Empire Builders
An Illustrated History of the Rise and Fall of Cleveland’s Van Sweringen Brothers
Text and Photography by Lauren R. Pacini
Foreword by John J. Grabowski
Early Reader Praise


"Brothers O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen left a much more visible mark on Cleveland than John D. Rockefeller but a much smaller record of their personal lives. In Empire Builders, author Lauren Pacini provides as complete an account of the Vans as the scanty records allow but compensates with a rich photographic record of their bricks and mortar legacy on the architectural face of Cleveland, from the garden suburb of Shaker Heights to the heart of downtown."
~John Vacha, author of Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Renaissance
"In Empire Builders, Lauren Pacini masterfully combines historical and current images of Cleveland and its neighborhoods to reveal the compelling story of how the Van Sweringens influenced the development of the city and how they ultimately fell short. This book brings to life the history of Cleveland from its first settlers to the impact of the Van Sweringens, and historians, fans of Cleveland, and those interested in urban development will be delighted from start to finish."
~Julie Agar M.Ed., Hawken School, Cleveland, OH
"Lauren Pacini's work expertly details—through stories and images—the past and present that binds Northeast Ohio together. His exhaustive research recounts the people and families who came to the old Western Reserve and forged a community. His camera deftly captures the physical remains of the structures that still grace the Greater Cleveland landscape, and his storytelling paints a vivid picture of the people who left behind one of the great urban areas of its time."
~Greg Deegan, Executive Director, Teaching Cleveland
Editorial Reviews

I first encountered the work of Lauren Pacini several years ago when I was doing research for a story about the Allen-Sullivan House, then one of the remaining nineteenth century mansions still standing on Cleveland's once grand Euclid Avenue. In the course of that research, I came across a number of photographs of the interior of that mansion that Pacini had taken. In a word, they were brilliant!

I didn't know then that Lauren Pacini was more than just a very good architectural photographer.  He is also a very good historian. In Empire Builders: An Illustrated History of the Rise and Fall of Cleveland's Van Sweringen Brothers, Pacini has constructed a detailed and moving history of the lives and fortunes—and misfortunes—of Oris Paxton Van Sweringen and his younger brother, business partner, and life long confidante, Mantis James.  Almost as a bonus, he has included in the book a number of great  photographs of places in Cleveland and its suburbs where the Van Sweringen brothers made and left their mark. The photographs alone make this a wonderful book for any Clevelander's coffee table. Pacini's book however, is much more than just a great coffee table book. 

Organized into eight chapters, it begins with a broad view of the early urban development of Cleveland, and then quickly and efficiently takes the reader to the main subject: the era of the Van Sweringens.  Succeeding chapters, one by one, examine the growth and development of the various parts of their empire and, in the end, its collapse. Throughout these chapters, the reader is visually treated not only to pages of Pacini photographs, but is also given an option to use QR codes to see more related photographs. I used that option a lot.

As you read deeper and deeper into the book, you become more and more impressed with these two amazing Cleveland brothers, not just because of what they accomplished that left such an imprint on Cleveland and its suburbs, but also because they did it with sincerity and honesty and morality.  Those qualities often made converts of people in power—both in the public and private sectors—who often then became supportive of Van Sweringen projects. Thus, the book may also carry an incidental message for today's entrepreneurs who, like the Van Sweringens once did, are now developing plans and striving for success in today's business world.

What I especially appreciated about this book was how thoroughly and how smoothly Pacini blended the story of these two amazing brothers with other stories that are interesting and important to the history of Cleveland—the Terminal Tower, the Nickel Plate Railroad, the Rapid Transit, Erie-Lackawanna, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, and Hunting Valley, to name a few.  When Pacini tells us about the rise and fall, and the successes and failures, of the Van Sweringens, he also then necessarily tells us also about the rise and fall, and the successes and failures, of Cleveland as a once great industrial city.  While there is certainly an element of sadness to both stories, they also inspire hope once the reader stops to consider what these two brothers were able to accomplish in the space of a few decades that left such a lasting imprint upon the City of Cleveland. [return]

~Jim Dubelko, contributor to Cleveland Historical and Encyclopedia of Cleveland History