Say the word Cleveland, Ohio and most people cringe as they imagine a dingy, industrial town on the banks of dreary Lake Erie. Not many consider the former “Mistake by the Lake” a prime travel destination. But throw away your assumptions. On a recent trip to Ohio, my family discovered a clean, modern town accented by its crown jewel, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. If you’re planning a trip to the Midwest, don’t miss this updated city and its six-story tribute to rock and roll.
Cleveland got its start in 1796 when surveyor Moses Cleaveland chose the site on Lake Erie for his settlement. By the time the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed in 1832, Cleveland had doubled in size. Within the next 10 years, the town grew by nearly 500 percent. The canal opening brought an influx of immigrants, the foundation of the area’s labor force, and Cleveland became a shipping and industrial giant.
During the Industrial Age, the city claimed several great industrialists as residents, including John D. Rockefeller, the world’s first billionaire; Jephtha Wade I, whose telegraph company evolved into the Western Union system; and Sam Mather, a steel and shipping mogul.
By the mid-1950s, however, as the demand for rail and boat travel decreased, Cleveland looked like a wasteland. The Industrial Age had left its mark, apparent in the widespread pollution in both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, the only river in the United States that actually caught fire due to the large amount of pollutants it contained. Couple this with the derelict warehouses lining the waterfront and you can see how Cleveland acquired its derogatory nickname.
Luckily, a massive cleanup of the waterways and astute city planning in the late 20th century attracted new enterprises and created jobs, leading to a renaissance in the city. Renovation of empty warehouses along both banks of the Cuyahoga River resulted in a premier entertainment district filled with unique shops and restaurants. Yet without a doubt, the main attraction in this port city is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Built on what is known as “The Flats,” the museum is the centerpiece of the lakefront area once known for its heavy industry. With 150,000 square feet (13,940 m²) of space dedicated to a variety of music from Delta blues (African American, southern folk/blues music) to rock and roll, the museum sends 40-something visitors, like my husband and I, back to the turbulent ’60s when we were growing up.
You can’t miss the multifaceted glass structure as you arrive at the lakefront, and parking is easy to find and inexpensive ― US$ 10 or less for all-day parking. The modern styling and pyramidal shape of the building is striking, but what caught my eye was the 10-foot (3 m) high guitar sculptures lining the sidewalks leading to the museum. With funky designs and colors, the guitars offer the ideal spot for a “Kodak Moment” and prepare you for the treasures you’ll find inside the museum. Later, on our trip out of town, we found the guitars strategically placed on street corners throughout the heart of the downtown area, an interesting touch.
The museum contains a large collection of images, instruments and memorabilia housed in more than 50 self-guided exhibits, some of them interactive. Visitors can also view two films. One, a two-part feature, traces the roots of rock and roll through gospel, blues, country and folk to its birth in the 1950s. It concludes with a retrospective of rock and roll’s explosion in the United States and its continuing evolution. The second film is edited and enhanced footage from Jimi Hendrix’s concert at the Isle of Wight off the coast of Great Britain.
We skipped the Jimi Hendrix film in favor of the retrospective. The MTV production-style movie (with one short segment running into another), was entertaining. The only negatives were the language and mature themes in part two, which we were warned about, but chose to ignore. It didn’t seem to bother the two preteens and the 10-year-old in our group, but if you’re concerned about your child hearing about the sex, drugs and rock and roll spirit of the ’60s, you’d best skip this film.
For the adults, the best part was the exhibit highlighting the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. We spent at least 20 minutes donning headphones and listening and singing along with some of rock and roll’s most popular and influential recordings. Our kids looked at us skeptically when we sang and swayed to “California Dreamin’ ” by the Mamas and the Papas and Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” but gamely joined in on the more familiar “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys.
The kids agreed that their favorite part was the gallery housing artifacts and memorabilia, where guitars and drums are artfully arranged between suits and sequined costumes worn by some of the leading artists of yesterday and today. The rubber mask of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler “creeped out” my 12 year old daughter, in her words, and she thought David Bowie’s costumes were weird, but there was enough variety of collectibles to keep everyone entertained.
We expected to spend two, maybe three hours at the museum. Five hours later, after exploring all six floors and suffering from sensory overload, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away.
Would we return to Cleveland? In a heartbeat! Our three-day trip was too short to see everything. On my list for a return visit are the historic warehouse district, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Cleveland Museum of Art. And, of course, I need an encore visit to the hall of fame to see those exhibits I missed the first time.
If You Go
Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located at One Key Plaza, 751 Erieside Avenue on Lake Erie. From June to August, it is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Wednesdays and Saturdays until 9 p.m.). Throughout the remainder of the year, the museum closes at 5:30 p.m. It is closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Admission is US$ 20 for adults; US$ 14 for seniors (60+); US$ 11 for children ages 9-12; and children 8 and under are free.
216-781-7625 or toll-free within the U.S. 888-764-7625
Leave your cameras at home (at least for the museum). You won’t be permitted to snap a photo of Jerry Garcia’s guitar or Mick Jagger’s jumpsuit. The artists who have loaned or donated artifacts to the museum have stipulated that these items not be photographed. Putting your camera in your purse or backpack is not enough, as the security guard informed me before I purchased my admission ticket. Before entering any of the galleries and exhibits, you’ll have to check your cameras at the coat check.
Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau
Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism