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The May Company, Cleveland, Ohio

Updated on February 8, 2011
The May Company Building, Cleveland, Ohio
The May Company Building, Cleveland, Ohio

The May Company central downtown department store building, facing the southeastern quadrant of Cleveland’s Public Square has for nearly a century presented a unique façade within the city skyline. The structure’s white terra cotta facing is finely articulated into a decorated Neo-classical composition, one that clearly expresses the primary skeletal frame while incorporating generous windows that harken from the Chicago School.

Designed by the architectural firm of Daniel Burnham & Company, the building was originally constructed of six stories, opening in 1914. Situated just a few doors east of the competing Higbee Company of the Terminal Tower complex, it was intended to secure The May Company’s position as a dominant department store in Cleveland. An additional two floors arrived in 1931, in response to continuing store competition among Higbee’s, May’s and the Halle Brothers Company. The structure’s eventual 17 acres of retail floor space enabled The May Company to lay claim to the title of ‘Ohio’s Largest Store’.

David May had originally founded his May Department Stores Company in 1877 in Leadville, Colorado, to take advantage of the area’s early Gold Rush. The company grew and expanded, shifting its headquarters from Leadville to Denver in 1889, then to St. Louis in 1905. Along the way, the company had acquired the E.R. Hull & Dutton Co. of Cleveland, and renamed it The May Company of Cleveland. Within the following decades, the company planned and erected its Public Square store.

The May Department Stores Company had a long life as one of America’s premier retailers. Through growth and expansion — as well as the acquisition of such competing enterprises as Kaufmann’s, Hecht’s, Loehmann’s, Lord & Taylor, Caldor, Foley’s, Filene’s, Strawbridge’s, and Marshall Fields — it became a giant among department stores. Its stature was further enhanced by its merger in 2005 with Federated Department Stores, and the resulting company’s reemergence under the Macy’s name.

After being vacated by the retailer in 1993, The May Company Building transitioned to leased office space, and then emerged yet again as the Public Square Tech Center.  

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    • rickzimmerman profile imageAUTHOR

      rickzimmerman 

      7 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Maybe someday we'll once again be called The Forest City or The Best Location in the Nation.

    • Emmeaki profile image

      Emmeaki 

      7 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      Those wooden escalators were always a bit creepy to me. Good to see that Cleveland is no longer the mistake on the lake!

    • rickzimmerman profile imageAUTHOR

      rickzimmerman 

      7 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Hey, E, try envisioning it as a near-60-year-old! I still remember the rattle-y old carved-wooden-tread escalators! Recently the building has housed a culinary school (very apt, as Cleveland is finally getting some street cred for its local chefs and eateries).

    • Emmeaki profile image

      Emmeaki 

      7 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      I just want to cry when I think of how such a great building sat empty for so long. The weird thing is that to this day, I still have these recurring dreams about being in the May Company department store. I am always so happy to be be shopping again. I guess it's because of all the fond memories I have of shopping there with my mother as a child. Still, it's a bit bizarre to still be dreaming about that place at the age of 36!

    • rickzimmerman profile imageAUTHOR

      rickzimmerman 

      7 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks, Teresa! Glad to have you on board!

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 

      7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Good hub. I like the history behind old buildings. You have created a great hub. Thanks for sharing! I will read more. Teresa

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