Thursday, March 26, 2015

ANOTHER STEP TOWARD MERGER WITH CLEVELAND

East Cleveland Mayor Supports Merger With Cleveland


The Cleveland Plain Dealer published this article by Brent Larkin today 3/26/15.


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton has taken the first step towards the only thing that can save his city -- a merger with Cleveland.  That merger involves a long, complicated process. At some point Norton might change his mind, or the idea may collapse due to lack of support in either of the involved cities.

But, to his credit, it's pretty clear Norton has decided there's no other way out of a dire financial crisis that can't get better, and is almost certain to get worse.  "I have an obligation as an elected official to do whatever I can to insure the best quality of life for the community now and in the future," Norton told me. "Even if it means giving up my current position as mayor."

Within the next week or so, Norton and his supporters will begin collecting voter signatures to place on the ballot a measure asking voters to approve a six-member commission -- with three members from each city -- to negotiate a merger plan.

If voters in East Cleveland approve forming the commission, the Ohio Revised Code dictates Cleveland City Council would then either accept the decision to move forward, or decide against holding merger talks.

Cleveland would almost certainly agree to proceed with negotiations. The six-member commission would have 120 days to agree to a plan. That plan would then be placed before East Cleveland voters in an election.

If voters reject it, East Cleveland would slide into bankruptcy. If voters agree to the merger, Cleveland City Council could either accept the result and approve the merger, or leave the final say with Cleveland voters.

Meanwhile, Norton is inching forward on the merger idea at a time when fringe elements in his city are threatening him with a recall election -- an idea that would create political instability at the worst possible time.  "I am doing this totally aware of the potential political fallout for me," said Norton. "In spite of those potential consequences, this (a merger) is something we at least need to explore."
He's right.

From East Cleveland's standpoint, the evidence supporting a merger is so overwhelming that it's difficult to see how anyone could summon a logical argument against it. Bankruptcy is for cities burdened by huge debt, places like Detroit. East Cleveland doesn't have a debt problem. It has a revenue problem -- the worst, by far, of any local government in the state.
East Cleveland requires about $17 million a year to effectively run the city and provide residents with the services they deserve. Yet the city's annual income is about $10 million -- and declining, forcing it to borrow from nonpayroll funds to pay employees.

From a financial standpoint, State Auditor David Yost has labeled East Cleveland "the worst city in Ohio," a city that scrapes "the bottom of the barrel every payday."  Helen Forbes, an attorney and East Cleveland resident appointed by Gov. John Kasich to the state commission that helps oversee the city's finances, put it this way: "We cannot survive this. It's beyond emotion. It's all about the numbers. You cannot operate this city on $10 million a year."  With about 17,000 residents, the city has lost about half its population in the last quarter century. About 5,000 of those 17,000 are employed, 42 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.  Home ownership has slipped to under 30 percent. And about 1,000 structures are classified as "distressed," meaning they desperately need to be demolished.

East Cleveland is now in a state of fiscal emergency, subject to limited state oversight, for the third time since 1988.  As Benjamin Clark, an assistant professor of public finance at Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs, wrote in a Jan. 14. Plain Dealer opinion piece, "The time has come for East Cleveland residents to begin envisioning a newfound sense of pride as members of the newest neighborhood within the city of Cleveland."

Norton deserves support from the entire Greater Cleveland community as he tries to save his city. Despite this avalanche of evidence crying out for a merger, a vocal minority inexplicably opposes it, as do perhaps a majority of council members.  My family's roots in East Cleveland trace back to the early years of the 20th century. Many of the best days of my childhood playing baseball were spent at my grandparents' home at 13404 Fifth Ave. Nevertheless, some opponents to the merger are quick to play the race card when outsiders who care deeply about the city suggest any effort to fight the merger is essentially indefensible.

That twisted logic suggests whites have no business telling residents of a city with more than a 93 percent black population how to conduct its affairs.  This isn't a black/white issue. It's a green one.
My guess is a solid majority of the people who live there have already figured that out.

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer's editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.

The interesting fact is that a merger of East Cleveland with Cleveland would not immediately effect the schools or library. The East Cleveland School system is separate from the City of East Cleveland and already includes part of the City of Cleveland Heights. There are other examples of School systems which include multiple cities or portions of cities for example Cleveland and Shaker Heights. The East Cleveland Public Library Board is appointed by the East Cleveland School Board. So a merger would have no immediate impact on the Library.

Monday, March 23, 2015

EAST CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY



The Shuttle Yearbook Project


The East Cleveland Public Library was a major influence in my life and I’m sure in the lives of all of who grew up in East Cleveland.  I’m here to tell you that the library is alive and thriving under the leadership of Executive Director, Sheba Marcus-Bey and her very capable staff.  The wonderful original Carnegie Library landmark building has been expanded over the years to better serve the East Cleveland community.  One way the community is served is through the state of the art computer services they offer.  Those resources are also available to those of us who no longer live in East Cleveland through the Library website www.ecpl.lib.oh.us.  


An important resource for me in my research about the history of East Cleveland has been the Shaw High School Yearbook (Shuttle).  In preparation for writing this blog I visited the library to review back issues of the Shuttle on file there.  Unfortunately their collection was small at the time.  When I was President of the Friends of the Beachwood Library, a box of Shuttles from the years 1978 – 1992 was donated to our book sale.  I immediately removed them from the sale and contributed them to the East Cleveland Public Library almost doubling the size of their collection.  I recently discovered that the Library has put complete copies of all their Shuttle yearbooks onto their website: http://www.ecpl.lib.oh.us/yearbook.html . These copies can be read on line or printed out on your home printer.


Knowing how important Shuttles are to those of us who lived in East Cleveland or are studying East Cleveland history, I contacted Director Marcus-Bey with a proposal.  My proposal was that I would lend her copies of my Shuttle yearbooks, which were not included on the Library website.  I further proposed that I would encourage everyone I know who owns Shuttle yearbooks not on the Library website to also lend them to the Library for copying to the website.  Ms. Marcus-Bey enthusiastically supported my proposal.  She has agreed to post any Shuttle lent to the Library on their website and return it to the lender.  The Library will support the cost of copying and uploading any Shuttles lent to them for that purpose.  Our goal is to have a copy of each Shuttle yearbook on the East Cleveland Public Library website.  You can help with this project.


Anyone with a Shuttle for the following years is urged to contact the East Cleveland Public Library to support the Shuttle Yearbook Project.



Missing years are: 1918, 1919

                              1920 through 1929

                              1934 through 1936

                              1942, 1945, 1946, 1949

                              1952, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1959

                              1960 through 1969

                              1970 through 1977

                              1983, 1986, 1987

                              1993 to the present

If you would like to help with this project, contact

Ms. Sheba Marcus-Bey, Executive Director


216-541-4128 Ext. 232

           

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

CLEVELAND EAST CLEVELAND MERGER

Momentum toward a merger of East Cleveland and Cleveland has increased.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that two prominent Cleveland City Councilmen have suggested that serious efforts to study the possibility of a merger be undertaken.  At this time the Mayors of both cities have spoken in favor of a merger but spokesmen for the East Cleveland City Council have spoken out against it.  Cleveland City Council President, Kevin Kelley and Cleveland Mayor, Frank Jackson have asked the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University to assist in their study of a possible merger of the two cities.

This blog first suggested the need for a merger back in September 2012.  The issue heated up in November 2013 when former Cleveland City Council President spoke in favor of merger.  Reaction to my initial suggestion and my recent posting about the issue has been mixed.  One of the readers of this blog states, "I don't see the advantages of being the bottom of Cleveland".  Most readers of this blog remember the East Cleveland, which existed during the 1940s, 50s and 60s.  We remember a well managed community with great economic resources.  Unfortunately that situation does not exist today.  East Cleveland needs help from its larger neighbor to maintain the remaining assets and develop more assets in the future.  If handled correctly, a merger would be a win win proposition for both community s.

Here is a link to the Plain Dealer article:  

http://www.cleveland.com/cityhall/index.ssf/2014/03/cleveland_takes_baby_steps_tow.html#cmpid=nwsltrhead

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

EAST CLEVELAND TODAY





 This posting is a bit of a digression from the history of East Cleveland during the 1940s and 1950s with which I am more familiar.  However, I believe those who follow this blog would also like to stay current on issues affecting East Cleveland today.  In previous postings I tried to avoid much discussion of current issues, because for the most part I only know what I read in the papers.   My current knowledge of East Cleveland has been gained through research I have done at the East Cleveland Public Library and occasional visits to my old neighborhoods.


Like many of you who grew up in East Cleveland and then returned to visit, I am shocked by the physical deterioration of the town.  Whole blocks of houses and apartments have been abandoned or burned out and boarded up.  Those housing units, which are still occupied, tend to be in marginal states of maintenance.  Most housing is not owner occupied.  The population is the poorest of the poor.  Many of you have commented on my blog about how depressing it is to see what has happened to our old home town.


There are those who will blame the current state of affairs in East Cleveland on the racial change, which occurred starting in the 1960s.  I have received comments to that effect on this site.  I lived in East Cleveland during the early 1960s while attending Western Reserve University.  I studied sections of the City as part of an Urban Sociology class project in 1962.  Later in the decade, I walked all the streets of East Cleveland meeting people as a candidate for State Representative.  I met many of the new African-American citizens and found them to have similar values, hopes and dreams as I and my long time East Cleveland friends and neighbors.  Unfortunately, White flight, encouraged by real estate block busting tactics, moved too fast to allow the development of a stable integrated community.


East Cleveland became a stable majority African-American community by the 1980s.  It was still a community of middle class values, which encouraged strong families, home ownership and property maintenance. Unfortunately, the transformation of East Cleveland into a majority African-American community coincided with the major economic decline of the Cleveland region resulting in what we know as the rust belt.  This combined with the flight of the middle class (both White and African-American) from the inner ring suburbs left East Cleveland with a different population.  The difference was not African-American or White.  The difference was economic class. 


Merger of East Cleveland with Cleveland



Back in 2011 I started this site with the following comment: “An argument could be made that East Cleveland had no clear identity of its own.  Each part of East Cleveland is like the community it borders.  On the North it borders the Collinwood section of Cleveland.  On the West it is adjacent to The Glenville section as well as University Circle and Little Italy.  Finally, on the South and East is Cleveland Heights.  In many ways the socio-economic groups, housing etc. in East Cleveland were quite similar to those in adjacent communities.”  I went on to argue that East Cleveland did, in fact, have an identity of its own and went on to describe that identity in detail.


In September 2012 I made the following comment in my presentation to an urban history class at Case Western Reserve University:  “As much as it pains me to say it, there may not be a reason for the City of East Cleveland today.  In fact the very existence of the City of East Cleveland may be a barrier to solving the problems of the area known as East Cleveland.  I already pointed out the similarities of sections of East Cleveland with the neighboring cities.  The problems of the economically depressed population of East Cleveland are more appropriately the problems of the entire Cleveland metropolitan area.  If the area of East Cleveland were a part of Cleveland and/or Cleveland Heights, the current concentration of economically depressed people could be absorbed by the larger tax base of those communities or Cuyahoga County.  The barriers to land development within the current boundaries of East Cleveland would be lowered.  I even believe that East Cleveland as it exists today is no longer a viable power base for the African-American political establishment, if it ever was in the first place.”


Since my presentation in September 2012, there has been considerable discussion in the media and the community of East Cleveland about the possible merger of East Cleveland with the City of Cleveland. 







In fact, the mayors of the two cities have come out in favor of that merger.  Former Cleveland Council President and former head of the NAACP, George Forbes seemed to initiate this discussion.  There have already been examples of mergers of some city services with those of Cleveland including the Water Department.  A strong movement to merge the East Cleveland Public Library with the Cuyahoga County Public Library failed due to opposition from a small but vocal group of citizens even though the Library Board had recommended the merger.  It now seems as if the greatest impediment to the final merger will be the East Cleveland City Council.  It will take a vote of the people to finally decide the future of the community. 


Last night I watched a 40 minute program, which describes the heartbreak and despair felt by current and former citizens of East Cleveland.  That heartbreak and despair is similar to that which many readers of my blog expressed, when seeing what has become of East Cleveland.  The difference is that most of my readers have been White former citizens, who lived in East Cleveland, when I was there too.  The people you meet and hear on this program lived there during the 1990s and later.  They are all African-American.  The hopes, values and sorrow they express are the same as mine and those of most of my readers.






Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Caledonia - My second East Cleveland neighborhood



Caledonia
My Second East Cleveland Neighborhood


My family moved from our home on Shaw Avenue to a new home at 1021 Nela View Road in June of 1953.  I had just completed my first year at Kirk Junior High School after graduating from Prospect in June of 1952.  I had mixed emotions about that move.  After all, I had spent my entire life in the Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood.  I was leaving my close friends and the home and neighborhood I loved.  The last day before the move I spent time in each room of the old house remembering the things that had happened.  I wanted to imprint the place and those events firmly in my mind.  I hope this blog is evidence that I was able to do that. 

Our move was necessary, because we just didn’t have enough space in the old house.  The new house was a single family with three bedrooms and a finished attic on the third floor.  To us, it seemed huge.  It was quite a change to have the home all to ourselves without other families living above us.  Not only did I have a bedroom of my own; but I also appropriated the room on the third floor.  I used it to enjoy my hobbies including amateur radio and as a kind of club house for me and my friends. 

Speaking of friends, I was able to make a whole new group of friends quite quickly.  It turned out that David Reynard, who had been in my homeroom at Kirk, lived just down the street.  When I ventured out the day we arrived, I walked down the street to find David and a bunch of kids playing catch in front of his house.  We recognized each other and he introduced me to the group.  It turned out the test for new members of the gang was to find out how good you were at baseball. The best guy at baseball was a kid named Domenic Argento.  He threw me a few and pronounced me to be OK.  My early acceptance by that new group of kids made the loss of my old friends less traumatic.  I still saw some of the old group in school and occasionally went back to the old neighborhood on my bicycle. As I adapted to my new neighborhood, I made that trip less frequently.

I spent a lot of time exploring the new neighborhood on my bicycle.  Many of my trips were to one of the two shopping areas, one at Taylor and Nela View and the other at Noble and Nela View.  Those areas had everything we had at Taylor and Euclid and more.  The main attraction for me at Noble Road was the Franklin Ice Cream store.  At Taylor Road, which was closer and within easy walking distance, there was a drug store with great cherry sundaes for only 35 cents. 

Noble and Nela View had the most shopping opportunities.  That included Fisher Foods, Woolworths, Fred’s Bakery, a barber shop, a record store, a florist, and a great drug store.  That drug store was Stonebreaker’s.  Mr. Stonebreaker was the president of the East Cleveland School Board and much loved in the community.  He is the one who signed my diploma, when I graduated from Shaw High School in 1958. He was known as “Stoney” to the neighborhood and he and his store filled the same niche as the Tobin Brothers did at Tobin Drug at Taylor and Euclid. 

Other destinations in my exploration of the neighborhood included Caledonia School and the great playground behind it.  Those of us, who lived on Nela View, also had a vacant lot at the corner of Taylor and Nela View in which to play baseball.  That lot is now occupied by two houses.  It filled the purpose previously filled by the field at the end of Plymouth Place.  It was adequate but not quite as good as that Plymouth Place field.  Therefore, when we wanted to play some serious ball, we went to the playground behind the school.  There we were able to play with a larger group of kids from the neighborhood around the school.

Other destinations around the school were the East Cleveland Public Library branch and the Warner and Swayze Observatory.  I spent a lot of time at that library.  My usual reading was about electricity and electronics.  It got to the point where I had read all the books in the 538 Dewey decimal range and had to go to other libraries to find some new stuff.  I also read extensively in the history section.  My reading said something about my future life.  When I had to say for the yearbook what I would study at college, I said electrical engineering.  It was truly one of my great interests.  Remember that was 1958 and we were under the impact of sputnik.  A career in science or engineering was greatly prized.  Once I went to college I followed my other interest and studied history and political science, got a master’s degree in Public Administration and spent a career in government, healthcare and university administration.  It all started in that branch library.  By the way, I had to take some science courses at Western Reserve University.  I chose geology and astronomy.  The astronomy class was held at night at the Warner and Swayze Observatory to which I could walk from my home on Nela View.

Another great destination across the street from the library was the Methodist church.  Somehow we discovered a coke machine in the basement of the church.  That machine was still giving coke for 5 cents a bottle when most other machines were charging a dime.  That was a refreshing stop on the way to or from the playground or library.  Much later in life, when I was Operations Director for the Cuyahoga County Mental Health Board, I got to know Rev. Douglas Denton, the pastor of that church and a member of the Mental Health Board.  Once, when I was meeting with him at the church, I revealed the secret of the coke machine.  He assured me that they had raised their price.

To the southeast of Nela View we explored as far as Mayfield Road.  The Severance estate was still there on the Southeast corner of Mayfield and Taylor.  It was later torn down and redeveloped as the Severance Shopping Center.  On the northeast corner of Mayfield and Taylor was the Prentice estate.  At that time the Prentice mansion had been torn down but the foundation and basement were still there.  We discovered a way to get into that basement by climbing through a narrow hole in the rubble.  That was quite an adventure.  I remember a walk-in safe with a door as big as house entrance door.  That door was locked so we never saw what that safe contained.  I thought of that again, when Geraldo Rivera made a big deal of opening a similar safe, which had belonged to Al Capone.  There was nothing in that one and there was probably nothing in the Prentice safe either. 

Our neighborhood contained two ravines, which we explored often. These were sections of creeks, which had not been culverted.  They had large storm sewer pipes about five or six feet in diameter at each end.  The storm water would flow through the sewer pipes, enter the open ravine and exit farther downstream into another sewer pipe. Most streets, which go from the Hill to the lower part of East Cleveland, have waterways under them which are flowing through large culverts.  Noble Road, Taylor Road, Forest Hill Boulevard and Superior Road are examples. The open ravines were left over, because a street was not needed there and/or there was no need or ability to develop the land.  The ravines usually ran behind houses.  One started at Nela View and Northvale and extended down to Terrace Road and Shaw Avenue.  I wrote about that ravine in my Plymouth Place article.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I lived at the other end of the ravine in which I had spent so much time in my old neighborhood.  The other ravine was behind the playground of Caledonia School.  It was later culverted and redeveloped for a city park and houses on Ravine Drive.       


Description of the Caledonia Neighborhood


Caledonia is the name of a street located in the portion of East Cleveland commonly called “The Hill”.  I discussed the geography and geology of East Cleveland in an earlier article.  The City of East Cleveland includes portions located northwest of the glacial ridge created by Terrace Road.  Those portions were the first to be developed.  The other section of town is located at the top of a hill which starts at Terrace Road and can be reached by several streets, which follow old waterways.  Those streets are Noble Road, Taylor Road, Stanwood Road, Forest Hills Boulevard and Superior Road. The area at the top of the hill is named Caledonia as is the elementary school located on Caledonia road.

The first major development in the Caledonia area occurred in 1913, when the General Electric Company built its large research facility at Nela Park.  That facility is located at the top of Noble Road hill and in the Northeast corner of East Cleveland.  The map below shows the relationship of the Caledonia area to the rest of East Cleveland.


It is important to note that much of the Caledonia neighborhood is actually located in the City of Cleveland Heights.  An examination of the above map illustrates that a rectangular portion of the City of Cleveland Heights is included in the East Cleveland School District.  I know that I and perhaps most others, who lived in the Caledonia area considered ourselves to be East Clevelanders.  Most city services including police, fire and garbage collection were provided by Cleveland Heights.  However we all went to East Cleveland schools and used the East Cleveland Library.  Most of us read the East Cleveland Leader as well as the Sun Press. 

The Caledonia neighborhood was developed in several stages.  The first stage of development was in the area around Nela Park.  That included most of the housing between Noble Road and Taylor Road.  There was always a large group of Nela Park employees and their families living in the area.  One of my Nela View friends was a boy named Jimmy Casteronis, whose father worked at Nela Park.  He was able to get his friends into the camp and swimming pool at Nela Park each summer.  I had several relatives and friends, who worked there, which helped me get a job setting pins at the company bowling alley.  That was one of the toughest physical labor jobs I ever had.

The second and third stages of development in the Caledonia area involved the farm land southwest of Taylor Road, most of which belonged to John D. Rockefeller and a few other large landowners.  Rockefeller’s large summer estate, Forest Hill, occupied large portions of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.  It included a golf course and much wooded area later donated to the Cities of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights as Forest Hill Park.  Kirk Junior High School was built on park land on Terrace Road at the base of the hill.  We would climb to the top of that hill to use the baseball diamonds in Forest Hill Park. Rockefeller’s front yard also became our winter sledding hill.

The portion of Rockefeller’s estate, which was not included in the park, was designated for development of high end housing.  That development was done in two stages.  The first stage was the area between Lee Avenue and Taylor Road primarily on the streets Glynn and Brewster.  That area was developed during the 1920s with primarily French Norman style brick houses.  Those streets and their homes have been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  You can read more about this at www.fhho.org.

The development of the rest of Forest Hill was delayed by the great depression and then by World War II.  Most of the area included streets, sidewalks and even some landscaping before development was halted.  Development didn’t start again until after the war.    

When I moved to Nela View in 1953, the area just southwest of Taylor had been under development for a little over five years.  Most of the homes were quite new.  The style of home was predominantly single story ranch homes.  They were quite expensive and we considered the people, who lived there to be quite wealthy.  One demonstration of that wealth was the annual competition to see who could have the most elaborate Christmas lighting display.  They were a wonder to see; but they could never compete with the other large Christmas lighting at Nela Park.  I was lucky.  I could go either direction from my house and see some great Christmas light displays.

What Is To Become Of East Cleveland ?

Merger with Cleveland

As of this writing there has been considerable discussion about the future of East Cleveland as a separate city.  Many are making the case that it should be annexed to the City of Cleveland.  I have pointed out several times in this blog that there is no geographic factor, which can explain why East Cleveland has existed all these years.  However, for a variety of reasons the community survived and thrived as a group of varied social and economic sectors.  I have also made the case that portions of East Cleveland northwest of Terrace Road are more like Glenville or Collinwood than the neighborhood on the Hill.  Those areas at the top of the hill have more in common with Cleveland Heights than Cleveland. East Cleveland exists partially because it is what was left over after all the areas around it incorporated as parts of Cleveland or Cleveland Heights. 

One area of East Cleveland, which I have not addressed, is not included in the Caledonia area even though it is on the hill.  That area between Superior Road and the City of Cleveland Heights has always had more in common with its neighbors in Cleveland Heights.  It is part of the Superior Elementary School neighborhood; but culturally it has always been a part of the Coventry neighborhood in Cleveland Heights.

Most of the Caledonia area is located in the City of Cleveland Heights. As I said earlier, we always felt like East Clevelanders, because we were a part of the East Cleveland School District. Now I think the future of that area would be more secure as a part of Cleveland Heights. 

As I said in my lecture at Case Western Reserve University (see earlier post), there may no longer be a rationale for keeping East Cleveland as a separate municipality.  I believe its future could be secured by making it a part of Cleveland and taking advantage of the development opportunities which are occurring around University Circle.  The manufacturing base, which made East Cleveland successful in the past, has disappeared.  The old ties, which kept the community together, have eroded.  However, I still believe that the areas at the top of the hill would be better served by being annexed by Cleveland Heights.