After years of complaints and controversy over its racist caricature mascot, Cleveland’s Main League Baseball team on Friday announced that its new name subsequent season can be the Guardians.
It was a polarizing alternative. Preliminary fan reactions have been mixed, with some pining for a throwback name from the team’s earliest days, and others blowing the “cancel culture” dog whistle. Regardless of the knee-jerk reactions, the name truly has a deep reference to the metropolis and its historical past.
The name is an homage to the Guardians of Site visitors, 4 large Nineteen Thirties-era stone sculptures that adorn the pylons marking a main bridge over the Cuyahoga River, proper subsequent to the team’s downtown stadium. Every is double-sided and options square-jawed neoclassical figures holding historic modes of transportation, together with a coated wagon, a stagecoach, and a Nineteen Thirties vehicle. With their chiseled muscle mass and winged crowns, the sculptures exude the power of what was as soon as one in all the industrial powerhouses of the United States, with a sprint of artwork deco class for a fashionable metropolis on the rise. When the bridge opened in 1932, these design parts turned emblems of the metropolis.
Fortunes ultimately modified for Cleveland, with its industrial would possibly fading and fires repeatedly breaking out on the river beneath the Guardians’ watch. In its video saying the name change, the baseball team (by way of a voice-over by actor Tom Hanks) evokes the Guardians as symbols of an underdog metropolis supported not by the opinions of outsiders or the toothy grin of an offensive cartoon mascot, however by residents themselves. A new logo even references the winged crowns of the team’s new namesakes. “We wished a name that strongly represents the delight, resiliency, and loyalty of Clevelanders,” team proprietor Paul Dolan mentioned in the official announcement.
Resiliency could also be the operative phrase right here, as sculptor Henry Hering’s Guardian statues have been as soon as on the brink of demolition.
In the mid-Seventies, when preservationists have been calling for the bridge to be included in the Nationwide Register, plans have been being made to squeeze extra lanes of vehicle site visitors into the 83-foot-wide bridge. Deliberate and designed starting in the late Nineteen Twenties by engineer Wilbur J. Watson with architect Frank R. Walker, the bridge was initially meant to be two ranges, with 4 automobile lanes and two streetcar tracks under. The underside degree was by no means constructed, forcing all of the bridge’s site visitors load onto one degree.
As famous in the bridge’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form submitted in 1976, the county engineer was then proposing a widening of the roadway from 60 ft to 76 ft, leaving simply 7 ft of the bridge’s width for anybody daring to cross it with out a automobile. The roadway enlargement would have necessitated the elimination of the pylons, and the destruction of the Guardians of Site visitors—all to make extra room for site visitors.
Writing in protection of the bridge, preservationist Eric Johannesen of the Western Reserve Historic Society defined in the January 1976 nomination kind that “the sculptured pylons, from which the architectural character of the bridge derives, are the solely main sculptural monument in the metropolis in the Artwork Deco idiom.” This nomination, offered 44 years after the bridge opened, got here sooner than the conference of ready half a century earlier than lobbying for preservation. However the deliberate enlargement of the roadway, and its potential destruction of the Guardians of Site visitors, referred to as for motion. In his argument for together with the bridge on the Nationwide Register, Johannesen famous that “it is of outstanding significance due to the uniqueness of the sculptured pylons[.]”
The Nationwide Park Service agreed, and the Guardians of Site visitors have been saved. As Cleveland Plain Seller structure critic Steven Litt points out, the Guardians have lived on to grow to be icons in the metropolis, overlooking a river that now carries canoeists and paddleboarders as a substitute of poisonous flames. An improve in the early 2000s even pushed again in opposition to the road-widening instincts of earlier site visitors engineers, squeezing the roadway right down to 4 lanes and changing 9 ft of automotive area into a protected bike lane.
The baseball team’s new name is bringing renewed consideration to the Guardians of Site visitors as symbols of the metropolis and examples of preservation-worthy structure. Additionally they stand as a reminder that, regardless of the significance of site visitors and mobility, cities have a lot to lose when the wants of automobiles take priority over all else.