Elwell-Parker Industrial Park: 4205 St. Clair Ave.
178,000 sq. ft.; five buildings
The formation of Elwell-Parker occurred in 1882, in Wolverhampton, England. At the time, the company built dynamos, electric lighting, and equipment for tram cars. In the late 1800s, Alexander E. Brown, interested in building electric motors to power machinery that transported ore and coal, incorporated Elwell-Parker Electric Company in Cleveland. In its early years, Elwell-Parker dabbled in development of a range of electric motor production until it found its niche.
In 1906, the same year that Elwell-Parker moved to its complex on St. Clair Ave., Morris S. Towson, then an engineer for Elwell-Parker, designed an electric baggage carrier, which was used by the Pennsylvania Railroad. This technology was extended over the next few decades to lift trucks, used in general industry.
The Anderson Carriage Co. of Detroit took controlling interest in Elwell-Parker in 1909, for the use of its operations to build car components. At the time, electric cars were prominent in the market, but in only a few years, production would slow, then nearly cease, because the public demanded longer-range vehicles.
In 1920, Morris S. Towson was made president, and the Towson family helmed the company, generation by generation, up until the late 1980s. When Towson became president, the company focused its production solely on industrial trucks. His son, Sheldon, took over in 1941, and S.K. “Pete” Towson took the reins in 1958.
The 1960s and 1970s forced Elwell-Parker to innovate: they began to create assembly line industrial vehicle components. However, with the downturn of the steel and automotive industries in the early 1980s, the company started to struggle. In the late 80s, Pete Towson began to ready himself for retirement but found there weren’t any heirs interested in taking command.
Towson allowed for employee ownership, selling a portion of family shares, but by the mid-1990s, Elwell-Parker was on the verge of liquidation. Sue Lan Ma, a turnaround specialist, purchased Elwell-Parker Electric Company, changing its name to Elwell-Parker Ltd., and for a while, it seemed like it would return to its former prominent position in Cleveland. In 1999, Ma purchased McVeigh Material Handling, and was honored by two Cleveland business organizations for her contributions.
However, in 2000, Elwell-Parker lost its buildings to foreclosure and was sold to Hoist Liftruck of Bedford Park, Ill. After that, the buildings changed hands a couple of times, housing a small number of tenants, but were eventually demolished.
An art exhibition at Brownhoist Gallery in 2011 featured manipulated found objects from the Elwell-Parker complex. Artists Timothy Riffle and Jerry Mann collaborated to celebrate “the industrial archaeology of Cleveland.”
The wood used in [the tables/floor? in] this restaurant fulfills a similar function. Though the Elwell-Parker complex no longer exists, its history continues through its materials.
The Place: Goodrich-Kirtland Park neighborhood
Goodrich-Kirtland Park was annexed to Cleveland in 1850. Irish immigrants settled the area around 1865, and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, still one of the significant landmarks of the area, was built in 1873.
The neighborhood began to urbanize early--especially in comparison to other Cleveland neighborhoods, which remained rural into the first couple of decades of the 20th century. In the 1870s and 1880s, businesses began to replace residences as the railroad lines allowed for development of industry. These business attracted Eastern European immigrants, such as Slovenian, Lithuanian, Croatian, German, and Polish populations.
Another immigrant group to play an important role in the formation of the neighborhood was the Chinese people. Cited as one of the oldest immigrant groups in Cleveland, the Chinese began to settle in this area in the 1860s. Other Asian population groups, such as Koreans, Thai, and Vietnamese, followed. Another wave of Asian immigrants arrived in Cleveland in the 1970s and 1980s, and now a large portion of Goodrich-Kirtland Park is made up of Asiatown. In 1991, Asia Plaza, referred to as the heart of Asiatown, was created to accommodate the emerging Asian population, and the Asian Town Center, opened just a couple of years ago, hosts a variety of retail and restaurant choices, as well as green space.
One structure of the neighborhood’s history still plays a vital role in the community: the Goodrich-Gannett Neighborhood Center. It was founded as a settlement house in 1896 by Flora Stone Mather. In the 1960s, it became a neighborhood center, and is named after the Reverend Goodrich of Old Stone Church and Alice Gannett, who was head worker at the settlement house for a number of years.
Though the neighborhood of Goodrich-Kirtland Park is still mainly industrial, many of the older manufacturing buildings in the neighborhood are being converted into loft spaces, for studios, office work, and live-work spaces. Asiatown, concert venues, restaurants and bars, and the Steamship William G. Mather Museum all serve as pulls for visitors.
Picture of Towson's Electric Truck