The Los Angeles Rams’ appearance and victory in Super Bowl 56 spurred a good deal of interest in the franchise’s founding in Cleveland. This included Spectrum 1 News Ohio, which featured author Jim Sulecki and his book “The Cleveland Rams” in a lengthy segment that aired multiple times on Super Bowl Sunday. Click the link below to see the web version of the story (sign-in may be required).
Why: The Rams won the 1945 NFL Championship Game here 27 days before owner Daniel F. Reeves announced the franchise was moving to Los Angeles.
Now: First Energy Stadium, 100 Alfred Lerner Way, Cleveland.
What: From their American Football League debut in 1936 through the 1945 title game, the Cleveland Rams played 20 of their 41 home games here. Much like the baseball Cleveland Indians of the era, the Rams toggled between Cleveland Stadium and League Park—treasuring the potential for a larger gate at the former (78,000 capacity) but comfortable with the intimacy of the latter (23,000). The Stadium was the natural choice to host the 1945 title game, yet only 32,178 fans shivered through near-zero-degree weather to watch the Rams down the Washington Redskins on a patchy field insulated with 9,000 bales of straw. Precisely 50 years and one day later, the Cleveland Browns played their last game at Cleveland Stadium before moving to Baltimore, and the structure was razed soon thereafter. Today, no recognition of the Cleveland Rams or the history of Cleveland Stadium exists anywhere on the site.
Where: Central Armory, at the corner of Lakeside Avenue and East 6th Street in downtown Cleveland.
Why: Site of the Washington Redskins’ “brief workout” just before the 1945 NFL championship game.
Now: The Armory was demolished in 1965 and replaced by a plaza adjacent to the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building.
What: The Washington Redskins arrived by train with owner George Preston Marshall and their 120-piece marching band the day before the title game, intending to practice on an available open field somewhere in Cleveland, possibly at Baldwin Wallace College. “But they evidently don’t understand,” wrote the Plain Dealer’s John Dietrich, “that for the moment the local landscape looks like that of the North Pole.” Instead the Redskins were forced indoors to a “cavalry stable” just up a lakefront slope from Cleveland Municipal Stadium. There they went through a “brief workout” on December 15, 1945. They would have no such sanctuary the next day, however, as the elements would play a key role and lead to their undoing in their fateful championship-game matchup with the Cleveland Rams.
Where: 107th Cavalry Armory
Why: Site of the Cleveland Rams’ practices the week before they won the 1945 NFL championship.
Now: Fairhill Place Apartments at the corner of Fairhill and Kemper roads in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
What: The weather was so cold and snowy leading up to the 1945 NFL championship game that the Rams had to set up camp in this brick-and-steel, two-story armory in suburban Shaker Heights in order to conduct their practices. “How do you like this spot?” star quarterback Bob Waterfield was asked by a newspaper reporter. “Can’t kick,” the always-laconic Waterfield replied, “but, otherwise, it’s all right.”
Where: St. Regis Hotel
Why: Bob Waterfield and Jane Russell lived here in the autumn of 1945
Now: Demolished. Replaced by new housing at 8205 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, just west of Cleveland Clinic’s now-sprawling campus.
What: Waterfield and his new wife, movie star Jane Russell, were immediate—if brief—sensations in Cleveland when they alighted here in 1945. Both newly wealthy from their booming careers, they took up residence in this eight-story brick edifice that at one time had been a grand home to residents including a Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Company and the president of the old Cleveland Spiders pro baseball team. But since then, the building had been remodeled into apartments, and Waterfield and Russell shared a humble pull-down bed and cooked on a “tiny stove on top of the fridge” as they slowly grew homesick for their native southern California.
In late October 1945 the Rams’ PR rep received a request from LIFE magazine to publish a story about the couple. Russell’s movie studio initially was hesitant to provide permission, fearful of exposing the sex symbol’s marital status, but Russell was game. “I’ll cooperate with you on anything that’s good for Robert and (the) Rams,” she told him. A photographer arrived to capture the couple at home in the St. Regis and at League Park, with Russell at the latter daringly holding a staged placekick for her fully uniformed husband. The celebrity duo and their homespun lifestyle in Cleveland would be introduced to a national audience in the LIFE issue dated December 17, 1945—the day after the Rams had been crowned world champions.
Where: Union Commerce Building
Why: Business operations for the fledgling Rams franchise rotated around this commanding building at Cleveland’s business crossroads: East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue.
Now: Still located at 925 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, the edifice is now known as the 925 Building (and coincidentally was on the route of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship parade in June 2016).
What: Rams co-founder and lawyer Homer H. Marshman amassed paperwork pertaining to the new franchise in a “neat and orderly folder” in his desk drawer while working from an office here in 1936. New Yorker Daniel F. Reeves operated out of this location on his infrequent trips to Cleveland after he bought the team in 1941. And it was from here that Rams general manager Charles “Chile” Walsh conducted scouting and recruitment efforts during World War II that ultimately built the franchise’s 1945 NFL championship team and the franchise’s greatest sustained stretch of football success to this day.
Where: League Park
Why: The Rams played 19 of their 41 AFL and NFL home games here while they were in Cleveland, including all four of their regular-season contests leading up to their 1945 NFL championship.
Now: A beautifully restored public baseball field, replete with a replica of League Park’s famed right-foot wall along with Cleveland’s Baseball Heritage Museum, are located on the very same site at 6601 Lexington Avenue, Cleveland.
What: Though home to baseball’s Cleveland Indians, League’s Park rectangular configuration and seating capacity of 23,000 made it a surprisingly accommodating facility for football—professional as well as collegiate. Located at a trolley stop at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 66th Street, League Park was sewn into the middle of the Hough neighborhood on the city’s East Side, with automobile parking accommodated—for a small fee, of course—by local residents and their shallow front yards. The final two NFL games there were particularly momentous. On November 11, 1945 a flash overflow crowd of 28,361 jammed into the park’s grandstands as well as a battalion of temporary bleachers erected along the right-field wall, causing the latter to collapse and injure 31—though many joyous fans engrossed in the Rams’ 20–7 victory over the hated Green Bay Packers hardly noticed. At League Park’s very last football game, on December 2, 1945, the Western Division champion Rams ran their record to 9–1 by defeating the Boston Yanks, 20–7, before 18,470. Boxing legend Jack Dempsey was on hand to help celebrate a special “day” for fan favorite, lineman Riley “Rattlesnake” Matheson. Just six weeks later, Rams owner Daniel F. Reeves announced the team was moving west to become the Los Angeles Rams.
Where: Shaw Stadium
Why: The Rams hosted two regular-season games here in 1938
Now: Still located at 14305 Shaw Avenue, East Cleveland, though now painted in the black-and-red of the Shaw High School Cardinals rather than the white of 1938
What: Nothing seemed to better symbolize the Rams’ futility in their early years than their sharing of Shaw Stadium in East Cleveland, if only briefly, with the Shaw High School Cardinals. Yet the Rams’ decision to host two games there in 1938—a 7–6 loss to the Chicago Cardinals on September 17, and a 21–17 victory over the Detroit Lions on October 2—made some sense. Shaw Stadium just had been renovated and enlarged and was lavishly maintained, off limits to high-school practices but available for game-day use by colleges and other high schools. The stadium furthermore was among the best illuminated in Ohio, its lighting designed and installed by General Electric, whose NELA Park, one of the nation’s first planned industrial research facilities, was just a mile-and-a-half away. And its 15,500 capacity was well suited to the team’s small but growing fan base. But by October 9, 1938 the team had returned to the fifty-percent-larger League Park for a stunning 14–7 upset of the Chicago Bears, and the Rams—and NFL football—never returned to Shaw Stadium.
Where: Union Club of Cleveland
Why: One of the oldest social organizations in the city of Cleveland and gathering place for many of the Rams founding investors
Now: Still located at 1211 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
What: The Rams’ beginnings as an entity in the National Football League originated here. Owners Homer H. Marshman and Dan Hanna, frustrated with the financial struggles and general second-rate operation of the American Football League, met for lunch here at the end of the Rams’ 1936 inaugural season to discuss whether to stay in the AFL. “Count me out,” Marshman told Hanna; the AFL, he said, was “a failure.” Instead the two men called Joe F. Carr—Columbus, Ohio, native and president of the NFL—who encouraged the Rams to apply for entry. A few months later, on February 12, 1937, the Cleveland Rams officially joined the NFL.