When Eliot Ness reorganized the police department in 1938, he transitioned the force from what had been eighteen precincts into five, larger districts, which were further divided into 32 zones. The newly formed Third District covered the territory east of the Cuyahoga River to about E. 63rd Street and north of Union Avenue, SE and was headquartered at CPD Central Station, at 2001 Payne Avenue.
For the next several decades, the 3rd District main offices were on the northeast side of the first floor (across from the Chief’s office) and the Roll Call room was in the northeast corner of the underground garage, adjacent to the district’s locker room.
In 1970, the department’s “antiquated, one-channel radio system” was phased out, replaced with a “10-channel miracle of modern electronic wizardry, a $6.5 million facility built not only for today but for tomorrow.” The goal of the new system, according to Captain Joseph J. Strauss, was to provide better service and a reduction in crime. Along with the improved system came additional forty staff, civilians and police officers to handle the calls. The new communication center was located on the first floor.
After the police headquarters moved to its new location at the Justice Center in 1976, the Payne Avenue building continued to serve as the headquarters for the Third District. Immediately after the move to the Justice Center, the first floor of 2001 Payne consisted of the Third District Captain, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Roll Call area, Report Room, general office and front desk in the northeast section. A single jail cell was used to hold juveniles until parents came to pick them up. All other prisoners were taken directly to the Justice Center. Offices for the vice and strike force units were located on the northwest side of the first floor.
The southeast portion contained the Third District Commander’s office, his support staff and a conference room. A community meeting room was just west of the center door, on the south side. The Downtown Safety Patrol occupied the rest of the southwest side. The back up radio remained on the 5th floor, but the rest of the building, including all of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors, were left empty.
Over the years, additional units moved into the Third District building. When the General Duty Detective Bureau was decentralized, the 3rd District Detective Bureau occupied a portion of the west half of the first floor. Other changes included new locker rooms on the second floor, which were installed in 1982 after months of advocacy and a threatened picket line by the officers.
In 1989, there was talk of moving the 3rd District station to the proposed Municipal Center, a hub then-mayor George Voinovich wanted to place in the old Warner & Swasey plant at E. 55th and Carnegie. At the time, Patrolman Fred Mauch, felt the history of the building was important, telling the Plain Dealer that Eliot Ness “roamed the halls of this building.” Patrolman Donald Picarelli said, “I like this old building. There are great memories here.” The new municipal center didn’t happen and the Third District remained at 2001 Payne Avenue.
Unfortunately, the building fell into disrepair, with crumbling plaster and faulty heating and plumbing systems. By 1993, 3rd District Commander Martin Flask declared, “the officers (who work there) are forced to endure conditions that are truly unacceptable.” The city undertook a $10 million renovation that created an efficient, modern policing facility with new spaces including a community room, training rooms, and offices. The station’s original 108 jail cells on the 4th floor were removed and replaced with communication operations for police, EMS and fire dispatchers. On the outside, many of the original windows were repaired, the masonry cleaned and nearby lots cleaned and improved. The work on the City of Cleveland Landmark building was completed in 1997.
In 2008, the Police Department re-organized from six to five police districts. The Third District Headquarters moved to the former Fifth District Headquarters at 10507 Chester Avenue.
After seven years in the leaky, rundown 10507 Chester building, the Third District moved into a newly constructed building located at 4501 Chester Avenue. The $17 million, high-tech, energy efficient building officially opened on July 26, 2015. The division’s communications center is on the third floor of the building and a community room on the first floor is used for public meetings and events.
Police Chief Calvin Williams explained, “This isn’t just the Third District police headquarters, this is an example of things to come and what we need to do for this city and this entire division,” Williams said. “This is another step in giving our officers the best, giving our city the best and making sure that we continue along the lines of having what I always state will be the best police division in this country.”
Written by Mazie Adams, Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum Executive Director