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History of the Powerhouse

Moon jellies in an old smokestack? The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is not your typical aquarium experience and guests can learn about more than just aquatic life when visiting the FirstEnergy Powerhouse.

The Powerhouse originally was built to manage and control electric streetcars and railways, becoming one of Cleveland’s most recognizable icons in the 1880s.


Designed by a Cleveland architect, John Richardson, the Powerhouse was the first power plant to give electricity to streetcars in Cleveland; it double in space in 1901 to meet the demand of more streetcar lines. Richardson also designed buildings such as the Perry-Paine building and Franklin Castle.

Richardson designed the Powerhouse in the Romanesque revival style; built to resemble the European factories of the time with gabled roofs, arched windows, and thick window sills made of stone. The original structure was built in 1892, and was the first power plant dedicated to providing electricity to streetcars in Cleveland. In the 1920s, the demand of automobiles increased, forcing the Powerhouse to close its doors, where it remained dormant for about a quarter of a century. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Powerhouse was the home of several comedy clubs, restaurants and a few retailers; many may remember some of these businesses including Howl at the Moon, Rock Bottom Brewery and the Improv Comedy Club.

The Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio occupies the Powerhouse on the West Bank of The Flats district. The building was constructed in the late 19th century and originally powered Cleveland's electric railway and streetcar system. The four-level brick structure is a National Historic Landmark.

In 2012, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium opened in the Powerhouse building. Marinescape NZ Ltd., a New Zealand-based company, specialized in refurbishing preexisting structures as aquariums. Marinescape chose Cleveland after studying various cities in the Midwest because of its location, market opportunities and other variables.

Most of the original structure still stands and the character of Cleveland’s history can still be seen. The iconic smokestacks are now part of our Discovery Zone exhibit, which is home to our moon jellyfish. Guests can gaze above into the displays as the jellies float in the glowing environment and learn about their life cycle and the adjacent exhibits.In both our Indo-Pacific and Tropical Reef galleries, original archways that were used as coal chutes now hold multiple exhibits.

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Recently, Cleveland’s own Leon Bibb featured the Powerhouse building and its unique features as a part of his “My Ohio” series.

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium has been featured in numerous articles highlighting the ability to re-purpose the building, including the New York Times and AOL.

SCUBA divers usually communicate using hands signs, but you can ask our Shark Gallery divers questions while they're underwater via a special microphone during daily Sharks & Scuba Talks.

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