The Montrose Pillars
By Gary Swilik
For decades, two pillars of brick and stone stood like sentries at the entrance to Montrose Avenue on the east side of Warren Road. These were not simple upright posts but elegantly designed pieces of architecture. Each pillar consisted of a central column about twelve-feet high with two adjoining smaller shafts about eight-feet high, forming an open triangle with one side fronting on Warren and another on Montrose. Each pillar was topped with a carved stone cornice.
These twin pillars were so imposing it was natural to assume they once guarded the entrance to something wonderful, perhaps a palatial country estate. To the east of the pillars, Montrose Avenue meets Glencliffe Road. Both streets then diverge to form a vast oval-shaped plot of land now occupied by Riverside Elementary School. It is easy to envision a grand mansion once stood on the site.
“I went to Riverside School for the first half of kindergarten, and again for sixth grade,” remembers Julieanne Appleson Phillips of Vandalia, Ohio. “I liked going to school from the Warren-Monstrose side because the pillars formed such a majestic entrance. They seemed to be built of the same brick as the school. I always imagined I was approaching some millionaire’s home.”
“I rather liked those pillars,” says Jeff Bowell of Cheyenne, Wyoming. “They added a touch of class to the school approach, although that’s not a concept I really understood at the time.”
“My grandparents lived on Montrouse until the late 1990s,” recounts Dan Holahan of Cleveland. “As a kid, I always thought those pillars were the last remaining part of some old castle which had been there.”
The true origin of the Montrose pillars is less glamorous. In From Rockport to West Park, published in 2004, local historian Ralph Pfingsten reported the pillars were built in the early 1930s at the entrance to an exclusive community which was never completed. The pillars were as far as they got.
In 1936 Riverside Elementary School was built on the oval plot at14601 Montrose Avenue, one of several Cleveland projects sponsored by the Public Works Administration as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. By 1940, Plain Dealer classified ads were promoting new homes being constructed on the Claridge subdivision surrounding the school.
Both Montrose pillars are gone today. In the early 1970s, the author lived at the Warren-Montrose intersection and the northeast pillar was in my front yard. One night I heard a car strike the southeast pillar. The pillar was badly damaged and removed shortly thereafter. The northeast pillar stood alone for another thirty years before being taken down in 2004 due to deterioration. For many, that corner will now always look barren.