Monday, September 26, 2011

Government, Business, Neighborhoods and Schools

East Cleveland History

East Cleveland Government

From 1918 until 1985, East Cleveland was governed by the City Manager form of government.  This was an idea developed by the progressive movement, which was very influential at the time East Cleveland adopted its first charter.  Citizens voted for members of a five person City Commission, who in turn selected a professional city manager to run the city.  There was also an elected judge of the East Cleveland Municipal Court.  The progressives believed that a city manager would provide better management by separating the provision of city services from the factionalism and political infighting found in a Mayor and Council form of government.  The theory was that there is no Democrat or Republican way to collect garbage.  In the case of East Cleveland that theory seemed to work well during the time I lived there. 

The East Cleveland school system was governed by a five member Board of Education.  The Board hired a professional Superintendent of Schools, who managed the entire system of six elementary schools, a junior high school and a high school.  Each school was managed by a principal, who in turn selected and managed a team of teachers and support staff. 

All the municipal and school district officials were elected on a non partisan basis.  These officials usually had other jobs in addition to their public one, because the public positions involved little or no financial compensation.  They ran low key election campaigns and were often unopposed.  There was a tradition of community service, which meant that public officials served the community without a particular interest in their own political careers.  They were not professional politicians.  For the most part they were local businessmen or normal citizens, who took the jobs as a civic duty.  For many years this system resulted in a well run City and School District without a hint of corruption.  There were no public employee unions for municipal or school employees.  Those employees had a strong civil service system to ensure fair working conditions.  That system seemed to work well.  I don’t remember any incident of public employee dissatisfaction, when I lived in East Cleveland. 

East Cleveland Business Community

There were close links among the East Cleveland business community, the citizens and the government.  East Cleveland citizens were highly dependent upon local merchants for the daily needs of their families.  Those merchants were equally dependent upon the citizens for their livelihoods.  Both the citizens and the merchants needed good government and schools.  Merchants were some of the best known people in the neighborhood and often took an interest in serving their community. They served in appointed or elected community jobs such as Library Board, Selective Service Board, PTA groups, etc.  They also organized the annual East Cleveland Community Picnic at Euclid Beach Park.  Their direct contact with customers made them extremely visible to the community.    They also appeared in patron advertisements in School Yearbooks, football programs and in the weekly community newspaper, The East Cleveland Leader.   Some examples of businesses, which provided leadership, included: Nelson Jewelry, Don Fisher Furnaces, Tobin Drug, Stonebraker Drug, Ricks Radio and Records, and Windermere Storage.  Some businesses served areas outside of East Cleveland as well as the immediate neighborhood.  Many served more than one neighborhood and others were “Mom and Pop” stores that served a very local population.  Two examples of the latter are Wards Delicatessen at Euclid and Strathmore and Pat Woods convenience store at Coit and Elm.  Tobin Drug had two stores, one at Euclid and Taylor and another at Euclid and Page.  All those businesses, large and small, contributed greatly to the East Cleveland community.

Neighborhoods and Schools

Even a small and compact community (3 sq. miles) like East Cleveland has a number of distinct neighborhoods.  In East Cleveland, those neighborhoods related to the elementary schools.  This is natural, because the number and location of schools was designed to allow children to walk to school.  There were no school buses and parents did not drive their children to elementary school.  Every afternoon at about 3:00 PM the streets of East Cleveland were full of children and teens going home from school.  Most were walking, but some rode bicycles.  It was necessary for some students at Kirk or Shaw to take a streetcar or bus to and from school.  Only a few Shaw High students found it necessary or possible to drive to and from school.  There were six elementary schools in East Cleveland: Prospect, Superior, Rozelle, Mayfair, Chambers, and Caledonia.  Here it should be pointed out that the Caledonia district included the area on the Hill.  The Caledonia neighborhood included a small part of the City of Cleveland Heights that was part of the East Cleveland School District.  Almost every student in East Cleveland went to Kirk Junior High School or Shaw High School starting in seventh grade. 
East Cleveland Elementary Schools and their neighborhoods

Children or teens who attended parochial schools were an exception to the above.  In East Cleveland,     that mostly meant attending Catholic schools.  The major Catholic school in both of my neighborhoods (Prospect and Caledonia) was Christ the King located on Noble Road between Euclid and Terrace.  A few of my friends from both neighborhoods attended Christ the King through eighth grade.  Some of them went on to a Catholic high school and others transferred to Kirk.  There was also a Catholic grade school at St. Philomena.  Some of the Catholic High Schools attended by East Cleveland students included: Regina, Ursuline, and Beaumont for girls and St. Joseph, Cathedral Latin, St. Ignatius and Benedictine for boys.

Over the years, I lived in two different neighborhoods.  From 1940 until 1952 I lived in the Prospect neighborhood.  From 1952 until 1962 I lived in the Caledonia neighborhood.  Although most of the neighborhoods were very similar to each other, the Caledonia neighborhood was somewhat different.  In many ways Caledonia was more similar to the adjacent areas of Cleveland Heights than to the rest of East Cleveland.  In spite of that difference, I think those who lived there tended to identify more with East Cleveland because we went to the East Cleveland Schools.  I know I did. 

Moving from our elementary school to Kirk Junior High School was a major rite of passage.  Suddenly our social network included people from all six East Cleveland neighborhoods.  We adapted quickly to this opportunity and developed new relationships that usually lasted for the six years we were at Kirk and Shaw High School.  In other words, our formative years from kindergarten to sixth grade were spent with a fairly constant group of children from our neighborhood.  We then spent six more years with a fairly constant group of peers from the entire City of East Cleveland.  There was some change in the actual people in our schools over those 13 years.  Some people moved away while others moved in.  However, you can tell how stable the community was during the 1940s and 50s by looking at the class pictures.  Each year many of the same faces appear.  Several children, who I first met in kindergarten, were in my graduating class from Shaw High School.  

Although each neighborhood was built around an elementary school, it also had certain other community resources upon which it depended.  Those included neighborhood shopping areas, parks, churches, and sometimes employment.  Some of these resources served more than one neighborhood.  An example is Shaw Stadium and the adjacent park.  That facility was in the Chambers neighborhood, but those of us in the Prospect neighborhood considered it ours as well.  Another example was Forest Hill Park which served all of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights as well.  All neighborhoods had access to the East Cleveland Public Library or one of its two branches. 

Shopping was found mostly along Euclid Avenue and Hayden Avenue.  The primary shopping areas were at Taylor and Euclid, Lee and Euclid, Superior and Euclid and Shaw and Hayden.  The Caledonia neighborhood shopped mostly at Noble and Nela View, but there was also a small shopping area at Taylor and Nela View.  There were no large shopping centers or big box stores.  Most of the daily essentials were available within walking distance.  If something wasn’t available locally, you took a streetcar or bus downtown or to E 105 St. and Euclid.  Those were the major shopping centers for East Cleveland.  Each neighborhood had a movie house it called its own.  There were three of them: Shaw Hayden, Windermere and Euclid.  Those in the Caledonia neighborhood usually went to the Center Mayfield.  If you couldn’t find what you wanted at those local theaters, you went downtown to one of the many first run theaters.

Now that I have provided an overview of East Cleveland institutions and history, the rest of this blog will concentrate on my personal experiences and memories or how it was to grow up in that community.

Copyright 2011 by Robert C. Dreifort  all rights reserved


  1. What a wonderful tribute you have given informing on the history of the city of East Cleveland, Ohio.
    I am a retired RTA Supervisor who started my career as a Bus Operator at RTA Hayden District. I remember when this was a premiere city, my older sister moved to East Cleveland in 1967. I enjoyed yourcommentary.

  2. Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading my blog. I remember that Windermere garage well. When I was young, it was a streetcar garage and later it was a bus garage for the old Cleveland Transit System (CTS). I was one of the first to take a ride on the new rapid transit when it opened in 1954.