The old coast guard station on Whiskey Island was built between 1938 – 1940. The building is situated at the end of a 1,000-foot-long pier jutting out into Lake Erie. At the time of its construction, there were plans to build more stations in different areas along Lake Erie. However, when World War II started, resources were shifted, and no more were built. This leaves the Whiskey Island coast guard station the only one of its kind. The structure was built by J. Milton Dyer – a prominent Cleveland architect also responsible for designing Cleveland City Hall. It’s one of only a handful of Cleveland buildings constructed in Art Deco style, and the only building in the city designed to look like a ship.
In 1976, the U.S. Coast Guard moved their base to East Ninth street leading to abandonment of the building.
Two years after its abandonment, the city took ownership, and had planned to utilize the building as a water quality station. These plans were never put to action, and the property was later sold to the Jacobs Investments Management Co. During the early 90s, the company made an attempt to operate the station as a bar and disco, but this failed after only one season. In 2003, the city once again took ownership, purchasing the property from Jacobs for $1. The city was able to invest in a new roof, as well as pumping water from the flooded basement. Beyond that, the city had no further budget to take on a larger scale project to save the building.
I explored the building back in 2013, and was sad to see so much tasteless vandalism among the weeds growing up through a decaying, once-beautiful structure.
In 2015, a plan was set forth by Pat Conway, the co-owner of Great Lakes Brewing Co., to restore the coast guard station. He saw potential in this beautiful piece of history, and knew that he wanted it to be saved. For years, nobody has stepped in to save this important piece of Cleveland’s history, so Pat took matters into his own hands. The Burning River Fest of 2015 was to be a bit different from previous years, this time focusing heavily on bringing attention to the long-neglected coast guard station. Conway estimated that the event would raise $75,000 for the station that year, to use for structural work, architectural drawings and more.
In the spring of 2016, the coast guard station began taking steps into a new life. A partnership was formed between the Cleveland Metroparks, the Cleveland Foundation, PNC Bank, Sherwin Williams and the Burning River Foundation in order to refurbish, repaint, and restore the structure and grounds that it sits on.
The coast guard station has begun taking bigger steps into a new life over the last couple years, as renovations to the interior continue. As of 2018 things look promising, as much work has gone into saving the station. Proceeds from Burning River Fest continue to go toward the restoration, and in 2018, the fest’s musical lineup will be headlined by the band Low Cut Connie. This year’s fest will take us one step closer to saving this beautiful piece of history. Make sure you grab a ticket at: https://burningriverfest.org/tickets (no, I was not paid to promote this in any way. I just love helping in any way I can to save history, and in this case that means at least sharing the place where many can help by joining the event)
Conway has a vision for the structure, as well as Burning River Fest by 2019. This year will mark the 50-year anniversary of the river catching on fire in 1969. This fire not only marked an important part of Cleveland’s history, but inspired a Great Lakes beer, as well as a festival enjoyed by many. There are even plans to have burning lanterns installed in the river to commemorate the event during Burning River Fest 2019.