Wednesday, January 16, 2019

PROSPECT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - PART 3


PROSPECT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – PART 3

 

A friend of mine, Bruce Dzeda, was a student at Prospect Elementary School starting in 1953.  That was the year I started at Kirk Junior High School after graduating from Prospect.  It is interesting that Bruce’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lowry, was also my kindergarten teacher back in 1945.  We both have fond memories of Mrs. Lowry and Prospect.  Mrs. Lowry seemed quite old when I was her student; but, after all, most adults seem old to a five year old.  She retired in 1955.



My postings about Prospect were made on October 21, 2011 and November 7, 2011 for anyone wanting to read them.  Bruce has provided much additional information about that great school and the people working there.  The combined experience of Bruce and me at Prospect covers a 15 year period from 1945 to 1960. Bruce’s memories are included below in his own words.


My Prospect Experience by Bruce Dzeda


 My schooling began at Prospect School in September, 1953 when I was enrolled in the (morning) kindergarten class of the venerable Mrs. Lowry. That was the penultimate year of her teaching career. Mrs. Lowry gave me a terrific start to my school years. If I came to school a bit early she would let me finger-paint for a while before school began.  She was encouraging. I remember we had "parades" in her kindergarten class where about 30 students would march around her classroom in a figure 8, waving little US flags as she played marches or patriotic music on her World War I era Victrola. I liked the parades then and I still do!

Mrs. Lowry had a lesson that was what we would today call inter-active: She brought some cream to school one morning (dropped off by her milk-man at her house earlier!) and we kids sat in a circle shaking small bottles of cream for all we were worth for what seemed like 20 minutes. Then she collected the several bottles of shaken cream and put them in the wooden cupboards that lined her room on the north wall.  The next morning Mrs. Lowry opened the cupboards and took out...butter! Our shaken cream had turned to butter! Thus began my entrance into the discipline of science.

Mrs. Lowry also read to us, a precious gift in those days before we could read for ourselves. She had us in rows and would read stories to us, which I loved. I remember looking around her room and seeing all the ferns she had growing in clay pots. Her kindergarten room was really a double room as it was two rooms opened up to each other.

I remember Mrs. Lowry as kind and compassionate, swift to comfort or praise a 5 year old kid. I have no photo of her and can't remember her face, but I owe that lady a lot. Her room was located in the 1910 building at Prospect. Until they demolished the building about 1980 I would revisit the place and look at the steps I as a kid would tread as I began my schooling.

Even better, in 1970 I was working as a young, fresh-out-of-college substitute teacher at Shaw High School, where earlier that year I had done my student teaching. That Fall I was assigned as a substitute to a Shaw class, I can't remember the subject, The class met in what Shaw in 1970 termed the "Prospect Annex". You may have guessed my point. For a day or two I held class in Mrs. Lowry’s room! The wheel had come full circle! I got to teach early in my career in the same room where I had attended kindergarten! I'm grateful to this day for that happy coincidence.

The next year, school year 1954-1955 saw me enrolled in Gloria Goodman's 1st grade classroom. My years at Prospect were about to become something other than the unmitigated happiness I knew under Mrs. Lowry's tutelage.




The Buildings


I loved Prospect School, not least because it struck me as so old. The two buildings, which my brother and I referred to as the Fire Trap and the Tinderbox, really weren't that old: 57 years old for the one, 43 years old for the other. In between the time the two buildings were constructed the horrific Collinwood School fire happened. Collinwood School was built in a pattern not totally dissimilar from Prospect: wooden floors and wood stairways. In Collinwood's case the furnace was directly beneath the first floor axis, a design that would prove catastrophic and deadly.

The 1910 addition to Prospect School featured concrete floors and steel and stone stairways. About this time the steam heating plant was built behind Prospect and it ended the need for a furnace in the school buildings. When the heating plant went online both Prospect and Shaw were heated by steam from a different building. Consequently both were much safer schools from a systems viewpoint. Well do I recall the coal trucks to the heating plant rumbling past Mrs. Lowry's windows bringing coal deliveries from the Board of Education's warehouse on Elderwood Avenue between Northfield & Strathmore; the Board building had its own coal trestle which was standing in 2017.

The heating plant was a brick building of two or three stories in height with a tall brick smokestack. I found it a fascinating place to look at.  It was demolished in the early 1960's after both schools were probably converted to heat by gas boilers. In the bowels of Prospect I recall seeing the cold boilers in the basement; I imagine this is the space the new gas boilers were installed.


Mike Valenti


Mike Valenti was the custodian of Prospect School when I attended. His dimly lit office or room in the basement of the 1896 building was fascinating to me, not least because there was on the wall a dramatic depiction of Paul Revere's ride.  The basement and much of the building was painted the ubiquitous school colors of light green on top, darker green on the bottom.



Mike Valenti lived in the Five Points area near Collinwood High School.  The cleaning women at Prospect were also Italians and likely from the same area.  I recall that they were friendly to me but unable to speak more than a word or two in English.  Their hangout was across the basement from Mr. Valenti's room and also the boys' toilets.  These women seemed to use industrial strength Pine Sol on the surfaces they cleaned, and I have carried the memory or that strong scent in my head ever since. Prospect School was a clean, well-maintained, safe place to go to school and I salute these non-teaching staff members who made it so.







Attached below is a newspaper clipping from The Cleveland Press saluting Prospect's Mr. Valenti at the end of his career.  I'm the boy on the right.  



  
  



As I recall, the teachers had collected pennies from us school kids and doubtless contributed money of their own.  One June afternoon in 1955 (I think) we were called out of class to assemble on the playground.  A few short remarks were made by a teacher and by Mr. Preston.  Mr. Valenti was traveling to Italy to visit his family for the first time since he had left there as a boy.  The money was a retirement gift to him for his trip.  The photographer wanted to pose Mr. Valenti with students, so some of us First Graders were shepherded forward by Mrs. Goodman.  I forget how much money was collected, but the look on our custodian's face shows his delight.  It also shows how he dressed every day for his job as a custodian...a shirt & tie!   This photo was my first appearance in a newspaper and I was proud of it.


SHAW HIGH SCHOOL - PART 2


SHAW HIGH SCHOOL – PART 2


The March 25, 2017 post related my experiences at Shaw High School from September 1955 until June 1958.  That post included the text of a Student Handbook, which all students received when entering Shaw High School.  That handbook is the best document I know of to describe life at Shaw.  Unfortunately I didn’t include the floor plans of the school in that post. They are included here along with several pictures of Shaw through years. 

The only picture I could find which included the entire school was the one on the title page of the 1941 Shuttle.  In this picture you can see the original building along with the Auditorium and Technical Building additions.




 

The floor plans for the old and new buildings are included below.  The land slopes from Terrace Road at the top of the picture to Euclid Avenue at the bottom.  This resulted in the fact that floor numbers in the old building did not match with those in the new building.  To accommodate that there was a system of tunnels to connect the buildings.  

In 1955 the new gymnasium had been built across Shaw Avenue behind Prospect School.  A floor plan for that building is also included.  The joke was that the two gyms in the Tech Building were for old boys and old girls.









Here are more pictures of Shaw through the years.  You can get an idea of the age of the pictures by looking at the cars. 

 






Monday, January 14, 2019

REVIEW AND UPDATE


REVIEW AND UPDATE


I started writing this blog about eight years ago.  My goal was to capture my memories of life growing up in East Cleveland during the 1940’s and 50’s.  Since then I have written about my two neighborhoods, (Shaw/Plymouth and Caledonia) and my three schools, (Prospect, Kirk and Shaw).  I also wrote several essays about how we lived back in those times.

My original thought was that I should preserve those memories to pass them on to my children.  That was prompted by the death of my parents and many of the older generation in my family.  I then realized that there were no more people for me to ask about how things were back in the day.  I wasn’t sure if anyone, including my own children, would be interested in my memories.  However it turned out that readers have hit on this blog over 40,000 times in the last 8 years, an average of about 5,000 per year.  There have been months when there were 900 to 1000 hits.  That was when some professors had my blog on their reading lists.  I also had the opportunity to lecture about East Cleveland, its past and prospects for the future, for a class at Case Western Reserve University.

The interest in my blog has been very gratifying.  Many of my readers are from my generation and they have told me how my experiences were just like theirs.  I have gotten to know many readers who are 10 or more years younger or older then I, who also had similar experiences growing up in East Cleveland.  Some of our landmarks were different over the years but the changes were gradual.  For example, there was no Royal Castle at Taylor and Euclid when I lived there.  The folks who remember the Royal Castle probably don’t remember Hoffman’s Malt shop across the street on the North side of Euclid Avenue.  The landmarks changed but the general character of the neighborhood stayed the same.  The sad thing for most of us is that almost all of our landmarks have become vacant, vandalized or empty lots.  Thomas Wolfe is famous for saying “You can’t go home again”.  That is true in the literal sense for those of us who lived in East Cleveland.  But we can go back in our memories. 

The success of this blog is just one manifestation of the great interest in East Cleveland among those of us who lived there during the 1940’s 50’s and 60’s.  Additional evidence of that interest is the fact that there are two successful Facebook pages devoted to East Cleveland as well as a Shaw High page.  Just look up East Cleveland on Facebook.  There is also an active Shaw High Lunch Bunch, which hosts lunch meetings three times a year in May, August and November.  Over 200 Shaw High graduates and those who attended Shaw during the 1930’s through the 1960’s attend those luncheons.

As long as my memory holds up, I will keep writing about my East Cleveland experiences.  I urge all of you who read these essays to make comments. Please include some of your own memories of East Cleveland.  As a matter of fact, many of you have made very interesting comments and I urge everyone to read them.  They appear at the end of each section of the blog.  If anyone has an extended comment, which you would like to share as a separate posting, please contact me at rcd2@case.edu.  You may also contact me with general questions about the blog.

Monday, February 19, 2018

THE GAMES WE PLAYED



      The Games We Played


I spent the first 13 years of my life growing up in the Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood of East Cleveland.  That neighborhood included a large group of friends and a variety of places in which to learn, invent and play games. A child’s life was quite different then.  I first noticed that when my own kids were young back in the 1970s and 80s and I’m sure it is true for today’s kids.  The major difference is that kids in the 1940s and 50s were more independent.  We didn’t need play groups organized by adults and we didn’t need to be taken to the places where games were played.  It all happened just outside our door in our neighborhood.

My neighborhood was a magical place which included a large field at the end of a dead end street. It also included the main line of the Nickel Plate railroad.  The railroad tracks were on a raised embankment which had been widened to make room for a siding, which was never built.  The field, the embankment and the dead end street provided the venue for our games. 

Aside from the organized and structured time I spent in Prospect Elementary School, my time was spent in activities I learned from my peers in my neighborhood.  No adult taught me how to play kick the can and the other games we played.  I don’t actually remember anyone teaching those things.  You just joined the game and learned as you played.  There were always slightly older kids who passed the rules along and from time to time we modified the rules as we played.

It was a different world back then. Our parents would send us out to play knowing where we were and who we were with.  They didn’t need to micromanage our lives.  All of the kids and their parents knew each other and we all sort of looked out for each other.  There wasn’t the same concern for child safety even though Cleveland had experienced the Beverly Potts disappearance in 1950.  Beverly had been kidnapped while attending an event at her neighborhood park.  She and I were the same age and her fate was the concern of the entire community.  Although we were concerned, it still seemed to be a rare and remote event.  We believed that East Cleveland was a safe community and we felt secure living there.  The general rule for me and my friends was that we should stay in the neighborhood with our friends and be home when the street lights come on.
 
o
 OUR GANG - TOP ROW, BOB DREIFORT, TONY GILDONE, BOTTOM ROW, JANET DREIFORT, BRUCE MACMILLAN, KENNY BARTON


Where We Played

The neighborhood provided many venues for our games and entertainment. The major locations included our own yard, front porch, basement, or attic; or those of our friends.  Another place to play was in the street, which was very safe, because it was a dead end with very little traffic,  If we wanted to travel a little farther from home, we could play in the field at the end of our street or on the railroad embankment.

Front Porch Games:
Most of the houses in our neighborhood were up and down duplexes with porches in the front.  A couple of the houses were two family side by side, also with a front porch.  In either case the front porch became a gathering place for groups of kids.  We would make up scenarios to play out on those porches.  One I remember playing on the Probst family front porch is a game based upon the TV show Tom Corbett Space Cadet.  That was a popular afternoon kid’s show at the time. We would set up two porch chairs facing the porch railing.  The chairs were the type which could spring backwards when we would push on the railing with our feet.  Depending upon how many kids were there we would assign roles to each of them based upon the characters in the TV show.  I remember that there were Tom Corbett, Captain Strong, Roger Manning, and Astro. If any girls were playing, they would be assigned the role of Dr. Joan Dale.  These games went on endlessly with frequent countdowns, blast offs and imaginary adventures in deep space.

I also remember spending whole summers playing countless games of Sorry on Margie O’Hare’s front porch.  When it wasn’t Sorry, we would be playing some other card game or board game.  And if we weren’t playing a game, the porch was a great place to just hang out.


Basements and Attics:
There were many opportunities to have parties at which kids from the neighborhood would gather.  I set up an area in my basement in which we could listen to records, dance and play games. I remember playing my first game of spin the bottle at one of those parties.  Another use of basements was building various projects such as soapbox racers. As a result we learned the use of basic hand tools and how to create things from found material.  By watching other kids and doing those things ourselves we became imaginative and self-reliant.
 
PARTY IN MY BASEMENT 1951
 
Some kids had access to the attic in their duplex in which we would have parties for birthdays and holidays such as Halloween.  One such party was held in the attic of Bruce Macmillan.  Bruce also had a second floor room above the garage of his house.  We used that room as a secret clubhouse which had a way to escape out of a back window.  The clubhouse was used to play cards and board games and just hanging out much the same as the front porches.

The Street:
Plymouth Place was a dead end street with nine duplex houses on each side. There was very little traffic and little or no parking on the street, because many people didn’t own cars and the driveways were adequate for those who did. 

The street was used for ball games, depending upon the season. with mostly baseball in the summer and football in the fall.  That included games of catch as well as games of softball or touch football.  The sewer cover in the center of the street would be home plate, the fire plug would be first base and the street lamp would be third.  The street was also used by adults from time to time.  I have a clear memory of Chuck Heglaw, who was a coach at one of the schools, punting a football higher and farther than I had ever seen.  The younger kids learned a lot by watching the older kids and adults. 

 
KIDS PLAYING IN STREET 1946


 
BOB PLAYING CATCH IN STREET 1951

There was another group of games which we played in the street.  Those included chase games such as hide and seek and kick the can.  Nobody taught us how to play these games.  They were quite intuitive.  Home base was usually the sewer cover in the center of the street.  An empty tin can was placed on the sewer cover.  The kid who was “it” stood near the can, covered his eyes and counted to 20 while all the other kids ran to hide,  The “it” kid then left the can to find one of the hiding kids.  When he saw one of the other kids, he ran back to the can, put his foot on the can and said, “I spy Bobby in Bruce’s driveway”.  He continued until he found every kid.  If any of the hiding kids were able to kick the can before “it” got back, that kid became “it”.  There was a lot of strategy involved as well as speed and agility.  While “it” is looking in one area another kid could make a dash for the can.  It then became an issue of who was the fastest and/or closest to the can. 

The Railroad Embankment:
The nine houses on the north side of Plymouth backed up upon the Nickel Plate Road main line.  The railroad tracks through East Cleveland had been built on an embankment which raised the tracks above all the streets.  There were no grade crossings in East Cleveland.  The embankment was about 20 feet above the street level.  In most areas the embankment was only wide enough to accommodate the tracks.  The tracks were laid before the Plymouth Place houses were built.  At that time they provided for a possible siding on the South side of the tracks resulting in a vacant plot of land about 50 feet wide between the tracks and the houses on Plymouth.  The embankment area contained small clumps of trees and areas of high grass.  It was an ideal place to play games of cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, or war.  

Sometimes these games extended over the bridge to the siding next to the East Cleveland Lumber Company.  The lumber company and the box car on the siding were great places to play.  I’m not sure whether our parents knew how much we played on the embankment and I don’t think we went out of our way to tell them about it.  It was a short step from playing on the embankment to playing on the tracks and bridges.  I remember playing games of chicken with the trains and putting pennies on the track.  This is one of the things which make me wonder how I survived my childhood. 
 
SHAW AVENUE BRIDGE

 
THE EMBANKMENT LOOKING EAST FROM SHAW AVENUE BRIDGE
 
 LOOKING WEST FROM SHAW AVENUE BRIDGE
                       EAST CLEVELAND LUMBER COMPANY ON LEFT



The Field:
The greatest thing about our neighborhood was the large field at the end of the dead end street.  The field was a plot of land behind the houses on Taylor Road and the houses on Euclid Avenue.  At that time there was no access from Taylor or Plymouth to develop the land.  Over the years it provided space for victory gardens and playing fields for neighborhood baseball and football games.  There was ample space for kids to build forts and to play games of war, cowboys and indians, and cops and robbers.  The field was bisected by a path which led from the end of Plymouth Place to a vacant lot on Taylor Road.  That path was a short cut used to get to the shopping area at Taylor and Euclid.  On the South side of the path some kids had built a backstop and a dirt baseball diamond. That was the place where we played our serious baseball games.  The outfield was also used for football.  Other field games included red rover, which involved two groups of kids lined up across from each other locking arms.  One team would yell “red rover, red rover let (name) come over”.  That person would then have to run and try to break through the line of linked arms.  

BOB AND GRANDPA IN BASEBALL FIELD 1949

It was usually possible to leave my house at the corner of Shaw and Plymouth, walk down Plymouth and pick up a group to play before reaching the field.  We also built forts in parts of the field.  This was aided by the fact that we discovered stacks of old railroad ties on the embankment.  Those forts were built and rebuilt by succeeding generations of kids in our neighborhood.   We found a great way to disappear when we built a fort over a manhole cover.  We put a rug over the cover, lifted the cover and went into the sewer.  This is another reason to wonder how I survived my childhood.


Epilogue

Well I did survive my childhood.  After leaving the Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood, I moved to Nela View and made new friends and had new experiences.  I continued my education at Kirk and Shaw.  Since graduating from Shaw I have continued my formal education and gained life experience at several jobs.  It is difficult to say which experiences were most influential in making me the person I am today.  I personally believe that the friends I had and the games I played in my Shaw/Plymouth neighborhood provided the foundation upon which all my life experiences were built. That foundation has served me well.