Cleveland Indians renamed Guardians


Hope Memorial Bridge Guardians inspire the name

By Steven Litt - cleveland.com



Steven Litt

Steven Litt


James Sonnhalter and his wife Kath ride eastbound Dec. 10, 2012, on the new bikeway of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, just past one of the Guardians, in Cleveland.

James Sonnhalter and his wife Kath ride eastbound Dec. 10, 2012, on the new bikeway of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, just past one of the Guardians, in Cleveland.


Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer

One of the iconic 43-foot tall Guardians of Traffic pillars on the Lorain-Carnegie (Hope Memorial) Bridge, was dusted with snow after a storm in 2013. They have been on the bridge since 1932, overlooking bicycle traffic, pedestrians, and vehicles.


Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s brilliant. It’s got pride of place, legacy, nostalgia, stewardship, and strength, all wrapped up in one rough, tough, beautiful, powerful word: Guardians.

The Cleveland Indians’ new name, announced Friday, should be an instant hit. It deserves to be.

Critics might point out that few outside the city will understand that the name refers to the eight, 43-foot-tall Berea sandstone sculptures of guardians that stand watch on four pylons over the east and west ends of the 1932 Hope Memorial Bridge, AKA Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, whose eastern side faces Progressive Field at Ontario Street.

Yes, but the world will soon know that the name refers to the Guardians of Traffic, also known as the Guardians of Transportation, which adorn the bridge.

It’s easy to imagine how the team and the city will draw fresh attention to the sculptures, designed by Cleveland architect Frank R. Walker and carved under the direction of prominent American sculptor Henry Hering.

The sculptures have been favorite icons for Cleveland artists merchandising everything from photographs and leggings to flame-treated wood plaques imprinted with images of the Guardians, as Ideastream public media reported in 2018.

The Cavaliers used one of the stern-faced Guardian figures in the 2018-19 season as the big motif for their “All For The Land” banner on the Sherwin-Williams building overlooking Ontario Street. The pointillist-style image was made up of thousands of individual crowdsourced photos of Cavs fans and Clevelanders.

The Guardians and their bridge, once grimy with soot, date back to Cleveland’s industrial heyday, when the 1930 Census ranked the city No. 6 in population, after No. 5 Los Angeles, and ahead of No. 7 St. Louis.

Like other landmarks of that time, the Guardians telegraph the pride of a city that viewed itself as a consequential place, not the butt of late-night TV jokes that it later became. The Guardians resonate again today as symbols of the proud, unified, resurgent place Cleveland aspires to be.

The bridge overseen by the Guardians spans the Cuyahoga River, once a polluted sink of industrial waste that has returned to health and which now carries rowers, paddle boarders, and canoeists along with majestic ore boats that haul taconite pellets to feed steel mills upstream in the industrial Flats.

The bridge offers spectacular views of a Cleveland skyline that will soon grow with the addition of a fourth tall skyscraper at Public Square, housing the new Sherwin-Williams headquarters.

The Lorain-Carnegie span, which stands just north of the Interstate 90 George Voinovich Bridge (which is really two bridges) serves pedestrians, motorists, and bicyclists. It’s a powerful emblem of Cleveland’s past and future as a place where transportation modes mix along routes that cross a river and a continent, traversing a city strategically located between New York and Chicago.

The Guardians keep watch over it all, unifying the East and West sides of the city by facing both directions. They stand erect and straight-backed with wings on their shoulders and their eyes fixed on distant horizons. Their stony hands clasp historical modes of transport, including a stagecoach, a settler’s Conestoga wagon, various trucks, and an automobile. Collectively, they narrate the quickening compression of time and space through travel, a hallmark of modernity.

Yet their streamlined neoclassical style, tinged with Art Deco geometries, harks back to the early-middle decades of the last century, when speed on land, sea, and water were novelties, when Cleveland was an early leader in air travel and automobile manufacturing, and when the interstates that decanted the city’s population and tax base to suburbs and outlying counties were yet to be built.

Those were grimy years of smoke and pollution in Cleveland, and some of that heritage adheres literally to the Guardians, whose ruddy surfaces bear marks of factories long since shuttered.

The Guardians also bear witness to Cleveland’s evolution in art and architecture.

Walker, who co-designed the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge as a consultant with the engineering firm of Wilbur J. Watson & Associates, was a partner of architect Harry Weeks. Together, they led the leading Cleveland architecture firm of their time, designing landmarks including the 1923 Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the 1931 Severance Hall in University Circle, home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

Hering’s work as a sculptor, like the architecture of Walker & Weeks, was rooted strongly in the neoclassical Beaux-Arts tradition, a 19th- and early 20th-century adaptation of ancient Greek and Roman design, promulgated through architecture schools in Europe and America until the rise of modernist design, starting in the 1920s and 30s.

Hering’s work adorns Cleveland buildings including Severance Hall and the Federal Reserve. His 1928 sculptural relief “Defense,’’ on the tender’s house of the Michigan Avenue Bridge in Chicago, is among the city’s most memorable landmarks.

As the Guardians show, Hering and Walker in the late 1920s and early ’30s were adapting influences from the Art Deco style, launched in 1925 at the International Exposition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris.

Those touches are visible in the machine-like flattening and geometric patterning on the Guardians’ abstracted drapery folds, giving them a hint of Jazz-Age pizzazz.

The muscularity of the Guardians anticipates the athletic heft and grace of Superman, the comic book superhero famously created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1933 while both attended Cleveland’s Glenville High School.

To be guarded by superheroes, whether it’s a caped crusader or figures standing sentinel on a bridge, is to be kept safe, to feel secure in the knowledge that someone’s looking for you.

In a sense, the Guardians are. They’re helping the city move on from a team name that carried a whiff, however unintentional, of racism, military violence, and broken treaties perpetrated against Native Americans from wars in Southern New England in the 17th century to Wounded Knee in the 19th.

Given their roots in neoclassicism, the Guardians unavoidably reflect an ancient cultural tradition appropriated by Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany as emblematic of ethnic purity. The style has also been adopted by white nationalists in the U.S. eager to claim the heritage of Greece and Rome as their own.

As numerous scholars have pointed out, however, the Greek and Roman empires were multi-ethnic. Sculptures in both civilizations were also richly polychromatic; their colors washed away with time or scrubbed clean by misinformed restorers in later centuries.

Today, we could choose to view the Guardians as hardworking, robustly proportioned figures who symbolize the dignity of labor. Like caryatids holding up an ancient temple, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and carry heavy loads.

With the “ians’’ at the end of their name, they retain at least a touch of their team’s former name, without the unsavory associations.

They also connect the team to the namesake of the bridge they oversee, stonemason William Henry Hope, a native of England who immigrated to Cleveland with his family, and who helped carve the Guardians. He was the father of comedian and entertainer Bob Hope, whose name and reputation also adhere to the bridge, even though it was renamed for his father after a cleaning and rehab in 1983.

What matters here is that beautiful word, hope. Brawny sculptures on a bridge are now standing guard over the hope that someday, somehow, Cleveland’s baseball team will bring a world championship back to the city astride the Cuyahoga.

Steven Litt
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/07/web1_litt.jpgSteven Litt
James Sonnhalter and his wife Kath ride eastbound Dec. 10, 2012, on the new bikeway of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, just past one of the Guardians, in Cleveland.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/07/web1_20210723-AMX-US-NEWS-RENAMING-CLEVELAND-INDIANS-FOR-HOPE-4-PLD.jpgJames Sonnhalter and his wife Kath ride eastbound Dec. 10, 2012, on the new bikeway of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, just past one of the Guardians, in Cleveland. Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer
One of the iconic 43-foot tall Guardians of Traffic pillars on the Lorain-Carnegie (Hope Memorial) Bridge, was dusted with snow after a storm in 2013. They have been on the bridge since 1932, overlooking bicycle traffic, pedestrians, and vehicles.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/07/web1_20210723-AMX-US-NEWS-RENAMING-CLEVELAND-INDIANS-FOR-HOPE-1-PLD.jpgOne of the iconic 43-foot tall Guardians of Traffic pillars on the Lorain-Carnegie (Hope Memorial) Bridge, was dusted with snow after a storm in 2013. They have been on the bridge since 1932, overlooking bicycle traffic, pedestrians, and vehicles. Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer
Hope Memorial Bridge Guardians inspire the name

By Steven Litt

cleveland.com

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