Top Sights in Cleveland’s University Circle and Little Italy

An orange-winged butterfly is perched on a flower.

A Julia butterfly (Dryas iulia) photographed in the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Photo © Matt Chan, licensed Creative Commons Attribution, No-Derivatives.

Cleveland’s University Circle and Little Italy neighborhoods feature plenty of attractions for locals and visitors. From the fun to the historical, here are some sights you should be sure to see on your next visit.

Cleveland Botanical Garden

With origins in a converted boathouse on nearby Wade Park Lagoon, the Cleveland Botanical Garden (11030 East Blvd., 216/721-1600; Mon.-Sat. 10am-5pm, Sun. noon-5pm, open late Wed.; $7.50 adult, $3 child) moved to its current site in 1966. The facility’s most conspicuous asset is the 18,000-square-foot Glasshouse, which contains faithful re-creations of two fragile ecosystems, a Costa Rican cloud forest and the desert of Madagascar. Inside, visitors glide from biome to biome, immersed in environments rich with magical fauna and flora.

Some 400 varieties of plants and animals take up residence in the conservatory, including 20 species of butterfly, the world’s most diminutive orchids, and an army of hungry leaf-cutter ants.Some 400 varieties of plants and animals take up residence in the conservatory, including 20 species of butterfly, the world’s most diminutive orchids, and an army of hungry leaf-cutter ants. Perhaps even more spectacular are the 10 acres of award-winning outdoor gardens. Among them are a traditional Japanese dry garden, a show-stopping rose garden, perennial and woodland gardens, and an herb garden with 4,000 distinct plants. The Hershey Children’s Garden caters specifically to the littlest green thumbs in the bunch with mini forests, caves, worm bins, and a wheelchair-accessible tree house. An onsite library houses one of the largest repositories of gardening information in the country, with more than 17,000 garden-related books and periodicals. All gardens are open year-round except the Children’s Garden, which closes during winter.

Map of University Circle, Cleveland, OH

University Circle

Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art (11150 East Blvd., 216/421-7340; Tues., Thurs., and Sat.-Sun. 10am-5pm, Wed. and Fri. 10am-9pm; free) has always been regarded as one of the nation’s finest repositories of art and antiquities. Thanks to an ambitious, and some might say long overdue, expansion and renovation, visitors now enjoy a much improved art-viewing experience. The first phase of the $350 million project saw the reopening of the original 1916 building following three years of construction; the entire project, which was completed in 2013, replaced outmoded additions with two new wings, uniting all with a massive central atrium. Restored to its original glory, the classical marble-clad main building now gives the art a wider berth and visitors an easier path to navigate. Restored skylights create optimal lighting conditions for viewing the work, while state-of-the-art mechanicals provide a more comfortable environment. Thanks to 40,000 square feet of new gallery space, there’s more room now than ever to exhibit the museum’s vast permanent collection of 43,000 works of art.

Among the permanent exhibits on display are 17th century to early 19th century European art; 18th century and 19th century American art; 19th century European sculpture, paining, and decorative arts; and Islamic, Medieval, and Renaissance art, textiles, and manuscripts. Long a favorite of young and old, the Armor Court contains one of the largest and finest compilations of medieval and Renaissance arms and armor. Set on a picturesque bluff in University Circle, the museum presides over a sweeping landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., whose father created New York’s Central Park. Photography without a flash is permitted.

Hessler Road and Hessler Court

It may not look like much at first blush, but these two tiny lanes in University Circle (Ford Dr. and Hessler Rd.) have been the site of many battles, protests, and celebrations. The buildings here date back to the early 1900s, so it’s understandable that folks didn’t take too kindly to the notion of their neighborhood being demolished to make room for parking lots. A vigilant street association formed in 1969 and managed to fight off the proposed development. Before long, the neighborhood was declared a historic district and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hessler Court is just 300 feet long and is the only street in Cleveland that is paved with wood blocks. Held each May, the Hessler Street Fair is a spirited block party that unites friends and neighbors through art, music, food, and dance.

Peter B. Lewis Building

Set amid the tranquil tree-lined streets that make up the campus of Case Western Reserve University, the Peter B. Lewis Building (Bellflower Rd. and Ford Dr., 216/368-4771; free) doesn’t just stand out, it explodes onto the landscape. Home to the Weatherhead School of Management, the Frank Gehry-designed building is precisely what one would expect from the acclaimed avant-garde architect. Seemingly lacking even a single right angle, the twisting brick structure corkscrews out of the ground. There is no roof, per se, but rather a riot of stainless steel ribbons that festoon the top, reflecting whatever the sky happens to be doing at any given moment. Like the coiling tail of a rambunctious fish, the scaly steel tiles provide a flurry of movement and whimsy. Visible for blocks and blocks, the architectural landmark has become an attraction all to itself. Group tours can be arranged by calling ahead two weeks in advance.

Severance Hall

The saga of Severance Hall (11001 Euclid Ave., 216/231-1111; cost varies by performance) is a love story. One month after tycoon and Cleveland Orchestra president John Long Severance committed to building the concert hall, his wife, Elisabeth, died suddenly of a stroke. Vowing to dedicate the venue to the memory of his beloved partner, Severance went on to build a performance hall that rivals in beauty and sound of any found in Vienna, Boston, or New York.

Severance Hall was designed by Walker & Weeks, Cleveland’s leading architecture firm throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and it mimics a Greek temple. The majestic building’s neoclassical facade, with its Ionic column-supported pediment, harmonizes with the nearby Cleveland Museum of Art. Tributes to Mrs. Severance can be found throughout the hall. Silvery shapes high above the main concert floor are reported to be modeled after the lace from her bridal veil. Lotus blossoms, Elisabeth’s favorite flower, appear in the grand foyer’s terrazzo floor and elsewhere. Entering the Grand Foyer, visitors are immersed in an opulent environment of two-story red marble columns, art deco chandeliers, decorative metalwork, and dazzling floors. A $40 million renovation and restoration has updated the facility while remaining faithful to the original design. Severance Hall is, and always has been, a fitting home for the “Best Band in the Land.” Concerts and tours are held year-round except during the summer months, when the orchestra performs at Blossom Music Center.

Wade Park

Not just any ordinary park, Wade (Bordered by East Blvd. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) is the epicenter of arts, culture, and education in Cleveland, surrounded by the city’s finest museums, performing-arts venues, and universities. It is also the site of Wade Oval and Wade Lagoon. Whether one is off to a museum, concert, or lunch date—or none of the above—time should be set aside for a leisurely stroll through this urban oasis. The grounds are dotted with alluring public art, architecturally stunning buildings, and meticulously tended gardens. On sunny spring, summer, and fall days, it isn’t uncommon to see numerous newlywed couples roaming the green space with photographer in tow. During a random stroll, a visitor might encounter Rodin’s The Thinker, a garden designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., or a colorful neighborhood parade. Wade Oval is the site of WOW!, weekly free outdoor concerts held on Wednesday June through August.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Cleveland.

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