Diversity and perseverance mark history of Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood

Brief history of Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood written by Chuck Hoven and Blane Wattene

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Diversity and perseverance mark history
of Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood

by Chuck Hoven and Blane Warrene

Apple orchards once marked the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, and the building that would eventually become central to the community’s existence, the Gordon Square Arcade.

W. J. Gordon, a noted landowner and “city father” in the late 1800’s, had established his personal gardens surrounding West 65th Street, then known quite parochially as Gordon Street. Just to the west of Gordon’s property, the area had become populous enough to establish the Village of West Cleveland, in 1871. However, the growth of what became Detroit Shoreway did not happen overnight.

From the first visitors to today’s community, the neighborhood that reaches from West 45th to West 85th, and from Lake Erie to I-90 has been one of transition, rediscovery and rebirth.

Surveyors first set foot in the area in 1806. By 1820, a couple hundred families were residing west of the Cuyahoga River in an area called Brooklyn Township . In fact, during the 1820Æs, old accounts say a brave soul ventured out to what is now the area of West 65th and Detroit, “far out into the woods.”

Growth came to town as the development of transportation established Cleveland as a major port and pathway from the East Coast to points west, including Detroit. From the opening of the Ohio Canal in 1827, to the railroad in 1851, commerce and industry exploded in the city leading to shipyards (Globe Shipbuilding Company) and main rail connections throughout Detroit Shoreway. This created jobs, helpful in drawing residents to the community. Trolley service, established during and after the Civil War, added to the convenience of living in Detroit Shoreway, making a ride downtown convenient.

Quite contrary to many urban areas through the country, Detroit Shoreway today continues to reflect the rich ethnic heritage of its past, both in its people and architecturally throughout the community. According to many in the neighborhood, this has been a key element to the survival and restoration of the area – fostering an atmosphere of preservation and a sense of history being alive in the neighborhood.

Key to the many physical developments were the waves of immigrants bringing European knowledge and master trades skills.

The German community was building homes in southern Detroit Shoreway in the 1830’s . They built St. Stephen’s on W. 54th South of Lorain in 1873 as a symbol of the strength. The church has many hand carved wood features and statues – a reminder of the skill of German craftsmen in working with wood.

The Irish, after establishing St. Malachi’s, moved westward from the angle establishing St. Patrick’s at W. 38th and Bridge in 1853. The growth of St. Patrick’s caused the need for a second church. St. Colman’s was started in 1880. A school was built in 1885. In 1901, Fr. Eugine O’Callahan moved from St. Patrick’s to St. Colman’s. Local architectural historian, Tim Barrett, says Fr. Callahan was a financial wizard. He had the new church completely paid for and contracted by 1914. The church was completed in 1918. Under the direction of newly appointed Cleveland Bishop O’Leary, Barrett says the church was built in the fashion of the time – classical architecture like Cleveland City Hall and use of modern engineering techniques (there are no columns in the church). Barrett says O’Leary, who wanted to show the world “that the Irish were as good as anyone,” instructed that the interior marble fixtures be carve by Irishcraftsmen. The interior is amber with jewels set in it to create a jewel box for God, said Barrett.

According to Rose Zitiello, a member of a family of descendants of the original Italian immigrants to the neighborhood in the 1890s, the area north of Detroit Avenue between W. 65th and W. 70th Streets, overlooking Lake Erie shores closely resembled the Bay of Naples, a nostalgic sight to these first Neapolitan settlers. A large number of families hailed from Petrulo, Italy near Casserta in the Province of Campagna. The Italians quickly helped in the commercial growth of Detroit Shoreway, opening a bank, bakeries, grocery stores and specialty stores.

The strength of this Italian community led to the construction of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (West) Church (est. 1926) and School. This parish has played a key part in early growth as well as revitalization in recent years, including assisting in the rescue of the Gordon Square Arcade from demolition in 1978, and in housing rehabilitation and construction.

Equally active throughout the community, Romanians moved into Detroit Shoreway rapidly at the turn of the century, and within years became the largest enclave of Romanians in the United States. This colorful ethnic group brought the excitement of dance and the theater, as well as, the nation’s first Romanian semi-professional baseball team.

Adding to the architectural richness of the neighborhood, the Romanians erected St. Helena’s Byzantine Catholic Church on West 65th north of Detroit, followed by St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church on Detroit Avenue. These two buildings share the unique treasure of being the first Romanian churches built in the United States, within days of each other in 1905. In the 1920s the Romanian Daily News began operating in the building that sits at W. 57th and Detroit. When circulation was discontinued in the 1970s, Romanian art replaced the printing presses and the building served as a museum. The museum is now gone and in its place is office space.

There have been several nationalities living in Detroit Shoreway throughout the 20th century, too numerous to mention here. Their respect for their common heritages and the importance of a spiritual ethic in their lives seems to be the strand that has kept these groups living in peace in the area.

Asian Americans moved into the community beginning in the 1920s. In the aftermath of the Vietnam war in the 1970s the area became home to immigrants from Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Cleveland has a temple at 5305 Franklin Avenue which serves as a religious and cultural center. The Laotian community has a community center at 80th and Detroit. The Detroit Shoreway neighborhood also is home to several restaurants and grocery stores run by entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia.

Like so many other urban areas, Detroit Shoreway felt the aftershock of World War II and America’s newly discovered prosperity. This affluence resulted in both residential and commercial migration to new suburbs. This period of growth also opened the door for a new wave of immigration, much like at the turn of the century, this time attracting migration from Mexico, Asia and poor, rural areas of the United States, specifically, from along the Appalachian Mountains running through Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These new settlers shared the same goals of those who came earlier; a desire for better jobs and a more satisfying life.

These residents brought the traditions and culture of their homeland with them, adding to the rich diversity of Detroit Shoreway. ClevelandÆs West Side did not experience the massive exodus to the suburbs that happened on the East Side. Due in part to strong ethnic parishes, many residents remained in their neighborhoods for several generations.

Local historian, Tim Barrett says pastors of the Irish and German Catholic parishes on the West Side preached the importance of staying in the neighborhood and ethnic unity, while on the East side Catholics were more influenced by an early bishop of Cleveland who preached assimilation into the broader culture.

In the 1960s and early 1970s many residents of the southern portion of Detroit Shoreway were forced to move whether they wanted to or not. Despite protests by residents and Cleveland City Council members, the federal government built I-90 through the city of Cleveland. St. Colman’s parish in particular lost much of its population. Evidence of the effect of the freeway was the closing of St. Colman’s Grade School in 1974. The school had been in operation since 1886. The efforts to stop freeway construction were not totally futile, Zone recreation center and the land it sits on is evidence of that. State Route 3, a proposed interchange linking I-90 to the shoreway was stopped due to protests of residents. The canceled interchange resulted in the land which residents later lobbied to get a recreation center built on. Fittingly the Recreation Center was named after Councilman Michael Zone who headed the city council committee appointed by Council President Turk to meet with the Ohio Department of Transportation in 1973 to find an alternative solution to the building of State Route 3. After futile efforts by residents and Councilpersons Oakar and Zone to get the Perk administration to support a recreation center, the Near West Side Youth Coalition secured a promise from Dennis Kucinich shortly before the mayoral election in 1977, Kucinich said ôIf I am elected mayor, the Near West Side will have its recreation center.ö Shortly after the election Kucinich followed through on his promise.

In the 1980s and 1990s Cleveland’s Puerto Rican Community increased its presence in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. In the 1990 census, 2,724 people in the neighborhood claimed Puerto Rican heritage. Other Hispanics in the neighborhood, including the long established Mexican community brought the Hispanic population of Detroit Shoreway in 1990 to 3, 279 of the neighborhood’s 18,744 total residents. With the movement of the Puerto Rican Community westward from the Near West Side, the cultural and religious institutions were soon to follow. The Hispanic Senior Center recently moved to 78th and Detroit, in the former St. Augustine Manor Nursing Home. St. Augustine moved across the street to occupy the former St. John Hospital. East of the former hospital is the new site of Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic Church. The church, a combined effort of parishioners of San Juan Bautista and Cristo Rey will open in 1998. San Juan Bautista pastor, Fr. David Fallon, says he hopes the new church will be ready for Easter. He says the church will be officially dedicated by the bishop at the annual festival next summer.

The 1990 census also showed the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood to be home to 1,322 African Americans, 618 Asian Americans and 74 Native Americans. The relatively peaceful racial integration of the neighborhood fits with the neighborhood’s history of welcoming diverse ethnic groups.

Another change in the neighborhood has been the shift of industry. As early as the mid-1950s, large businesses, such as Westinghouse and Eveready Battery, set up their factories in the community. Now, the sounds of machinery in these plants has become muffled.

Westinghouse’s operations have slowed down since the early part of this decade, but still have minimal activity in their plant. Eveready’s plant, however, was completely shut down, and now has been replaced by several smaller companies.

Despite the departure of the two largest companies, industry still holds an importance to Detroit Shoreway. The Gordon Arcade houses the offices of the Westside Industrial Retention and Expansion Network (WIRE-net) which seeks to help local industry remain in west side neighborhoods and helps to match local residents looking for work with local industry.

Despite the efforts of WIRE-Net the loss of manufacturing jobs in Cuyahoga County remains a significant obstacle to the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and its many working class residents. According to a report by the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland, the poverty rate in the neighborhood grew from 28.7% in 1980 to 51.1% in 1995. The report attributes the growth in poverty largely to the loss of manufacturing jobs in Cuyahoga County. The report says the number of people living below the poverty line in the neighborhood increased from 5,895 people in 1980 to 9,233 people in 1995. Median household incomes in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood decreased by 31.4% from $18,487 in 1979 to $12,676 in 1989.

This massive loss of income in the neighborhood, makes commercial and housing redevelopment in the neighborhood especially difficult, yet strides are being made.

A turning point in the commercial redevelopment of Detroit Shoreway was born in tragedy in 1978. One May morning brought the eastern wall of the Gordon Square Arcade crashing down onto West 65th Street, surely marking the blighted structure for demolition. However, many in the community leadership saw past the rubble to an opportunity to begin a restoration, just what Detroit Shoreway needed – a gateway to rebirth.

With one of the first Urban Development Action Grants (UDAGS) given to a community group, the arcade was protected from the wrecking ball, and stands today as a central business/social hub in the neighborhood. During the past fifteen years, several structures throughout the neighborhood have been restored. This has encouraged much needed rehabilitation work throughout the residential areas of the neighborhood.

Through the efforts of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and Nolasco Housing new housing has been constructed north of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie. On W. 70th Street along with new housing stands the Villa Mercede Senior High Rise built in the late 1970s. More recently, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization has been instrumental in constructing new housing on Franklin Avenue and initiating the Tillman Park Project ù condos behind Max Hayes.

The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization is a partner in a $560,000 renovation of the Chateau Apartments at W. 80th and Detroit. Lieutenant Governor Nancy Hollister came to the Gordon Square Arcade in December of 1997 to deliver a $250,000 Ohio Department of Development grant for the project. With the aid of the grant the apartments in the building will be expanded and redone to better suite the needs of residents. Seventeen apartments will be made available to low income residents in the neighborhood when the project is completed.

Several other buildings on Detroit Avenue will get new tenants in the upcoming year. Progressive Urban Real Estate, a long-time Tremont Business, is moving into the NARI building, 4001 Detroit, at the end of January or early February 1998. The building is just east of Detroit Shoreway’s eastern boundary. The West Side Ecumenical Ministry hopes to open its new headquarters at 5209 Detroit Avenue by the end of May 1998.

On Lorain Avenue, through the efforts of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization the antique shops have been organized and now display banners to help shoppers identify the antique district.

As the physical appearance of Detroit Shoreway has transformed, so has the cultural, with Cleveland Public Theatre bringing professional and experimental theatre to the neighborhood. The theatre recently bought and is renovating the old Gordon Square Theatre east of Cleveland Public Theatre (which is in the old Irish American Club.)

It is fitting that the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, with all its diversity, has decided to celebrate this diversity with a mural in Herman Park (on Herman Avenue, north of Detroit.) The mural, the work of international artist Bernice Massey, lines the wall of the park, permanently etching the diversity many generations of families have brought to Detroit Shoreway. In the park stands a single tree. The tree, dubbed the “Tree of Life” stands as a symbol of peace and growth for the neighborhood.

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