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.

Faith, Family, and Fashion: Before, During, and Beyond COVID-19 | A WRHS “Share Your Story” Initiative

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


For the keepers of traditions in a variety of faith communities, women’s attire has long been viewed as more than just a fashion statement. Among those who engage in corporate worship activities, head coverings, for example, are often related to beliefs about modesty, outward signs of respect, unity, and the establishment of a sense of community.  This fall 2020 series of articles on Faith, Family, and Fashion will shed light on different traditions in Northeast Ohio and encourage area families to share personal stories and images related to keeping religious traditions alive during COVID-19, even when large gatherings for worship and other purposes were sometimes discouraged. 


While preparing to write my introduction for the series, I thought about “Hattitude Sunday,” a celebration that became increasingly popular among many Christian women following the publication of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000.  The publication’s beautiful black and white photographs and quotes from many of the women in those photographs document the pride that is associated with looking your best, especially on Sunday morning, and doing your best to support the church, an institution that historian W.E.B. Du Bois described as both a “social center” of Black community life and a “religious center of great power.” 

As children attending Sunday morning worship services at Cleveland’s New Joshua Missionary Baptist, my siblings and I looked forward to the annual Easter programs that provided opportunities for us to wear Easter bonnets and chapeaus and hone our public speaking skills during special holiday pageants.   

In recent years, as young people, in particular, began to embrace the sneaker culture and more casual attire for school, work, and worship, I have always been pleasantly surprised to meet those faithful members of a special sisterhood of Black church women who continue to wear their crowns with style and grace.  For them, every Sunday is “Hattitude Sunday.”

As ministers or the spouses of ministers, music directors, worship leaders, deaconesses, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and church mothers, these women hold respected positions of great responsibility, and their life stories help to inspire other members of their families, their congregations, and their communities. 

For this reason, I asked Mrs. Tonya Byous, an accomplished educator and a church and community leader in her own right, to help me launch what I hope will be an intergenerational, interreligious dialogue about Faith, Family, and Fashion, by telling the story of her grandmother, Mrs. Zephrine Burks.  We look forward to sharing the details of Mrs. Burks’ life story along with those of other women in the coming weeks.  We also welcome your suggestions for women that we might include in this series.

For more information about the Share Your Story initiative, please click Here. 





Photo Credits:

1st Image: (In 2014, the women of the East View United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio welcomed the opportunity to participate in the congregation’s “Hattitude Sunday” program.  Pictured here (left to right) are Marian Elder, Jacqueline Johnson, and Jewell Kirkland. They are holding gift copies of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Photograph courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)

2. (Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000.)

3. (Left to right: Lana, Regennia, and Nathaniel Williams, Jr. at the New Joshua Missionary Baptist Church, c. 1963. Photo courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)

4.  Mrs. Zephrine Burks. Photo courtesy of Tonya Byous.)

Then & Now | Babushkas

The babushka, in terms of Cleveland history, seems eternally linked to perogies and polkas, and in some ways that is valid – all relate to central and eastern European life, a life made large in our city by the many immigrants who came from those areas and perpetuated their customs in the city. But the story of this simple head covering is much more complex.

Its name, which means grandmother in Russian, immediately stereotypes the babushka as something worn by older women.  But that does not hold.  Its utility, a simple square of patterned cloth folded into a triangle and then worn by tying the two ends at the end of the fold under the chin, meant that it was a good solution to a bad hair day, or more importantly, an adequate covering to attend church if one did not have the funds for a fancy hat. Then too, in a church, the babushka was a reminder of the simple veil worn by Mary – humble and respectful. It was and remains a signifier of religious belief and custom.

Wearing it downtown for shopping in the post-World War II era did, indeed, seem to brand someone as being “ethnic”, at least in the opinion of one well-born Clevelander who complained about the dress of women visiting the shopping district – he was particularly hard on sloppy shoes and babushkas. Yet, that too was a bit off the mark because by the 1960s the babushka has gone “Hollywood” – after all Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and Brigette Bardot wore them, Hepburn most famously in Charade. So maybe mother, or her style conscious daughter in the 1950s and 1960s, was combining heritage with fashion.

Certainly, that seems to be the case today as babushkas (aka head scarves) are making appearances in Vogue and other fashion magazines and everyone who is “anybody” seems to be adopting them. But you can certainly bet that one could buy a whole lot of perogies for the cost of one of these fashionable head coverings — so thanks grandma (and mom) for knowing what good fashion was, long before it became fashionable.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg | Afro-Puerto Rican Bibliophile and Activist Scholar of Black History and Culture

“The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future.”

–Arturo Schomburg, 1925


“An analysis of Schomburg’s life should not establish his as the exclusive Afro-Latinx experience to the exclusion of other lived experiences, particularly when considering those of women who shared his racial and ethnic heritage.  Such an examination, however, is useful in attempting to understand the complexities of populations of African descent who arrive in the United States speaking the Spanish language, taking into consideration the specificities of historical context.”

— Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés, 2017


As the observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month continues, and we prepare for the upcoming celebration of Cleveland Book Week (September 29 – October 4), this is the perfect season for readers to peruse works by and about Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938).  

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Schomburg migrated to New York in 1891 and went on to become one of the most celebrated American bibliophiles and thought leaders of his day, continually championing the cause of Puerto Rican and Cuban independence from Spain –through the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the scholarly study of Black people throughout the global community. His pioneering work as a book collector, archivist, and curator in the first half of the twentieth century helped lay the foundation for today’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York’s Harlem community.  

One of Schomburg’s most famous essays, “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” appeared in a special 1925 issue of Survey Graphic Magazine, “Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro,” and a subsequent book on the same subject.  Dr. Alain Locke served as editor for both publications, which showcased works by the emerging and established artists and scholars associated with the Harlem Renaissance or the “New Negro Movement, “ including former Clevelander and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner Langston Hughes. 


In Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (State University of New York Press,2017), Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés includes the following statements about Schomburg’s work and worldview:


Throughout his life, in all of the circles in which he traveled, Schomburg remained Afro-Latino; that is, he actively thought of himself as such, as a black man born in Puerto Rico.  He actively laid claim to the richness of the histories and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world.  We see this in the books he collected, the articles he wrote, and the translations he provided from Spanish to English and vice versa.


For all of the aforementioned reasons and so many more, Dr. Valdés’s scholarly study offers readers an insightful overview of a well-lived and carefully documented life.


Then & Now | Political Fashion

American fashion embraces political campaigns in whimsical ways, and Clevelanders were at the forefront of political style. Historians credit Ohio senator Mark Hanna with the invention of the modern campaign in 1896. Hanna systematically grew support for his friend William McKinley, and spent money on the highest quality posters, pins, and other campaign gear. Candidates’ faces have decorated items such as handkerchiefs, dresses, neckties, bedroom slippers, and t-shirts, lending a little fun to the serious business of electing our nation’s leader. As you get ready to declare your support in a sartorial way, get inspired by the WRHS collection!

James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur Bunting Dress, ca. 1880
Museum Advisory Council Acquisition Endowment Fund 2006.25.1

19th-century revelers wore garments made of flags and bunting in parades and pageants. This dress, with images of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur, was made for the 1880 presidential election and its “front porch campaign.” Instead of traveling across the country, Garfield remained at home in Mentor, Ohio and trains brought thousands of people to hear him speak. The wearer of this dress could have traveled to Mentor to see her future president. 

Reception Dress, 1881
Made by Mme. B. Van Reuth, Washington, D.C.
Worn by Lucretia Rudolph (Mrs. James A.) Garfield
WRHS 86.0.2 a,b

First Lady Lucretia Rudolph Garfield probably wore this striking blue gown while hosting one of her twice-weekly receptions at the White House. However, Lucretia Garfield spent most of her life in Ohio. She was born in Garrettsville and taught in Cleveland before she married. Her tenure as First Lady was, sadly, brief; President Garfield took office in March of 1881, was shot by a would-be assassin four months later, and died of complications in September. The widow retreated to their home, Lawnfield, located 22 miles northeast of Cleveland, which is today the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. 


“I Like Ike” Skirt, 1952
Made by Juli Lynne Charlot (American, b. 1922)
Gift of Mrs. George Johnson 2008.6.125 

Clevelander Michaeline Maschke wore this skirt during Eisenhower’s presidential campaigns. She might have seen it first in 1952, in Life magazine, among pages of hats, sunglasses, gloves, and other Ike-wear. That year, women voters equaled men in numbers for the first time. Republicans in particular made attempts to connect with women through advertisements, clothing, and accessories.

Then & Now | Andrew Johnson

The first visit of a sitting President of the United States to Cleveland was not for purposes of a debate, but, nevertheless, it opened a major debate on the President’s temperament and, indirectly, played a role his impeachment.

When Andrew Johnson came to Cleveland on September 3, 1866, he arrived in a city that was confronting the consequences of the Civil War and a city that had voted strongly for his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln.   Lincoln had, indeed, visited Cleveland, but it was on his way to his inauguration and then, sadly, following his assassination, Cleveland was one of the cities in which he lay in state.

Feelings were high in the city, in particular in relation to the reconstruction of the former Confederate states.   A good number of people in northeastern Ohio felt that Johnson’s policies were far too easy on those who had rebelled against the United States, particularly as they saw many southerners who had held power before the war being allowed to again hold political office.   There were a good number of Radical Republicans in the region who felt that the South was being allowed to go back to just what it had been before.  For those who believed strongly in the rights of the now free Black population, Johnson’s policies were proving to be a disaster.

Johnson’s stop in Cleveland was part of a longer journey he had undertaken to help “sell” his policies to the north.  Dubbed the “Swing Around the Circle” it started in Washington, DC, then went to New York, then west to Chicago, down to St. Louis and then back to Washington.  While Johnson had received a rather good reception at the start, his appearance in Cleveland changed that.

After supper at the Kennard House hotel, which stood at the corner of St. Clair and what is now West 6th Street, Johnson stepped out on the balcony to address a large crowd, a crowd peppered with radical Republicans.   They perhaps knew that Johnson had a habit of going “off script, and that it was easy to goad him.    As he delivered his prepared script, someone in the crowd shouted “Hang Jeff Davis.”   Johnson broke from his script and retorted “why don’t you hang Thad Stevens and Wendell Phillips [Stevens was a radical Republican Congressman and Phillps a famous abolitionist].  When Johnson left the balcony someone overheard his friends telling him to be more dignified.   His response which was quoted in newspapers across the country was “I don’t care about my dignity.”   When Johnson left the hotel the next day to continue his journey he saw a large banner reading “In the work of reconstruction, traitors must be made to take back seats”.   He purportedly pulled his hat down over his eyes and stared at the carriage floor so not to have to see the banner.

After Cleveland, the tour only became worse, hecklers were everywhere.   In St. Louis he compared himself to Jesus and played off the Republicans as his betrayers.   And in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a platform for spectators collapsed, killing thirteen.  By the end of the tour, even Johnson’s supporters were abandoning him, largely because of his lack of dignity.  When Johnson was impeached in 1868, the tenth of eleven articles of impeachment noted that he, as President “…did…make and declare, with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing.”  However, this article was not brought to a vote in the Senate given that it had a lack of support. 

Johnson would be the first President to be impeached (by a vote of 127 to 47 in the House of Representatives) but he would acquitted by the Senate.   Factors other than his intemperate nature were at the core of the charges, but, nevertheless, dignity still mattered, and that visit to Cleveland, rightly or wrongly, gave the nation an impression that still lingers in the popular memory.

Then & Now | Northeast Ohio’s Mexican Community

Cleveland’s Mexican population has its roots in the 1920s, in the years just following the Mexican Revolution.  That revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, caused many Mexicans to cross to El Norte.   That was not a new crossing as the border between the US and Mexico had been open and fluid, and indeed, much of the American Southwest, including California, had been Mexican territory prior to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

Crossing the “border” meant safety and jobs, particularly given the expansion of agriculture and railroads in the southwest in the early years of the twentieth century.    Indeed, when the United States created the Quota Act of 1924, a highly prejudicial limitation of immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere, it set no limits on immigration from the Western Hemisphere, a signal, perhaps, that workers from Mexico were needed in the US.

Like many other migrants and immigrants, Mexicans moved to where they could find work.  Many followed the railroads up to Chicago and found jobs in heavy industry,  some continued to the east and found their ways to the steel mills of Lorain, Ohio, and then onto the industries in Cleveland.  (for an excellent account of early Mexican migration to Lorain, Ohio, see Frank Mendez’s book,  You Can’t be Mexican, You Talk Just Like Me).

By 1920 there were 679 Mexicans in Cleveland, most working in factories.   Many lived in and around the area now occupied by the main campus of Cuyahoga Community College and there, they found their way to Hiram House Social Settlement, which by the late 1930s was hosting displays of Mexican dance and culture.

In that same decade the community established a forum to discuss the problems and issues of the time.  Headed by Felix Delgado, that forum was formalized as the Club Azteca in 1932.   In 1951 the Club had raised enough money to establish a formal headquarters at 5602 Detroit Avenue.  The Club became the sponsor of the celebration of two major Mexican holidays, Cinco de Mayo, which marks the Mexican victory over the French in 1862 and Mexican Independence Day on September 16.

One of the most critical issues confronting Mexicans in the United States during the 1930s was the Great Depression during which many industrial cities, such as Detroit, sent Mexican immigrants back to Mexico by bus or train. During that decade Cleveland’s Mexican population fell to 162.   It would grow again during World War II when workers were needed for the steel mills and industries in northern Ohio and by the early 1980s an estimated 4,000 Mexicans or individuals of Mexican descent lived in the Greater Cleveland area.  By this time the community was centered on west side along Lorain and Detroit Avenues.

Despite the decline of Cleveland’s overall population since 1950 (when it was 914,808) the Mexican-American population has remained at around 4,000 (based on the 2010 census) and stands as the second largest of our Spanish-Speaking communities, and a vibrant part of city’s economy.  Its importance and contributions to the history of the city have recently been recognized by permission to establish a Mexican garden within the Cultural Gardens on Rockefeller Park.  The Western Reserve Historical Society was honored to be able to work with Andrea Villalón of the Comité Mexicano de Cleveland in the process of preparing the application.  

Planning for a Mexican Cultural Garden in Cleveland

Members of the Mexican community of Cleveland gathered at the Hispanic Alliance building to start the process of establishing a Mexican Cultural Garden, one of the chain of over 30 ethnic gardens of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation.


Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Catlett | At Home with the Art and Politics of Mexico and Black America

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), two women who won worldwide acclaim for their art, created evocative works that reflected their personal struggles and triumphs as well as those of farmers and other workers in Mexico and the United States of America. For anyone who will take the time to look, learn, and teach, their works have much to offer in the way of arts and humanities education.  Thought provoking lessons on Kahlo and Catlett are as close as the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Cleveland Public Library (CPL), where reference and/or circulating collections and programming activities reflect their contributions to world history and culture.  


Kahlo, a native of Mexico and an alumna of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, was a master of the self-portrait.  Her willingness to visibly embrace Mexican culture—as reflected in her frequent choices to wear indigenous jewelry and clothing styles from different parts of the country, her radical politics and ongoing challenges to the systemic oppression of poor people, and her refusal to accept restrictive gender roles for women helped to make her a celebrated activist-artist in her own right and a creative comrade to her equally famous, controversial, and artistically-gifted husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.


(Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1932. Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress.)

In Frida Kahlo at Home (2016), one of the many book-length studies of the artist’s life and work, author Suzanne Barbezat states that, despite their sometimes stormy relationship, Kahlo and Rivera “were each other’s best supporter and most ardent fan.  They shared political convictions, and perhaps most importantly, were both fiercely proud of being Mexican.” Although she endured major health challenges in both her childhood and adult years, Kahlo’s career also included teaching, international travel, and exhibitions in Mexico and other countries.


During the observance of CMA’s centenary, the museum offered guests the opportunity to view one of Kahlo’s signature works, “Fulang-Chang and I,” a loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  This painting was also the subject of an online July/August 2016 Cleveland Art Magazine article. In addition to the books and other reference materials that are available in CMA’s Ingalls library, a special exhibition, A Graphic Revolution: Prints and Drawings in Latin America, which includes works by Rivera and others, will be on view through November 2020.


Like Kahlo and Rivera, Elizabeth Catlett also strove to create socially relevant art. An African American native of Washington, DC, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Howard University and the University of Iowa, respectively.  After teaching for several years at the secondary and post-secondary levels, she traveled to Mexico on a Julius Rosenwald Fund Fellowship in 1946.  She studied and created works of art with members of the Taller de Gráfica Popular, married Mexican artist and colleague Francisco Mora, became a Mexican citizen, and served as a Professor of Sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts, the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  In addition to their artistic work, Catlett and Mora raised three sons.


Catlett focused primarily on prints and sculptures, winning many commissions and awards and exhibiting widely.  In Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico (2000), Melanie Anne Herzog quotes Catlett’s 1983 self-description of her life and work:


I am black, a woman, a sculptor, and a printmaker.  I am also married, the mother of three sons, and the grandmother of five little girls [now seven girls and one boy] . . . . [I] was born in the United States and have lived in Mexico since 1946.  I believe that all of these states of being have influenced my work and made it what you see today.


Indeed, the influences of the aforementioned “states” were evident  works that were included in CMA’s fall 2002 exhibition, “Elizabeth Catlett: Prints and Sculptures.” Images of Catlett works that reflect these themes are available on the CMA website.