Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Warner Swasey Had a Baby, and They Named It Rock and Roll. Or Spacewatch.

Warner & Swasey sittin in a tree
First comes love, then comes marriage
Then comes a telescope that can see into the dark folds and crevices of the universe
Also your soul.

You tell me what had more imagination: Democracy or the invention of the telescope. In this building, they built things that let you look into the stars. In this building, they carefully crafted glass, bending it in just the most precise way as to allow you to magnify light coming from billions of years ago, to feed it into your eye and convert that starlight into electrical impulses that will live on in the hallways of your neurons until you die.

And now all that's left of the Light Farmers are some reams of insulation, a few old filing monsters, and a very very sturdy building of concrete and steel and brick. They built this factory to last beyond them. Good solid poured reinforced concrete, with the shells of wood floors curling off them like dried glue.

This is a building that gets friendlier and friendlier as you get to know it. It's starts off terrifying, walking into a pitch black hole, into a pitch black loading dock. But as you make the decision to go up the stairs (well, you make your friend go first), your excitement grows with the level of light. There are giant vistas all around you of Cleveland, out of every punched out window a new source of smiles. Trains and industry, churches, the ice cream factory, Downtown, other abandoned warehouses in the distance and far far away maybe more smoke stacks.

The metal roofs are laid out in front of you like puzzles, hangers for giant diesel trucks, hauling shipments of sand to be burned into glass. The vent stacks stand like soldiers, lookouts at attention. You search recklessly through the rooms looking for industry, and finally brave being spotted to explore across the empty concrete dance floor, to find the place where the chemicals used to be. The staid, inherently useful machinery filled with intriguing switches and burnt out lights. You can hit as many buttons as you want now, but the machinery would be offended.

Parts of this building are begging for people. Other parts, in their hurt and rejection, are laying themselves open like a girl who likes her boyfriend to hit her.

The graffiti should get up off the wall at night, and have parties, where they decide important issues like our mayoral primary, and healthcare. The graffiti knows whats up, America. It scoffs at you. It says "no pet squid here mother, we don't stand for that kind."

If someone were smart and had more money than me, they would buy this telescope factory and turn it into a looking glass.

They would lead groups onto the roof and force people to see the relationship between cities and those model train sets their uncle was really into. They would make them stare at the street below until they understood the flow of traffic and the fragile timing of it. People would come away inspired to spend their lives always at least 5 stories in the air, counting boxcars and viewpoints. They would start kite factories, and commercial space travel, and hot air balloon tours.

more pics here.


  1. Ah, that's a good old building and there is indeed a lot of good graffiti there. I like these pictures.

  2. Thanks. I feel like this building just wants to be loved, and doesn't know what it did wrong.

  3. Thanks, Bridget, for this awesome collection of pictures. And for reminding me of a visit to the old Warner & Swasey Observatory up on Taylor Road in East Cleveland.

  4. Thanks Jeff.
    Last I read, the Observatory was bought by some couple who wanted to live in it.
    Which makes me very happy and sad at the same time.

  5. I don't think the buyer got much use out of it; spent two years in jail for mortgage fraud.

    I plan to drive by tomorrow to see what it looks like.

  6. It would be great if you told us where this building is located. I'm assuming it's what's left of the WS factory near E55. There was also an observatory building on Taylor in Cleveland Heights.

  7. Yes, I believe it's the E55 place. Last I heard it was slated to be cleaned up and turned into an extension of the Health-Tech Corridor.

  8. I worked in this factory after college in the early 80's. They were manufacturing machine tools in it at the time. I'm stunned to see what has become of it. These pictures are haunting.


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