 people live in Shaker Hts. Median household incomes and property values remain well above the Ohio average, as do the suburb’s property taxes, which are among the highest in the state.
Buttressed by the racial restrictions imposed by the Van Sweringens, the population of Shaker Hts. was overwhelmingly white into the 1970s. However, integration efforts in the city go back to the 1950s, when residents of the Ludlow Elementary School area came together to promote and manage black assimilation. More initiatives were launched in the 1970s (see LOMOND ASSN. and LUDLOW COMMUNITY ASSN.) and these helped Shaker Hts. avoid many of the problems associated with blockbusting and white flight. In 1986 the city launched Fund for the Future of Shaker Heights, a charitable organization for promoting integration in the city and its school district. Over the last half century, the percentage of AFRICAN AMERICANS has consequently shifted from overwhelmingly white pre-1970 to 30% in 2000 and just over 33% as of 2019.
Under the banner of Shaker Village Historic District, approximately 75% of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Updated by Christopher Roy