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The East Side of Cleveland: Part Deux

5 April 2009 No Comment

Back by popular demand: the always worrisome east side of Cleveland.

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Today’s tour takes us to Slavic Village, a town once known for its close-knit Polish community. More recently, the southeast side neighborhood was featured in a remarkably grim and lengthy New York Times Sunday Magazine story. In his “All Boarded Up” feature, celebrated author Alex Kotlowitz referred to the neighborhood as “Foreclosureville.”

 

This is pretty much how it looks

This is pretty much how it looks

Well, I’d never been to Slavic Village. But I have some close friends who grew up there. After reading Kotlowitz’s article, I was afraid slithering one-legged women were going to come out of nowhere and grab my legs, or something.

It bears mentioning that The New York Times isn’t the first national publication to feature Slavic Village in it’s discussion of foreclosure. I heard a similar piece on NPR more than a year ago. Pretty much everyone’s done a Slavic Village story by now. It’s sort of become a poster child for the foreclosure crisis.

The funny thing is, it’s not the worst neighborhood in Cleveland by a long shot. For that, I will refer you to a town called East Cleveland (not to be confused with the east side of Cleveland. But more on that in another post.)

The real reason Slavic Village has been thrust into the national spotlight, is because the neighborhood has a very eloquent and outspoken city councilman, Tony Brancatelli, who has helped draw a lot of attention to the topic. Also, it had the highest foreclosure rate in the country during the third quarter of 2007.

A little background about Slavic Village: It was settled in the 1880s by Polish people. They were joined by Central and Eastern Europeans who worked in the nearby steel mills. Following the race riots and “bussing” initiatives of the 1970s and ’80s, the neighborhood suffered heavy losses to white flight and suburbanization.

I’ll tell you an interesting story. My friend Miora grew up in this house:

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Her family was Romanian immigrants.  They moved away when she was about five, about 20 years ago.

At that time, this steel mill, across the street, was still operating.

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Now it looks like this:

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Here’s the old office:

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Anyway, Miora told me after her family moved away, her mom wouldn’t tell her where she was from, because she didn’t want her going back out of concern for her safety. When Miora was old enough, she got a friend to drive her back to the neighborhood. But she didn’t recognize anything at first. Then finally, she had a moment of recognition and was able to find her way back to her house.

So yeah, it’s a pretty rough neighborhood.

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After saying all that though, I want to regress and say Slavic Village wasn’t nearly as bad as I was anticipating. The neighborhood actually enjoyed a brief resurgence when the current councilman Tony Brancatelli was working for the community improvement organization in the area. Now, there are these new, two-story, garage-having, vinyl-sided homes dotting the landscape. There was one on each side of Miora’s old home and they were occupied and well cared for.

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There is a nice, big community garden by a park in the middle of the neighborhood.

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The nexus of the neighborhood is St. Stanislaus Church. It is adjoined by Cleveland Central Catholic High School, whose basketball team just won the division III state championships.

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It was last Sunday morning when I was down there and the church was packed. This is one of those churches where they still give masses in Polish and people drive from all over the area every Sunday to attend. They’ve even built some new condos near by.

So, Miora wanted to go to an old restaurant she liked growing up.

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It was awesome, of course.

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It was packed too. And they treated us like tourists from outer space because we weren’t from the neighborhood, and we sort of were.

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Yep. Those are cabbage rolls.

We also stopped in this bakery/deli where the staff still speaks Polish. Holy Moly!

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I heard this store might close down or move though, because the owner’s wife got shot in the arm.

So there you have it, Slavic Village in a nutshell. It’s too bad bankers threw about a third of the residents out of their homes because it’s got a lot of nice amenities. I wish I could hope and believe there was a better future in store for the neighborhood, but it’s hard to imagine how that could happen now.

  • Sarah Hartley

    Wonderful story! I’m glad that the nieghborhood endures.

  • joe bialek

    This letter is in response to the article “All Boarded Up” written by ALEX KOTLOWITZ.

    During my time (1993 to 1999) as President of {the now defunct} South East Clevelanders Together I worked to promote community organizing in Ward 12 {Slavic Village} to address quality of life issues {such as crime watch} in an aggressive and systematic manner. During that time, Ward 12 was represented by current City of Cleveland Director of Building and Housing Edward W. Rybka and the former Broadway Area Housing Coalition nka Slavic Village Development headed then by current Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli. Needless to say, it did not take long for our organization to clash with the former Councilman’s housing group. Their primary objective was to build and rehabilitate housing without any real regard for the other issues affecting the residents and business owners. They too took the worst houses and put people in them who had no ability {or desire} to pay. In fact, once they completed their first rehabilitation on any given street that house soon became a haven for various social malcontents. Once the “single apple spoiled the barrel” the remaining law-abiding residents moved thus adding further to the catastrophe. Now the Cleveland City Council wants to extend the boundaries of Ward 12 beyond the current boundaries of Ward 15 which {as luck would have it} would include my residence. Councilman Brian Cummins has been a fine representative for Ward 15 but as for Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli; he will do for Ward 15 {Old Brooklyn} what he has and will continue to do for Ward 12 {Slavic Village}.

  • Jeff from Cincy OTR

    I’m a little late on this one but my g/f and I stopped by the Red Chimney for breakfast b/c I spotted it on this blog. It was really good for the price and probably the most diverse group of people in a restaurant that I’ve ever seen in my life.