Saturday, January 21, 2012

Returning to the Sidaway Bridge

 Sidaway Bridge, looking towards the north pier, Jan. 2, 2012

In late December and early this month, I went back to the area of the Sidaway Bridge [Please see "A Suspension Bridge in Cleveland", under "September".]  While I was very gratified by a friendly response to what I had written after my visit in August of last year, and found other feedback favoring the bridge, the main bottom line for me - partly because of what I saw at the bottom of the bridge - remains a conditions assessment - IMMEDIATELY, in my advice - to determine the levels of corrosion in this wonderful landmark.

Hopefully, this would buy time for money and community movement to fully renovate and re-open the bridge. That's my dream, certainly, but I am still interested, as I hope every reader here is, with what area residents think - about the bridge and about other histories and sense of place in their midst.

Echoing a positive response

Of the small number of residents and employees I saw in the "bridge area" around New Year's, most were among those who I had met in August of last year. I was glad with their welcome back, including the sense of their sharing my writing with other people who they said were positive about its subject. Luvenia Hardges, for example, on Butler Avenue southwest of the bridge, said "I liked the book", as she referred to my write-up, and that "I showed it to all of the people who came in [to her home]".

At least two people in the area, based on their positive views on the Sidaway bridge, spoke of NOT wanting to loan out the copies which I sent them. One lady joked that if she gave it to a co-worker, she might not give it back, and Greg Wallace, depicted in my September "blog", and seen here near the end of December in his home...

noted friends saying "can you just let me keep it for a little bit?", with Greg responding that no, they should check it out on the internet.

Greg also said he was possessive of the report because "that's my history, that's what I have to give my grandchildren" and this was somewhat echoed by Matt Gute....
 who lives near 65th Street a few blocks south of the bridge and stated that "I want my son to grow up knowing this Cleveland heritage".

"Not the Browns"

Matt, and a friend of his who I'd interviewed in August - Lou (pictured in front of the bridge's south pier in my earlier writing) exuded encouragement on the Sidaway Bridge, but easily criticized one part of a passage expanding on Lou's views from last August, when I said that "a rough parallel" to the idea of moving the bridge was the move in the 1990's of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Matt observed that "it's not the same as the Browns; only because how many people could possibly know about the (bridge)?" and Lou, who is very hospitable, and also very plain-spoken, commented that it was "just a little too strong comparing the bridge with the Browns".

Both of them segued from that into the vision of if it COULD be much more prominent, with me halfway to bemoaning its relative lack of reknown, and also, in retrospect, my likely being wildly inaccurate in how many people know about it; it is embarrassing if honest to write that I told them I guessed "tens of thousands" of people have known about it, but at this point (in late February), I think that that many people may have at least SEEN it, if briefly, during its 45 or more years of being "put out to pasture", and hopefully enough of those (Rapid-based commuters?) could be harnessed to help its cause.

Matt contributed that "it only takes one or two [of the right people] who can take the  bridge's preservation to a higher level, "to where it all touches our hearts [to the level of a major-league Cleveland team]".

Noble and Pathetic

Whereas a big, bad team can languish in full sight, the bridge, when I looked at it from beneath it for the first time, is decaying in a somewhat lonely state, accentuated by windy and snowy weather when I climbed downhill to look at it on Jan. 2. At the same time, its thrust and verticality are impressive, and it is easy to imagine that it can shine again, as here, looking towards the south pier....
and here, including the north pier...
Within that overall dynamic, the tasks to face can easily begin to be seen, most plainly for me in looking straight up at one point:
with a close-up of the above below(!):
and, most seriously perhaps, the possible fire hazard of so many tires at the base of the south pier:
seen here more clearly....
Within the mess and the natural tangle, it is not difficult to see the potential, part of it in the recreational vistas which can be enhanced, as in this view towards the northwest and Cleveland's skyline, even if it is now obscured and you can only see the city's tallest building, the Key Tower, appearing near the center of these two photos, thanks partly to the sunlight bringing it out:
Now, however, like the character of poet Robert Frost who has "miles to go before [he sleeps]", the Sidaway Bridge has many gaps to close before it rises....
view at the beginning of the bridge's north pier, Dec. 30, 2011

Back to the bluffs

Among those gaps, as in my brief talks with people last summer, is one of awareness, at least implied by two new interviewees, both of them employees of neighborhood stores.

At the Kinsman Deli...
on the northeast corner of 70th and Kinsman across from the Heritage View development, Wally Suleiman and a colleague of his said very little about the bridge, in a way that might be summarized as "no news is good news", though again, our quick but friendly discussion left questions as well as answers. Wally's unnamed co-worker said there were "no complaints about the problems" and Wally underscored that with the comment that "the people (in the area) complain about security sometimes", but he doesn't "hear anything about the bridge".

In contrast with Wally Suleiman's almost mundane (but welcoming) "checklist" perspective, Kenneth Gregory...

a CSU (Cleveland State University) freshman studying journalism who lived near 55th and Fleet in Slavic Village, was grandiose if not necessarily accurate when I met him on Dec. 31 as he was working in the Q's Stop at 65th and Hoppensack perhaps ten blocks south of the bridge. Like a  few others, he saw the bridge as meant for commuting, and went on to say "not only [economically} but mentally and emotionally as well - that's what bridges we can continue to expand as more than just a person but as a whole; one bridge may open up avenues to many more...."

Even if I privately thought, no, I myself can't see a pedestrian bridge as a "commuting" vehicle (pun intended?), I almost wish there were more people with this rhetoric, as long as it shapes a positive reality, and his words quickly led me to a vision of the bridge (just like new libraries, urban gardens, etc.) bringing one more chance and one more way for people, especially young people, to move up and be successful.

No cars, almost.... 

During this most recent visit, I added a few memories of the bridge to the small set I had written down last August, with a reinforcement of the most impressive and unusual one, from Lou, noted above, when he reminded me, along with his wife Brenda and his mother Helen, of the adventure of his father riding a one-time mini-car known as a King Midget across the bridge.

While I hope to get a good photo in regards to that, at least of the particular model which made the ride (!), I am about to retire to my google abode (ha, ha, or EVERYONE's abode) to pick and give a url for, a likely, and narrow enough, candidate.... Back shortly, I hope....

One of a number of sites, just below, does not do much to show off how catchy a King Midget could be, but notes the width of two models (at 32 and 35 inches, it seems they could have both "taken on" the Sidaway Bridge) and, shows a kind of logo for the Midget Motors Corporation, proudly - for a native Ohioan - based in the town of Athens, perhaps - just guessing here - 150 miles south of Cleveland:

Here's a sense of how you could stylize a King Midget:

More normal movement on the bridge - obviously, for readers of my Sept. 2011 blog, was by foot, and Greg Wallace reinforced that with brief reminiscences of using the bridge to get to movies at the Olympia Theater at 65th and Broadway and other travels such as commuting for jobs, whether of Kinsman residents to the Dan-Dee Potato Chip factory just off of the south end (and factories farther off) or residents from today's Slavic Village to businesses in Kinsman. Greg told me about a barrel factory on Colfax Avenue (a block north of Kinsman) which he thought may have employed 200 people.

That example, which I had not known about, made me think about all the other small or medium-sized places like that which I bet would have existed in the impressive though already declining manufacturing landscape of pre-70's Cleveland. Greg was perhaps pensive about how the U.S. used to make things and "now, we're just consumers" and tried as well to find a photo from his home looking east on Kinsman showing a number of today's vacant lots filled with homes and stores.

Decline, on both sides of the bridge, is a stark reality but coming as well, here from at least Greg Wallace, within the positive frameworks of some reinvestment (if not nearly enough), of clearly happy memories, a commitment to the neighborhood today and of a vote for saving - and re-using - a part of its heritage.

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