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Randall Park Mall
Hard as it is to believe when you drive by its barren concrete remnants in North Randall, Randall Park Mall was considered the world's largest shopping center when it opened, with much hoopla, in 1976. Built on the grounds of a former racetrack by the flamboyant Youngstown developer Edward DeBartolo — who used to fly over the construction site in a helicopter — the two-story mall had 200 shops, five department stores, and a three-screen cinema (unheard of at the time), After years of decline, the mall closed in 2008.
House of Wills Mystery Lady
A longtime landmark at 2491 E. 55th Street, the landmark African American funeral home The House of Wills has stood vacant since 2005. (Its new incarnation is alive and well on Harvard Ave.) Once noted for its beautiful pillared Egyptian-style viewing rooms and funky 1960s décor, the building seems to be occupied now only by the effigy of a spooky old lady who appears in an upper window, periodically changing position as she surveys passersby.
Warner & Swasey
One of the abandoned factory sites most beloved by urban explorers, graffiti artists, and devotees of "ruin porn," the 132-year-old Warner & Swasey complex at East 55th and Carnegie has been vacant since 1985. At one time, 7,000 employees made lathes, heavy construction equipment, military gun sights, and telescopes for observatories here. The City of Cleveland has owned the vacant property since 1991, and is now conducting asbestos removal.
Major league sports, marathons, fishing and boating and bicycling — it's all here, and it's all grand. But for some genuinely bracing exercise, try these excursions into Cleveland's colorful past.
Historic Kirtland Visitor's Center
The name sounds inauspicious, yet this site on Kirtland-Chardon Road in Kirtland isn't just any historical attraction. It's where Joseph Smith came in the 1830s to preach the good word of the Lord Jesus Christ (of Latter Day Saint fame) before he got tarred and feathered and run out of town. The very friendly Mormon tour guides will show you the very small room where angels regularly spoke to Smith, and then likely ask what you think of their religious beliefs. Conversion can easily be avoided if you mention that you thought the Book of Mormon was a Broadway play.
When video lottery terminals are installed in April, Thistledown Racetrack will likely be hopping. But until then this place, located on a barren strip of Emery Rd. in North Randall, is all kinds of dead. The parking lot has more contractor trucks in it than passenger cars, and the small museum inside the mammoth brick building doubles as a training room for Caesar's employees. It's all rather bleak, though if you're into watching and betting on simulcast horse racing, this is the place.
Anyone who's walked around East 4th St. knows that you can pay a premium to bowl at Corner Alley, which offers nice new lanes and a full bar that serves up everything from microbrews to martinis. But for a taste of real Cleveland, stop by Twin Lanes at East 30th and Chester, which is in fact run by a set of twins. The ambience is vintage '70s, and the beers and bowling are cheap. The twins don't keep normal business hours, so we recommend calling ahead.
Ah, for the heady days of mobsters running bootleg liquor, extortion schemes, and the numbers rackets on Cleveland streets! Now we have to settle for the occasional serial killer. But even in that category, we can hold our own with any city in the country.
In the late 1970s, Cleveland was caught in the crossfire of a major gang war, with mobsters throwing bombs and bullets at each other like confetti at a parade. Danny Greene, one of the most colorful gangsters in the city's history, managed to stay a couple steps ahead of both the cops and his Italian rivals until the fateful afternoon of Oct. 6, 1977. Emerging from a dentist's appointment at Brainard Place in Lyndhurst, Greene was blown to pieces by an auto bomb, securing his — and the parking lot's — place in local history.
Is there anyone in the world who hasn't heard of Anthony Sowell, the demented killer of 11 women who kept their decaying bodies stashed in the backyard, basement and crawl spaces of his east side home? In an absurd twist, neighbors blamed the growing stench on Ray's Sausage Shop, located next door. Like all the best serial killer sites, Sowell's home has been leveled. But you can still catch a whiff of the past with a drive by the empty lot and now-abandoned meat store.
Jeffrey Dahmer's House
Here's one still standing: The boyhood home of serial killer and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer, where he dissected dead animals before moving to Wisconsin and graduating to adult men and cannibalism. It's located in Bath, a small town south of Cleveland, just a short drive down I-77. Prudence precludes providing the exact address, but with a quick online search, you shouldn't have any problem locating the house.
Mike Belsito on how he found a contemporary niche in an antiquated business...providing a morbid service... and launching a tech start-up in Cleveland.