Back by popular demand: the always worrisome east side of Cleveland.
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.”
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:
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.
Now it looks like this:
Here’s the old office:
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.
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.
There is a nice, big community garden by a park in the middle of the neighborhood.
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.
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.
It was awesome, of course.
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.
Yep. Those are cabbage rolls.
We also stopped in this bakery/deli where the staff still speaks Polish. Holy Moly!
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.