Building the Shoreway was cold work in winter 1936, but 6 1/2 years into the Great Depression, it was the only work thousands of Cleveland men could find. The federal Works Progress Administration had launched the project in November 1935, and by December, with the temperature near freezing, some workers were refusing to leave lunch bonfires and return to work. So WPA officials stopped the project for a half-day, costing 1,350 men $2 each in pay.
By February 1936, workers in overcoats were hauling dirt down the bluff in wheelbarrows, filling in land reclaimed from the lake near East 55th Street. Some of their work washed away by April because the WPA hadn't spent enough on a retaining wall. Still, a Plain Dealer editorial, excited to see the realization of "Cleveland's long-cherished dream of a lake front boulevard," expressed hope that the road would help realize another perennial civic ambition: development of the lakefront and port.
The Shoreway opened in stages in summer 1936, in time to carry motorists to the Great Lakes Exposition at present-day North Coast Harbor. Few Clevelanders had ever seen a freeway before. "New Shore Road Has Nary A Light," raved a headline. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the expo in August and rode along the new highway. "This is marvelous," FDR declared. "I remember this lake front when it was a tin can dump."