Dennis Seeds: University Circle has survived the test of time – and it’s been no accident

If it weren’t for a Euclid Avenue streetcar turnaround at East 107th Street that was known as University Circle, the medical-educational-arts neighborhood in Cleveland with that name might have been known as something more mundane.

It was, by all accounts, a beautiful area, and much of it was the former estate of Western Union magnate Jeptha H. Wade that drew institutions such as Western Reserve University, the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall and University Hospitals.

The crossroads could have kept its original name, Doan’s Corners, which did stick around until University Circle started taking shape. What happened next set the stage for the neighborhood culture.

“Between 1900-18, the Wade family developed its remaining land into a residential area,” according to the “Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.” “Many of the people who moved to the area were trustees of Circle institutions and generous benefactors, which was perhaps the most important factor in the development of the Circle’s unique character.”

However, after World War II, the subsequent generation of Circle benefactors and directors moved to the open spaces of the suburbs. Some of the surrounding neighborhoods began to deteriorate as a result.

While that decline could have well meant an uncertain future for University Circle, it didn’t. A foundation, which was the predecessor for University Circle Inc., was founded and charged with the mission of how to provide for the orderly growth of the area and to create a unified and beautiful environment.

Numerous projects, big and small, have since UCI was founded in 1970, have helped fulfill the vision of University Circle and keep it alive.

“It’s a really unique treasure,” says Chris Ronayne, president of UCI. “Generations upon generations have contributed to sustaining University Circle — by taking a cue from our past, we are building all over again a vibrant, urban neighborhood, replete with a walkable community where people can live in a place or can walk to a free museum or walk to an evening concert at Severance Hall. It is a unique place by design.”

While University Circle deserves to be called one of Cleveland’s finest gems, it represented a gem of an idea when it was founded which remains in effect today. It tapped an underserved niche. As Cleveland was developing as a city — indeed, it was the fifth largest city in America in the early 20th century as University Circle came into being — it needed a cultural-medical-artistic center.  University Circle was it.

It’s the example of a classic business principle: finding that niche, or creating it, clearing the field of competition and giving your business a path to take off. With careful feeding and attention, you produce a winner.

With University Circle, you have a winner, and one that has kept building upon that niche. Every new medical building, museum wing or classroom, keeps reinforcing that premise.

Don’t miss Smart Business’  “Uniquely Cleveland” feature this month on University Circle and its outstanding Parade the Circle and Wade Oval Wednesdays events for the summer.


Dennis Seeds

Managing Editor
Smart Business

Contact Dennis at [email protected]