Then & Now | Holiday Shopping Memories

John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

The recent report of the conversion of the May Company building on Public Square into apartments is good news for the city.   Yet, some Greater Clevelanders will regret the change, much as they regretted the change of the Higbee Building into a casino, and the conversion of the Halle Brothers building.   Others will lament the loss of the Bing store at Prospect and E. 4th, or even remember Taylors Department store.  And then, of course, there are the memories of the large Christmas tree at Sterling- Lindner.  These memories truly rise to the surface at the holiday season.   Like many memories, they tend to be warm and wonderful, but then we also need to remember that the downtown department store was just one of the ways we shopped.  The way we shopped has changed – not once, but many times over the years.

One wonders how those who once shopped at individually owned stores devoted to specific products – everything from clothing to cook wear –reacted to the rise of the department store.   During the early years of Cleveland and other cities one usually purchased goods at single-owner store, a place where you came to know the owner and, also,  a place where you could often haggle for a bargain.   One could strike up a personal relationship – either good or bad – with the owner, and chances were the owner knew you by name.

That situation began to change with the growth of cities.  Population density and technological change led to the creation of department stores — places where it seemed the entire world of consumer goods was spread about before the customer and each with a set price – bargaining with the owner became passé.

Alexander T. Stewart, a Protestant Irish Immigrant is often credited with founding the first “department” store in New York City in 1848.   He became a multimillionaire and other merchants followed his example.  Rowland. H. Macy founded Macy’s ten years later.  Others, such as John Wanamaker and Harry Gordon Selfridge would follow.  The continued growth of cities, the mass production of consumer goods, and growing transportation networks would change the way people shopped.  Some of these stores grew into veritable palaces of consumption with specific departments focused on various goods, ranging from clothing to books, to furniture, to toys, and even to tools.  And so, for well over a century, American consumption – particularly during the holiday season — focused on a trip downtown to a store laden with a wide variety of goods and usually decorated to match the season.

Small specialty stores survived, but the main money went to the mass market of the department store.  And, of course, each store catered to a particular level of that mass market and some specialized in particular goods.  Cleveland had a variety of stores.  Bing specialized in household goods, Halle Brothers and Sterling Lindner appealed to what was once known as the carriage trade, as did Higbees to an extent.  The May Company which was founded in Denver and opened a store in Cleveland in 1899 had perhaps the widest clientele and its bargain basement was the place to save money and to get Eagle Stamps as well.  Taylor’s Department Store which was for many years overseen by Sophie Strong Taylor also had a particular cachet.

When Americans began to flock to the suburbs wise store owners followed by opening branches.   Halle’s did so in 1948 and by the late 1950s May Company expanded to the suburbs, including a branch at the new Southgate Shopping Center.   And so for many younger people (those born in the last forty to fifty years) the memory of holiday shopping is not downtown but at a store in a mall – and, indeed, malls are/were the ultimate centers of consumption.  So the memories they evoke are not about taking public transportation downtown, walks down crowded holiday streets, or escalator rides up to the seventh floor of the May Company to see the toy department, but rather a drive with the family to a mall (and each mall had/has a certain image and cachet) and visits to multiple stores almost all decorated for the season and, likely, the requisite Santa Claus ensconced in his chair in the middle of the mall.

The question is what will their children’s memories be?  Long before COVID confined us to our homes, we were again changing the way we shop.  Amazon has been with us for a mere 26 years, yet it and other on-line services have drastically changed the marketplace.  So will their memories be of cruising the web to find those things they dream of having, or watching for the delivery of packages to the front door? Perhaps though the memories of the holiday season will be the same as they always have been – of being safely together at a time when the world moves from ever shorter, darker days, to longer brighter ones.

(photo: Cleveland Memory Project – Bailey’s window shopping 1910.)

Then & Now | PFC Victor Bruno Contini

PFC Victor Bruno Contini, 105th Infantry, Artist and Soldier, 1916-1945

In 2012, WRHS received an amazing collection of letters written and artworks created by PFC Victor Bruno Contini. Victor served in the 105th Infantry during WII, losing his life during the Battle of Saipan in 1945.  The collection was donated by Victor’s niece, Mary Contini Gordon, who along with her mother Rosaria had preserved and cared for them for nearly 70 years.

PFC Contini’s letters along with the watercolors, sketches, and pencil drawings not only document his life as a soldier during WWII, but show the dreams and aspirations of a soldier who, like many soldiers have to do, put them on hold for the war.  They reveal Victor’s wonder at the beauty of his new land, his enthusiasm for art, and his dedication to the world effort to preserve freedom

Born in Castelluccio Valmaggiore, Apulia, Italy, in 1916, Victor immigrated to Cleveland’s Little Italy in 1928 with his mother and siblings to join his father, Eduardo, who had immigrated in 1921. His love of art showed early in childhood and he created sketches and drawings of his surroundings in Cleveland.  Victor’s talent helped him obtain a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art, but his time at the school was cut short. In 1941, he was drafted into the army.

The change of circumstances could not damper Victor’s love of and need to create art.  He sketched and drew his surrounding scenery and fellow soldiers with whatever art supplies he could get a hold of.  Victor’s captain noted his talent and arranged for donations from the US so he could have materials.   He carried the art and supplies in his backpack through training, eventually sending many of the pieces home to his brother and sister-in-law, Mario and Rosaria, in Cleveland’s Little Italy.

(Victor Bruno Contini watercolor painting. 1940s. WRHS Collection.)

The bulk of Victor’s art from his time as a soldier show the Army Barracks at Fort Wolters, Texas, where many of those who fought in the Pacific were trained and where he was stationed in 1941.  After Texas, PFC Contini was stationed in Hilo, Hawaii.  Here he sketched land and seascapes in living watercolor, picturesque structures, and his fellow soldiers at work.

Sadly, Victor never made it back home and never realized his dream of becoming an artist.  But his family helped his dream become a reality.  They loaned Victor’s art for exhibit at the General Patton Museum in California and at the museum at Fort Wolters, Texas.

Most important for Victor’s legacy and most meaningful for the family was the donation of Victor’s art and letters to the Western Reserve Historical Society.  To them, the permanent transfer of Victor’s art and correspondence to this respected institution in Cleveland symbolized Victor finally going home.  And, by archiving his work so that future generations will know his story, his talent, and his heart, Victor’s dream of being an artist has come true.

Zephrine Burks Shares Her Story | Faith, Family, and Fashion Series

Part II in the Faith, Family, and Fashion Series for
The WRHS “Share Your Story” COVID-19 Digital Collecting Initiative
Tonya Byous, M.Ed., Interviewer and First Lady of the Philippi Missionary Baptist Church
Regennia N. Williams, PhD, Scholar-Consultant

“Even though times have changed, I still believe in giving God your best with your dress.”  –Zephrine Burks

Rev. Samuel Burks and Mrs. Zephrine Burks are pictured here with their children, c. 1961.

Mrs. Zephrine Burks can point with pride to her many accomplishments as a musician, educator, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and former First Lady of her church. At the age of 90, Burks is especially proud of the fact that faith, family, and fashion consciousness continue to play important roles in her daily life, even in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing.  

Born in Cleveland in 1930 to Sadie Mae and William Buchannan, Zephrine was named after her mother’s music teacher in Tuskegee, Alabama, her parents’ birthplace.  Like her mother and namesake, she also loved music.  In describing her introduction to the formal study of music, she stated: 

Rev. Thomas Lee, the Pastor of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, announced that any parent who wanted their children to take piano lessons could bring them down to the church, where a professional music teacher would offer lessons, and the church would pay for the lessons.  Fifteen students started, and two students completed the course of study. I was one of the students who finished the program.

Her piano lessons began in 1937, when she was seven years old.  At the age of nine, she began to play for the Sunday School at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, and she still has fond memories of growing up in the church:

I was the only child, and my mother saw to it that I was always well dressed.  When we were getting ready for church, my mother would say, “Always give God your best,” and she would dress me accordingly.  I continued in that same manner with my children and grandchildren.  

Zephrine attended Cleveland Public Schools, graduating in 1949, the same year in which she married Samuel Burks.  After her marriage, she followed her husband to and played piano for her father-in-law’s church, St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. William D. Burks was Pastor. When her husband became pastor of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, which was later renamed Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church; Zephrine became the First Lady of that congregation.  

According to Zephrine, she never wanted a preacher for a husband.  As she put it, 

When Rev. William Burks announced that his son Samuel Burks had accepted the call to ministry, the church clapped, and I cried. I went home and told my mother, and she said, “Listen to me, if the Lord called him, you pray and ask the Lord to make you the minister’s wife that He would have you to be.  Encourage him [your husband], and the Lord will bless both of you.” It was my mother who encouraged me, and I followed her advice.

After becoming a member of the local Minsters’ Wives Club, the women who inspired her most were Clara Banks and Anna Chatman, First Lady of the Original Harvest Baptist Church, who was fond of saying, “Zephrine you can do it!”  At the Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church, First Lady Zephrine Burks also became the Minister of Music and a Sunday School teacher. Pastor and First Lady Burks would raise six children while working as servant-leaders in the church, and all of the children studied music.

First Lady Zephrine Burks and Rev. Samuel Burks (center) and their six children.

As a 19-year-old, Zephrine Burks had joined the Cleveland Baptist Pastors’ Wives Club, and she served as the secretary for that organization when Sadie Allen was the president.  Under the presidency of Anna Chatman, the name of the group was changed to Cleveland Baptist Ministers and Pastors’ Wives. Today, Burks serves as the chapter vice president.  Burks also served as president of the Calvary Hill Baptist District Association Women’s Auxiliary for over 20 years. In describing her various leadership roles, she said,

Whatever I did in the church, at the District level and with Ministers’ Wives, I did it all because of my love for Christ. It was important to me that my children and grandchildren serve the Lord with the same enthusiasm and adoration! I tried my best to be an example for all of them –and the members of the church that my husband and I led.

Even though times have changed, I still believe in giving God your best with your dress. I often tell young Christian women going to church [and wearing short dresses and skirts] to, “Tell your shoes to give a party and invite your dress down!”

Mrs. Zephrine Burks is shown her with her granddaughter (and interviewer) Tonya Byous, First Lady of Cleveland’s Philippi Missionary Baptist Church.

Find out more about the Western Reserve Historical Society’s “Share Your Story” COVID-19 Digital Collecting Initiative HERE.



Then & Now | Italian Cultural Garden

The Italian Cultural Garden was officially dedicated on October 12, 1930 with over 3,000 in attendance.  It was created to share Italy’s great cultural arts with the general public and serve as a symbol of the contribution of Italian culture to American democracy.

Phillip Garbo, an immigrant from Cefalu, Sicily, spearheaded the two-level Italian Cultural Garden in the Renaissance style.  Garbo was a master of the decorative arts and owner of the Italian Fresco and Decorating Company.  He created the interiors of a number of churches, residences, and theatres, including that of the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square.

A large Renaissance fountain, modeled after the one in Villa Medici in Rome, is the centerpiece of the upper level of the Italian Cultural Garden.  A statue of Dante Alighieri and a bust of the Roman poet Virgil are found to the left and right of the main entrance.  Two large winding staircases lead to the lower level amphitheater which contains another Renaissance fountain showcasing images of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vince, Giuseppe Verdi, Marconi, Petrarch and Giotto.

In 1990, Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation President Alfonso D’Emilia in conjunction with Gino Colage, president of the Italian Cultural Garden Association, began regular maintenance of the garden. They successfully solicited the City of Cleveland to repair the retaining wall, balustrade, and sections of the pavement.

Since 2007, the Italian Cultural Garden has been undergoing a $1.5 million restoration, spearheaded by executive director Joyce Mariani.  Besides foundation and repair work, Joyce has been working to enhance the garden as well as complete its original unfinished plans from 1930.  The addition of the statue of Dante Aligheri in 2012 was one unfinished component of the original plans.  Most recently, black granite medallions were installed around the upper level fountain highlighting various Italian cultural figures.  The final completion of the original plans will be a Pantheon structure on the upper level honoring 150 Italian cultural greats.

An annual event in the Italian Cultural Garden that has become popular over the years is “Opera in the Italian Garden.”  After the garden was built in 1930, opera was a regular feature there in the summer months.  Over time, the performances stopped but were revived in 2010.  Opera in the Garden attracts over 3,000 people each July highlighting the Cleveland Opera and the Cleveland ballet.

Then & Now | Hebrew Cultural Garden

That two of the three founders of the Cultural Gardens movement in Cleveland were Jewish perhaps explains why the first cultural garden to be dedicated, in 1926, was the Hebrew Cultural Garden. The driving force behind the gardens was Leo Weidenthal, editor of the Jewish Independent. In 1916 Weidenthal established a Shakespeare Garden for the tercentenary of the playwright’s death. A decade later, Weidenthal began discussions about expanding the concept into a chain of gardens the length of Rockefeller Park. His compatriots included Charles Wolfram, a leader of the German community, and Jennie K. Zwick, a longtime Jewish leader and activist. Zwick founded a women’s group, Gan Ivri (Hebrew for Hebrew Garden), to lead a fundraising effort through concerts, meetings with visiting authors, and lectures.

Weidenthal, Wolfram, and Zwick attracted the attention of local and international figures and achieved significant recognition. Visiting Cleveland in May, 1926, Chaim Nachman Bialik, the foremost Hebrew poet of the day, planted three cedars of Lebanon and gave a speech in Hebrew. In 1927 the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann came to plant trees; Weizmann later served as the first President of Israel. The presence of such prominent figures suggests the importance city leaders accorded the endeavor of the Cultural Gardens.

For Weidenthal, the Hebrew Cultural Garden was meant to reflect “a bit of Palestinian loveliness” and all kinds of cultural activities. Designed with a fountain of pink marble at its center, the Garden eventually included a Philosophers’ Corner and a Musicians’ Corner. A separate section also recognized the many achievements of Jewish women. Inscribed on the fountain was a selection from Proverbs 9, “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” The paths around the fountain formed the shape of a six-pointed star, while outlying areas were set aside for additional memorials. A model for other ethnic groups, the Hebrew garden provided both open space for public movement and more private corners in which to congregate.

In supporting this dynamic initiative to celebrate America’s absorption of immigrants, Cleveland’s ethnic leaders rejected the notion of the melting pot. For example, Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Anshe Chesed (today, Fairmount Temple), said he preferred the metaphor of a hope chest, suggesting that immigrants come here to realize hopes and dreams that cannot be fulfilled elsewhere. In a presentation to a local lodge, reported on in The Jewish Independent in March 1927, Brickner proclaimed, “Because my grandfather missed the Mayflower and came over on the next boat he could get does not mean that those who came over on the Mayflower are in any way either racially, mentally, or spiritually superior to those who did not.” The Cultural Gardens became a way for the city’s ethnic groups to declare their specific identities and also to assert their equal stature with other groups.

Then & Now | African American Cultural Garden

It was in 1969 that Booker Tall, a Cuyahoga Community College professor and one of the founders of the African American Archives at WRHS, began what turned out to be an eight-year long labor of love to claim a spot for the African American Cultural Garden.

Tall wanted the garden to live within the Cleveland Cultural Gardens grounds. The grounds, which are located within the 276 acres of  Rockefeller Park, is a collection of public gardens situated along East Boulevard & Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Each of the gardens celebrate a different ethnic group who has contributed to the heritage of Cleveland and of our country.

So, the Association of African American Cultural Gardens, which included Mr. Tall, along with Clarence Fitch, Carol Bugg, Bob Render, Glen Brackens, and the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life & History set out to bring an African American Cultural garden to the Cleveland Cultural Garden grounds. They planned to accomplish this by way of a media campaign throughout the city of Cleveland.

As a result, on October 23, 1977, the African American Cultural Garden (or the Afro-American Cultural Garden as it was called then) was dedicated to a four-acre site by then-Mayor George Voinovich. The site, located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the St. Clair exit, is where Tall stood before a crowd of five-hundred and declared the four-acre area the future site of the African American Cultural Garden.

At the time of the dedication, the Association of African American Cultural Gardens (AAACG) had planned to honor six notable African Americans: Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Garrett Morgan Sr., inventor and founder of the Cleveland Call & Post newspaper; Jesse Owens, the 1936 Olympic gold medalist; John P. Green, an elected official who introduced the bill that made Labor Day a holiday in Ohio; Jane Edna Hunter, who established the Phillis Wheatley Association to assist unmarried black women; and Langston Hughes, a poet and a playwright who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

But unfortunately, this version of the garden never came to pass; soon after the dedication, Booker Tall passed away. Then, not long after that, the AAACG became inactive, interest waned, and the construction of the African American Cultural Garden lay mostly untouched.

Then around 2003, there was renewed interest in completing the garden. It was spearheaded by the late Cordell Edge, who was a longtime Glenville resident. He was appointed to engage a committee to cultivate and develop the African American Cultural Garden.

Due to Mr. Edge’s work, interest in the garden gained momentum, and in 2012, the AAACG secured its non-profit status and elected Carl S. Ewing as its new president. Mr. Ewing worked with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who organized a task force to develop and implement a plan for the garden.

Architect W. Daniel Bickerstaff II, of Ubiquitous Design, LTD., was commissioned to design the African American Cultural Garden, and raise funds to complete the first phase of the three-phase design. According to the AAACG website, The African American Garden will be designed as the Past, Present, and Future Pavilions.

In 2016 ground was broken on the first major installation of the garden, the “Past Pavillion”. The concept of the Past Pavilion is to translate the experience of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It represents the corridors and dungeons in the slave castles along the western coast of Africa.

The Pavilion also includes an Infinity Fountain that depicts the illusion of the tranquility of the Atlantic Ocean as seen through the Pavilion’s “Doorway of No Return”. The “Doorway” is a sandstone structure that portrays the notion of unknown transition. The Middle Passage of the Past Pavilion alludes to the sense of going down into the bowels of the slave ships.

With the first phase now completed, Booker Tall’s journey that started over 40 years ago is ongoing. Currently, AAACG is continuing its fundraising efforts to secure the $2.6 million dollars needed to complete Phases Two and Three of the garden.

If you’d like to learn more about the African American Cultural Garden, please CLICK HERE. You can also visit To learn more about the garden’s design, this video of architect Daniel Bickerstaff explains more about his concept at the 2016 Juneteenth celebration and ribbon-ceremony in the African American Cultural Garden:

Association of African American Cultural Gardens Launches Sankofa Education Webcast Series

Guest Writer, Kenneth D. Hale,
Vice President of the African American Archives Auxiliary and the Association of African American Cultural Gardens

Reflecting upon my childhood, growing up in Cleveland, Ohio’s Glenville and Lee-Harvard communities and being a proud graduate of the Cleveland Public Schools, I am particularly grateful, now, as an adult, to be serving as a board member of two important cultural entities within the city of Cleveland, Ohio, the African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA, or Quad A) of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) and the Association of African American Cultural Gardens (AAACG).

The mission of Quad A is to support WRHS’s African American Archives’ purpose, which is to collect, preserve, and make accessible historic documents, photographs, memorabilia, art, and artifacts pertaining to African American life, history, and culture in Northeast Ohio.

The mission of the Association of African American Cultural Gardens is to promote and encourage education and interest in African American history and culture, to develop and preserve the African American Cultural Garden, and to perpetuate a spirit of friendship, unity, and peace among people of all diverse cultures.

Both organizations, Quad A and AAACG, were established in large part, by a visionary educator, scholar and leader, Dr. Booker T. Tall (1928-1994).

AAACG, in response to the public gathering restrictions, in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, recently launched a six-week, pilot virtual series called the Sankofa Education Webcast Program. Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it”, and also refers to the Bono Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart share or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. AAACG’s interpretation of the Sankofa bird, which is also AAACG’s logo, is to “move forward, while being rooted and guided by our history”, which essentially describes the content and essence of AAACG’s Sankofa webcast series.

An innovative education and outreach program, AAACG’s Sankofa webcast program features videotaped, on-demand programming consisting of insightful interviews with leaders within the education, religious, scientific, philanthropic, political and media professions. The Sankofa program also features interviews of change agents and community leaders, and artistic presentations by local and national artists, as well.

AAACG’s Sankofa webcast program’s unique interview focus enables guests to share their personal stories and reflections of their childhood, family, and education and professional paths. Each guest also offers their perspectives on the importance of African American history and shares why cultural institutions, like the African American Cultural Garden are important and should be supported.

By watching AAACG’s Sankofa webcast programs, a viewer can hear “first-hand” from a former NBA player (Mr. M. Campy Russell of the Cleveland Cavaliers); how he grew up as a child in a big family, and about the values and people that shaped him. Viewers of the Sankofa series can learn about the early days of a nationally acclaimed physician, Dr. Charles Modlin, of the Cleveland Clinic, and learn about who and what influenced him to become a doctor. Episodes of the Sankofa also presents artistic presentations, profiles of notable African Americans, information about the African American Cultural Garden and more.

The format and content of the Sankofa program is very family-friendly and viewers are invited to view and enjoy the programming alone, and/or with multiple generations within a family to enjoy as a family unit. Anyone interested in viewing upcoming or past Sankofa webcast programs, or interested in viewing the entire line-up of featured guests, is invited to access the webcast series through the Association of African American Cultural Gardens website at

Celebrating Diversity – Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens

Controlling immigration was near the top of the United States agenda during the early 1920s, a period then touted as a “return to normalcy.” Two major pieces of federal legislation, the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 severely limited the number of immigrants admitted to the US from the eastern hemisphere, designed with quotas that discriminated against those from southern, central, and eastern Europe. Those laws, on top of a nearly total restriction of immigrants from the “Asian barred Zone” would remain largely in force until 1965.

At that same time, Cleveland took a step in a different direction, it decided, through the creation of a series of landscaped gardens, to celebrate the diverse cultures that made up the city.  Indeed, in 1920, two thirds of the city’s population was of foreign birth or foreign parentage, and another 35,000 were part of a growing African-American population.

The concept was promoted by Leo Weidenthal, a journalist, book collector with a deep interest in theater, and a civic activist. In 1916 Weidenthal had led the effort to establish a Shakespeare Garden to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The dedication ceremony featured readings by actress Julia Marlow and music from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Its decorative scheme would include plantings from England, including a cutting from a mulberry that, itself had been planted by Shakespeare.

In some ways the Shakespeare Garden can be seen as a reaffirmation of the United States’ link to Great Britain, particularly at the time of World War I. However, Weidenthal’s vision was wider and it would come to fruition in the 1920s – perhaps in response to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment at that time. His vision was for a series of similar gardens, each reflecting the culture of a particular ethnic group in the city. He was joined in this effort by Jennie Zwick and Charles Wolfram.  Zwick, like Weidenthal was Jewish and Wolfram was a major figure in the city’s German community. In 1925 the three would establish the City Progress League which would become the Cultural Garden League.

The enterprise had the enthusiastic backing of William R. Hopkins, Cleveland’s City Manager.   Land for the gardens would be made available along then Liberty Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) and East Boulevard. The entire enterprise would be defined by the Doan Brook Valley. So, as the nation began to limit immigration, Cleveland began to celebrate the cultures that immigrants brought to the city. The first garden to be established was the Hebrew Garden in 1926.  Three years later (and only eleven after the end of World War I) a German Garden was dedicated. By 1940 another thirteen had been established many with fiscal support of the Depression-era WPA.  During the ensuing Second World War the gardens became successful symbols of the need for national unity.

The remainder of the century would see progress slow, with only five additional gardens created as the Doan Brook valley suffered as the city’s fortunes declined and as racial tensions expanded. Ironically, when immigration to Cleveland slowed after restriction, migration from the American South and Appalachia increased to fill the need for workers in the 1920s and during and after World War II. Yet, no garden was planned or established for the African-American Community until 1977.

At the same time, the new immigration law of 1965, did away with the old biased restrictions and ultimately opened the United States and Cleveland to new groups of immigrants from areas well beyond Europe. Those communities ultimately would revivify the Cultural Gardens. In 2005 the Asian Indian community established its garden and, fittingly, erected a stunning statue of Mahatma Gandhi alongside the then renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. That event, along with new sources of funding and the creation of a bicycle path from University Circle to the lake, has catalyzed a renaissance of the system.

As of 2019 there were 33 gardens, with others proposed and, or in the planning process. What Leo Weidenthal envisioned has, today, become a landmark in the city – indeed, there is no peer for the Cultural Gardens. And, today, there is more reason than ever to look at them and consider what they represent as we once again debate immigration. It is, indeed, a site of beauty, but more so one of contemplation of the diversity of our city, our nation, and wider world. And, it is a site where groups that may once have contended with one another, now celebrate their history and heritage in concert.

Then & Now | Franklin Castle

It’s nearly Halloween and once again Clevelanders are talking about haunted houses and paranormal experiences.    There are numerous candidates (if you do, indeed, believe in ghosts) in northeastern Ohio, but the one that seems to always get the most attention is the “Franklin Castle”.

Year after year the media comes to focus on this magnificent stone house on Franklin Avenue – and why not?  It certainly looks the part, a stone, turreted late Victorian house and one which saw more than its share of deaths within the family that built it.    It and its carriage house have suffered two fires, and have undergone several restorations.    Certainly it has stories to tell, but the most important one is not about ghosts, either real or imagined, but about the history of the German American population in Cleveland in the late nineteenth century.

It was built by Hannes Tiedemann who emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1848.   He initially settled in New York but moved to Cleveland around 1855, where he prospered beginning as a clerk in a wholesale grocery store and eventually partnering in 1864 with another German, John Christian Weideman, in a wholesale grocery firm. The firm would eventually become one of the largest in the United States.  However, Tiedemann left the firm to start a bank, the Savings and Trust Company in 1883.

His career path was extraordinary, but it exemplified the success of many German immigrants in the city.   By the late nineteenth century, German speaking people constituted the largest ethnic group in the city and many had moved into the middle and upper middle classes.    Many lived on the west side where the more prosperous built substantial homes on Franklin Avenue – indeed it was “the” street on that side of town.  And, that’s what Tiedemann did.  In 1881 he built the current house at what is now 4308 Franklin Avenue (the family had lived in another house at that site since 1866).  It was designed by one of the city’s best architectural firms, Cudell & Richardson.  Franz (Frank) Cudell was also a German immigrant.

The house did see its bit of personal tragedy.   Tiedemann’s mother would die there as, tragically, would four of his children and his wife.   In 1895, he sold the house to the Mullhauser family (yes, German) following his wife’s death.  

Eventually the house would be occupied by a number of German organizations:  the Bildungsverein Eintracht Club, a singing society, and the Deutsche Socialisten.   The latter was, perhaps, the most interesting occupant as it speaks to the strong Socialist movement in Greater Cleveland at the turn of the twentieth century.   Indeed, records from the Club, including a run of the German-language Socialist newspaper, Das Echo, have survived with microfilm of the newspaper now part of the collections of the WRHS research library.

As to the “haunting” of the house – it’s your choice to believe or not to believe it.   The stories of it being haunted seem to have begun around 1965 (just at the time that Ohio City was becoming a prime candidate for historic restoration).    If you do believe it is haunted, there are a variety of candidates – certainly the Tiedemann children, or his wife, or his mother.    But, perhaps, there’s another candidate, Charles Ruthenberg.   

The son of German immigrants, Ruthenberg was a socialist and a candidate for mayor of Cleveland four times and garnered a substantial vote (30% in 1917).  He also threw his hat in the ring for governor, the US Senate, and the House of Representatives.  Chances are that Charles visited the German socialist club at the Tiedemann House at one time or another.   Eventually he gave up on Socialism and became one of the founders of the American Communist Party.    He too, like many of the Tiedemann family, died rather early (at the age of 45 from a ruptured appendix).   So, if you want to commune with his spirit, you might try the “Franklin Castle” or visit his grave in Moscow!   His ashes are interred at the Kremlin Wall, one of three Americans (the others being “Big Bill” Haywood, and John Reed) are buried there as an honor by the Soviet Union.  So, maybe we should commune with Charles’s spirit and ask about the house in Cleveland.   Would his response be:  “Ja, es spukt in dem Haus!”??  Boo!

Then & Now | Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Stephanie Tubbs Jones was the first African American woman from Ohio elected to the United States House of Representatives, and served the state’s eleventh congressional district for nearly ten years.

Tubbs Jones was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Mary Looney Tubbs, a factory worker, and Andrew Tubbs, an airline porter at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. She was the youngest of three daughters, all of whom were raised in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland.

Tubbs graduated from Collinwood High School with acclaim and began college at Case Western Reserve University in its first year of federation, 1967. At CWRU, Stephanie Tubbs Jones founded the African-American Students’ Association (now the African American Society). Jones earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in psychology in the spring of 1971. She was in Delta Sigma Theta, a predominantly black women’s sorority founded in 1913. In 1974 Tubbs Jones graduated from CWRU School of Law with a Juris Doctor (J.D.).

From 1976 until 1979 Tubbs Jones worked as the assistant prosecutor of Cuyahoga County and was elected as a judge for the Cleveland Municipal Court in 1981. Tubbs Jones was appointed to the Cuyahoga County court of common pleas in 1983 by Ohio Governor Richard Celeste. Tubbs Jones served there for eight years before being appointed prosecutor for Cuyahoga County.

Tubbs Jones was named Chief Prosecutor of Cuyahoga County in 1991. She was the first African American prosecutor in Ohio, as well as one of the first African American women to become the prosecutor of a major American city.

In 1998 Stephanie Tubbs Jones ran to replace Cleveland’s 11th district Congressman of 30 years, Louis Stokes. Tubbs Jones ran on a platform of political experience and community service, winning the Democratic nomination and continuing on to win the general election with more than 80% of the vote. She was re-elected four times and served in congress until her death in 2008.

In her first year as a congresswoman, Tubbs Jones wrote and passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act of 1999. Tubbs Jones’ legislative focus on children, education, and healthcare lasted throughout her time in Congress, and she authored and passed several more bills to promote healthcare and child welfare. Tubbs Jones also served on the House Ways and Means Committee, where she supported Social Security, Medicare, and progressive pension laws.

Tubbs Jones spent much of her congressional career on the House Ways and Means Committee; after the 2006 election Nancy Pelosi selected her to chair the House Ethics Committee. Tubbs Jones co-sponsored legislation to broaden health care coverage for low and middle income people and legislation to promote programs that supported the re-entry of convicts into their communities. She authored legislation that required certification for mortgage brokers and stiffer penalties for predatory loans. Tubbs Jones was also an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Various prominent political figures fondly recalled Tubbs Jones after her death, as former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton said that she was “one of a kind” as well as “unwavering, indefatigable.” Barack Obama said “It wasn’t enough for her just to break barriers in her own life, she was also determined to bring opportunity to all those who had been overlooked and left behind – and in Stephanie, they had a fearless friend and unyielding advocate.”



Race and the Politics of Respectability | The 1920s from the Vantage Point of Ida B. Wells

Regennia N Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

At the start of the “Roaring 20s,” Ida B. Wells was a journalist, educator, author, suffragist, clubwoman, social reformer, leader in the anti-lynching movement, and a wife and mother.  A native of Mississippi, she was born in slavery in 1862.  By the time of her death in Chicago, Illinois in 1931, she had achieved a fame that was rare for any woman, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, and nationality.  In her lifetime, she would claim friends, allies, rivals, and enemies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and across the color and class lines that frequently divided blacks and whites in America, including those in Cleveland, Ohio.

Wells’ biographer Paula Giddings described her as one of the most uncompromising leaders of her time.  In ‘Ida: A Sword Among Lions’, Giddings recounts the story of Wells’ work with and, sometimes, disagreements with such leaders as suffragist and diplomat Frederick Douglass, historian and fellow founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) W. E. B. Du Bois, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, & Frances Willard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WTCU).  

Articles in the black press and other publications suggest that Wells, despite her many disputes with some well known leaders, also found trusted allies in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and among mainline black churches across the country, including Cleveland’s St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is interesting to note that some poor and working class African Americans found the “uplifting” messages of NACW members and other “respectable” reformers somewhat off-putting, since they reflected certain class and cultural biases regarding alcohol consumption, church decorum, and clothing etiquette.

Tragically, despite the best efforts of Ida B. Wells and other African American suffragists, within a decade of the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, thousands of black women in the South would join the ranks of the politically disenfranchised, just as black men had done so in the decades following the 1870 ratification of the 15th Amendment.  African Americans’ ongoing desire to secure and exercise voting rights would, however, help to fuel the Modern Civil Rights Movement after World War II.

All in the Family | Rebecca and Adella

Two of the most remarkable women in Cleveland’s history happened to be related.   One was a pioneer in the early philanthropy of the city and the other helped put the city on the international musical map.

The story of their work begins when Rebecca Rouse and her husband Benjamin came to Cleveland.  Active in the Baptist church they both helped organize Sunday Schools in the Western Reserve and were among the founders of the First Baptist Church.   Rebecca’s work, however, expanded and she was among the organizers of the Martha Washington and Dorcas Society the city’s first relief organization in 1843.   It in turn, at Rebecca’s suggestion, it established the Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum (today’s Beech Brook) in 1852.  However, her organizational expertise was truly on display during the Civil War.

Five days after Abraham Lincoln’s first call for troops, Rebecca created the Ladies Aid Society, which would eventually become the Soldiers Aid Society and part of the U. S. Sanitary Commission.   Throughout the war the group worked to gather supplies (including blankets and books) for the soldiers; raised an immense amount of money ($78,000, which would be $1,611,257 today) for the Sanitary Commission by organizing the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair in 1864, and then helped returning soldiers find jobs.   Her work in this area is memorialized by her depiction in one of the bronze panels inside Cleveland’s Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument.


(Left: Ellen and Adella Prentiss European Travel Photo from the WRHS Collection. R: Photo of the Soldiers Aid Society from the WRHS Collection.)


Rebecca died in 1887, but certainly she had the chance to see her granddaughter, Adella Prentiss (Hughes), who was born in 1869.    Adella attended Vassar College where she became immersed in playing and studying music.   When she graduated in 1890 she and her mother, Ellen Rouse Prentiss, toured Europe where she saw and heard some of the best orchestras in the world. That tour made her a better musician, but it also whetted her appetite to bring good music to her home town.   By the late 1890s she had become a concert manager and eventually became the city’s leading impresario.  But her main ambition was to provide a permanent orchestra for the city.    She did that by organizing the Musical Arts Association in 1915 and it, three years later, would create the Cleveland Orchestra.   Adella would manage the Orchestra from 1918 to 1933.   Her Cleveland musical resume also included assisting Almeda Adams in the establishment of the Cleveland Music School Settlement – today’s Music Settlement.

The story of these two remarkable women is well recorded in the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Library where the Rouse and Hughes papers are preserved as well as records of the Soldiers Aid Society and the Cleveland Music School Settlement.   Perhaps the most fascinating part of these collections are the images that Adella took with a Kodak #1 box camera of her trip abroad – they capture the world that helped shape the future of music in Cleveland.

Then & Now | Honest Food

The news that Sokolowski’s University Inn is for sale, or may possibly close, seems to indicate the end of an era.   For ninety-seven years the Sokolowski family has kept a tradition alive – a tradition of serving good, hearty, honest, food.   Their menu echoed the history of the South Side, now better known as Tremont.  Pierogis, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut and other hearty dishes were the forte of the restaurant, largely because that’s what its original customers, the workers in the steel mills and other factories around the neighborhood, knew and desired.

It was one of those places, like Guarino’s in Little Italy, Hot Sauce Williams, or Friday fish fries at the Night Hawk Café, that spoke to and cooked for the people in the neighborhood.   For most of the history of Sokolowski’s dining out was an infrequent luxury for most people – but lunch and a beer were more commonplace for a worker.    It was that blue-collar ethos that made Sokolowski’s and other similar restaurants, like Slyman’s on St. Clair, a must stop for any politician on the campaign trail.   Eating there supposedly symbolized the candidate’s creds as a “man of people.”   And those photo ops provided good PR for the restaurant and began, in the post-World War II era to attract customers from outside the neighborhood, particularly as dining out became more common for many families.

In the late 1950s the South Side began to change.  Factory jobs began to disappear and a freeway sliced the community in half — and also provided residents an easy route to a newer, nicer home in the suburbs.  But then the area became trendy and in the past thirty years has attracted a new, wealthier population.  As the South Side morphed into Tremont (or as some now say “Trémont”) the lines outside Sokolowski’s grew longer.  Long-time customers now joined with new residents and visitors and, ironically, as the neighborhood changed, the restaurant became more famous.   Indeed, it was a bastion of authenticity in an increasingly “foodie” neighborhood and city, a place where one could get a good, honest meal for the cost of tip at many other eateries in the area.    It wasn’t about presentation – your plate was full, not decorated with snips of food here and there – it was about eating and history, and about hearty food – a meal that could get you through a day at the mill, a meal that was worth the hard-earned money you spent on it.   Let us all hope that the tradition of Sokolowski’s lives on.

Then & Now | The Humphrey Women

There are a number of reasons Euclid Beach Park and the Humphrey Family that operated it were so successful. One of the most overlooked reasons for their success is the many contributions made by the women of the family. From the beginning when the Humphrey’s migrated from New England to Ohio, the Humphrey women were far more than homemakers responsible for rearing their children; they were decision makers who actively participated in the family’s business endeavors.

Born on June 9, 1898, Louise was Dudley Sherman Humphrey II’s youngest child. She was only one year old when the family opened their first popcorn stand at Euclid Beach in 1899 under the park’s original owners. Louise went on to be educated at Hathaway-Brown School here in Cleveland and then Smith College. She excelled in music and before returning home to the family business, she wrote music professionally in New York City.

Louise married John E. Lambie and like many of the Humphrey women before and after her, she took on an active role in the family business. She served as the vice president of the Humphrey Company for sixteen years and was responsible for the development of many of the architectural plans that changed the look of the amusement park. Most notably she oversaw the Art Deco makeover in the 1930’s that changed the appearance of the entrances of the Thriller, Racing Coaster, and Flying Turns, the interior of the Dance Pavilion, and the Grand Carousel.

She was also active in the community and served on a number of civic committees in Cleveland. Louise served as the head of the League of Women’s Voters and was the chairwoman of the Library Board of the City of Cleveland.

Then & Now | The Pier

By John Frato, Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel Training & Volunteer Coordinator


The Pier was one of the five original structures constructed at Euclid Beach Park for the inaugural season in 1895. It served a number of ever changing functions over the years and was always a great place for a leisurely stroll to sightsee back along the coast line or out onto Lake Erie. In the beginning, the Pier was divided down the middle by a high partition.  It had a totally utilitarian purpose in the early years of the Park’s existence serving as the embarking and debarking point for two steamers owned by the Park, the Duluth and Superior, that transported patrons to and from downtown Cleveland to Euclid Beach.


There are many postcard images of Park visitors renting boats next to it, diving into the lake for a swim, or casting a line into the lake and fishing. My fondest memory of the Pier is the fireworks displays at the lake end of it. Purpose and function were not the only things that changed over the years. Cleveland’s harsh winters coupled with Lake Erie’s relentless pounding of the Pier’s wooden pylons and deck resulted in damage year after year. The Pier was almost always the largest yearly maintenance expense on the Humphreys’ balance sheet. There are reports that the Pier originally extended out onto the lake almost 800 feet. A credible source documents the length at 650 feet in 1914. The length actually varied over the years depending upon how profitable the previous season was and how much the Humphreys’ could afford for its yearly repairs.

The Cleveland Metroparks recently completed the construction of a new Pier at Euclid Beach. Early on in the project, the Metroparks reached out to Euclid Beach Park Now and the group was involved with the design from the onset. I have acted as the liaison between EBPN’s board and the Metroparks team. The concrete portion of the original Pier had stood throughout the years since the Park’s closure as a silent reminder of the amusement park’s rich history. Unfortunately, it was not structurally sound and had to be demolished. A decision was made to relocate the new Pier slightly west of the original location which not only improved the panoramic view of Cleveland’s skyline but also enabled the new structure to span Lake Erie’s open water sooner. The new Pier is 16 to 20 feet wide and 315 feet in length.

The highlight for Euclid Beach Park fans is the three dramatic metal archways that span its width. Designed by local artist, Brinsley Tyrrell, they feature iconic images of the Park that include the Dance Pavilion, pool and slide next to the Bathhouse, Carousel, Rocket Ships and Laughing Sal. EBPN collaborated with the Metroparks on the choices for the subject matter. The Pier is the first phase of enhancements planned for the property.

Then & Now | The Euclid Beach Park Arch

On Lake Shore Boulevard just east of East 156th Street in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, Euclid Beach Park’s grand entrance still stands as a silent reminder of what was arguably the area’s most beloved amusement park.  The rides along with the aroma of popping popcorn are long gone, but for those who visited the Park, the memories flood back at the sight of the stately entrance arch.  From opening day on June 22, 1895 to the Park’s last day on September 28, 1969, there was always an entrance arch to welcome visitors whose appearance changed and evolved over the years.  When the Park first opened, the property was obscured from public view with high walls and free access was blocked with an imposing metal gate.  In the early days, drinking, gambling, freak shows, and games of chance were the mainstays along with an admission charge.  When the Humphrey family took over operation of the Park in 1901, patrons were no longer charged to enter and they could spend as little or as much as they wished to enjoy the family friendly fun.   A much more modest arch made of wood located a quarter mile east of where the current arch stands greeted visitors.


The current main entrance gate arch was constructed in 1921.  It was constructed entirely of wood and designed to resemble a large letter “H” (as in Humphrey). The sign in the crosspiece originally said “Park”. As the public began referring to the popular amusement park as “Euclid Beach Park’ rather than “Humphrey Park”, the sign in the centerpiece was changed to the familiar Euclid Beach Park.

The foundations of the Arch are octagonal in shape.   Each side is approximately 36” long and the distance between the parallel sides is 96”.  Both towers have an entrance door on their back side.  There are permanent wooden ladders along one wall in each tower that allow access to the interior of the centerpiece that joins the towers.  Originally incandescent bulbs were used to illuminate the letters spelling out “Euclid Beach Park” in the centerpiece.  A bit later the letters were converted to neon.  Around 1942, the Arch went through a final transformation with the addition of a covering called “Permastone” over the wooden exterior giving it a cut stone appearance.  When the Park closed and the property was sold for development, the Arch remained as a silent reminder of what once was located there.  As a testament to the significance of Euclid Beach, the Arch was designated as a Cleveland landmark by the Cleveland Landmark’s Commission.


On January 11, 2007, an SUV crashed into the east tower of The Arch. The impact tore out about a third of the first story walls of the east tower and caused the tower to shift partially off its foundation, about six inches toward the main street in front of The Arch. There was damage at the crosspiece where it connected to the east tower. Force of the impact was transferred through the centerpiece and to the west tower causing it to rotate slightly on its base. The City of Cleveland Building Department and Landmarks Commission responded immediately that day.  A company specializing in structural damage temporarily installed scaffolding bracing under the crosspiece to prevent a collapse while the structure was assessed.  There was concern that entire structure had been compromised to the point that demolition would be necessary.  Fortunately, repairs were able to be completed and the restored Arch was rededicated on Tuesday June 12, 2007 and still stands today.


Then & Now | The Euclid Beach Park Riot

Municipal swimming pools, beaches, and dance halls were arguably among the most segregated areas of public access in the United States through the mid-twentieth century. Many swimming pool and amusement park demonstrations regarding equal access are documented after the end of World War II in 1945. Some suburbs of Cleveland had strict housing and segregation laws restricting African Americans and others that were not changed until the 1950s. Protests occurred all across the country in urban centers like Cleveland, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In many instances, a city’s amusement parks with their segregated swimming pools, skating rinks, and dance pavilions were protest locations. Euclid Beach Park was no exception.
African Americans were not permitted to use the Park’s swimming facilities, Roller Rink, and Dance Pavilion. On August 4, 1946, protesters arrived at Euclid Beach and for the first time in its history, a picket line marched in front of the main gate. The protests continued for the next seven weeks and violence broke out on August 23rd. Members of the civil rights group, the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), attempted to enter the Dance Pavilion. After the group was ejected from the Park, another CORE member, Albert Luster, arrived late and according to reports was beaten by a Euclid Beach Park policeman as he sat on a park bench.
The violence escalated on September 21st in an incident that has become known as “The Euclid Beach Park Riot”. A scuffle ensued among members of the Euclid Beach police force and two off-duty black Cleveland police officers. They intervened after witnessing the rough ejection of several CORE members attempting to enter the Dance Pavilion. The altercation resulted in one of the officers being shot in the leg with one of their own revolvers. At the behest of the mayor, Euclid Beach closed a week early and the following February, an ordinance which outlawed amusement park discrimination in Cleveland authored by Charles V. Carr was passed into law by Cleveland City Council. Any amusement park operating in Cleveland needed a license from the city which could be revoked for racial discrimination of their patrons.
Charles V. Carr was a legendary civil rights lawyer, local businessman, and Democratic politician in Cleveland who had a connection to Euclid Beach Park. He was a fixture in Cleveland’s political scene for thirty years, serving on the City Council from 1945 to 1975. Throughout his career he fought against racial discrimination in Cleveland’s public spaces.

Then & Now | Alonzo Wright Moves from Mundane to Millionaire

(Photograph of Alonzo Wright’s first SOHIO station, 1935.)

Born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, Alonzo Wright (30 Apr. 1898-17 Aug. 1976) began his career as a shoe shiner and messenger. From those humble beginnings he went on to become Cleveland’s first African American millionaire. He moved to Cleveland in the 1910s with a reported six cents in his pocket. Alonzo went to night school to earn his high school diploma while also holding down various jobs as a teamster, foundry hand, mail truck driver, and most notably, a garage attendant at the Auditorium Hotel. He met SOHIO executive, Wallace T. Holliday during his eight years working as an attendant. Holliday offered Wright a desk job at Standard Oil, but Wright requested to operate a service station instead. With Holliday’s help, Wright became the first African American to lease a SOHIO station.

Wright’s first station was located at E. 93rd and Cedar in a predominantly African American Cleveland neighborhood. He improved his business by offering extra services, such as windshield cleanings and tire and radiator checks. By 1937 he operated six SOHIO stations. By the time he ceased operations in the early 1940s, he ran 11 gas stations.

 From Service Station to Serving His Community

Wright was very passionate about using his success to help the African American community. He created opportunities and hired more black youths by 1940 than any other business man in America. He was also an essential founder of the Cleveland Development Fund which endeavored to eliminate African American slums.

Unfortunately, Wright was met with racial adversity despite of his business success and standing. When he moved into an all-white section of Cleveland Heights in the 1930s, his home was bombed. He later moved to a 200-acre farm in Chesterland, Ohio in 1947.

Wright left the service station business as gas rationing for World War II slowed sales. He turned to the real estate market instead, opening his own real estate investment firm, Wright’s Enterprises, in 1943. Among his most impressive purchases were Carnegie Hotel and the Ritzwood Hotel. He also established Dunbar Nursing Home. By the 1960s his focus was mainly centered on industrial and residential construction. Wright passed away at his home in Bratenahl at the age of 78 and was buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

The legacy of John D. Rockefeller’s first endeavor into oil refining (1862) as the Rockefeller & Andrews Oil Company in 1862 progressed to Standard Oil in 1870, Standard Oil of Ohio in 1890 and to SOHIO in 1911. Alonzo Wright was able to prosper as a young SOHIO entrepreneur in the 1930s into the 1940s. Later in 1978, SOHIO would merge into British Petroleum., and became known as BP in 1991. Today, the Standard Oil legacy lives on in the familiar green BP sunburst logo and slogan: Beyond Petroleum (2001).

Then & Now | Macedonia Preservation Facility

By John C. Lutsch, CAAM Program & Marketing Manager


Macedonia. The name conjures images of the ancient birthplace of Alexander the Great, or perhaps of the recently formed breakaway republic of the former Yugoslavia. But there is a Macedonia of local repute as well, not ancient, but loaded with significance.

In 1999, the Western Reserve Historical Society purchased a nearly 60,000 square foot warehouse in the southeast Cleveland suburb of Macedonia, Ohio. Its purpose was to house museum artifacts, documents, and perhaps most importantly, classic automobiles and aircrafts in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection. Additionally, space was allocated for the maintenance, preservation, and restoration of those vehicles.

Today, the facility’s three-tiered storage racks hold around fifty-plus cars, trucks, motorcycles and aircraft, all awaiting attention, or an opportunity to be displayed in the Crawford. Although the building is unmarked (and rather unremarkable), the activities within are crucial to the operation of the Crawford, and the care of its world-class collection. .

The Crawford’s mission statement establishes the need, first and foremost, to preserve the vehicles for posterity and to avoid a complete restoration whenever possible. The Crawford team has to rely on extensive automotive backgrounds to determine whether a car can be conserved in its present condition, or if it requires a total rebuild to be presentable. It is a delicate balance of judgment, as well as the availability of adequate funding. Many of the automobiles in the collection are nearing the century mark in age, and parts are no longer available. Fabricating them from scratch is both difficult and expensive.

Larry Davis, Crawford Collection Manager, brings a wide skill set to Macedonia, as his machining and construction background can keep the fabrication of parts in-house, reducing costs and margins for error. His is no position for a mere mechanic. Welding, brazing, fiberglass work, sheet metal fabrication, and machine tool work are all daily requirements at The Preservation Facility, as well as guiding the volunteer force as they apply the aforementioned techniques. Engine rebuilding, frame restoration, and safety system upgrades are on tap as well.

Occasionally, the doors of the Preservation Facility are opened to the public, and crowds of over three hundred guests have jumped at the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of activities there. Having a large parking lot allows crowds of enthusiasts to bring their favorite rides to the open days as well.

Although the Preservation Facility usually keeps a low profile, it’s highly skilled team of Davis and his volunteers (many of whom are former engineers and craftsmen) continue to ensure that the Crawford’s vehicles are afforded the best of care, protecting and preserving them for future generations to enjoy.

Open house days at Macedonia have been curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but as state and national restrictions ease, keep an eye out for your opportunity to visit this remarkable facility, right in our back yard! Meanwhile, one can enjoy the results of this work with a visit to the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum at the Cleveland History Center.



Then & Now | Polish Heritage Month

(Black and white photograph of the 28th annual One World Day, Polish Cultural Garden. 1973. WRHS collections.)

John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History  CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History


The immigration of Poles to the Cleveland area began in the late 1860s and early 1870s with the growth of a Polish community working in the quarries of Berea.   At the same time some Poles began to settle in Cleveland.  It is difficult to determine the exact number of “Polish” immigrants at this time given that Poland did not exist as a nation, having been divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria in the late 18th century.

Nevertheless, the industrial growth of the city began to draw increasing number of Poles, most, initially, from the German section of Poland where the imposition of German language and culture, along with the lure of jobs in the United States, served as an impetus to leave.  What held the community together during this period of a lost nation, was the Roman Catholic religion as it provided a surrogate to a formal state.   A Polish Catholic parish was established in Berea in 1872.  In 1873, St. Stanislaus, the first Polish parish was established in Cleveland.  It originally met in St. Mary’s on the Flats, then moved to hold services in St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church on Woodland Avenue.  Finally, in 1881 it built its first church on the southeast side, near the Cleveland Rolling Mills where many Poles worked.  In 1891, the current St. Stanislaus building was completed.

This area, named Warszawa by the Poles became the center of the community in Cleveland.  As more Poles came to the city to take jobs in its burgeoning late nineteenth and early twentieth century industries, they created other neighborhoods:  Kantowa surrounding St. John Cantius Church in Tremont,  Josephatowa around St. Josephat’s church (now an art gallery) on E. 33rd Street,  Poznan, surrounding St. Casimir’s Church on Sowinski avenue, and St. Hedwig (now closed) in Lakewood’s Bird Town district.   There were other churches and neighborhoods, but they like the ones noted above served communities whose livelihood depended upon employment in nearby industries.

World War I interrupted Polish immigration to the United States and to Cleveland and, indeed, some Poles from the US (including some from Cleveland) served in a French-led Polish Volunteer Army in the hope that an allied victory would result in an independent Polish state.   Victory did create a new Polish state and while some Cleveland Poles returned – either permanently or as visitors — others still sought the promise of jobs and money in the United States and by 1920 Cleveland had the seventh largest population of Polish ancestry in the United States with an estimated 50,000 people (Chicago with 400,000 was home to the largest Polish community in the US).

The dream of coming to America was, however, short lived, as two highly discriminatory laws, the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 put severe limits on immigration from the eastern hemisphere with country-based quotas that were biased in favor of northern and western Europe and against people from central, southern and eastern Europe.  These Acts would remain largely in effect until 1965.  Thus, the population of first-generation Poles in cities like Cleveland declined while a second, American-born generation grew – sometimes with a strong affinity for their heritage and at other times moving toward a more American lifestyle.

At the end of the catastrophe of World War II, numbers of homeless Poles came to the United States as displaced persons and this, in Cleveland and other cities, helped somewhat replenish the population.  However, the postwar world also saw an increase in suburbanization (which had started in the 1920s before being stopped by the Depression).  Poles had initially left the old, industrial neighborhood of Warszawa for Garfield Heights in the 1920s– now after World War II Poles from around the city moved to Parma, Cuyahoga Heights, Independence, Brecksville and other automotive suburbs that developed at that time.  That movement, along with deindustrialization depleted old neighborhoods.  With population loss some churches closed while those that continued to operate attracted parishioners who had moved to the suburbs but still supported the churches their ancestors had built.   Other businesses that had served the old neighborhood sometimes moved along with those who left or simply closed, having lost customers not only to the suburbs but to modern supermarkets and malls.

Today, the major Polish neighborhood, Warszawa, exists as a rebranded Slavic Village – a much larger area than the original neighborhood which now encompasses several older Polish neighborhoods, such as Krakowa near the Cuyahoga Heights border, and Jackowo near Kingsbury Run and several former Czech neighborhoods.

Despite the name change the area remains a reminder of the earliest Polish immigrants to Cleveland who worked in the nearby mills.   Old Warszawa still supports two Polish parishes, St. Stanislaus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, and, importantly, the Polish American Cultural Center located in the former home of the Union of Poles at E. 65th and Lansing.   The Center attracts many of the newest Poles coming to the city – often bringing job skills that fit well with the contemporary needs of northeastern Ohio.  Indeed, the Center owes a great deal to another immigrant, Gene Bak, a postwar émigré who built a new life in Cleveland and has continuously worked to preserve the rich culture of Poland.  And what better place to do so that in the first and oldest area of Polish settlement in the city.

One of the best places to explore the history of Polish immigration to Cleveland is at the Research Library of the Western Reserve Historical Society, where dozens of collections focus on organizations and individuals active in Cleveland Polonia.  Of these, none is more important than the records of the Kniola Travel Bureau.   Operated by Michael Kniola, a Polish immigrant who arrived in the city in 1880, his business arranged steamship passage for numerous immigrants to the city and region and also handled money orders sent back home by workers in Cleveland.  The thousands of names on the receipts and other documents in this collection provide an extraordinary resource for genealogists and historians studying this major immigration movement.