Monday, June 29, 2009

Curse of the Colavito People

Maybe the biggest impediment to Cleveland's self-image are those of us old enough to remember Rocky Colavito. Once we're all gone, contemporary Cleveland won't be constantly measured against memories of the time when it had 900,000 people, Fortune 500 headquarters companies, championship sports teams, a vibrant downtown, industrial vitality and a lot of local cultural icons. With us gone, the Cleveland of tomorrow only has to beat the present and recent past, which maybe would be an achievable goal.

The Albert S. Porter Civic Wrong-Headedness Award

There ought to be an award for civic wrong-headedness and it should be named for Albert S. Porter, the powerful, long-term Cuyahoga County Engineer. He's justly infamous for trying to inflict a system of freeways across the Heights, but I read today that he also once proposed demolishing the magnificent Guardians of Transportation statues on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, so there would be more room for traffic lanes. "Those columns are monstrosities and should be torn down and forgotten," the Cleveland Press quoted Bert Porter as saying in 1976. "There is nothing particularly historic about any one of them. We're not running a May Show here."

Porter objected on the grounds that designating the statues historic would compound and delay the bridge widening project, but other studies demonstrated that extra lanes were not necessary. The Cleveland Press editorialized in their favor, and eventually the Ohio Historic Sites Advisory Board unanimously recommended the Western Reserve Historical Society's nomination of the bridge to the National Register of Historic Places. Porter then had to grudgingly go along and keep the Guardians.

And therefore we still have these terrific icons as part of our thin and ever-threatened Art Deco heritage. Perhaps a model of one of them would be a fitting statuette for the Albert S. Porter Civic Wrong-Headedness Award. (Any candidate you'd like to nominate to receive it today?)

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Lincoln Steffens' quote about Tom L. Johnson

The oft-quoted comment by Lincoln Steffens - "It seems to me that Tom Johnson is the best Mayor of the best-governed city in the United States." -- is found in his book, The Struggle for Self-Government. (New York: McClure Phillips & Co.). 1906. p.183. I see this quoted a lot, but not always accurately and not usually cited.

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The more things seem to change...

Seems familiar somehow:

"The System in Cleveland at that time [1880s] was simple and imperfect. Business men supported it. There was no boss, and such leading politicians as the city boasted were nothing but business men's political agents. They depended largely upon the campaign funds contributed by the business men. In return the business men could get what they wanted out of the city, and they let the politicians do about as they pleased with the rest."

"They didn't always use cash bribery. Mulhern, who picked the the president and organized councils, came to control more and more departments, and he had the patronage of these to dispense to the friends and followers of pliable councilmen. But this was making the city pay for its own corruption..."

-- from "OHIO: A Tale of Two Cities," [Cincinnati and Cleveland] The Struggle for Self-Government, Lincoln Steffens. 1906.

I love that phrase about "... making the city pay for its own corruption...."

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Clinton Square

One little story that is told by the maps of Cleveland is Clinton Square. I mentioned it in my essay on Real Estate for the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, years ago, but still get a kick out of thinking about it from time to time.

Clinton Square caught my attention when I noticed it on Ahaz Merchant's great map of Cleveland in 1835. Situated out at what was then the edge of the village, it was intended to be a small park surrounded by upscale homes, on the model of some of the mansions built around parks in London centuries ago.

But the plan was stymied by the arrival of the Cleveland and Pittsburg Railroad, later the Pennsylvania RR, which angled its way north across Euclid Avenue at East 55th Street, past Clifton Square, then down to the lakefront. The presence of noisy, dirty locomotives destroyed the ambiance the developers were looking for and the project failed. (map shown a detail from 1852 Knight & Parsons map)

For decades afterward, though, the greenspace in the center survived as a small city park. Cleveland never outdid itself establishing parks in the nineteenth century, and Clinton Park, and its larger neighbor Lake View Park by the City Hall, were about it before the Emerald Necklace of Gordon, Rockefeller, Wade, Ambler and Shaker Lakes parks came into being in the 1890s.

Today, as with Lake View Park, there's no trace of Clinton Park. The surrounding streets -- Lakeview, Wilson/Davenport, E.16th & E.18th -- still exist to frame the location, but the block is totally occupied by an undistinguished brick building housing the Regional Income Tax Authority, next door to the new FBI headquarters.

But one of the enjoyments of being an avid reader of maps is tracing the stories of Cleveland played out in cartographic form and, in this instance, imagining a fancy London residential square on Cleveland's Davenport Bluff.

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Ohio Architects, Engineers and Builders magazine

Within the space of ten minutes yesterday, two completely different people told me about the Ohio Architects, Engineers and Builders magazine. I'd never heard of it before then, but received an email announcing someone's pleasure at stumbling across it. I then walked out to the reading room in Special Collections and someone else started telling me about it again. No relation between them, either.

Although I haven't looked into it myself yet, OAEB reportedly published at least in the period 1905 to 1917. It announced new building projects around the metropolitan region and showed photos of many properties, which in particular was what got my informants excited. The publication started out without "Engineers" in the title, but apparently added it later. From what little I saw, it looks to be more about building than anything else, but since builders are socially below architects, perhaps adding architects to the title (and engineers) elevated the status of the publication. Maybe someone else can give a better assessment of it. I understand that it's found at Cleveland Public Library.

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Roy Larick's talk on "Bluestone Heights"

Publicity release received:

Euclid bluestone's years gone by:

360 m White sea sand makes blue sandstone;
sea bottom lifts to Bluestone Heights
1.2 m Glaciers melt/clouds burst; scratches to
gullies/ravines to gorges
10 k Forest paths lead Natives along escarpments/across brooks
150 Yankees turn paths to roads/brooks to sewers
90 Suburbanites swarm the Heights
5 Legacy Village

Dr. Roy Larick climbs the Bluestone Heights
2:00 PM, Wednesday, June 24, 2009
UH Public Library, 13866 Cedar Rd

Sponsored by UH Seniors

Part of the Euclid Township Bicentennial Celebration, 1809-2009

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

FROM THE BACK OF THE HOUSE: Memories of a Steak House Clan

Press release received:

June 2009 – Broadview Heights’ author G. L. Rockey lets it all hang out in a compelling first person account of Cleveland’s landmark restaurant JIM’S STEAK HOUSE.

Located in the celebrated Cleveland Flats, Jim’s Steak House was the place to go for people from Cleveland to London and beyond. Thousands of patrons from boat captains to movers and shakers celebrated anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, graduations, special memories, and more at JIM'S. While dining on their favorite choice cuts of beef and famous hash browns, they ogled the fabled Cuyahoga River, the Terminal Tower, and giant oar boats easing round Collision Bend.

Adopted into the JIM’S family at an early age, G.L. grew up living in the apartment above JIM’S and witnessed, from the back, top, and front, what some call the “hospitality business.” This is his – often humorous, sometimes poignant, always revealing – story of the clan that was part of Cleveland’s restaurant scene for some sixty years. Beginning with the restaurant’s founding in 1930 by Greek emigrant, James Kerkles; his marriage to much younger Hilda (later to be known as The Queen of the Flats), the story recounts Hilda’s years of nurturing (after James untimely death) a restaurant and her deceased sister’s son, Raymond Rockey. Raymond (Hilda called him “my boy”) was named manager of JIM’S at the age of twenty-three. Thrust onto a restaurant stage, tending his "baby that never grows up,” he, in more ways than one, indulged in the glow of a famous restaurant’s “big time strut and glow.” Amid the JIM’S family ups and downs, the backdrop for the story is the JIM’S building–moved, remodeled, finally located at 1800 Scranton Road in Cleveland’s Flats–it housed both business and family with the clan living upstairs and the business flourishing downstairs. After Hilda death, Ray dumped into a sea of money and booze, some twenty years later, the empire depleted, Ray died. A failed stab at keeping the neglected restaurant open, less than two years later Jim’s Steak House closed its doors forever.

Inserted throughout the narrative are photographs, newspaper articles, and illustrations that verify and chronicle a colorful chunk of Cleveland’s local history and culture. No small potatoes, Cleveland author Les Roberts' detective Milan Jacovich has a fictional office next to JIM’S. In real life, Roberts hung out at JIM’S and has written an introduction to this story.

G. L. is the author of three novels: The Journalist, Time&Chance, and Truths of the Heart. Also an anthology, Bats in the Belfry, Bells in the Attic - From the Back of the House published by Heritage Books 1-800-876-6103 - -

[BILL: This was my parents' favorite restaurant and they celebrated all their anniversaries there.]

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reforming Cleveland's tax assessments after 1910

I'm researching an aspect of Mayor Tom L. Johnson's Progressive reforms -- land valuation -- that doesn't get as much notice as other aspects, but I lack an understanding of the wider context against which these reforms can be understood.

One of Johnson's lieutenants, Frederic C. Howe, was instrumental in bringing William A. Somers to Cleveland from his position in the New York City office of Taxation, where he'd developed an equitable method of determining the fair assessment values of land, which was called the Somers Unit System. The idea was to reform the practice of assessing land values by instituting an open, "scientific" process of community participation to arrive at the unit value of land on each and every block in the city. The unit was a standard parcel, one hundred feet deep and one foot wide, from the value of which all actual parcels could be calculated.

He teamed up with John A. Zangerle and others and in 1910 issued the results of their labors, the First Quadrennial Assessment of Real Property in the City of Cleveland, which explained the system and displayed all the arrived-at valuations in a series of City maps. Thereafter Zangerle was elected Cuyahoga County Auditor and spent several decades applying the Somers/Zangerle system to the County's Assessment, producing similar atlases of land valuation maps in 1931, 1937 and 1946, under the title The Princples of Land and Building Appraisals as Scientifically Applied in Cuyahoga County.

While the details of this system are well-chronicled in these four atlases and various other publications of the time, I'm not clear about what system preceded it that needed to be reformed. I gather than it was an informal series of estimates by ward representatives that was compiled into the overall assessment for the period, but I haven't seen that documented. Nor have I really grasped the influence of their system in later years, as the process of assessing land for taxation become more codified and applied statewide.

P.S. Here is a video of my 2009 presentation on this topic to the Council of Georgist Organizations, meeting in Cleveland.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Anniversary celebration at Pilgrim Church

Notice received:

On July 11, 2009, at 10:30 a.m., Pilgrim Church will be celebrating its 150th year Celebration with a special presentation at this important Tremont church that is free and open to the public. Church member, Dale H. Smith, a Restorationist, Designer and Victorian era specialist will be presenting " A Gem in the City: Architecture and Design at Pilgrim Church". For more information, contact Kathy DeJohn, 150th Birthday Celebration Committee, Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, at, or 440-725-2700.

Later, more information provided:

"A Gem In The City: Architecture of Pilgrim Church" Saturday morning, July 11 at 10:30 am. Did you know Pilgrim Church was featured in the Paris Exposition of 1895? Did you know it won a prize for innovative ecclesiastical architecture? The award recognized the building’s combination of religious use and community service in highly flexible use of space. Experience a slide illustrated talk by noted Victorian era specialist and interior designer Dale Smith. Explore early 19th century influences on the architecture and design of Pilgrim’s original and current buildings. Smith will focus on the Romanesque Revival style of the 1894 building and discuss examples of other Cleveland structures in this style, well represented in the church's Tremont (west/ central city of Cleveland) neighborhood. Learn about the work of the architect, Sidney R. Badgley, and other Cleveland buildings he designed. The church reflects the late Victorian affection for combining the styles of the world in its buildings. Look for possible early Christian, Moorish & Islamic influences, and see innovative uses of the English & American Arts Crafts style. The lecture will be held in the church's dramatic sanctuary where you will see first hand many of the decorative elements discussed.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Henry George and Tom L. Johnson this summer

Early this August, the Council of Georgist Organizations will be convening in Cleveland to continue studying the life and philosophy of nineteenth century reformer, Henry George and to see Cleveland, the hometown of George's most effective political disciple, Mayor Tom L. Johnson. I knew that Johnson was suddenly converted to George's single tax theories, strove to implement them in Cleveland and is buried near George in Brooklyn, NY, but I didn't know that our statue of TLJ, on Public Square, portrays him holding a copy of George's book, Progress and Poverty. [Disclosure: I'm presenting at that conference]

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