The view from here is 360-degree gorgeous.
Downtown rises from the south. Lake Erie beckons to the north. To the east is the Cuyahoga River, and the west the massive lakers of the Port of Cleveland And all around us, the gleaming white curves of the 1940-built Coast Guard station.
And it is gleaming now, freshly painted, with new windows and functioning garage doors, flags fluttering from the top of a restored flag pole.
It’s no wonder Clevelanders are infatuated with the Art Moderne structure, a National Historic Landmark occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard until 1976, then largely abandoned until the last few years.
It’s “a beautiful place and a beautiful location,” said Tammy Oliver, director of project development for the Cleveland Metroparks, which have spent $750,000 on the space so far.
The Metroparks are still mulling final plans for the station, which sits like an exclamation point where the river meets the lake.
Right now, the complex can’t house anything permanent, since there is no electricity, running water or sewer service. It could cost $1 million to restore the utility lines that once ran from Whiskey Island, along the 1,000-foot pier and into the complex, Oliver said.
There are three buildings:
Garage: For now, the garage sits empty, with a redone brick paver floor.
Boathouse: The boathouse is now home to high school students, teaching sailing beneath steel hooks that once raised Coast Guard boats. The steel beams are restored, and three new garage doors open to the harbor, where more than a dozen 420 dinghy sailboats and a Boston Whaler bob in the water.
The Foundry hosts regattas, and the Metroparks teach sailing workshops out of the Coast Guard station. Next year, the park system wants to offer more water activities, including kayaking.
Main house: Inside, you can see just how much work was done to the other two buildings.
The walls are still covered in spray paint. The plaster is crumbling. And the second floor of captains quarters and dormitories is gone, so former rooms now look like a labyrinth, with junk – beer bottles, an ironing board, mattresses – all around.
Two years after the Coast Guard moved out, the city took ownership with the intent of using the complex as a water quality station. Those plans collapsed, and eventually Jacobs Investments Management Co. took ownership and operated the station as a bar and nightclub called the Island for one season in the early 1990s. Patrons had to take a boat there.
The city created a strategic plan created in 2006, with the idea of a café. And in 2009, the annual Burning River Fest debuted, attracting thousands of people to the station and raising money for its preservation.
But until the Metroparks signed a deal with the city in 2016, the station largely sat there, an eerie shell that served as a backdrop for Clevelanders who used the pier to fish.
“Cleveland was developed as an industrial city,” Oliver said. “The lake wasn’t looked at for recreation. It was looked at as an industrial pathway. Now it’s starting to transform.”
The Metroparks plan to restore the main house, including the helix of steep steps and the tower that once served as a weather beacon. The park system wants to make it easier to get to the station, by adding a bike path along the narrow road that leads from Edgewater Park to Whiskey Island.
After that, who knows? But whatever the station becomes it will fit the Metroparks’ mission of conservation, recreation and education, Oliver said. “We’ll pay homage to its history.”