UNIVERSITY CIRCLE is a Cleveland neighborhood whose formal and colloquial boundaries are quite different. As a Statistical Planning Area (SPA) identified by the Cleveland Planning Commission, “University” (not University Circle) is bounded by Wade Park and Ashbury Aves. on the north, E. 105th St. on the west, Overlook Rd. and E. 123rd St. on the east, and Quincy and Mt. Overlook Aves. on the south. By contrast, the area known as University Circle is actually a subset of the University neighborhood. This unique 488-acre space borders Wade Park Ave. on the north, E. 105th St. on the west, and the GREATER CLEVELAND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY (RTA) tracks on the east and south. All of LITTLE ITALY (to the east) is contained within the University neighborhood, but only part of this historic Italian community is part of University Circle.
University Circle comprises one of the densest concentrations of cultural, educational, religious and social-service institutions in the world. The area was settled in 1799 with the establishment of NATHANIEL DOAN's tavern at what is now E. 107th St. and EUCLID AVE. Thus the area was first known as DOAN'S CORNERS. University Circle as we know it began to take shape in the 1880s, and at that time it really did have a “circle”: a trolley turnaround at Euclid Avenue and Doan Brook Blvd. (now Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd). Western Reserve University (WRU) moved its campus to Adelbert Rd. from Hudson, OH, in 1883. Two years later Case School of Applied Science moved from Rockwell St. in downtown Cleveland to Euclid Avenue near WRU. In 1967 the two institutions merged to become CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY (CWRU). Also in the 1880s, JEPTHA H. WADE donated to the City of Cleveland 63 acres land near the WRU campus, stipulating that it be used as a public park with an art gallery. Most of the donated property’s first occupants were animals: From 1889 to 1907 the Wade Park Zoo (Cleveland’s first zoo) stood on the land now occupied by CLEVELAND BOTANICAL GARDEN (formerly the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland). The Zoo’s Monkey House stood where the Center’s herb garden is today and the Bear Pit was located alongside East Boulevard in what is now the Japanese Garden.
The beauty of the area and presence of the colleges attracted other institutions. In 1898 the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY (WRHS) moved from PUBLIC SQUARE to the corner of Euclid Ave. and what is now Stokes Blvd. WRHS relocated in 1938-1941 to the Hay and Hanna houses on East Blvd. In 1916 the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART was built behind Wade Park Lagoon in a corner of WADE PARK. The aforementioned Garden Center of Greater Cleveland took over and remodeled an abandoned boathouse on the shore of Wade Lagoon in 1930. Now affiliated with the Holden Arboretum, the Center moved to a new facility on land previously occupied by the Wade Park Zoo. Two major additions were made to the Circle in 1931: UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS on Adelbert Rd. opened its doors and SEVERANCE HALL, home of the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA, was constructed at the corner of Euclid Ave. and East Blvd.
Between 1900 and 1918 the Wade family developed their remaining land into a residential area. Many of the people who moved to the area were trustees and benefactors of University Circle institutions, which was a key factor in the development of the Circle's unique character. After World War II virtually all area residents moved to the suburbs. Over time a variety of educational and civic organizations, including the Gestalt Institute, HAWKEN SCHOOL, the Arthritis Foundation and the CLEVELAND MUSIC SCHOOL SETTLEMENT came to occupy the many generously proportioned homes formerly occupied by University Circle’s gentry.
In the late 1940s Mrs. William G. Mather (ELIZABETH RING IRELAND MATHER) provided seed money to form the University Circle Development Foundation (UCDF). Her donation also covered the design of a development plan for the Circle. The Adams, Howard & Greeley Plan of 1957 laid down guidelines for Circle institutions that would promote cooperation and be harmonious with the Circle's character. In 1970 UCDF was reorganized as UNIVERSITY CIRCLE, INC. For several decades UCI’s emphasis was largely focused on acquiring/managing land, repurposing older structures, and coordinating parking and traffic flows. Except for students and occupants of a few high-rise structures—e.g., Fenway Hall, the Commodore, Park Lane Villa and Judson Manor (formerly Wade Park Manor), relatively few people called University Circle home during this period.
That began to change around 2000 as UCI and area institutions committed themselves to making University Circle a more complete neighborhood. This resulted in the creation of additional residential space in apartments and condominiums and increased retail shopping and restaurants, largely along Euclid Avenue between Mayfield and East 115th with a strong concentration in the “Uptown” development on the north side of Euclid. New and revamped institutional structures including Thwing Center, the consolidated Cleveland Institute of Art, The Peter B. Lewis Building (designed by Frank Gehry) and the MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART provided a more diverse architectural landscape. The growth of University Hospitals, the VETERANS ADMINISTRATION (VA) MEDICAL CENTER, CLEVELAND CLINIC and CWRU reflected the city’s increasing focus on medicine and education as economic drivers. The construction of the Nord Family Greenway which links the CWRU main campus to its MALTZ PERFORMING ARTS CENTER was both a major greenspace and an effort to connect the campus and the Circle to the neighborhoods that surrounded it. The expansion of the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the creation of a park on the former site (Bellflower Road and East Boulevard) of CIA added to the openness of the central institutional area of the Circle. The spillover of development into the surrounding areas was most apparent in Little Italy where increasing gentrification created tension, but it has yet to significantly affect other bordering areas such as GLENVILLE and EAST CLEVELAND..
As of 2020 at least 30,000 people worked in University Circle; 9,000 lived in the district (a nearly 50 percent increase within a decade); and some 2.5 million people visit the area each year.