Robert C. Gaede, Ohio Architectural Preservation Champion


Born in Cleveland Heights in November 1920, Robert C. Gaede was the son of Cleveland civil engineer Oscar L. Gaede. Senior Gaede was educated at Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Science.

While Oscar Gaede’s work is not widely recognized today, the fact that he inspired his son to become an architect secures his place in Cleveland’s architectural history.

Robert. C Gaede (second from left) with City Club candidates Richard Murway, Robert. Dr Rudolph Henderson and Howard B. Cain in November 1962.Just 12 years old when his father died, Robert Gaede graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1938 and began his studies at the University of Michigan.

Like so many of his generation, his personal plans were derailed by the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which then dragged the United States into World War II.

The attack and the war lead Bob Gaede to nearly four years in the military, ending his tour as a meteorologist in the AAF’s 9th Air Force Troop Carrier Command in Europe with the rank of captain. His war service delayed his college graduation until 1947.

Those who knew Gaede later in life quickly recognized him as a mentor and teacher. This manifested early with an appointment as a faculty member at Kent State University several years before he turned 30.

He was instrumental in launching Kent State University’s architecture program, which was influential in the region. His tenure as Assistant Professor of Architecture was cut short when in 1952 he was recalled to active duty by the Air Force for the Korean War.

Gaede’s work covered a very wide range. Some of his best-known projects include the design of the Nela Park Circular Reception Building in East Cleveland and the Shaker Heights Service Center.

John Knox Presbyterian Church in North OlmstedHe was also well known for his work in church design – some of the best examples are Grace Episcopal Church in Willoughby, John Knox Presbyterian Church in North Olmsted and Western Reserve Church in Pepper Pike.

He has produced many city and town studies across the region. Communities involved included Willoughby, Hudson, Huron, Lakeside, Zoar and Mantua, among others.

He also designed Century Village in Burton, Historic Ohio Village in Columbus, and Historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton.

Gaede’s work as an architect included a deep interest in historic preservation and was known for his successful promotion of the field of historic preservation during a six-decade career in architecture.

He has helped save dozens of historic structures. Notable structures affected by these studies and preservation work include Westervelt Hall at Oberlin College as well as Wellington City Hall and the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua New York.

In 1956, Gaede started his own business, in partnership with Herk Visapunuu. They were considered early advocates of historic preservation, which at the time was an unusual concept which they quickly mastered and promoted with notable success.

Cleveland Architecture GuideOn a residential level, Gaede oversaw the restoration of a 1906 house in Rocky River built for James Van Dorn, founder of Van Dorn Iron Works. the 3,343 square foot five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath home on Frazier Drive in Rocky River overlooking the Cleveland Yachting Club was destroyed by fire in 1991.

The house was originally designed by the firm of Scaries, Hirsch & Gavin. Using drawings prepared by Cleveland architect Jim Larsen, Gaede reverse-engineered to recreate the details of the original house.-details such as wooden archways, hardwood floors and built-ins. It sold last year for $2.1 million.

Gaede was involved with the Cleveland Landmarks Commission early on, serving as chairman in the early 1970s.

He was also a co-founder in 1972 of the Cleveland Restoration Society and for more than a quarter of a century was editor of the organizations magazine “Façade”. Gaede also edited the “Guide to Architecture of Cleveland”. Published in the early 1990s, the popular book details Greater Cleveland’s most significant architecture – outlining commercial avenues, buildings, neighborhood streets, and 30 historic neighborhoods. Guide soon went into a second edition and remains a frequently consulted source on the subject to this day.

Gaede’s excellent work has been recognized by his peers in several important ways. He received a Gold Medal from the Architects Society of Ohio in 1989. In 1984 he was made a Fellow of the Society of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1994, the Cleveland Chapter of the AIA awarded Gaede its Garfield Award (named after Abram Garfield), recognizing outstanding achievement in the field of architecture.

Building 820Gaede’s work has been featured in his own offices in the Romanesque Revival building Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, 820 W. 9and St. in the warehouse district. Now known as Building 820, it was designed in 1922 by Charles Schneider, perhaps best remembered for his design of Stan Hywet Hall in Akron a decade earlier.

Ten stories tall and clad in limestone, Building 820 was restored and remodeled under Gaede’s supervision in 1985 and he identified the result as a point of personal pride. Maintained in excellent condition, the building remains a sought-after commercial address. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

His work has extended beyond the borders of Cleveland. His projects included courthouses in Miami and Henry counties, as well as buildings on the Kenyon College campus in Gambier, Ohio.

Gaede has been successful in promoting historic preservation through her excellent writing, speaking and negotiating skills. He was persuasive rather than shrill and made preservation believable. Gaede died in April 2008.

Editor’s note from Tom Matowitz: This writer gratefully acknowledges the warmth and approachability of Bob Gaede, as well as the hand of friendship he was quick to extend to those who shared his interests. I met Bob in the early 1990s when he was the architect consulted for a restoration project in which I was involved. We became friends through this association.

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