With ceremonial snips of a long red ribbon Friday afternoon, Cleveland, Ohio became “Rock and Roll Town, U.S.A.”
The long-homeless Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened its doors with high-decibel fanfare: Thousands lined downtown streets to watch a wriggling oversized Elvis puppet and symbolic floats (VW Beetles for The Beatles, huge papiermache boulders for The Rolling Stones) roll toward I.M. Pei’s sixstory shrine on the shores of Lake Erie.
All this marked a historic turn: The music associated with youthful rebellion had hung around long enough to get some respect in the form of a dramatic building expressly designed to house its memorabilia and educate its fans.
The opening ceremony began shortly after noon, with Jimi Hendrix’s solo guitar version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then came the speeches. Politicians and music-industry executives gushed about cooperation, touting the $92 million hall as a catalyst in the “Cleveland renaissance.” Yoko Ono said John Lennon would have “loved the fact that he’s here, and not anymore in my closet.” She went on to predict that Pei’s geometrical glass tent would “change the map of America and the world.”
“The heart of rock and roll is beating in Cleveland,” proudly proclaimed Ohio Gov. George V. Voinovich. As the city’s mayor, Voinovich led the campaign that got Cleveland chosen in 1986 as the hall’s home over Philadelphia, Memphis, Tenn., and other competitors. Recalling the early days of the project, when people in Cleveland signed piles of petitions saying their city was where the hall belonged, the governor noted that there were many doubters.
“All we were saying, was give Cleveland a chance.” He called the completed project “one of the greatest examples of Born in the U.S.A. public-private partnership.”
The Hall of Fame inspired others to such highflying accolades. Minutes after entering the building for the first time, legendary Memphis producer/engineer Sam Phillips, who nurtured the careers of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, said he was astounded by the public’s reaction. “You can see the spirit, you can hear it from the governor, these people got behind this project.”
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