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INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF THE UNIVERSITY IN SOCIETY

 
 

A Neighborhood of Learning

When Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Science moved to their adjoining campuses in the early 1880s, the former from Hudson and the latter from downtown Cleveland, the area was at the very eastern edge of the community. It was soon connected to downtown by a trolley line, and the turn-around for the trolley near the campuses accounts for the "circle" in the name of the neighborhood (the area is not circular in shape).

As part of a nationwide "City Beautiful" movement, the early years of the 20th century brought the "Group Plan" approach to Cleveland, with its emphasis on large-scale land-use planning. An illustration of the Group Plan's impact is the Mall in downtown Cleveland, a large, well-planned pedestrian area with significant civic monuments.


Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather

A similar approach to land use was reflected in the mission of the University Improvement Company, founded in 1918 to encourage cultural, arts, and health care institutions to consider clustering near the adjoining campuses of Case and Western Reserve. By 1950, some 34 institutions had chosen "University Circle" as their home, and the area was facing serious challenges, including overcrowding, blight, and escalating real estate prices as the institutions competed for scarce land.

The three major institutions in the Circle - Case Institute of Technology, Western Reserve University, and University Hospitals of Cleveland - were blessed with a civic guardian angel in the person of Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather, whose late husband, William G. Mather, had been president of the University Improvement Company. She recognized the issues facing the area and provided funds to prepare a master plan for University Circle, and to create a central organization to provide coordination for development activities in the Circle. Known first as the University Circle Development Foundation and more recently as University Circle, Inc., this organization quickly initiated such common services as parking and a commissioned police force.

Today University Circle's one square mile is home to more than 40 educational, cultural, scientific, religious, and health care institutions. The University enjoys joint programs with nearly two dozen of its neighbors in the Circle. There is literally no other environment like it in the nation - perhaps only the ancient Acropolis in Athens, Greece, could rival the Circle's concentration in one place of so many leading institutions in so many fields. Learning is their common language, the University their most frequent partner.


Postcard from 1908 showing University Circle. From the Cleveland Memory Project of the Cleveland State University Library.