Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Caledonia - My second East Cleveland neighborhood

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. 


  1. Bob,

    In both blogs you state "The manufacturing base, which made East Cleveland successful in the past, has disappeared. "

    I think that this needs clarification. I do not recall that there was any significant manufacturing activity within the boundaries of East Cleveland. Essentially everything was residential and commercial. Factories existed in Cleveland (Eaton, Foote Burt, GE vacuums, etc.) and other suburbs like Euclid (Thompson products etc.). All of the people I knew worked outside of East Cleveland (my father in the Buckeye road area).
    Nela Park is not a factory.

    Thus, the taxes from the "manufacturing base" were not directly paid to East Cleveland. Workers in these factories lived, shopped, etc. in East Cleveland.

    The families from "down the hill" moved there (from 1900 to 1950) in the first place because it was an affordable place to escape Cleveland schools and to live in a safe and orderly place - not to get a factory job.

    Bob Albrecht

  2. Bob: You are correct about the manufacturing base within the City of East Cleveland. I was referring to the manufacturing base of employment adjacent to East Cleveland. The source of employment for a lot of East Cleveland was the manufacturing in the Collinwood section of Cleveland and the City of Euclid. Those factories were within walking distance or accessible by street car or bus. My father is good example of that. He worked at National Acme at 131 st and Coit and later Parker Appliance at Euclid and London Road throughout WWII. He walked to National Acme and took the street car to Parker Appliance. East Cleveland was more viable when people lived near their work or could take public transit to areas like University Circle or downtown for their employment. The changing economy and collapse of the manufacturing base caused people to move to be closer to employment, which had become disbursed. All of that alone would not have sealed the fate of East Cleveland; but it was an important factor. You could write a book about that. I don't believe East Cleveland is a good case study for the question,"can a black majority city survive and thrive?" I'm sure we could find an example of a majority black municipality, which has been successful. Shaker Heights and, to an extent, Cleveland Heights have been fairly successful integrated cities for some time. They also suffer from some of the economic factors, which led to East Cleveland's downfall. It wasn't white flight which led to East Cleveland's problems; it was the flight of the middle class. It has gone from a stable middle class community of 40,000 people to a city of 17,000 populated by the poorest people with the least economic resources. Many people, including me, believe that the only solution is incorporation with Cleveland and its broader economic base. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Keep up the good work, writing about East Cleveland. My family was living there when I was born in 1946 and while my parents moved downtown a year or so later, we visited my grandparents on Elm Avenue regularly until the '60s, when grandmother died and my aunt's company moved to Jefferson and she followed, taking her dad with her. I've lived mostly in Lake County and in Tucson, AZ, but since 2000 have been on Randolph, in Cleveland Hts, apparently coming almost in full circle. I agree about the upper section of East Cleveland joining CH and the ECPL becoming a CCPL branch, but I have no vote.

    1. Bill: This is a labor of love for me. There is a lot more for me to write about. It is good to hear that some folks enjoy reading this stuff. I started doing this after my parents died and I suddenly realized that I couldn't ask them things anymore. My kids and anyone else who is interested will have access to my memories, whether they like it or not.

  4. So glad I just found your posts. My family purchased your Nela View home when your family moved away. I was three years old at the time, so it's especially enlightening to read about the home and neighborhood in the years before we arrived. That was a great house! The third floor was my last room there--we changed rooms often as my brothers and sisters grew up and got married--but I still remember the built in wooden bookcases and under-eaves storage up there. My dad served on the East Cleveland Police force for many years and was chief from 1962 until 1971. Then he moved on to Nela Park after retiring from the police force due to a heart attack. That was a wonderful neighborhood and a terrific house! Thanks for writing about it!

    1. M. O'malley: It is good to hear from you. I know that my parents sold that house to the East Cleveland Chief of Police. I am happy that your family had many happy years in that house. I sometimes drive past it today and am pleased to see that it is one of the best maintained houses in the neighborhood. Thanks for you comments and keep reading.

  5. Yes, I think the house still belongs to the person who moved in when we left in 1971. Also, I made a mistake in the comment about the years my dad was police chief. He got the promotion in 1964 or 5 and retired in 1972. (I hate to mess up history!)

  6. What a thoughtful and glorious account of many staples of my childhood. I also grew up on Nela view and attended Caledonia Elementary School. Thank you for this. I needed it today.

  7. Ceray: Thank you for your nice comment. I hope my memories of East Cleveland continue to stir up your own memories. Keep on reading.