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Courthouse History

Our Domestic Relations Court is located in the historic Cuyahoga County Courthouse, also known as Lakeside Courthouse or “the old Courthouse,” which opened on New Year’s Day 1912. This beautiful Beaux Arts-style building was built as part of the Burnham Group Plan that included the U. S. Post Office, Custom House and Courthouse (1910) (today the Howard M. Metzenbaum U. S. Courthouse), Cleveland City Hall (1916), Public Auditorium (1922), Cleveland Public Library (1925), and Cleveland Board of Education Building (1931) (now the Drury Plaza Hotel). The Group Plan also included a never-built grand railroad station at the north end of the Mall, between the Courthouse and City Hall.

The Courthouse took five years to build, at a cost just under $6 million ($146 million in 2016 dollars). The exterior is constructed of Milford granite. The south entrance is flanked by statues of Founders Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The now-closed north entrance is flanked by statues of jurists John Marshall and Rufus P. Ranney. The north and south cornices feature statues (ten in all) of giants of moral, civil, common and ecclesiastical law. Old photographs show a landscaped garden along the Courthouse’s north (lakefront) face, where the Huntington Park Garage now stands.

The interior features marble from Tennessee, Georgia and Colorado, with English oak, chestnut and other woods. From the south entrance (our front door), one enters the central Great Hall (rotunda), its vaulted ceiling rising more than two stories. Skylights in the Great Hall, covered during World War II, were restored in the 1990s. A favorite of visitors and Courthouse personnel alike is the Tiffany stained glass window titled “Mode of Justice” on the landing of the grand staircase on the east side of the Great Hall. A half-dozen murals are located throughout the Courthouse. The two largest murals, on the mezzanine, depict the signing of Magna Carta and the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

When the Courthouse opened, the first floor was occupied by the non-judicial county offices, such as Auditor and Recorder. Today, the Domestic Relations Court’s administrative office is in the former County Commissioners’ office; Enforcement Services and the Assignment & Scheduling Department are located in what was once the Sheriff’s civil division office. The non-judicial county functions moved out when the Administration Building opened across the street in 1957. Those offices moved again to the new Administration Building on East 9th Street in 2014.

From its opening, the Courthouse has housed the Court of Appeals, Probate Court and Common Pleas Court. Only occasionally have criminal trials been held in the Courthouse. The civil division of Common Pleas moved into the Courthouse in 1912; the criminal division remained in the 1858 Courthouse on the northwest corner of Public Square until 1931 when the Criminal Courts Building and County Jail opened at East 22nd Street and Payne Avenue. Criminal trials moved to the Justice Center when that complex opened in 1977. However, from time to time, when other courtrooms were in use, or a visiting judge was assigned to a case, criminal trials have been held in the Courthouse.

The Juvenile Court has never been housed in the Courthouse. For thirty years after its creation in 1902 the Juvenile Court was located in the 1875 Courthouse on Seneca Street (now West 3rd Street). (The 1858 and 1875 buildings stood side-by-side, one facing Public Square, the other facing West 3rd.) That court moved to a complex at East 22nd Street and Cedar Avenue in 1932. The Juvenile Court moved to its present location at 9300 Quincy Avenue in 2011.

The two-story main Court of Appeals courtroom is one of the original, largely unchanged rooms in the Courthouse. The same year that the Courthouse opened (1912) an amendment to the Ohio Constitution created the Ohio Court of Appeals, and the legislature established the Eighth Appellate District. The Eighth District originally included Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne Counties, as well as Cuyahoga County. Until the 1950s, each appellate district had only three judges – one appellate panel – consequently, only one court of appeals courtroom was included in the Courthouse’s original design.

The Common Pleas Court has sat on the third floor of the Courthouse for over a century. All judges of the civil division heard divorces and related matters until 1930 when the state legislature created the specialized Domestic Relations Division within the Common Pleas Court. Today the Domestic Relations Division occupies most of the original third-floor courtrooms. High ceilings with ornate plasterwork, paneled walls, large casement windows, and leather-covered doors, with transoms, are little changed since 1912. Unfortunately, the skylights that originally helped illuminate the third-floor courtrooms were permanently closed off during the early 1960s.

Many significant cases have been connected with the Courthouse – tried in the building, or the appeal argued here, or both. Four of the cases that passed through the Courthouse on the way to the U. S. Supreme Court are: Sheppard v. Ohio (pretrial publicity), Mapp v. Ohio (residential searches), Terry v. Ohio (stop and frisk), and Jacobellis v. Ohio (free speech/pornography).



Sources

Cuyahoga County Archivist, Court House History, www.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/courthouse-history.aspx.

Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works, History of the Old Courthouse, www.publicworks.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/OldCrtHousePaintingProject.aspx.

Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, 51, 324, 326, 332 (2nd Ed. 1996).

“The New Court House as seen from the Lake” used by permission: Special Collections, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University

Shakarian, Cuyahoga County Court House – Crown Jewel of the Group Plan, Western Reserve Historical Symposium (Nov. 10, 1990).

Toth, An Historical Review of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse (Dec. 8, 1994) (unpublished manuscript).