Demolition begins at Van Aken Center

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio - Hundreds savored the past and looked eagerly to the future Saturday when demolition began on the Van Aken Center shopping area northwest of the RTA Blue Line rapid tracks.

The teardown was only symbolic as people watched from a safe distance. A Komatsu excavator rolled up to a vacant shop facade, gnawed away and then went idle for the rest of the afternoon.

The demolition is expected to take three weeks, clearing the way for the first phase of what will be known as the Van Aken District, a mixed-use development projected to cost nearly $100 million.

The celebrants, a blend of merchants, residents and local officials, repaired to a large building in a strip mall on the other side of the tracks. The cavernous space once housed a movie theater and later a men’s clothing store.

It will remain, but no one knows what form it will take because no tenant has been secured, according to RMS, the developer.

Inside, various vendors had set up, including Mitchell’s Ice Cream, which is coming to the area. There was also live music.

One man, who declined to give his name, said he had seen the Three Stooges make a personal appearance in the area in 1963.

“You don’t need to quote me,” he said, holding out a press clipping about the event.

Others reminisced about Noggins, a restaurant in the strip that disappeared in the 1990s.

Other shops near the former theater also buzzed with activity.

Annabelle Verdi, 3, and her 1-year-old sister Rose, of Shaker Heights, drew and made collages at the nearby New Balance shoe store.

RMS president Luke Palmisano said the most exciting thing about the project

“is that we built this together”

as a public-private partnership, referring in particular to Joyce Braverman, Shaker’s development director.

The objective, Palmisano said,

“is a true community gathering space.”

It will have residential space, offices, stores and restaurants, as well as a small park.

Palmisano acknowledged that everyone had fond memories of long-gone fixtures of the old Van Aken Center, such as Noggins and Eddie Sand’s Blue Line Cafe.

What’s coming will provide

“the next generation with stories like that, that they will remember for the next 50 years.”